Bond Lecture Series Keynote Address by Administrator Rajiv Shah: American Innovation & the End of Extreme Poverty

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Good morning and thank you, Senator for that very kind introduction.

A generous host and a generous introduction and an extraordinarily accomplished role model as one of America’s top public servants. Senator Bond has been a champion for science, for technology, for innovation, for American leadership around the world, and for this great state. And so it’s an honor to be speaking at a lecture that bears your name in a building that you helped create and envisioned, and in a context where the type of leadership that you modeled for so many years is too often missing these days from Washington – and we sort of wish that you’d come back – so thank you very much sir for the opportunity to be here.

I also want to thank you, Dr. Scroggs and Dean Wechsler for hosting me today. It’s a great honor to be at this institution, and it’s been a really special pleasure to get to know Brady Deaton, over the last several years. As some of you may not know, in addition to leading this great institution, Brady has served as the chair of USAID’s Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, always serving as a voice for ensuring that we use our capacities as the federal government to engage and inspire and rely upon scientists in American colleges and universities, and students who want to play a bigger role in helping to tackle pretty fundamental challenges around the world. And Brady I’m honored to be here on your last day in service here, but I also know that your service will continue through the Brady and Anne Deaton Institute for University Leadership in Development and your service will also continue on the BIFAD Board, so thank very much for the chance to be here with you.   

I do want to open this morning with a few words about the devastating typhoon that Senator Bond made reference to, one of the most potent storms to ever hit populated land.

While the toll of the destruction in the Philippines is not yet clear, we know that more than 1,800 people have already been confirmed dead, and we know that nearly 150,000 homes have been completely destroyed. We know that the human costs of this are both immeasurable and incredibly tragic, and we know the United States, as has been our practice for more than six decades under Republican and Democratic administrations, is leading an international response, with more than $20 million in immediate humanitarian assistance already at work reaching families on the ground. Just in the last 24 hours we’ve helped reach 10,000 families with basic survival kits and supplies. More than 20,000 children are already receiving U.S. supported food and nutrition support. We will be in the coming hours and days expanding access to water, and our teams are already on the ground trying to engage private partners in the Philippines and around the world to restart basic systems of infrastructure in water, in energy, in getting the hospitals stocked and supplied, and in getting critical personnel into the region. And, you know, it’s times like this when I am just in awe of the capacity of the United States, its institutions, its government, and its people, to stand with those who suffer from unspeakable tragedy. I had a chance to learn from Al Dwyer who’s leading our response on the ground after he completed a series of over flights with Brigadier General Paul Kennedy, and they shared their joint assessment of the damage. He said in 15 years of assessing catastrophes like this he’s never seen anything that felt so complete and so tragic in terms of the devastation and the loss.

It reminded me also that American ingenuity and innovation and technical, scientific capability is also important. What you don’t see in the press today is that over the course of the last week, week and a half, because of much more effective and advanced early warning and prediction systems, mostly from American satellite imagery and American meteorological assessments, we were able to both predict this coming, put disaster teams in place, and help the government of the Philippines evacuate 792,000 people from the danger zone. And so as tragic as what is currently unfolding is, the human consequences could have been much worse had we not been engaged in a deeper and more effective effort. It is at times like this that I am also amazed by America’s generosity; more people gave directly out of their pocket to the earthquake response in Haiti than watched the Super Bowl. That’s a point of pride, because I grew up thinking the Super Bowl was the one thing that brought us all together as Americans, and so if you think about that it’s truly extraordinary and I’d like to use this opportunity to let you know that if you are inclined to provide support, the best way to do that is through cash donations to any of the credible organizations that are already on the ground and working. We know that those donations will be used effectively. And you can go to usaid.gov and you’ll see a range of options – not to give resources to the United States Government, but to the organizations that are on the ground that we’re working with and that we partner with to make sure that those resources reach those in most need.

