Administrator Samantha Power Swearing-in Ceremony USAID/Indonesia Mission Director Jeff Cohen

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For Immediate Release

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Good morning everybody, thank you for gathering. Thank you Karen for your heartfelt introduction which we can always count on. Such a deep relationship with all the people we get to send out into the world. It’s a great pleasure to have the chance to swear in our next Mission Director to Indonesia: proud Michigan State alum, passionate fan of the band Phish, and Detroit Tiger devotee, Jeff Cohen. 

I want to welcome Ambassador John Bass and his wife Holly who are with us today. For those of you who are joining us virtually, John and Holly are joining us here. As many of you know, John is President Biden’s nominee to become Undersecretary of State for Management, and we are very much looking forward to his confirmation. But, in the meantime, as he awaits confirmation, I want to thank you John for doing God’s work in overseeing the relocation of American citizens who were vulnerable in Kabul and across Afghanistan: Our Foreign Service Nationals, locally employed staff across the embassy, our implementing partners––who found themselves more vulnerable because of the work that they had done on issues of mutual concern to us and the association with the U.S, a source of panic and worry in those harrowing days, and of course some on-going harrowing days and of course the broader fold of Afghans at risk. Just talking to John while he was in Kabul at the airport, having to make decisions and judgments that none of us should ever wish to have to make in our lives—the humanity you brought to that and the poise, it was just awesome, so thank you so much. Holly as well, thank you for your role in spearheading this ongoing underground railroad of sorts. There’s no higher calling, there’s nothing more important that any of us could be doing right now, so thank you both. 

From 2017 to 2020, Jeff and John served together In Kabul, and I know the sinking feeling they must have had like so many of our USAID family who have given so much to try to support the aspirations of the Afghan people. You know, these are not abstract numbers or abstract communities of people, these were the people who we work with day in and day out, on whom USAID relied, and partnered with out in the field. So thank you, John and Jeff, for all you put in during your time on the ground in Afghanistan, serving our country, serving those communities. 

Jeff, as John was managing the relocation, I gather you did what so many at USAID, who have been touched by the Afghan people, did, which is referring the names of our staff and partners to the various support cells and enlisting the contacts you had amassed over the years to help our brothers and sisters there try to find safe harbor. So, thank you for that and just to you and anybody watching who had a chance to work with John and Jeff in and around Afghanistan just know that USAID is never going to give up on either supporting our folks who are still in harm's way there, or trying to ensure the aspirations for the Afghan people, which haven’t changed, are backed by the United States from a policy perspective, from a diplomatic perspective, and from a programmatic perspective. We have to get more creative, it’s going to be really hard, but there’s no shortage of dedication here or at the State Department or across our government to work harder and fundamentally continue to have the backs of the people in whom you all have invested so much. 

To Jeff’s family, it must have been really hard when Jeff was in Kabul in those years. Any assignment that sends a loved one halfway around the world can be tough, but in particular, I can only imagine, Ylaska with children in school, so hats off to one hell of a mom who carried that burden for that period of time. And to Issac, for those of you not here, he is their 14-year-old son. Isaac, it’s really great for you to be here supporting your dad as he takes this on. And I’m thrilled that Ylaska and Issac, this time, will be able to travel with Jeff and that they will get to live together and have that amazing family experience in Indonesia. We look forward, Ylaska and Isaac, to hearing of your tennis exploits—both very competitive, very impressive tennis players, and I gather Isaac, on the team that he’s going to play with, he will have the chance to travel to the Philippines and play competitively around the region. I hope that is a great adventure for you and ends up being life-changing in its own way. 

And I cannot leave out Jeff and Ylaska’s daughter, Sarah, who is watching from the University of Georgia, where she is a very competitive gymnast and a star athlete in her own right, but also––I can’t say more importantly because that would be unfair to her gymnastics soul––but equally importantly she has just decided to major in International Relations. So great choice, Sarah, great choice. We also have Jeff’s parents, Sam and Cindy with us, who must be incredibly proud, as well as his sister Suzanne, they’re joining virtually—thank you for Jeff and for instilling in him the spirit of public service that animates him every day.

From his time in the Peace Corps to his journey to USAID, now to Indonesia, Jeff’s family, all of you, have always been in his corner. And somehow Jeff has managed, even with his extensive globetrotting, to keep his focus on his loved ones. One colleague shared, “I think that the most critical thing I learned from Jeff during the two years I worked for him is that family always comes first.” Another said, “Jeff is a great family man who, while posted in Kabul, managed his fatherly duties with love and an unparalleled sense of duty.” And yet another recalled evenings in Kabul watching Sarah compete in gymnastics on Jeff’s iPhone. “The pride on his face was obvious… similarly, driving his son to tennis tournaments across the States brought great joy to him… and always with Ylaska keeping him centered.”

As many of our colleagues are aware, this same kind of deep commitment that Jeff brings to being a dad and a partner is evident is the kind of commitment he devotes to his work in development. Jeff is “all in,” in everything he does. 

