Speech: USAID Administrator Mark Green Delivers Remarks at the Gates Foundation's 13th Annual Grand Challenges Meeting

For Immediate Release

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Washington Marriott Marquis
Washington, DC

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN:   Thank you, Harry, for that kind introduction.  Good afternoon, everyone.  It is an honor to be here with so many distinguished guests.  I know you'll be hearing shortly from Secretary Tillerson.  I want to thank him publicly for his great support of both USAID and Global Innovation Week.  Thanks to our partners, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  I understand that Bill Gates is here right now.  We are deeply appreciative for the Foundation's support, for the work they do, and of course, for the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting.  The vision and the generosity of the Gates Foundation really is inspiring and truly life-saving.  

So, let me begin with a story.  In 1988, my wife and I taught secondary school in a little village in Kenya.  Now that little village, in those days, had but one telephone.  There was a wind-up telephone attached to a wooden box in the main office of the school.  If you wanted to make a long-distance call, you literally went there and turned the crank, picked up the receiver and said something like, "Operator, give me 662 Kisumu."  Put the receiver down.  Go sit outside under the mango tree.  And eventually the phone would ring and tell you that your call had gone through.  

Not a dozen years later, I visited that same village.  I was walking along a path, and I saw a young boy, and I said, "Do you know Niva?"  One of my former students.  He said, "Yes."  I said, "Can you go and get him for me?"  And of course, he picked up his mobile phone and called him.  [laughter] 

Only a half dozen years later, I was an ambassador in East Africa.  And my African staff were using cheap mobile phones to pay their bills, conduct small business, and make calls anywhere and everywhere.  And that's the lens through which I see innovation and development and how the two must join together.  

Innovation is making the impossible, possible, the unsolvable, solvable.  And nowhere is this more true than international development.  In the area of global health, for example, on the islands of Zanzibar, every single week in 53 different places, healthcare workers are sending valuable test results on malaria by text message.  

In West Africa, we're supporting a tropical weather forecasting company that sends daily and seasonal forecasts via text message to 320,000 users across the region, so they can plan against drought and the rains.  

In Jordan, in democracy and governance work, thanks to the work of a small American NGO, there's a simple mobile phone application called Baldytak, which means, "your municipality" in Arabic.  Baldytak enables citizen communities to collect and analyze citizen feedback on local government's performance, better connecting everyday Jordanians with their elected officials.  

To be clear, this isn't new technology, it's old technology.  What's new is that all of us in development are finally embracing the possibilities.  And that's really why we're here to celebrate Grand Challenges.  

This year, I want to move the goal post just a little bit.  What I'd like to do with the Grand Challenge that we want to talk about, is to sharpen its focus on the world's staggering humanitarian assistance needs.  

Ladies and gentlemen, today we face the largest displacement of people since World War II.  There are 66 million displaced people in the world, asylum seekers, internally displaced, and refugees.  That's like the entire country of the UK suddenly going homeless.  Over 20 million people in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen face life-threatening hunger.  

Now America, I'm proud to say, is at the forefront of fighting these humanitarian challenges.  Two weeks ago at the United Nations General Assembly, we announced over one billion dollars in additional humanitarian assistance to help millions of people impacted by conflict and instability.  

But the reality is, as displacement and conflict grow with each passing day, there's simply not enough resources to do all that we would like to do, do all that we should do.  So we must find ways to be better than ever, more efficient than ever, and more effective than ever.  We need new ideas and we need innovative thinking.  We need you.  We need you to help us think through a wide range of questions.

Questions like, how can we better deliver medicine in the tropics to those in need?  How do we more accurately track humanitarian assistance dollars and how do we measure our impact?  How do we educate children who were born and raised in these refugee camps?  Children who come with each passing day.  How do we promote more reliable, more affordable energy to displaced communities?  How do we promote access to critical health innovations in conflict zones, fragile states, and displaced communities?  How do we not only tend to immediate needs, but foster resilience in people and communities so they can better withstand future crisis?  

These are not easy questions to answer.  If they were, I wouldn't be here.  

So in early 2018, in partnership with Grand Challenges Canada, USAID will issue its 10th Grand Challenge and its first ever Grand Challenge focusing on humanitarian assistance.  Now, past Grand Challenges have helped to solve and tackle initiatives ranging from improving children's reading, to fighting Ebola and Zika.  

Through these challenges, we've leveraged more than 500 million dollars in grants and technical assistance.  But of course, that's not the right measure.  It's not the money.  It's the results.  

Our "Securing Water for Food" Grand Challenge supports scientific and technological innovations to produce more food with less water in developing countries.  This initiative has saved more than three billion liters of water, and produced nearly 620 thousand tons of food for more than one and a half million farmers in poor regions.  

We also partnered with the Gates Foundation to support pregnant women and newborns in poor, very hard-to-reach communities.  This "Saving Lives at Birth" Grand Challenge has reached 1.5 million women and newborns and it has saved more than ten thousand lives.  

These are lives but they're also hopes.  They're hopes for a better future for so many people.  What I've been saying since the first day I arrived at USAID, is that the purpose of foreign assistance must be to end the need for its existence.  I hope Global Innovation Week and these Grand Challenges will get us just a little bit closer to that day.  

Thank you for being here.  Thanks for all that you've done.  And more importantly, thanks for all that you're going to do.  Thank you, all. 

Last updated: October 04, 2017

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