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 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.”
Our experience both here in Vietnam and globally is that a vibrant civil society sector is essential to connecting individuals facing the greatest HIV risks to lifesaving services. Thanks to the critical efforts of many of the civil society organizations represented here today, thousands of people in Vietnam are living happier, healthier, and more productive lives.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your contributions, and to say how proud USAID is of its history of support to building the organizational, technical, and advocacy capacity of civil society in Vietnam. With donor support, civil society organizations in Vietnam are increasingly at the forefront of delivering relevant, high-quality, and low-cost HIV services to those who need them most.
This morning, I was reflecting on President Obama’s recent visit to South Africa—a visit that so many here were a part of: chance to visit Robben Island, a chance to speak at a state dinner in Pretoria and to meet with so many amazing leaders from South Africa and across the continent. President Obama told us all multiple times that his own personal commitment to a life of service and the fight for justice was born initially out of his efforts to organize students to fight against apartheid and on behalf of President Mandela while he was in school.
In his toast at a state dinner, President Obama described the concept that’s so familiar to all of you of “Ubuntu,” noting that this is a word that does not translate easily into English but defines the sense that all of humanity is bound together in ways unseen. We don’t often have moments of coming together and respecting Ubuntu as we do in this very special moment here today.
I am honored to deliver a lecture named for one of our nation’s greatest public servants. With the heart of a teacher and the experience of a soldier, President Sanford challenged his students to transform the world around them.
Through the generations, Duke University has answered that call. From unlocking the secrets of the human genome to uncovering new leads in the search for an AIDS vaccine, Duke researchers and scholars have set their sights on some of the most pressing challenges of our time.
This thirst for translating knowledge into opportunity has shaped our nation’s economy—the most technologically advanced, the most innovative, and—still today—the most dynamic in history.
Before talking about closing space, I actually want to begin by talking about opening space; I believe these phenomena are inter-related. And we need to understand that relationship, that dynamic as we think about what we do concerning the backlash. They say that when you join government as a political appointee, you spend down your intellectual capital. Not so in the 21st century. Over nearly three and half years of serving in the Administration, I have been witness to, exposed to and learning about a revolution, and I don’t mean the Arab Spring. I mean a revolution in how citizens are using technology to hold government accountable.
As the world has grown more interconnected, this is the new face of development. The days of hiring a contractor to build a road might still be relevant in some parts of Afghanistan, but, in reality, over the long-term, if we are going to end extreme poverty, unnecessary child death and widespread child hunger, we’re going to do it by bringing businesses with real supply chains, logistics capabilities, the capacity to invent new technologies and the determination to measure results, and work in partnership, to some of the farthest corners of the globe.
Last updated: October 14, 2014