Thursday, August 10, 2023

Washington, DC


ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you Andy. Thank you again for your leadership of the Bureau.

Monde [Muyangwa], it is great to see you, supporting, I guess you're – how do we describe it – recently departed feels like the wrong way to describe somebody who has just wrapped up an assignment. But it is great to see the teams here represented in full. We also have Rob Jenkins and Sarah Charles who had a chance to work with Sean in managing some really difficult issues – and who now have joined me in really appreciating the leadership that you’ve shown.

I’m thrilled that we have here with us our colleagues from the Egyptian Embassy – Deputy Chief of Mission Ahmed Abumoussa, and Egyptian Counselor, as well, Mohammad Aboulwafa.

John [Desrosher], I don’t know if you have to run yet but it looks like you are still here – we will keep you for as long as we can. You will know what is in store for you – if you are able to stay and hear that, this is your life around your new Mission Director. But just thank you so much, for your leadership there in Cairo. You’ve been incredibly responsive to my engagement – calls from Washington generally, particularly as it relates to our Sudanese colleagues who have been really warmly embraced by the embassy family. And the signal to do so really has come from the top, so, I just really wanted to thank you personally, John, for being there for our colleagues. I think again having our Cairo presence and our Egyptian Embassy presence here, speaks to the enduring partnership and the strength of relations across our governments.

Sean’s coworkers and loved ones are tuning in, gathering from all over the world. Those who feel like turning your cameras on, we’d love to see your faces, if you would be so inclined. And of course we have with us Sean’s family here in DC – his wife, May; his two children Kenzie and Zach; and his mother, Diana. We are pleased to welcome you here to USAID.

I also want to take a moment to acknowledge Sean’s father, John, who recently passed away – but who I’m told was immensely proud that his son had followed in his footsteps to dedicate himself to public service.

John, Sean’s dad, joined the Army in the wake of the Vietnam War out of a deep sense of duty. Although he was against the war, as a single man, he volunteered to serve, in the hopes that he’d take the place of someone else with a family.

He passed on his sense of duty to his son – and gave Sean his first exposure to the world outside of America’s borders. Sean spent his early years on an Army base in the Philippines, a brief glimpse of international life that stuck with him even after his family moved back to the States and eventually settled in Browns Mills, New Jersey, a small township with a population around 10,000, located in the beautiful – but isolated – New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve.

Sean, apparently, was always eager to explore the world beyond New Jersey. He became the first in his family to graduate college, extraordinarily. During which he spent a year in Japan studying international business. After several years in the private sector, he decided to use his business skills to serve communities around the world – a mission that brought him to USAID’s Economic Growth Office as a Presidential Management Fellow back in the year 2000.

Over the next twelve years, in Jordan, Colombia, Iraq, and Yemen, Sean continued on his mission to help foster economic growth in communities around the world. And as one of his colleagues put it, and it sums everything up, “Everywhere he’s worked, he’s excelled.”

And I will give you a few examples of that right now. When he arrived in Jordan in 2003, he saw a chance to grow the tourism industry even more by making it easier for tourists to visit Jordan’s rich historical sites. So he helped design and implement the so-called Jordan Tourism Development Project, USAID’s first-ever tourism campaign in the country. This, partnered with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities to manage key tourism sites like Petra and the Amman Citadel, and it promoted international tourism so travelers could explore Jordan’s rich history. By the time the project was renewed in 2008, Jordan’s tourism revenue had more than doubled.

Later in Iraq, as a relatively new Foreign Service Officer, Sean led what was at that time the Agency’s largest economic growth program in the world. In just a year, he helped create new microfinance institutions that have helped deliver hundreds of thousands of loans to economically disadvantaged Iraqis.

At every post, his leadership stood out to his teams, and he quickly won their enduring trust. His colleague Mark said it best: “Sean is one of the few people I’d follow anywhere.” He worked especially hard to train and empower local staff – sending them out on professional details to the Embassy, appointing them as Deputy Office Directors, and creating an FSN Advisor position in the front office of the Mexico Mission – one of few of its kind at the time.

Sean later took on leadership positions with the Agency’s Africa Bureau, the Bureau of Resilience and Food Security, and our Prosper Africa programming – as well as our Mexico Mission, and most recently USAID’s Mission in Ethiopia, which he navigated through a war, a pandemic, and a food crisis brought on by conflict and six consecutive failed rainy seasons.

