U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green's Remarks Concordia Summit's Journey to Self-Reliance Event


For Immediate Release

Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Office of Press Relations
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320 | Email: press@usaid.gov


Grand Hyatt
New York, New York
September 25, 2018

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, 30 years ago, I began my career in development in a little village in Kenya, a village where we had no running water, no electricity, no telephone.  But in the entire year that I was there, not one student ever asked me for money. They might ask me for extra lessons. They might ask me for help with books.  But they never once asked for a handout. Thirty years later, I'm the Administrator of USAID. And I'm in Africa again, this time in the Somali region of Ethiopia, an area going into its third year of drought.

Part of the program that we were doing was a food distribution with our partner, the World Food Programme.  And over a little area, a little field, we were walking along, and we were watching sacks of food -- grain -- being passed out to people who would then take it back and divide it amongst the family members.  And I remember walking along and coming across a wonderful Ethiopian lady who came up to me. And she said, "I have a question." She said, "First off, I really appreciate this food. We need this grain. But the question I have is, "can you help me with irrigation so that I never have to ask you for food again?"  Over the years, I've come to realize that what I heard from my students and what I heard from that lady isn't unique. In fact, it's not even unusual.

As we take a look at some of the most thoughtful voices around the world, over and over again we see this spirit expressed, the need to be independent, the need to be self-reliant.  And it's that spirit that led us at USAID to craft a framework that we call the Journey to Self-Reliance. And we say it because if countries are willing to take on the tough choices, and the tough challenges that you need to do if you're going to progress and be on that journey to self-reliance, then we want to walk with them along the way.

It begins with a simple premise.  The very purpose of foreign assistance must be ending its need to exist.  And what that means is every one of our programs should look forward to the day when it can end.  And around the world, we should measure ourselves by how far each of our investments takes us a little bit closer to that day.  Now, the premise in all of this is, we have to understand where countries are on their journey. We have to understand where they are in their journey and where they have come from.  And so, at USAID, we spent months taking a look a different metrics, different data sets, countless hours of discussions with experts inside USAID, outside USAID, in the U.S., and around the world.  And what we did is we came up with 17 independent metrics -- not our numbers, but from outside open sources that we sort of put together as -- if you will -- self-reliance coordinates. And we broke them down into two sets -- kind of like longitude and latitude.  And the first set is capacity. The capacity of governments to effectively deliver services for their people. The capacity of civil society to be that connective tissue between citizens and their leaders. The capacity of citizens themselves, measured by the quality of the healthcare system, the quality of the education system.  Will they be prepared? Will they be capable to take on the challenges of the future? And finally, economic capacity. Does the capacity have the strength to withstand future shocks? Capacity is important. In fact, capacity in a journey to self-reliance is irreplaceable. It's also insufficient. Capacity alone will not get you there.

And so, we also have in our self-reliance coordinates a set of metrics that deal with commitment.  Political commitment. Commitment around budgeting that isn't just budgeting for today, but for the future.  Inclusive development, making sure that every part of the community is involved in the future, and making sure that decisions are done in an open, transparent, and accountable way. Capacity and commitment.

And when we take these two sets of data and apply them to the family of nations, we get a scatter plot that looks something like this.  Each of those dots is a country somewhere on the journey to self-reliance. And when you take a look, you can see a lot of them are well on their way to self-reliance; in fact, onto prosperity.  But there are other countries that either through commitment, through capacity have challenges -- have areas that, certainly, they need to work on.

Now, scatter plots are interesting, and they helped us develop some broad approaches -- but, scatter plots are the toys of economics and academics.  That's not how we do development. Development, instead, is done country-by-country. We need to understand where a country has been, how its gotten to today.  But more importantly, we need to understand where a country wants to go. What does the future look like? What do they want it to look like? In this case, represented by that dotted line and the question mark.

And so, the importance of the Journey to Self-Reliance in our discussions is figuring out how we answer that question with our country partner.  To do that, what we've done is we've taken those metrics I was talking about -- break them down country-by-country into roadmaps, where we do a deep dive into each metric set -- because it's these metrics and what we do with them that will answer that question, that will fill in that dotted line.  So, what do you do with a roadmap? Well, the first thing you do, you use it as a discussion tool, hopefully inside a country -- between citizens. Citizens and civil society, and all of them with their leaders; clear-eyed, sober-minded, talking both about all the achievements that have been brought, but also what lies ahead and what needs to be taken on.  But we also use it for another kind of discussion, and that's the discussion that we hope to have ourselves, USAID -- the development community -- with our host country partners. That's where we talk together using that roadmap about what the possibilities may be.

But I began my discussion talking a bit about my travels in Africa -- I'm a storyteller by nature; I can't help myself -- but let me tell you about another visit that I did, also in my first year.  I traveled to Hyderabad in India. India, of course, is one of the great success stories in development in modern times, a country that not so long ago was receiving traditional food aid. India is now a fellow donor.  We are partnering with them in places like Afghanistan. But India will also tell you that they do have challenges to work on. One of those challenges is affordable, reliable, available clean drinking water. 540 million Indians lack affordable drinking water.  And so, in recent years, we've sat down with them, talked about the metrics, talked about the challenges, and the opportunities, and the capacities, and we brought in the private sector, and we brought in civil society groups.