In many ways, this history of American engagement around the world, combined with the moment we live in, creates both challenges and opportunities for us today, and this is an institution that recognizes that American innovation and scientific and technical leadership has always been a major part of how America engages around the world. And in fact, I’d like to argue today that we’re strongest and most capable when American innovation sits at the heart of how we project power and partnership to the farthest corners of the globe. Now, I don’t need to explain that in an institution that is just so capable and already so engaged, whether it’s early warning systems that help us predict droughts, floods, and typhoons, and bring people to immediate safety, or plant and agricultural research that helps to create the basis of climate resilience, food production, and move people out of hunger and poverty. Or mobile phone and information communications connectivity that allows hundreds and millions and billions of people who, ten years ago were simply not connected to the global economy, and were not on the list to get a telephone line by land anytime soon, to today be vibrant and connected economic partners in a rapidly expanding global economy. American technology and American innovation has always been at the heart of how we engage around the world. Just this morning, touring the Bond Science Center Laboratories, I met Mizzou researchers and students that are at the forefront of the next phase of discoveries that can enable all kinds of progress, and I suspect many you are part of these research programs already whether it’s developing drought-tolerant seeds or new advances in the fight against HIV/AIDS and that tragic disease. These advances, if commercialized and deployed, particularly in the parts of the world where people are most vulnerable, create the opportunity to do some extraordinary things. We can envision wiping out extreme poverty, extreme child mortality and some ancient diseases that have been around, like malaria, for a very, very long time. But in the process, we can also invest in and build a development innovation economy right here in the United States that gives our students and researchers and entrepreneurs a chance to make a living, create employment and jobs, while also being in service of our foreign policy goals and objectives. And in fact, throughout our history, our thirst for translating knowledge and scientific advancement into economic opportunity has always shaped our own domestic economy. I’m honored to be at a land grant university – I think the first one created in the American west – and to know that that land grant system created by President Lincoln in the midst of a civil war has helped to reshape the American economy and create the basis for the export of great American agricultural technologies that have helped hundreds of millions – some estimate more than a billion people – avoid hunger and modernize the structure of their societies.

The race to the skies helped build a constellation of satellites that provided the data we used last week to help move hundreds of thousands of people out of harm’s way in the Philippines, and the invention of the computer chip and ARPANET, fundamentally a public/private enterprise, helped create a flourishing valley of entrepreneurs throughout our country but in particular in Silicon Valley, that have demonstrated to the world that it’s possible to envision an entirely different future, profit from it, and also make sure that it reaches the farthest corners of the globe quickly.

But today, our innovation economy must expand and change even more rapidly to an important, emerging new trend, and that trend is that the middle class around us is changing dramatically.

For centuries, less than 1 percent of the world’s population enjoyed the privilege of a little bit of extra money in their pocket. By 1990, the global middle class numbered 1.8 billion people, but still mostly living in North America, Europe, and Japan.

Over the last two decades, growth in emerging economies has turned billions of people into producers and consumers—creating both opportunity and challenges for the United States.

By 2025, the global middle class is expected to more than double—growing to 4.2 billion people—80 percent of whom live in nations often associated today with their battles against poverty and instability, rather than their economic might. Nations like Nigeria, Tunisia, Colombia, and Cambodia.

As this center of gravity shifts, it’s going to have a tremendous impact on the futures of American Fortune 500 companies, but also on the careers of Mizzou students.

As entrepreneurs, you’ll be seeking footholds in cities we haven’t spent a lot of time talking about today, like Medan in Indonesia and Huambo in Angola.

As agronomists, you’ll be seeking partnerships with research centers in South Asia and Africa, as those are the places that both have the world’s remaining arable land for agricultural development, and will face the biggest pressures of climate change as it relates to global food production.

As journalists, you’ll be analyzing the experiences of developing countries that have risen for what they can teach us about how to grow and expand economic opportunity here at home.

American companies of course already know this, and one of the things we’ve been proud to do over the last several years is change the way we work to partner with dozens of large and small U.S. firms to make sure that we conduct our development mission abroad in a manner that helps to both create new markets, and help bring U.S. capabilities to places where it’s most needed. In a partnership with Citibank for example, we’re building mobile money platforms to bring in hundreds of millions of new customers into formal banking systems, including in places like rural Haiti and even today in the Philippines.

If you consider that every billion dollars in U.S. exports supports roughly 5,000 American jobs today, estimated export growth to sub-Saharan Africa alone over just the next five years will create 60,000 new American jobs.

Now, I don’t need to tell you all this because you’re studying in one of our nation’s leading centers for technology, and hopefully you’re laser focused on getting those technologies adopted and deployed all around the world. I just learned that Mizzou has filed 278 patents in just the last five years. You even invented the tradition of homecoming, which I was not aware of, and as a Michigan fan I’m glad you didn’t patent it.

I do believe that if you commit yourself to what you do best, in whatever discipline you’re studying and you’re focused on, you can have tremendous relevance to this kind of exciting global future.

In September, I had the chance to meet some of the new faces of American innovation in development.

At a factory in Providence, Rhode Island called Edesia, for example, I met 50 employees. Some were former refugees from Liberia and Burma, and they were making a high-energy peanut paste and a product called Nutributter that we now procure and distribute to families in Somalia and the Philippines, and every family of the 4.2 million people inside of Syria that receive relief from the United States, receive these Nutributter packets because it keeps them healthy even when they don’t get enough calories on a day-to-day basis.

