Remarks by USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah at the Society for International Development-Washington 2010 Annual Gala Dinner

Thursday, January 28, 2010
Society for International Development-Washington 2010 Annual Gala Dinner

BETSY BASSAN: It is now my pleasure to briefly introduce our tribute speaker, Dr. Rajiv Shah, USAID administrator. Administrator Shah today celebrates his third week in the position - (applause) - and I'm sure he is saying, what a three weeks it has been. Given all that Administrator Shah has been doing to coordinate the government's Haiti relief effort, we are truly honored that he has taken the time to be with us tonight.

Administrator Shah has long been a good friend of SID-Washington and was a prime mover in supporting previous SID dinners from his former perch at the Gates Foundation. Thank you very much for that support. (Applause.)

We have all become acquainted with this remarkable man. He blends many worlds and organizational perspectives: a masters of science in health economics from Wharton, and an M.D. also from the University of Pennsylvania; deep expertise and experience across sectors - in particular, health and agriculture; and very senior posts in government at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in a foundation at Gates and in both the nonprofit and for-profit private sector with Health Systems Analytics and Project Impact for South Asian Americans.

Prior to joining the Obama administration, Dr. Shah worked at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Over his 7 years there, he served in a variety of leadership roles, including as director of global agricultural development, director of strategic opportunities and deputy director for the global health program. In these roles, he helped develop and launch the foundation's global development program, helped create both the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa and the International Finance Facility for Immunization, an effort that raised more than 5 billion (dollars) for child immunization.

Before coming to USAID, Dr. Shah served as undersecretary of research, education and economics and as chief scientist at USDA. This included oversight of four federal agencies and more than 10,000 staff. In short order, he refocused their work around a core set of presidential priorities.

Secretary of State Clinton made us aware at Dr. Shah's swearing-in ceremony of the lengths he will go to attain success - even flying for one day to the Taj Mahal in India to make sure that his future wife said yes. (Applause.)

Secretary Clinton also mentioned that he climbed to the summit of Mount Rainier. That has special resonance for me because I was born and raised in Seattle and Mount Rainier is a veritable icon for Seattleites. I say that if Dr. Shah has this kind of vision and stamina, USAID is in very good hands. Without further ado, I pass the podium to Dr. Shah. (Applause.)

DR. RAJIV SHAH: Hello, thank you. That's very, very generous. Once you move to Seattle, you just look at that mountain all the time and you kind of have no choice, so it's not really a testament to my commitment to mountain-climbing as it's sitting there and you've got to climb it.

I wanted to just start by thanking SID. It's been great to watch and be a part of the SID community for a number of years. And it's been amazing to learn that SID has been around for more than 50 years and been involved in this work for such a significant length of time.

Thank you, Betsy, for that kind introduction and for your work with the Washington board. And thank you, Joe Feuer, for your work as the executive director. This is a great organization and it's great to bring together a community of people that have such passion for this work.

If there's one thing I've observed just in the last two months of being welcomed into this community, it is that it very much is a community. It seems like everybody has at some point served at USAID, which is a wonderful thing, and hopefully many of you will come back. But it is a community that sticks together, it's a community of people who share interests and passions and, perhaps above all, it's a community of people who share a deep, deep, deep commitment to making the world a significantly better place for the least fortunate amongst us.

And perhaps no one shares that commitment as strongly as our two honorees this evening, and so I'm eager to have the opportunity to speak about each of them. I also want to thank Andrew Natsios, who I just met here a moment ago, mostly for being the one person who told me that the thing that you really have to think about in this job is when disaster strikes, you can be overwhelmed for a while with the responsibilities of the office of foreign disaster assistance and the role that USAID plays in helping to coordinate the response. So thank you, Andrew. That was very helpful - (laughter) - and very timely!

Finally, I want to just say a special word for Alonzo Fulgham. I've actually known Alonzo because he came out to Seattle when I was at the Gates Foundation. He was part of the HELP Commission that perhaps many of you were a part of and did work with.

But I would just note - and he's off in London right now working on Afghanistan and Yemen with Secretary Clinton - but I've been amazed by his personal commitment to this agency, and I've been amazed - and I've now understood - at the pressures on the job that he has performed over the course of last year. And I know that as a board member of SID, he sends his personal greetings this evening, and I think we owe him just a moment of reflection and thanks in that context. (Applause.)

I'd like to start just by saying a few words about Haiti. I was obviously there a few times in the past few weeks, and this is a community of people and organizations and partners who've played a critical role in a large and comprehensive response to what is likely the most complex disaster we've collectively faced, in part because of the relatively low infrastructure base, but then the fact that the earthquake destroyed some very critical assets, like the airport and the port and some of the main roads and, of course, a tremendous amount of housing that left almost 2 million people displaced.

It has been an incredible experience to see this community come together and aggressively be part of the response. And I think in many ways, it reflects on the core values and the core aspirations that we all hold dear.

