USAID Administrator Mark Green’s Town Hall Meeting with U.S. Embassy Mexico City Staff


For Immediate Release

Thursday, October 26, 2017

U.S. Embassy Mexico City
Mexico City, Mexico

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I am honored to be with you. I’m delighted to be with you. You know, I know before we get going, we should at least take a moment to reflect on what happened here not so very long ago in terms of the earthquake. And if we can, I’d like to have a moment of silence for those who lost their lives, with so many families and there are some of our families here who were affected. So, if we could just take a brief moment of silence.

Thank you. You know, I am delighted to be here. I’m honored to be here. I’ve heard so much about all of you and the great work that’s being done. And I wanted you to know how much we support and appreciate all the work that you have done. Obviously, in the wake of the earthquake, but also in preparing for crazy visitors like me who I know present burdens for all of you. Because I am a former member of Congress, a former ambassador, I have hosted delegations, have been on delegates, so I’ve seen it from all sides. So, thanks to all of you for your hospitality and what has gone on to making this trip possible.

What I thought I would do very quickly is to offer a few thoughts about what my vision is, and what I see the role of the USAID being in the larger diplomatic effort that we all have. Then as much as anything, answer your questions, and hear from all of you.

So in terms of what my vision is, I have said since the first day that I was nominated, that I believe very simply that the purpose of foreign assistance must be to end the need for its existence. And what I mean by that is, that wherever we are in the world, particularly in a place like where we are here in Mexico City, and working with Mexican citizens, our job is to go with them on a development journey. Our job is to help our friends who are willing, take on those issues, take on those reforms that help them to be not only self-reliant, but to have a piece of that bright future that we believe human beings everywhere are entitled to have.

I have lived in many parts of the world. I have lived in places that have been ravaged by illness, and ravaged by poverty. Wherever I have gone, wherever I have lived, I have always seen in every single human being that inherent need to be able to take care of themselves, to take care of their families, for community leaders to provide for the community and to build that bright future. And so, that’s what I believe in with all of my heart. And so, that is what I want us to be focusing on in the work that we do.

Secondly, as with respect to Mexico, Mexico City, and this region, it is vitally important that our Mexican friends and partners continue to rise, continue to succeed. Mexico’s success is a U.S. success and vice versa. There is no way in the world that Mexico succeeds without the U.S., and it is just as true that the U.S. cannot succeed unless Mexico succeeds. So there is a tremendous self-interest in the work that we do, in partnering to take on challenges.

Also, as we all know, as many of you know, there is a tremendous opportunity for the U.S. and Mexico working closely together, our governments, our civil society organizations, our private sector to partner to take on challenges in the region. Because we all see those same challenges, they affect us maybe at different points and in different ways and in different times, but we’re tied together so closely. We all have to work on these things, and I do believe we see a tremendous, tremendous success.

Briefly, so I’ve been on the job less than three months, which means I’ve got all the answers, right? But I have learned an extraordinary amount in just the brief time that I have been at the helm of USAID.

First and foremost, I have come to respect, more than ever before, they caliber of people that are working for USAID, working for State, working for our foreign policy apparatus. I am impressed. I’m terribly impressed with what you do each day, day in and day out.

Secondly, along with that, I have been really wooed by the sense of mission and purpose that I have seen at USAID and again, in the interagency. All of you know why you come to work each day. All of you were brought here by a sense of purpose, the idea that you can make a difference, the idea that you could help to lift lives and build communities. And that to me is invigorating.

I have had lots of travels in my time. My first trip overseas was to the Horn of Africa, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia. I got to see, in terms of South Sudan, which is the most dangerous place in the world for humanitarian workers, I see what our team, particularly our Foreign Service Nationals, go through day in and day out. I see what some of the tremendous poverty enhance challenges we face. And I’ve also seen firsthand the damage and pain that’s caused by poor governments.

In Ethiopia, I had to chance to see what we can achieve with some of our programs like Feed the Future, our food security initiative. What that can mean in terms of providing technical assistance and resources and know how for our country partners to be able to bolster and build and foster their own future.

I’ve also seen the tremendous value that all of these tools have in diplomatic ways, in diplomatic minds and purposes. The fact that taking these tools is a way that we can incentivize countries to take on the reforms that we know they must take on if they’re going to reach their full potential. And so, my first few months on the job have been really reassuring and reaffirming for me about the great potential that we all have.

Now, I know a number of you were asking about what lies ahead in terms of the work that we’re doing at USAID in particular. You know we have our own plans for redesign. We have our own thoughts about how we can continue to improve and each and every day make ourselves more effective than we were just a day or two earlier. So there are things that we’re going to take on.

Number one, I’ve been struck by in my first weeks in office, how much of our work is taken up by humanitarian efforts, by humanitarian concerns. My background is in development. I started off a little over 30 years ago in the development sector. But increasingly these days, we’re all seeing the challenges and consequences of some of the manmade catastrophes that are taking place around the world.