What’s remarkable is that this factory didn’t exist 10 years ago. New American science coupled with USAID’s procurement systems, helped to create that mini-industry of advanced food products for emergency relief settings. The other thing that’s incredible, and Senator Bond will appreciate this, is the entire Rhode Island delegation – as Senator Bond knows is only four people – joined me there because they’re excited by the prospect that we’re now creating those 50 new jobs and they’re rapidly growing their own employment base with this new approach

Today we work with dozens of companies across the United States, usually coming out of university partnerships to commercialize new technologies, ensure we reach consumers in the farthest corners of the globe, and create jobs at home. In fact, small businesses as we know account for almost two-thirds of all new job creation, and they contribute disproportionately to innovation, generating 13 times as many patents as large companies.

So we are excited to be here at Mizzou, where you have efforts like the Entrepreneurship Alliance and the Student Angel Capital Program that are really trying to create a culture that will seed new ideas and new businesses that can help do extraordinary things abroad.

So, I do want to note that in the last three years the United States has been able to build a strong bipartisan support base for our work in global development and humanitarian relief. In fact, at a very difficult political time, we’ve been able to rebuild USAID as an institution, bring in nearly 1,200 new staff, focus our program work so that we work in about a third as many places as we used to, but we do it in a more focused way that allows us to reach more people and deliver better and more prominent results.

Some of those results are quite profound; in just three years we now reach 7 million farm households through our Feed the Future program, providing them agricultural technologies and insights, and helping them serve at the forefront of building self-sufficiencies so they can transition from food aid and assistance to a vibrant economy based on a strong agricultural system.

We’ve also tried to invest more in enabling the kind of technology and innovation that we’re talking about. In fact, we recently concluded our third round of a global technology competition called Saving Lives at Birth, and this is an effort to inspire young people in particular, but really anybody to invent new tools and technologies to save lives in the first 48 hours of a child being born, often at homes not in medical settings, around the world.  

After 39 winners and nearly 1,500 proposals—nearly 40 percent of which have come from the developing world itself—we know that these types of new inventions, one of which is a new form of forceps to enable safe delivery, is featured today on the front page of The New York Times. We know that students across this country working with researchers and administrators can develop great new technologies that can be commercialized and deployed very, very quickly and save a tremendous number of lives.

So, we’re pleased today to be able to announce that we’re going to expand our partnerships with the University of Missouri in particular. I’m thrilled to be able to note that our new Feed the Future Innovation Laboratory for soybean research will involve a partnership between the University of Missouri and the University of Illinois, and we’re excited to see hopefully new products and technologies come out of this partnership and reach our beneficiary farmers in places like Ethiopia, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique. This will build on a strong track that we’ve had of working with scientists and researchers here, and I hope serve as a platform for even more collaboration and partnership.

I’d like to close with just a reference to a statement that President Obama made in last year’s State of the Union Address. Earlier this year, at that moment, he called upon the United States to help lead the world in ending extreme poverty in the next two decades. And it was an extraordinary moment, as the President set forth a vision for one of the greatest contributions to human progress in our history.

Now, I know that it’s easy to be skeptical about such a grandiose objective or claim, but I’d like you to consider this, that in the last 20 years alone, human ingenuity and entrepreneurship, new science and new technologies around the world have helped reduce child mortality rates by 42 percent and dollar and a quarter poverty rates by 48 percent—lifting nearly a billion people out of a condition of extreme poverty.

Many people have said, “Well that’s a phenomenon largely tied to the emergence of China and Brazil and India,” and there’s a lot of truth to that, but in 2005 something else changed: for the first time in history these extreme poverty rates started to fall in every part of the world, including in Sub-Saharan Africa.

By further accelerating these trends, we really think it’s possible to achieve these goals; a world without extreme poverty; a world without widespread child hunger; a world where six and a half million children don’t die every year of simple diseases that have been around since the beginning of time. The only way we can really get there, especially in our new environment of significant fiscal constraint, is by asking you to partner with us more aggressively and more actively.

If you’re a scientist or a student, think about committing yourself to research projects that can contribute to these goals. If you’re a faculty member, come and look for grants and research support that can tie your NSF or NIH funded awards to ideas that can help achieve these objectives around the world. And if you’re an entrepreneur, think about how you might be able to build a business that starts to rapidly commercialize and sell new technologies and new solutions in some of the farthest corners of the globe, even as you think about building your business right here at home.

As you do these things, you’ll be creating jobs and opportunities and a better educated workforce here in the United States, but you’ll also help us build a more stable and more prosperous world. And so I’m pleased that USAID is now prepared and able to support you in these efforts, and I’m convinced the only way we’ll achieve these goals that have been laid out by President Obama, but echoed by all of his predecessors, is if we hold hands and do this work together. So thank you for the opportunity to be with you and I look forward to taking some questions and hearing your thoughts and your ideas.

Thank you.

University of Missouri

Last updated: December 17, 2014

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