Friday, August 4, 2023

Washington, DC


ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you so much, Michael. 

So Ambassador, Ambassadors actually. Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Ambassador from Uzbekistan here when I get finished with my remarks you will be even more excited about David Hoffman coming to Uzbekistan. This is not a common individual, this is a very uncommon person, which you will hear about in a minute. I am really grateful to Ambassador [Furqat] Sidiqo, for being with us today. I have developed in my relatively short time as USAID Administrator – nearly two and a half years – a special relationship with the Uzbek Embassy because around the time of the anniversary of Uzbekistan independence with your predecessor, I shared that when I was younger, my parents traveled to Uzbekistan including to Samarkand. And they came back raving about the melons there – all they could talk about for some reason, they made this indelible impression in my mind. It is something about Uzbek melons, which I guess you are famous for, but it hadn't been something I had known about – sweeter than honey, they said, and a single melon is big enough to feed a family. Soon after, I came into the office to find that the Embassy had sent over a box of huge Uzbek melons. So I think David’s daughters have a real treat ahead of them when they get to Uzbekistan.

Ambassador [Jonathan] Henick, we are so lucky that you are there and not only has it been challenging to get ambassadors through the U.S. Senate – but it is not the only reason we are lucky to have you there. What an important diplomatic moment, what an inflection point in U.S.-Uzbek relations and you are so the right person to be shepherding this relationship at this time. I can’t wait to visit and get to know you better in person and thank you for viewing USAID as such an integral part of this deepened partnership. We are really, really pleased with how things have gone so far and again when you hear more about one Mr. Hoffman I think this relationship is going to get even closer.

Mikaela Meredith has done a tremendous job growing our presence there, taking our presence from a country office to a full-fledged mission. And you know with what remains a relatively limited budget, finding ways to be catalytic, to leverage what we do to get others to do more. And we are here in the front office, at USAID, at headquarters knowing how important this partnership is, knowing how important reform effort is to make any phone call on behalf of any initiative that we can in order to turn our investments into an even bigger set of investments. Please know that Ambassador, we are here back at headquarters at your disposal. 

Our most important welcome goes, of course, to David’s family. His mom and dad, June and Jim, and his sister, Michelle, are tuning in virtually; and his two impossibly well-beloved children Kaya, who is ten years old, Karina, who is six. You know when you get talking to David about Central Asia, about geopolitics, about development and specially with someone like me we get to nerd out. And with David’s wife – she can contribute because we are all in the weeds and Kaya and Karina, just sat and took it in. Discussion of GDP rolling out of the 10 year old tongue practically. Just such positive energy that the girls have about the family’s newest adventure. That makes all the difference, girls, to your parents. You make it so much easier for them to begin their new adventure, just by embracing every new journey with such enthusiasm. So thanks, especially to you two. There are also great hikes to be had just as there are in Georgia. And I think you will have a great time and can’t wait to see how you are settling in. 

Amita, thank you for your incredible service as a  Foreign Service Officer with USAID. Amita is a monitoring and evaluation specialist – I wonder what it would be like to be married to a monitoring and evaluation specialist! But you must be keeping David honest, in a range of ways. But, Amita will be taking on work with the Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) team. And is going to make a profound difference in Uzbekistan itself, but we know globally the essential work that DIV is doing.

David was born in San Diego, California, and spent his younger years in Germany, where his dad was working at the time. At an early age, David learned to speak German – the beginning of an incredible talent with languages. He completed high school back in the States, where he holds an important distinction, he was the only valedictorian in his school’s history banned from his graduation, because he had, to his enthusiasm, published a muckraking underground newspaper. As a former journalist, I respect your commitment and your passion. 

David went on to Stanford, where, you know like many at USAID, he got a degree in international relations – but, being David, and uncommon, he also picked up a degree in Physics while he was at it. Oh, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Berkeley, too. 

In 2009, he met Amita when they joined a mutual friend to watch the new Star Trek reboot. 

And then, not long after meeting Amita, David joined USAID. Now, anyone who’s worked with David over the years will notice three things that stand out about him. One, a commitment to scientific rigor; two, an insatiable curiosity and love of learning; and three, a dedication to immersing himself in the local communities where he’s stationed and welcoming his teams as family.

Perhaps a reflection of his background in physics, David continually asks his teams to measure impact; urges them to pursue additional training to boost their quantitative skills; and presents data to his teams in visual, easily comprehensible ways, so that everyone can see actually the true scale of the impact they’ve made. He is also known for keeping epic running to-do lists. During his farewell in Indonesia, and this is not made up, I gather, he showed his team the to-do list he’d built over his years with them – they hadn’t seen it – carefully numbered. Task 524? To say goodbye. 

David also has an insatiable curiosity – so much so that colleagues and friends alike will tell you that David is the most curious person they have ever met. When asked what David’s favorite book is, one offered, “I am not really sure, he carries around academic journals. I’m not sure which one is his favorite academic journal.” 