There are more than 65 million displaced people in the world today. That’s created profound challenges. Challenges in the countries where they are, in some cases, temporarily housed, in other cases, very likely long-term housed. There’s also challenges for the places from whence they came.

The impacts of this is a new challenge for us in so many ways. So, one of the first forms that we started to undertake working on internally is we’re going to elevate our work in humanitarian assistance. We’re looking to pull together from various parts of the agency, some of those humanitarian tools, that we already have used to great success, to see if we can pull them together to make them more focused, to make them more nimble than ever before, and we’ve been starting to make way at making USAID more relevant, and stronger, and more effective than ever before.

Secondly, we just had some discussions about it: we’re looking to enhance the way that we engage with the private sector. With USAID, we started a little over fifty-five years ago. About 80 percent of the money that flows from the U.S. to the developing world was ODA, traditional development assistance. These days, that number is about 9 percent. And it’s not that traditional development assistance has withered on the mind, it’s just the opposite that we see so many other forces at play.

Remittances are a significant factor these days in financial flows. Large scale philanthropy: Gates, Rockefeller, and so many others. But more than anything else, it’s in the area of commerce. The U.S. has tremendous business interest in the developing world. Most of the fastest growing economies in the world are in the developing world. So, we see tremendous opportunity in terms of financial flows.

I think our challenge in the development sector is making sure that we tap into those, that we align with those, we catalyze with those. If we can find ways to use the power of private enterprise and entrepreneurship to help us power and achieve some of our development goals, that’s a tremendous win for us.

It will adjust our role a little bit, in many ways we’ll be steering more than rowing. But it gives us a force multiplier to achieve big things that we could never do otherwise.

So, those are the biggest changes that I see coming. And to me, it’s a great opportunity for the agency and for all of us who are involved, not just in development, but in foreign policy, to take on those challenges that we’ve been talking about for a very long time.

So enough for me talking. What I’d like to do is to try to respond to some of the questions that many of you have put forward and again I do appreciate your hospitality.

Question number one: “U.S.-Mexican relations have been difficult lately. How do you see the relationship going forward?”

I see the relationship getting stronger, and more closely aligned in the months and years. Why? Self-interest. It’s extraordinarily important for the U.S. to have strong ties to and great success in our neighborhood. And those who work with us. If Mexico gets a cold, someone in the U.S. will sneeze. We are joined together. Our interests are so closely aligned. I think that that’s going to cause us to work more closely together over and over again.

But what does that mean for all of you for those of us who work at USAID and across the interagency? My view is the most important thing that we can do is get stuff done together, is to identify those challenges that affect us both, and affect the larger region, and by working together to take on those challenges. I think it strengthens the relationship all the time. You can say it’s confidence-building, you can say it’s information sharing, but we have so many challenges facing us jointly that by working together, I think it improves the relationship day in and day out.

Next question I have is, “Where do you see USAID Mexico in five years, what is your vision, and what should we do differently?”

Again, think back to how I began in terms of what I’ve seen for USAID. I believe the purpose of foreign assistance must be to end the need for its existence. To drill down on that a little bit more, I really do see every nation in the world as on a development journey.

We’re at different places oftentimes in that development journey, but I think what we need to do -- USAID, especially here in Mexico -- is reach out to our partners and see where it is that we can help them as they progress along in that journey, and think about what the relationship should look like. Take a look at where we are in the world; we’re in about 100 countries.

Those countries are in different places in that journey, and different places in terms of the competencies they have, the capacities that we have. What we’re trying to do at USAID is go country by country; develop benchmarks, mileposts, guideposts, if you will; and begin to measure country capacity so that we can begin to address those capacities and help our willing partners enhance their ability to be fully self-reliant.

Mexico is, obviously, well along in that journey. So I think what we should be doing at USAID Mexico City is we should be working with our partners to share our experiences, not because we have all the answers, but oftentimes -- I usually put it as “perhaps we’ve made all the mistakes.” And as Mexico continues on its own journey, one of the things we might be able to share is the lessons that we’ve learned along the way to help them to bolster their capacities on their journey to take them where they want to go.

Because it will not only help, I think, strengthen the mission here, but it will help us jointly take on those same challenges throughout the region. I think USAID Mexico is going to strengthen its capacities in force projection in the region, and my guess is it’s going to strengthen its capacities in how it works with the ever more vibrant private sector that we see here.

Third, “how do you see Mexican mission programming being affected by the 2018 Mexican presidential election?” When I served as ambassador in Tanzania, one of the most important practices that I brought to the embassy was tying the work that we do to any one president or any one administration, either Tanzanian or American. In the entire time that I was ambassador in Tanzania, with one exception, I never allowed a plaque to be put that had President Bush’s name -- the president that I’m closest with.

Why? We need to remind people over and over again the work that we do, the juice that powers it, comes from hard-working families all across the United States of America, and what we do is people-to-people. That’s why our logo matters so much. “From the American people.” So, I think if we continue to take on those challenges, the challenges that affect Mexicans, that have been identified by Mexican leaders, if we continue to focus on those challenges, I don’t see our work being dramatically affected by the outcome of any one election.

