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.
As you’ve probably had to explain to your grandparents, I’m Raj Shah, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development. Hopefully that explanation was easier than usual, because unlike many audiences I’m asked to speak to, most of you have actually heard of USAID.
How do I know?
Last week, I sent an e-mail to our Agency’s staff, telling them that I’d be at SIS and asking alumni to share their experiences. I assumed I’d get a handful of replies, with alumni telling me about their favorite classes or the name of a popular hangout that I could mention for an easy applause line. But then e-mails started flooding in. From Angola and the Philippines and Lesotho and Bolivia. From a gender advisor working to ensure pregnant mothers have access to HIV medication so their children are born AIDS-free. And from a member of our cutting-edge mobile partnerships team, who’s helping transform Haiti into one of the world’s first mobile banking economies.
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I consider it a true privilege to visit this university. Generations of leaders and scholars from this university overcame towering obstacles and deep injustices to shape a better future, and it’s truly humbling to address students who uphold that tradition.
But I also consider it a privilege to speak before your class in particular, the Tuskegee class of 2012.
Thank you and good morning. I'm delighted to be here again today - it is always a pleasure to visit Kansas City. I first attended this conference almost a decade ago, when it was much smaller. The growth of this conference is one of the strongest affirmations of the importance of the work we do together. And this past year more than ever underscored the critical role of U.S. food assistance around the world. In any given year-not just in times of crisis-American farmers from more than 26 states provide food for our assistance programs. People here today know better than most the importance of our global leadership in providing help to those in need.
Last June when I visited Kansas City for this conference, the United States was in the midst of a full throttle response to crisis in the Horn of Africa. More than 13 million people in the dry lands of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia were in urgent need of help, including more than three million in Somalia alone, where conflict exacerbated the most severe drought in 60 years. We had been tracking the potential of this crisis through the Famine Early Warning System (FEWSNET), a tool USAID has funded for the last 25 years that gives us much earlier and more precise data about climate conditions, projected rainfall, crop production and marketplace functioning. As a result of early warnings that FEWSNET began signaling in August 2010, we were able to have food pre-positioned by that fall.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a great honor to address this forum on the challenge of delivering effective development assistance in a changing global landscape, characterized by what I call "the democratization of development."
The fact remains that almost seven million children, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will die before they reach their fifth birthday. They won't attend kindergarten and they won't get backpacks or any other presents. Let's not be naïve. We know that preventable child death has always been a fact of life in human history. What is unique and what gives me pause both as the USAID Administrator and as a father is that for the first time in history we really do have the tools and know-how necessary to change this brutal fact of life. Many of them can in fact fit in the backpack. To demonstrate that to you I will show you some of my favorite ones.
Last year, for the first time in history, the majority of all people lived in cities. In China, the world's largest human migration in history continues to lead millions from the country's rural interior to its coast. In India, the migration pattern is North to South, from poorer states to megacities like Mumbai.
Today there are 60 cities in China with populations greater than one million; India has 45 while the U.S. and Europe have 25 combined. But it's not just Asia; Africa and Latin America both have at least 50 cities. And within those growing cities are slums-massive labyrinths of makeshift housing designed to accommodate the swelling ranks of the urban poor. Nearly everyone has seen images of slums like these either up close or in movies like Slumdog Millionaire. And they all look just like this: blue tarps, tin roofs, rubble and litter at every turn.
My first experience with dire poverty was in this exact slum-Dharavi, in Mumbai, India-where my uncle first took me on my first trip to India at age five. Because this is the image of poverty most of us are familiar with, most of us assume that this is how the poorest people in the world live.
But the most accurate depiction of poverty isn't this image.
This past year, despite enduring the long hangover of the global financial crisis, the fifty largest donors gave $10.4 billion dollars. Today, we at USAID are working to capture the tremendous potential of this community-partnering in new ways to leverage your experiences, expertise and resources. And focus on pivotal opportunities in development will enable us to get ahead of global trends that are placing unprecedented pressures on planet.
Thank you, Ambassador Munter.
It is an honor to be here in Pakistan and see the progress of our work together. I am also pleased to have the opportunity to officially open this remarkable exhibition, showcasing the long-standing relationship between our two peoples.
In the 1950s, we helped bring the University of Karachi and two American universities together to establish The Institute of Business Administration-Pakistan's first business school.
Thank you, I am delighted to be here and to participate in this edition of the development forum.
To begin, I would like to congratulate Administrator Shah and the entire USAID team, both here in Washington and overseas.
During the past half century, USAID has served our nation exceedingly well.
For many years in many places, your agency has been the face of America, and a superb ambassador for the United States.
Two years ago, President Obama and Secretary Clinton both called for elevating development in America’s foreign policy, alongside diplomacy and defense. They both believe that the development work USAID’s staff does around the world was just as vital to our interests as the work of our soldiers and diplomats.
Last updated: January 28, 2014