He was born and raised in South Detroit, but I hear he is more likely to be found singing with a USAID Mission’s local choir, like he was known for in Kabul, than he is to belt a Motown tune. For more than 15 years, as Karen indicated, Jeff has brought his energy, creativity, and singing voice to some of the world’s toughest development challenges, first serving in the Peace Corps in Bolivia and Honduras, and most recently as USAID’s Deputy Mission Director in Afghanistan. As a Program Officer in Peru, Jeff worked closely with national and regional authorities to prevent and reduce illegal gold mining, helping curb the devastating environmental impacts to protected and Indigenous lands in Madre de Dios and across the Amazon Basin. Jeff has long focused on the needs of local and Indigenous communities. His colleagues recalled his efforts to improve representation of Indigenous people in the U.S. Embassy and USAID Mission in Lima. 

He also, essentially, prioritized the needs of local staff—his FSN colleagues in Kabul granted him an award for always advocating on their behalf. And as you know Jeff, this is a major priority for me and look forward to hearing your perspective as you get to Indonesia about what more we can do to create more opportunities for growth, more training possibilities, fewer glass ceilings for our amazing FSNs there. 

Jeff knows that there is no “one size fits all” approach to development, and this is evidenced by a historic partnership he brokered––which is so close to my heart––which is with Major League Baseball. This was back when Jeff was a Program Officer in the Dominican Republic. He turned his love for baseball––and the credibility and street cred he had in the community––all of this he turned into a force for helping the Dominican people by creating a matching grant fund that would allow teams and individual players to invest in grassroots, quick-impact development projects in some of the Dominican Republic’s most underserved communities. I want to learn more about this and think more about how we can scale this and bring in other professional sports partners. Today, there are rural schools and health clinics throughout the Dominican countryside bearing side-by-side USAID and MLB logos, and more importantly, countless families whose lives and livelihoods have been improved as a result of this, one person’s brainchild, one person’s initiative that then broadened, of course, to a family in support and USAID’s incredible FSN contributions to know exactly where and how to plug in.

Jeff also brought his leadership to the Asia Bureau here in Washington. One colleague remembers that, “before sitting down at his own desk, Jeff would walk to the desks of each of his team members every morning to say hello and ask them how they were. It was abundantly clear that this wasn’t some meaningless ‘Boss 101’ gesture for him. He is full of positive energy, and he wanted to use that energy to care for and empower the people around him.” 

During Jeff’s time in Afghanistan, on top of his day-to-day programmatic responsibilities, he worked with interagency partners to support the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. As a colleague from Kabul put it, “His selfless contributions undoubtedly saved the bureau money, likely saved implementers’ lives, and ensured the same care and support he offered his USAID family could be felt by hundreds of other Americans and Afghans supporting the U.S. Mission.”

Jeff’s wealth of experience forging partnerships, devising creative development solutions, and leading teams is going to be essential as he takes on his first charge as Mission Director in Indonesia, a critical strategic and diplomatic partner for the United States. As one of the largest countries and fastest growing economies, Indonesia has witnessed more than two decades of democratic progress and increased stability and security. But, the Indonesian population is of course reeling from the devastating effects of COVID-19, with especially drastic impacts on millions of children, their health, education, and their protection. 

And as we were just discussing, as the climate crisis accelerates, the risks from climate shocks, deforestation, and environmental degradation threaten the lives and livelihoods of more communities across Indonesia each year. 

USAID has already built a formidable track record working with our Indonesian partners, helping the country bolster its national health insurance system, more than doubling the population’s coverage from 40 percent in 2014 to 82 percent this year––which is tremendous. And we are doing an awful lot in support of Indonesia’s pandemic response. Just this past weekend, sorry we couldn’t have this be your arrival gift and timed it better, but we just delivered an additional 3.5 million doses of vaccine in Jakarta, that brings our total vaccine contribution to nearly 17 million—in addition to nearly $70 million in COVID-19 related assistance of other kinds to date. In response to the troubling rise of drug-resistant tuberculosis in recent years, we have partnered with Indonesia’s National TB Program to expand the country’s ability to detect and treat cases, improve lab services, to open more treatment facilities, and reduce diagnosis time from months to hours. But with COVID, TB is creeping back up, so we need to nip that in the bud.

And because millions of Indonesian families depend on the country’s rich natural resources for food, shelter, water, energy, and jobs, USAID partners with the government and local communities to improve natural resource management, strengthen protection of the world’s highest marine biodiversity areas, and accelerate the country’s energy transition towards a clean energy future. We have started to think through how, as part of the Build Back Better World effort, and looking as the US and others, we can do a lot in that space. We all have interests in hastened transitions to clean energy.

Rest assured, though, with all of these challenges afoot, that in our new Mission Director for Indonesia, we have a tireless advocate for the communities we serve around the world as well as––so essentially––the staff who support and carry out our work. As one colleague said, “Jeff always delivers…  and consistently challenges himself, his colleagues, and our system to do more; to do what’s really needed and what will make a lasting impact.” The team in Indonesia is really lucky to have you at the helm, Jeff—and the Indonesian people are lucky to have you as a partner.

On behalf of the entire Agency, a grateful agency, thank you for taking on this role, and best of luck to you, Ylaska, Isaac, as you head off on this great family adventure. Sarah, they’re looking forward to your visits, but good luck in the meantime at UGA. Jeff will definitely be watching your exploits on his iPhone, if not in other even more––now they have virtual reality you could probably be in the gymnasium at UGA. But thank you as a family for doing this, and for making this sacrifice on behalf of our country as you begin this new chapter.

Last updated: August 04, 2022

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