It’s very important for us to keep our heads down and focused on those things that unite us and focus on those challenges and opportunities that Mexican leaders -- public sector, private sector -- have identified. So, what is USAID’s role inside the larger embassy team here and across the world with the State Department?

I view what we do at USAID as being operational. The work that we do is programmatic; it’s operational; it’s motion-oriented. We don’t do diplomacy. We provide the juice and the power for diplomacy. My career has been spent largely in Africa, and the work that we did in Africa, including when I was ambassador, was driven and powered by our development tools, by the application of our foreign assistance.

A friend of mine in the community in Dar es Salaam, the British ambassador, used to tease me because I oftentimes didn’t do the diplomatic cocktail circuit that ambassadors are famous for each evening, and said, “Why don’t you?” And I said, “You know, you and I both know why you’re doing this. You’re doing this so you can glean information, you can pick up on whispers from your counterparts, and try to learn more about what government policy is.”

If I have a question about Tanzanian government policy, I call the president of Tanzania. He’ll actually pick up the phone. Why? Because our embassy, our USAID team, Embassy Dar es Salaam, is helping the government of Tanzania take on all of their daunting challenges, all of their poverty-enhanced challenges. We were the ones, day-in and day-out, that were providing answers to the problems that they faced, and that’s our diplomatic strength.

So, we may not be diplomats in the formal sense, but what our team does at USAID Mexico and in our USAID missions around the world that provides the juice that makes effective diplomacy possible.

When our team members, and in particular our Foreign Service Nationals, and the partners -- our implementing partners -- are seen for what they do in communities all across this country, that will do more to provide leverage in achieving the foreign policy goals that we want to achieve than anything else that we can do.

So, I believe that the work that we do within this embassy, but really all around the world, is an irreplaceable part of our foreign policy. And I can tell you that Secretary Tillerson believes the same way. In just the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen him in a number of settings. He spoke recently at CSIS in Washington, D.C., and made mention about the work that we do at USAID, and talked about how it was the best of its kind anywhere in the world and how it was so important.

So, I view our job as providing the juice, the strength, the programs, and the progress that make so much more possible for our diplomatic brothers and sisters. I think it’s a great mission to work on. I think it’s making a difference, and again, I’m thrilled to be able to play a small role in helping to lead it forward. So, again, thanks to all of you for coming here. I know we have some time. I’d love to take a few questions if any of you have questions from --

QUESTION: So, I want to thank you for coming. I’m Mike (inaudible) with USAID. And my question has to do with U.S. small businesses and what role you see them playing in the Agency.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Great question. The role of small businesses at the Agency. I can answer a number of ways. First off: we’re in the process of agreeing to new standards to make sure how much of our work -- how much of our business is actually allocated to small businesses, and we’ll continue to make progress on that front. But more significantly, what I’m hoping to do, as we take a look at the procurement process at USAID, and the private sector engagement, I want to invite earlier in the process the best ideas from the private sector.

So, what you’re going to see us do -- and this is already provided for in rule and regulation; we just haven’t been taking advantage of it enough -- we’re oftentimes going to make large calls for ideas around a sector or around a country or a community, and we’ll put it in terms of allow businesses to participate at relatively low cost.

So, instead of the formal bids that we will eventually need, what we’ll be looking for are one-pagers with best ideas, innovative ideas. That should allow us to reach out to the private sector -- particularly to small business, which oftentimes feels as though they’ve not been brought into the process -- reaching out to small business to get some of their best ideas. I also hope it will have the effect of enhancing competition.

What we need to have is everybody’s best: best ideas, best efforts. We want to create a competitive environment so more and more good ideas come to the forefront for all of us at USAID. So, that’s the vision that I have. Oftentimes, small businesses are among the most innovative and quickest, most nimble, so the more that we can partner with them the better off I think we are.

MODERATOR: So, one more question.

QUESTION: Ambassador, thank you so much for coming. It’s very much appreciated. My name is Don McCubbin and I work on climate activities. I was wondering to what extent you feel like USAID should work on activities that mitigate the gap in climate change.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: It’s a good question. I’ve been asked the question before. I see all of these changes through a development lens, so in places where we’re working, in countries where we’re working, where our partners are identifying challenges that they see as a result of changing climate, changing conditions -- that’s sound development work.

We’re doing, for example -- Indonesia; I know we’re doing some land-use planning work to help mitigate and prevent some of the fallout from the landslides that they’ve had as a result of weather conditions there. That, to me, is sound development work. I tend to look at these challenges through a development lens. Where it makes development sense we should be doing it. I think it’s good.

Again, my view is every country is on a development journey; every country has its particular challenges, particular needs, and priorities. We should walk with them in that process. We can’t want it more than they do, and they have to be willing to make tough choices, and they have to have their own skin in the game. But where we find countries that are willing to make tough choices, want to take these things on, to me, they’re worth investing in.

Last updated: October 26, 2017

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