When I was in India, in Hyderabad, after all of that had been applied and brought together, I had the honor of inaugurating 50 water ATMs in Hyderabad, created largely by private investment.  And what they do is make available -- primarily to women -- 24 hours a day, affordable, safe, clean drinking water. That, to me, is proof of model. That, to me, is the inspiration for where we hope we can all go in that journey to self-reliance.  In the Trump Administration, we believe in the innate desire of every community, every country to want to craft its own bright future. But because self-reliance and those notions are cooked into our DNA as Americans, when countries are willing to set out on that journey, we believe we have an obligation to walk with them along the way.  That's what we call the Journey to Self-Reliance. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Matthew Swift back to the stage to join Administrator Green.

MR. SWIFT: So, I'm so glad that we're here today.  You and I have known each other for some time, but your first Concordia Summit was most recently at our summit in Bogota, Colombia this past July, which was great.  And I'm so glad you're here at the annual Summit, here during UNGA, this time when all this world leaders and CEOs and all these people descend upon New York, but to talk about the Journey to Self-Reliance.  And I think that there are so many elements of that that are of interest to the Concordia community, and the Concordia community will be very engaged there.

I want to ask what I think is probably the obvious question that everybody in this room is having, which is: what happens when a country achieves, by your definition, self-reliance?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, self-reliance is a journey, and we're all in different places on that journey.  What we foresee as countries accelerate more and more, what we hope will happen, is we'll have conversations with them about what they want the relationship to look like.  And, in most places that I've been, and most leaders I've spoken to, what they're looking for is an enterprise-driven relationship.

And that's certainly the case in India.  So, what are we doing in India? We're helping to catalyze private investments.  We're helping to test initiatives, pilot initiatives, help measure the results, and then help them scale them up.  So, it's a very different type of relationship. It's an irreplaceable relationship, very, very important. But obviously, that's very different from what we might be doing in a country with profound challenges, countries that are not like India, which again, I think is an extraordinary success story.

MR. SWIFT: So, talking though, for a minute, about the countries that you just cited, that have huge challenges, and I think we can agree that one of the bigger drivers of those challenges is poor governance.  So how does that fit into your ideal model of that journey to self-reliance when you're dealing with countries that, frankly, their governance isn't setting things up for success in the first place?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, first off, if a country doesn't have the commitment that it takes, to be able to progress, I'd raise a question as to whether or not the investments that we all make are sustainable.  You have to have citizen-centered, citizen-responsive governance. You have to have the space for civil society to bring together the needs and ideas of people, and without that, it's hard for a country to achieve its objectives.  It's hard for a country to go where it wants to go.

So, all of this is intended to be essentially a tool for conversations and discussions.  What we say at USAID to our partners is: look, we may not have all the answers, in fact, we've probably made all the mistakes as Americans, but you don't have to make the same mistakes that we've made.  You can learn from our shortcomings, and you can leapfrog over the trials and mistakes that we've sometimes made.

So, it's about engaged conversations with country partners.  They have to have skin in the game. If they're not willing to make their own investments, financial investments, policy investments.  If they're not willing to do their part, then again, I would argue that all our investments are of questionable sustainability at best.

MR. SWIFT: Can you talk a little bit about -- because it seems like there's a lot of change happening at USAID -- can you talk a little bit about your broader vision of how you're transforming USAID internally?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, I think so much of it is around this notion of self-reliance.  Also, and we've talked about this before, there's a whole other part to our work.  You know, there are nearly 70 million displaced people in the world today, and there are profound challenges emerging from that.  So, a lot of our work is making sure that how we respond to-- and they're usually man-made, regime-driven disasters-- that we're as responsive as we can be, that we're as effective as we can be, and efficient as we can be.  And we're also looking to foster resilience.

So, in the case of the Somali region in Ethiopia that I pointed to, one of the reasons they have not fallen from drought in to famine is the work that USAID, the Ethiopian government, and others did to foster some resilience.  So, there is that whole area. More broadly speaking-- again, I had this sense, driven by my own experiences overseas, that everybody wants the dignity of self-reliance. And so, everything we're trying to do is to help countries help themselves, so that they can move from recipients to partners, to hopefully fellow donors.

MR. SWIFT: When I was watching your presentation, you chose to chronicle Freedonia.



ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I love Groucho Marx and the Marx Brothers and Freedonia is the country in Duck Soup under Rufus T. Firefly.  When I once put out the road maps, it was funny how even though it was a hypothetical, people were offended by a country we chose.  I figure we pick Freedonia and we offend everybody, so I think that works out.

MR. SWIFT: That was it.  Concordia is about public and private-sector cooperation.  What's expected of the private sector in the journey to self-reliance?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: A lot.  Every country in its notion of self-reliance wants private-sector energize?, private enterprise.  Self-reliance means having a vibrant private sector that can help provide the revenues, the ideas, the innovations, the services, and the opportunities that people are looking for.  So, as countries progress, when we take a look at the various metrics, a big part of it is how they treat opportunities for engagement with the private sector. And in terms of the tools that we provide, constantly talking with our private partners.

A big part of the journey to self-reliance approach is moving beyond traditional grants and contracts, and moving into co-creation of initiatives, co-design, and co-financing.  So, you're much more likely, through USAID these days, to hear that we have an interest in an area, available resources, and we make an open call. What are your ideas? Bring us your best ideas.  New ideas, old ideas. Let's create something together.

So, under the model of the journey to self-reliance, the opportunities for the private sector should be greater than ever before.

MR. SWIFT: That's great.  Well, Administrator Green, thank you so much for coming and presenting this, thank you for the conversation, and thank you for being back at Concordia.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Oh, my pleasure.  Great to see all of you.  Thank you.

Last updated: September 25, 2018

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