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.
Thirty years ago, the official development community was almost exclusively composed of international organizations like the World Bank and government agencies like USAID. But today, we live in a very different world.
Private investment in emerging economies has grown to dwarf official development assistance. And new technologies—perhaps most notably the mobile phone—have transformed the lives of billions of people in the farthest corners of the globe. In the last 15 years, the development community has dramatically expanded. It now includes innovators at universities—who have designed microscopes that attach to iPhones to diagnose malaria and solar-powered micro-grids to give children a light to read by at night. It includes philanthropists like Bill Gates and Mo Ibrahim, who have studied these issues deeply and can bring their private sector expertise to bear on solving challenges. And it includes banks and companies like Citi, Dupont, and Cargill who are increasingly seeking high risk, high return investments in some of the toughest parts of our world.
Taken together, these extraordinary new trends—the emergence of new technologies and the growth of our community—have transformed what’s possible to achieve in development.
It is an honor for me to represent USAID/Vietnam to be here today at the Ceremony of International Day of Persons with Disabilities with the theme of: “Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all”.
Since the dawn of humanity, extreme poverty has crowded at the heels of progress—stifling hopes and undermining growth across the centuries. Today, we stand within reach of a world that was simply once unimaginable: a world without extreme poverty.
In the United States, with a dollar-and-a-quarter in your pocket, you can buy a bottle of water or a pack of gum. But for 1.2 billion people around the world, this is all they live on every day. No matter how much you adjust for the relative price of local commodities, a dollar-and-a-quarter is a desperately meager sum—and with it families must make daily choices among food, medicine, housing, and education. Every decision is a trade-off with potentially catastrophic consequences. Do you buy medicines for a sick parent, provide an evening meal for your children, or put a few pennies away towards a new roof or next year’s school fees?
This is what we call extreme poverty.
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.
In a recent speech at Duke University, USAID Administrator Raj Shah told an audience that to provide food security for the 860 million people who go to bed hungry every night and to set communities on a path from dependency to resilience, we need new solutions and that means, quote, “not only working with long-standing research partners like Kansas State and Virginia Tech to develop new drought-tolerant seeds, but also harnessing the private sector to scale them.”
In this short quote, Administrator Shah encapsulates two important ideas – and these ideas are the backdrop for my remarks today – our relationship with institutions of higher education is long-standing, special and has been, and will continue to be, critical to global development. But also, times are changing, the challenges are enormous, and the ever-expanding constellation of actors mandates that we approach our partnership differently.
I speak today to honor the important role that social workers can fulfill. In many countries including my own, social workers are recognized for the invaluable work they do with vulnerable children and people who are poor, disabled, or suffer disadvantages. They work in our schools, our hospitals, our prisons, and our government. The International Federation of Social Workers describes social work as an effort to “address the barriers, inequities and injustices that exist in society.” What is more vital and laudable than that? Celebrating Social Work day is one way of recognizing the contributions of social workers around the world.
Social work as a profession in Vietnam is relatively new. You know the need to quickly increase the number of trained social workers. According to recent figures from MOLISA there are 6 million people with disabilities, nearly 3 million poor families and about 1.5 million children orphaned, abandoned, or who are victims of violence, abuse, or neglect. Within Vietnamese communities there are victims of family violence, drug and alcohol abuse, HIV/AIDS and homelessness. Their care and social and economic inclusion would be made easier through the attention of social work services.
We belong to an Agency that was founded on the simple and extraordinary premise that American prosperity and security can be achieved through human progress. That by ending poverty abroad, we could brighten the future of Americans at home. In the fifty years since USAID was founded, we have seen how human ingenuity and partnership has solved some of our greatest challenges.
According to the World Bank, in 1980, roughly half the population in the developing world lived in extreme poverty; that number is 1 in 5 today. The MDG target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline. Maternal mortality rates have been nearly halved since 1990. The number of children who die before the age of five is half of what it was in 1990. And we are in reach of meeting the MDG target of cutting world hunger in half by 2015.
There has also been a revolution underway in the development world, with a burst of new creative partnerships, bringing government, NGOs and the private sector together in ways that bring new ideas, new technologies, new investment, and greater scale to help solve stubborn problems.
At USAID we have been seized with the challenge of transforming the agency into a modern development enterprise. Under the leadership of USAID Administrator Raj Shah, we have put partnership, technology and innovation at the heart of how we do business. We are renovating systems and increasing our ability to gather evidence and understand results.
The goal of USAID’s support to technology in Cambodia is to bring tangible benefits to citizens and effect positive change through improved communications and access to information. I hope that as you participate in the BarCamp, you will consider how you can combine your skills, what you learn here, and emerging technologies to contribute to a brighter future for Cambodia. This is a chance for Cambodia to become, in the words of USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, “a country that believes that dedication and innovation are the only things needed to bridge the gap between the inconceivable and the achievable.”
Last updated: January 28, 2014