To paraphrase one coworker, he’s not one to shrink from a challenge – not in his professional life, and certainly not in his personal life. When he was posted in Amman, he met a Jordanian woman named May, and knew within a year that he wanted to marry her. But May’s parents disapproved of her relationship with a strapping American Foreign Service Officer and told May they wanted her to end it. But Sean and May were undeterred. They worked together to convince May’s mother and father to approve of the engagement. And when it was time to propose officially, in accordance with May’s family’s traditions, a 45-person delegation – led by the USAID Deputy Mission Director at the time, Mike Harvey – volunteered to travel with Sean to May’s family home to vouch for him. I don’t know who is the 43 or 44th person who got through, but it is good to have safety in numbers.

Ultimately, May’s parents supported the engagement – much to May’s astonishment. “I thought our marriage would be impossible,” she said. “But throughout our life, every time I see something as impossible, Sean finds a way to make it work.”

Sean’s ability to face any challenge, combined with his long history in the Middle East, makes him a perfect fit for his next post as our Mission Director in Egypt, a country facing severe economic headwinds.

Inflation is at its highest level in Egypt’s history after the Egyptian pound plummeted nearly 50 percent in value against the dollar last year, likely pushing the number of Egyptians living below the poverty line – already nearly a third of the country – even higher. Putin’s recent withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative will likely make the situation even worse. Egypt is the world’s largest importer of wheat, and has imported hundreds of thousands of metric tons of grain from Ukraine under the Black Sea Grain Initiative – a clear example of how Putin’s war is inflicting harm in communities far from Ukraine.

And as these crises and others continue to mount, citizens of course must be able to safely raise legitimate concerns. It’s true that Egypt has taken steps to expand protections for religious freedom, to empower women, and to release activists like Patrick Zaki and Mohamed al-Baqer from prison. But further progress is urgently needed, and the United States remains deeply concerned about other high-profile activists still behind bars, like British-Egyptian pro-democracy activist Alaa Abdel Fattah. We remain committed to fostering an environment where citizens can freely and safely voice legitimate concerns.

As we have done for the last six decades, USAID is working with the Egyptian government to help Egyptian communities survive and thrive despite immense challenges. We are investing $35 million to help Egyptian farmers more efficiently use water, fertilizers, and chemicals, while also building and upgrading storage silos to protect Egypt’s domestic wheat supply from pests and rot. When I was in Egypt last year for COP27, I announced an initial contribution of $15 million to work with the Government of Egypt to protect the coral reef and coastal ecosystem around the Red Sea – which will be crucial to bringing continued tourism to Egypt, and building the economic resilience of coastal communities.

Egypt continues to remain an invaluable partner in the region. We were pleased that the Egyptian government recently joined global calls for Russian President Putin to reinstate the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which will help global efforts to fight hunger in Egypt and beyond. And we are especially grateful for Egypt’s partnership when violence broke out in Sudan earlier this year. As the fighting forced entire communities to flee their homes, the Government of Egypt worked to provide safe haven for our local Sudanese staff, where many still reside as they continue their critical work serving Sudanese communities. Egypt also has provided refuge, of course, to hundreds of thousands of Sudanese nationals that are unaffiliated with the U.S. government, granting them respite from a living hell in Sudan.

I know Sean will do so much to advance the critical partnership between Egypt and the United States – not just because of his experience, but because of his dedication to USAID’s mission. Just after he and May got engaged, in fact, Sean volunteered for the position he held within USAID’s Iraq Mission. This was in the midst of the U.S. surge to stem the growing terrorist violence in Iraq. May remembers being taken aback at the thought of her new fiance living away from her, and in a war zone, for months at a time. She remembers what he told her, though. “I feel like I need to help my government. This is my duty.”

We are really fortunate to have such a devoted public servant representing this Agency and driving such change in the communities where he works. I’m immensely grateful Sean, to you for your continued dedication, your willingness to answer the call, wherever it comes – and your family’s continued sacrifice and support for you. We could not be more grateful to all of you for allowing Sean to take up his post in Egypt at such a critical time and such a critical partner. Thank you so much.

And now it will be my privilege to swear you in as our next Mission Director to Egypt.

Samantha Power Sean Jones
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