Dr. Rajiv Shah serves as the 16th Administrator of USAID and leads the efforts of more than 9,600 professionals in 80 missions around the world.
Since being sworn in on Dec. 31, 2009, Shah managed the U.S. Government's response to the devastating 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; co-chaired the State Department's first review of American diplomacy and development operations; and now spearheads President Barack Obama's landmark Feed the Future food security initiative. He is also leading “USAID Forward,” an extensive set of reforms to USAID's business model focusing on seven key areas, including procurement, science & technology, and monitoring & evaluation.
Before becoming USAID's Administrator, Shah served as undersecretary for research, education and economics, and as chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At USDA, he launched the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which significantly elevated the status and funding of agricultural research.
Prior to joining the Obama administration, Shah served for seven years with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, including as director of agricultural development in the Global Development Program, and as director of strategic opportunities.
Originally from Detroit, Shah earned his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and his master's in health economics from the Wharton School of Business. He attended the London School of Economics and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.
Shah is married to Shivam Mallick Shah and is the father of three children. He lives in Washington, D.C.
I am truly honored to be here today with so many courageous and accomplished women and men from around the world who will be talking from their experiences, their research, their lives. SAID has organized a rich and thought-provoking day. I’d like to get us started by affirming and underlining that, in the field of international development, there is no longer any question that the advancement of women, attention to gender issues and an inclusive approach is not only vital to protecting fundamental human rights, but also to meeting our overall development goals. And for building greater peace and security worldwide. The evidence base is clear: we cannot get there if we leave women behind. Today I’d like to talk to you about three areas that I have the privilege to work in, where this is unquestionably the case, starting with economic inclusion.
We all know that the commitments made last year are not easy, and fundamentally, they require a game-changing shift in how we manage risk and address chronic vulnerability in the region. Yet, although our tasks are daunting at times, through IGAD’s leadership and the work of the Global Alliance, we have made tremendous strides toward a regional approach for building resilience. The U.S. government is proud to see real results for the people of the region, including the development of Country Program Papers (CPPs) that put plans and structures in place to combat vulnerability and build resilience. USAID is firmly committed to supporting regional and country leadership and collaboration among international development partners in support of the resilience agenda. And, we’re also committed to doing business differently – to maximize the effectiveness of this support for the people of the Horn of Africa. Last December, USAID launched its first-ever policy and program guidance on resilience, formalizing key operational changes to better enable our teams to support country-led plans and partner with local leaders to reach these vital goals. This new guidance, “Building Resilience to Recurrent Crisis,” commits USAID to putting more of its development focus on the most vulnerable, building the adaptive capacity of these populations, and improving the ability of communities, countries, and systems to manage risk.
In 2012, the National Intelligence Council (NIC) of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an assessment of "Global Water Security." The report projected that between now and 2040, fresh water availability will not keep up with demand absent more effective management of water resources. It also noted that water problems will hinder the ability of key countries to produce food and generate energy, posing a risk to global food markets and hobbling economic growth. The report noted that while wars over water are unlikely within the next 10 years, water challenges – shortages, poor water quality, and floods – will likely increase the risk of instability and state failure, exacerbating regional tensions. In addressing such challenges, water can provide a platform for building trust and cooperation between countries. Water user groups, and increased transparency and accountability between the people and service providers, can both increase access and advance democratic values. While history is not necessarily a good predictor of our future, it’s true that more often than not, water is a source of cooperation rather than conflict.
Since 2007, the United States has supported Somalia and its neighbors, first Uganda and Burundi, then Kenya and Djibouti, as Somali and AMISOM forces' efforts to drive al-Shabaab out of Somalia’s cities and towns. Throughout this time, the Somali people endured the unendurable—violence, fear, hunger, disease. But they also came together to build something—a new foundation that would anchor a stable future for Somalia.
As we reflect on what we have achieved and bring new ideas to the challenges still ahead, it’s important to remember that due to our collective follow-through on the commitments we made last year, to a fast and resolute humanitarian response and to help build resilience in the Sahel, we prevented a tragic situation from becoming much worse.
The United States continues to work through all possible channels to most effectively deliver aid. This includes working through the UN, NGO partners, local Syrian organizations and committees. Regardless of political affiliation, we are directing assistance to the most vulnerable people, and we are doing this in coordination with the Syrian Opposition Coalition.
When President Obama selected Raj Shah to be the leader of this organization, I knew instantly he'd picked somebody who understood this mission, who understood we also need to change a little bit, that we need to understand that we have to account clearly to our citizens in a time of tough budgets for all of the dollars we're spending in a very transparent and thorough way. We want to do that. But it also requires us to think creatively, sometimes out of the box, about how we may be able to deliver some of this in 21st century terms in ways that augment, multiply, when we don't have the same amount of resources we've had previously, but multiply the efforts in their return on that investment by creating greater investment opportunities, more jobs, building the economies. I think there are a lot of things that we can think about creatively together to help make that happen, and I'm convinced Raj Shah understands that, and I'm looking forward to working with him over these next years to help make that happen. We're going to get this job done.
Haleh described my official title as Deputy Administrator, and that’s what it says on the website. I help provide overall direction and management for the Agency, with an emphasis on the Middle East and Africa, oversee implementation of USAID Forward and advancement of presidential initiatives such as food security, global health, climate change, and democracy and governance. But in this small intimate environment –webcast throughout the world—I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
My real day job is to ensure that all our development efforts are implemented in an inclusive manner, in particular drawing on the contributions of previously marginalized and disempowered groups, whether that is women, people with disabilities, indigenous groups, youth, the LGBT community, and religious and ethnic minorities. They must be at the center of our work, and they must be planners, implementers and beneficiaries of all of our development efforts. We have a watchword we use at USAID, “Nothing about them without them.”
Today’s action plan is an unprecedented approach to coordinate the efforts of more than 30 government offices within seven agencies in 100 countries and to unite them with a common purpose, with three core objectives: Every child survives and gets healthy food, Every child grows up in the protective and nurturing embrace of a family, and Every child is safe from violence and exploitation.
We’ve always known that achieving these goals is within our power, but today—for the first time—we have a real, evidence-based, results-oriented plan to get us there. It is a plan that doesn’t just describe our aspirations, but outlines specific and achievable outcomes we must deliver. And it is a plan that doesn’t just describe the challenges we face, but cites specific scientific studies that underpin our learning and inform our new approaches.
Mexico and the United States have a shared border, a shared history, and, increasingly, a shared road to prosperity based on partnership between our two peoples. When they met in Washington in late November, President Obama and President Peña Nieto articulated a common vision that puts even closer economic integration and prosperity at the forefront of the U.S.-Mexico relationship. My visit and the program we are launching today are a tangible reflection of this.
Last updated: April 30, 2013