I just want to articulate a few points about the response that I think are perhaps on the top of my mind and for which I'm very grateful. The first is it's important to note that when this happened, we mounted together the largest urban search-and-rescue effort ever mounted - the most successful, in terms of numbers of saves, with more than 135 lives saved - and that the leadership for this came from a few U.S.-based urban search-and-rescue teams that were the first ones to get down there that established a leadership role in coordinating the efforts of more than 30 international teams.

And something I came to learn as this was happening was that the Fairfax, Virginia, team that got back home today for the first time in two weeks, in fact trained - (applause) - they in fact trained many of the international teams who then came to participate with them. And so many of them knew about the Fairfax team; they knew each other individually, and over the course of years, this community has been a part of helping to train firefighters and urban search-and-rescue teams around the world. So it's a great testament to the accomplishments of our collective work.

We've also worked very hard in food and water and health and a range of other sectors. Just USAID-supported programs alone through many of the partners in the room here today have fed more than 500,000 displaced Haitians. We've offered water and sanitation services broadly to much of the affected population. And through a variety of efforts, we've provided medical care to more than 18,000 patients - and that's just the U.S. medical teams that went down; that doesn't include many of the great work that's been done by our partners on the ground and by so many other international partners.

And of course, with our partnership with the Department of Defense, we've offered even more care to people aboard the Comfort, the naval hospital ship, and a range of other things. (Applause.) And it's really been a tremendous and significant response that was directly responsive to the president's call for us to lead an effort, but to lead an effort that included everybody working with a common purpose against a common outcome, which is protecting and serving the people of Haiti at this tragic time in their history.

So I just want to thank you for that effort and note that I was there last week and had the opportunity to meet with many of our partners, many of our own USAID mission staff, and in particular, many of our Foreign Service Nationals.

As someone new to the agency, I'm surprised we make this distinction sometimes between Foreign Service and Foreign Service National. Our Foreign Service National staff in Haiti has - most of whom - many of them lost their homes; some lost family members - and they all come in every day and work 12, 14, 16 hours in that context to help their country.

And when I thank them for their service, the only comment or question they had was to thank us for our commitment to Haiti. And it just speaks volumes about their leadership and their commitment and the passion they bring to the work.

So this has been an incredible - (applause) - this has been an incredible opportunity, I think, for the whole world and certainly, at least, for Americans to see what our community can do when we come together with a common goal and a common objective. President Obama asked for a strong response and we are working very hard to deliver that.

When President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year, he called on this community, the development community, to elevate development as a necessary component, a necessary precondition for peace and security in the world. But he also called on us to expand our moral imagination because he felt it was that push that would inspire people, that would give us the ability to keep people focused on the kind of goals we care about for the years and years and years that it takes to achieve those types of real outcomes.

And I think, in many ways, the response in Haiti has been a good example of trying to do that. And of course, there's so much more work to do and there's so many problems we can solve and so many ways to improve that response on a day-to-day basis, but in many ways it embodies what the president spoke about in a deep and fundamental way.

Similarly, Secretary Clinton has talked about elevating development as a core component of our foreign policy and has invested so much of her personal energy and commitment to our cause. And of course, Congress has spoken. At the highest levels of our governments, the consensus right now is that we have a unique opportunity to stand up, elevate development and make it a core component of everything we do in the context of foreign policy. We have more resources, more influence, more technology and more partnerships than we ever had before.

And we have amazing leadership in Congress. Two of our foremost partners are, of course, our honorees this evening, Sen. John Kerry and Sen. Richard Lugar. I'm deeply humbled and honored to be even asked to pay tribute to them. It was just two months ago - and with some degree of anxiousness or anxiety - that I was preparing to testify before them. I thought that would be one of the hardest moments I'd have to deal with. Now I realize that it's actually quite tougher to try to honor two incredibly accomplished senators and figures in American history in a very short introductory speech. It's quite a tough task for the new guy.

But during my confirmation process, Sen. Kerry in particular demonstrated his belief in USAID and our agency's potential and the collective work that we all do together in this room. Sen. Kerry signaled his willingness to fight for a stronger and more effective development policy.

In fact, even since the earthquake hit, Sen. Kerry has called personally several times with ideas and with, really, an expectation that we push ourselves to think bigger, think more creatively about what we could do if we coordinate better, if we come together as a community and if we leverage all of the assets in the federal family to really address some of the challenges we face like rebuilding the port or reopening the airport.

I think this direct engagement demonstrates not only his willingness to participate in these issues but his commitment to offer real leadership. And of course, it's well known that Sen. Kerry's passion for foreign affairs stems from a lifetime of public service which began with his storied military service in Vietnam.

Sen. Kerry is a rare leader, equally versed and engaged in both the military and development components of our nation's foreign policy. He was a forceful and early advocate for a new direction in Afghanistan. He also joined Sen. Lugar in sponsoring the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, which was designed to help transition from a military relationship to one of direct engagement between the United States and the people of Pakistan.

