Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Washington, DC


ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Good morning everyone, thank you for those tuning in online and those who have gathered here today. Andy [Plitt], we’re lucky to have your leadership in the Middle East Bureau. Our mission directors are thrilled when they get to have you at the helm as one of them. And we want to see that leadership carry on into the future.

Thanks also to you Chargé [Wael] Hachem, for being here, for your words, for your commitment to the U.S.-Lebanese partnership. We are really grateful to you and the whole team at the embassy here. This is a new chapter in USAID’s partnership with the Lebanese people, because we have a new and wonderful leader heading to Beirut. I guess in two weeks time only!

It was great to hear from Ambassador [Dorothy] Shea. As some one of you know, I talk about the importance of being squeaky, about making our voices heard. Sometimes pestering until we get what we want. I would never accuse Ambassador Shea of pestering, but I will say there is no more spirited ambassador in securing a visit by the USAID administrator, who happened to be me at the time. Absolutely relentless on behalf of the U.S.-Lebanese partnership, incredibly impactful against a very, very difficult backdrop. Someone who has advocated fiercely as well on issues related to compensation for the Lebanese staff who constitute our mission there and our embassy in Lebanon. You’ve been a tremendous partner and I am so glad that you reached out, and continue to reach out, and that you got me to Lebanon. It was really an eye opening and arguably life changing trip. It is such an incredible country to see up close.

I want to welcome, especially this phalanx of family members, Julie’s family members and loved ones. Her husband, Frank, who is a model of public service in his own right, currently a civil servant managing IT for Diplomatic Security at the Department of State, but incredibly versatile and a very distinguished career. Julie’s two sisters, I gather, Laura and Kathleen – raise your hands – are also here, along with her father, Patrick, and step-mother, Kathy.

Julie and Frank’s daughter, Allison, recently graduated from Eastern Mennonite University and is just beginning her career as a nurse not far from here in Fairfax. And their daughter Amanda is entering her second year at the University of Virginia, where she is likely majoring in History with a focus on the Soviet Union and China. Keep us in mind after graduation, there may be a home for you, we could use some expertise in both. Thank you.

Keeping family front and center comes with its challenges in the Foreign Service. But by all accounts, the tremendous care that Julie brings to her work is only outmatched by her commitment to family. And above all to her beloved daughters.

From her earliest days growing up on a farm in East Central Indiana – in a town of just 250 people – Julie was demonstrating the leadership qualities that we’re so lucky to be able to harness here at USAID. As kids, she and her sister Laura hatched a plan to cover a pasture behind their farm in dandelions. For weeks, Julie collected dandelions because she knew that it would make Laura happy. They called it “Puff Valley.” I love that!

In high school, Julie rose to prominence through her local Future Farmers of America chapter. I’m sure many of you are aware of the importance of FFA in rural America. The National FFA organization prepares high school students for career success through agricultural education.

Its members include renowned scholars and titans of industry; accomplished scientists and athletes; a peanut-farming President, Jimmy Carter, and a pop star named – nobody? – Taylor Swift. Nice! Who knew?

In her senior year, Julie led her FFA Parliamentary Procedure Team to win state and national competitions for extemporaneous public speaking.

But she wasn’t simply skilled at speaking off the cuff about a range of agricultural topics. Julie recognized that her small town FFA Chapter wasn’t always well positioned – in a two of 250 people – to compete or win awards, so she took it upon herself to engage teachers and networks in other districts, submit applications for awards and competitions, and empower her teammates to build a Chapter that punched above its weight.

Julie brought her small town grit to Purdue University for Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Anthropology. The demands of college just weren’t enough, so at 19 she joined the U.S. Army Reserve where she met Frank.

As enlisted personnel in the Reserve, she gained an even deeper appreciation for detail and discipline – essential for her 18-year career as a capital markets lawyer, helping clients access financing and grow their businesses.

Detail and discipline have been equally important for Julie’s extracurricular accomplishments, which include two marathons, six half-marathons and counting; a hike to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro; and an impressive accumulation of house plants and rescue animals. From what I’ve gathered, if you ever decide to run a race with Julie, you can expect to see her at the finish line, refreshed and rested, possibly even having taken a nap back at the hotel – her sister is nodding.

With roots in a small town and, as one colleague put it, “a massive amount of intellectual curiosity,” Julie sought to get closer; to be in touch at the working level with communities; to see how they thrive and grow. And because nothing throughout her life ever stopped her from doing what she put her mind to, she decided to join the Foreign Service, earning her reputation as “the lawyer,” serving as Resident Legal Officer in Burma, Afghanistan, and Kazakhstan, where she also previously served as Deputy Regional Mission Director for Central Asia. It’s Julie’s small town roots that give her a perspective that we try to channel across USAID every day. Growing up, she observed what it’s like to have big city folks descend from hundreds of miles away to tell communities like hers what they needed, often without considering the voices of the people in the communities.