Lucky for USAID, he has long held a deep interest in the Central Asia region. He has studied the area, and he is fluent in Russian and Turkish, with knowledge of Georgian, Uzbek, and Kazakh. In fact, when he was learning Russian in Moscow after the fall of the Soviet Union, he decided to become a bartender to gain fluency. 

David brings this curiosity to every one of his posts – placing his knowledge in service to USAID missions around the world.

David’s first posting as a USAID FSO was in Pakistan. But very soon after getting settled, he received a request to go to the Kyrgyz Republic to assist the new government that had come to power following widespread protests. Interestingly, when the State Department asked Roza Otunbayeva, the new interim leader, which many of us remember, how they could support her, she asked them for just one thing, there was one thing that really, really mattered to her, send David Hoffman. The U.S. Ambassador is said to have asked his staff: “Who the heck is David Hoffman?! Who is this guy?” 

Years before, it turns out, David had worked closely with a civil society activist who became Otunbayeva’s Chief of Staff – and now together they wanted David’s brilliance and hustle on his team. 

USAID, of course, knew exactly who and where David was, and he started up work with the interim government, building the framework for a robust assistance program to secure the country’s democratic transition at the time and pave the way toward a permanent government. 

In 2019, David became the Deputy Mission Director of Georgia, where his Russian-language skills and deep knowledge of the region placed him as the primary point of contact to coordinate assistance to those living in Russian-occupied Abkhazia. David made six trips to Abkhazia, engaging with local communities and holding meetings with the de-facto Abkhaz officials to advance USAID programming. Because of these efforts, USAID programs in Abkhazia remained operational, despite intense Russian pressure. 

Soon enough, he was recruited to serve as Acting Mission Director in Armenia amidst a devastating global pandemic – Covid pandemic – and the outbreak of hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh. David shepherded the Mission through the shock of renewed violence and great heartbreak, coordinating closely with the Office of Transition Initiatives to support the local governments’ ability to assist the displaced. 

At each turn of his career, David has brought his immense knowledge to bear, and continued to learn. And the learning he does goes deeper than just academic journals and language lessons. 

The Uzbek musician Abdulxaliq once remarked, “Intellect without soul isn’t intellect.”

Abdulxaliq believed that you have to experience something, you have to be committed to it wholeheartedly, to truly understand it. And that’s what David has always done. Brought true commitment and great soul.

Everywhere David has served, he immerses himself and his family in the local community – and builds deep connections with the Mission staff. In Indonesia, David declared “no-car Sundays,” during which he would invite his colleagues and their families to explore the town by foot and get lunch. 

He carries the relationships he makes in each of these communities with him around the world. FSN Lufthi Ashari, who worked with David in Indonesia, reports that they still have a running game of Pokemon Go!, a rivalry they keep up even in different time zones. David is winning. 

In Indonesia, David became known for his “ping-pong diplomacy.” He struck up a friendship with the Minister of Law and Human Rights over games of ping pong, and built strong relationships across the Indonesian government – eventually working with Indonesian officials to help them build IndoAID, Indonesia’s own international assistance agency. 

And now, David will take his first formal Mission Directorship in Uzbekistan.

Sitting at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Uzbekistan was of course once a key stop on the Silk Road. Later, it became a part of the USSR – only to see the Soviet government collectivize its farms, drain its lakes, and suppress its religions.  

Now, the people of Uzbekistan are at this critical juncture. 

Under President Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan is pursuing reforms to boost economic growth, expand citizen services and protections, and bring the people of Uzbekistan more fully into a democratic process. 

In this moment of potential, USAID really is committed to deepening our support for the people of Uzbekistan. As the Ambassador said, as is the entire U.S. government.

We are working to help establish a robust civil society, and accountability, and transparency, more effective public administration. We know that the growth of an independent media will be an essential check and balance in holding officials accountable to the kind of Uzbekistan that Uzbekistan's young people aspire to see.

We are supporting Uzbekistan’s efforts to diversify its trade partners, strengthen economic cooperation with its neighbors, and create more jobs.

And, as growing water shortages threaten to stand in the way of this important progress, we are working with the people of Uzbekistan to find solutions – like helping Uzbekistan’s farmers adopt new agricultural practices to grow more food, with less water. 

USAID will meet this moment with someone who has a proven track record of working closely with governments and local communities to bring about positive change. Someone who has a deep love for the country and for the region. Someone who has dedicated both knowledge and soul to Central Asia. 

David, you’d better start working on your to-do list. I can only imagine what it looks like at this moment, on the cusp of deployment. And I’m excited to see you in action and to see Amita in action, and the girls settled in when I visit you all, but above all I could not be more grateful to you and your family for taking on such an important mission directorship at such an important time. Thank you so much and now let’s us make it official. I look forward to swearing you in.

Samantha Power David Hoffman
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