Sen. Kerry has been instrumental in shaping the United States government's policies and programs related to HIV/AIDS. His legislative work paved the way for the establishment of PEPFAR, the president's emergency program, and thanks to these efforts and to strong bipartisan consensus and effective implementation efforts, more than 2 million HIV-positive people are receiving life-saving treatment and million more are receiving care and prevention services. (Applause.)

I don't know if Eric Goosby is with us tonight, but we recognize Eric as playing a critical role, of course, in taking this legacy forward. Sen. Kerry is also well-known throughout the world for his leadership in the fight against climate change. And in the coming days, he intends to introduce the International Violence against Women Act. (Applause.)

I am sorry that Sen. Kerry's not here today because I wanted to tell the story of when I first met the senator in person, and it was in a London airport after the 2004 election. I was traveling to India as part of a program with the Gates Foundation to work on the tsunami relief effort from the context of the Indian side and the senator was traveling to the Middle East as part of a larger diplomatic effort.

And I was just struck in a short conversation in an airport with his, kind of, deep and comprehensive knowledge of everything going on with respect to the tsunami, the relief operation - and I couldn't believe he wasn't going there because I thought he must be reading a briefing book to get there. But I think we're fortunate to have a leader like Sen. Kerry who just has such depth of knowledge, such capacity to learn and such commitment to the issues that we all care deeply about in this room.

Senator Lugar - (chuckles) - the amount of time you have put into my confirmation and to helping me learn and prepare is really tremendous. And so I wanted to take a special moment to say thank you for that unique commitment of time and effort. From your thoughtful invitation to lunch to your active participation in the hearing but also making your staff available time and time again to offer support and guidance.

As everyone in this room knows, Sen. Lugar has been a remarkable advocate of U.S. leadership in the world, strong national security, free trade and economic growth. And he's been advocating for these issues for decades with consistency of purpose and with a tremendous amount of courage and conviction.

Sen. Lugar's commitment to the critical issue of food security can be traced all the way back to his service on the local school board in 1963. His interest in school breakfast programs grew into global expertise and he continues today to work with food banks and community health centers in Indiana.

In fact, I first - I've, of course, like so many in the room, admired Sen. Lugar for years - but first had the chance to meet Sen. Lugar when I was at the Department of Agriculture because of his deep commitment to those issues.

Sen. Lugar's many accomplishments include the Tropical Forest Conservation Act which helps developing nations conserve their natural resources - (applause) - and the policy advisory group that he and then-Chairman Biden convened to consider the role of smart power in development. (Applause.)

As an ardent defender of foreign assistance and its role in foreign policy, Sen. Lugar stands as a reminder that American leadership will not waver in meeting the development challenges ahead. He has been integral in reducing the threat of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Of course, in 1991 he forged a bipartisan partnership with then-Senate Armed Services Chairman Sam Nunn to destroy weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union, an issue we heard about as recently as last night. To date, the Nunn-Lugar program has deactivated more than 7500 nuclear warheads. (Applause.)

We have a lot to learn from these two leaders: courage, commitment, focus and resolve. Both Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lugar demonstrate that achieving lasting change requires decades of focus and it requires making tough decisions and taking controversial positions at a time when really the world is not paying attention.

But with real commitment and with really sticking with a single purpose for a long period of time, they've both been able to show how you can bring an issue to the front of the public consciousness and create the kind of change that is lasting, the kind of change that changes the world in a really fundamental and deep way. And in that way, we have a lot to learn from their example as we go forward with our work in revamping development and foreign assistance.

But what I appreciate just as much as Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lugar's public and private support is really the high expectations that they set of us. They challenge us to set aside the well-worn ways of old and to embrace reform with measurable results. They offer us greater flexibility in development but demand greater accountability. And they, like so many of us, are not as interested in incremental change. Their goal is transformational change and to lead that change with real, renewed purpose.

So as storied as USAID's history has been, we can't achieve the results that they expect of us unless we fundamentally change the way we do business. Together with their support, we will rebuild the capabilities USAID once had, capacities that allowed us to make great strides in many corners of the world over the past several decades. And we'll develop new capabilities to pursue innovation, science and technology and to better focus our work on women and girls. We'll do our best to reform our business model and to more clearly focus on results and accountability.

These changes won't come easily and these changes won't come overnight, but we owe it to our honorees this evening and to the communities we serve to show the kind of resolve that they've shown over many, many years and many decades in order to achieve the kind of outcomes we hope to achieve for development.

With the president and secretary of state committed to our work, with leaders like Senators Kerry and Lugar on the Hill and the dedication of the community that is gathered here tonight, I am very encouraged and very excited about the work ahead.

So it's now my great honor to introduce someone who is a real hero to all of us in this room, a public servant who shares our common values and sets a tremendous example and a senator who will be sure to hold our feet to the fire to ensure we achieve results, Sen. Richard Lugar. (Applause.)

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Last updated: June 04, 2012

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