Being known as “the lawyer” of course often means being seen as risk-averse. But being known as, as Julie is, a problem-solver means she uses her legal training to analyze and weigh risk, to find the upsides, and to develop and execute legal pathways and plans to maximize benefits. Whether she is fighting for parental leave for personal service contractors or designing interventions to combat violent extremism in Central Asia, Julie refuses to let bureaucratic momentum stand in the way of results.

At each of her various posts, Julie could be found doing the heavy lifting and the little tasks that are essential to any team effort, including in her latest role as Deputy Director of the Office of Transition Initiatives [OTI].

When Kabul fell to the Taliban in 2021, colleagues from across the Agency stepped up to support resettlement efforts for the Afghan people in a historic effort now widely known as “Operation Allies Welcome.” In true USAID fashion, many, many staff answered the call to go above and beyond their assigned duties to make an agonizing chapter – in world history and human history – a bit more hopeful for our Afghan colleagues, their families, and tens of thousands of others who were being resettled.

From the moment the first call came for support at processing facilities at Dulles Airport, Julie of course leaped into action, often working into the early morning hours after a full day’s work. There was no playbook and Julie didn’t wait for one – while she could have been tapped to manage the entire operation from the top down, given all her experience, she simply volunteered her time doing whatever needed to be done, no task too small.

Recalling their conversations during those weeks, Julie’s sister Laura said, “for Julie, each one of those families were the most important thing.”

Julie, in the words of the great Rob Jenkins, is “a complete utility player.” He has worked alongside her for the past two years in USAID’s Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization. When she was brought in as Deputy Director of OTI and quickly became the Bureau’s Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator, Rob observed Julie “mastering things that would take others years to figure out.”

As another OTI colleague put it, after a few weeks on the job with Julie: “Oh my God, this woman is brilliant. She doesn’t hit you in the face with her brilliance. She’s sneaky about it.”

We’ll miss the quiet brilliance of Julie here in DC, but her appointment is a major win for our colleagues in Lebanon.

As many of you know – and has already been discussed – the Lebanese people have been facing a tough road of late, despite having such a dynamic and capable population, such a rich culture, and civilizational history.

On a trip to Lebanon at the end of last year, I saw just how precarious life is today in the wake of an economic crisis, and ongoing economic crisis, the pandemic, the blast at the Port of Beirut, the war in Ukraine and its collateral effects, a presidential vacancy, and political gridlock that stands in the way of long-overdue economic and financial reforms.

But I spoke with the most incredible people in incredibly resilient communities. They are facing shortages of food, water, electricity, and fuel to drive through Beirut pitch black at night, one of the greatest cities on planet earth. Learning, as well, up close that there has been a massive flight of health workers, frontline health workers have left Lebanon – almost 40 percent of doctors and 30 percent of nurses. I traveled to the Beka’a Valley to speak to farmers and herders beset by the economic crisis. I visited a Lebanese community hosting Syrian refugees; incredibly important generosity to people who suffered so much. And I met with the country’s political leadership – the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament to discuss the urgent need to overcome that political gridlock and the devastating economic headwinds.

What was urgent then of course is massively urgent, mission critical, and very much overdue. The spirit of resilience and renewal that the Lebanese people are so famous for is channeled and has been channeled throughout its history. There exists a strong foundation for stability and for shared prosperity, and the United States is committed to standing with the Lebanese people, just as we have for more than six decades.

There are bright spots even in recent days. Last year’s historic maritime agreement between Lebanon and Israel, signaling to partner governments and investors that there is political will to get big, important things done for the Lebanese people. But a strong recovery is only possible if political leaders are able to put the interests of the Lebanese people first.

As Julie travels to Beirut to oversee this critical development partnership, she will take the helm at an essential time.

Her background as a Resident Legal Officer has given her capacities in all sectors. She brings a proven track record of working with governments and partners alike to break down barriers that hinder the investments that could in fact jumpstart the Lebanese economy. She brings the spirit of OTI, the legendary hustle and entrepreneurship of OTI. She told Rob that she was going to pay that back. And I said OTI doesn’t need any compliments; they are very aware of their capabilities.

And of course finally, as one of Julie’s local staff colleagues in Afghanistan said, she brings that small town, village, that community approach. From her very core, drawing all the way back to the farm, Julie places the interests and the needs of local communities above all else. To our Lebanese colleagues tuning in today, you are getting a real champion of local voices. And that means your voices, you who drive so much of the impact that we have been able to have and helping the Lebanese people weather this very very difficult storm. We are really excited to see what you get up to together.

I’m so grateful Julie, to you for taking on this important role at such an essential time for Lebanon. I’m really grateful to your family, your daughters who will be keeping themselves busy, I know, in your absence. Your husband who will be visiting and teleworking from Lebanon until you can be permanently reunited, which I hope happens soon. And of course to your dad, stepmom and sisters, who helped make you the person you are. We are so grateful to all of you for giving us Julie and her incredible gifts and allowing her to harness those gifts for the sake of the good around the world.

Thank you so much and it is now my privilege to administer the oath of office. Come on up Julie!

Samantha Power Julie Southfield
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