Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Nadi, Fiji

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Thank you, everybody for being here. I hope you didn't witness my rugby, but if you did, please know that this was a true treat for me. I feel really privileged to be the first USAID Administrator to visit Fiji, really privileged to be opening up a USAID Mission as I did yesterday here in Fiji, a Mission for the Pacific Islands – but that will be based here allowing us to expand our staff and expand our programming. 

And I feel especially privileged to have had the chance to play rugby with these incredible young women. I have seen the power of sport, as all of us have to break down boundaries, to ease conflicts between nations. And, as we were just talking about, to show men who might start a little skeptical, just what women and girls are capable of. 

And hearing from Lailanie’s [Burnes] story of how women's rugby here has taken off, how women's rugby players are now on the $7 bill, how they won a bronze medal in the Olympics. Not that long after when they tried to practice, men tried to shoo them off the field because they thought the field was theirs, and girls didn't get to play. And you can see when young women are given a chance, just what they do with that chance. And that is what I really hope through USAID’s expanded programming here, and our deepened partnership with the people of Fiji, that we will be in a position to give more communities that haven't yet had that chance, some support, just to simply watch them go. Because that is what you see with these girls. And that is true of people who haven't been given opportunities, and who get just that small dose of support and do great things with it. 

So thank you for welcoming me to the Lillian Amazon Club, for trying to teach me rugby, for trying to get me to unlearn American football, which I failed to do as I ran to the end of the endzone without actually putting the ball down on the ground. 

COACH LAILANIE BURNES: But you got a try at the end, which is amazing.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I did get a try – try is the operative word. But, you know, I just want to say how impressed I am, very specifically with you, and the leadership role that you've played. You didn't just shine as a rugby player, but you have brought so many young girls and women along with you. Training a new generation of coaches, allowing the sport to spread throughout the country. And I will take home the memory of spending time with you and your mentees back to the United States.

BURNES: Don't forget you're always going to be an honoree Lillian Amazon – and she's got the jersey with her name on it as proof.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Would you like to make a few comments about what this means, you think? 

BURNES: Sure. All right, It's indeed an honor and a privilege to have the Administrator with us here today. The girls were telling me how important it is to have someone of your caliber and how excited they were to be able to hear that you're coming to join them today. And you are just such an inspiration not only to our girls, but women all across Fiji, the Pacific, and of course, the world. And thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to come and share the sport that we love with you and also your team. And thank you, we wish you all the very best with your journey and with everything that you're doing here in the Pacific.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. And just to say one last thing, which is this isn't the only women's empowerment event that I had the chance to participate in today. I also had the chance to meet with women-fisher, some of whom grew oysters, some of whom grew sea grapes, and who described the effects of climate change on their livelihoods. 

I got to see some of the work that USAID is already doing to provide grants to communities to try to withstand some of the worst effects of greater flooding, changing salination, changing weather patterns. But to see these women and to know, just as here, that the solutions lie within them. The answers for how to do things differently as things change, lie within their heads and hearts. And our job as development partners is to listen with humility, and then to go and try to find the means to support them as they make these transitions. So the theme for my time here in Fiji today is, ‘go girls.’ And I really hope that USAID will be able to do more in that domain as we grow our mission here. Thank you. 

QUESTION: Administrator Power, you have made a commitment about localization and I just wondered how you felt about what you're doing here, and also [inaudible] what you're doing to achieve those targets?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: And just for everyone's benefit, what Samantha is referring to is a target I have said for USAID, which is that 25 percent of U.S. assistance should go directly to local partners by 2025. This does not sound like a big number, 25 percent, when you think about the substantial resources that USAID works with around the world. But it is actually quite challenging, because a lot of organizations – faith-based organizations, community-based organizations, probably even, you know, rugby clubs that might be inclined to empower girls – they don't have the accountants, and the lawyers, and the capacity sometimes to be able to keep up with the kind of paperwork it takes to comply with U.S. regulations, which we are required to comply with because we are the stewards of American taxpayer money, and we need to make sure that the money goes to its intended purpose. 

So part of what we are going to do here in Fiji, and separately in Papua New Guinea, where we set up an office in the last few days and will grow that office, is invest over time in national capacity. So it may start that we provide assistance to a grantee that may have international staff, or that may be headquartered outside of Fiji, or even outside of the Pacific Islands. But of course, based here, and with Fijian staff and visionaries who can help steer the money. But what we want to do is make sure that every USAID mission, especially a brand new one, starts from the very beginning by saying, okay, even if they don't have the ability to fill out all these paperwork, and do all this reporting month to month, we have a plan for how we're going to grow those capabilities over time. 

And we're really lucky in having Zema here, who comes with us most recently as our Mission Director in Timor Leste, which is also, you know, a country that we didn't start with huge national capacity. But she has done a great job, again, trying to ensure that we don't just perpetuate a cycle that has us funding internationally-based organizations, such that when those organizations leave, or when a grant runs out, some of the impact leaves with them. We know that lasting impact is going to come in the communities and by building out that capacity, so those organizations and leaders are able to pursue that development mission irrespective of whether USAID’s here or not. 

Ultimately, self-reliance is the objective. In so many countries in so many communities, no one likes dependence. I think all of us can speak in our own lives. We want to control our destinies to have agency. And we at USAID, want to do things in a manner where over time that agency really lives at the community level. 

QUESTION: You spoke at the Chiefs of Defense this morning [inaudible] and what was your message to them, particularly given that there seemed some tension between some security and defense dialogue in the region, and that, sort of, driving development decisions?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yes, thank you for the question. I did have a really productive and candid exchange with the Chiefs of Defense from the Indo-Pacific region. It was a large gathering, a very diverse gathering. What I described in my engagement really, is two things. First, how U.S. foreign policy is rooted in a belief that the way to lasting peace and prosperity is actually to integrate diplomacy, defense, and development, the three Ds. And you hear President Biden talking about this, Secretary Austin, on his visit to Papua New Guinea recently talked about the importance of development. Some of you may remember the quote from Jim Mattis, the former Defense Secretary, who said, ‘If you don't fund diplomacy and development adequately, you're going to need to buy more bullets.’ 

So, I think, really, and – honestly, maybe contrary to what one might believe – that message was so well received in the room because so many of the countries gathered in the room are now grappling, nationally, within their own borders, especially some of the less developed countries, with the walloping effects of climate change. Seeing the development effects of scarcer natural resources, seeing how destabilizing it is when people are displaced, and can be radicalized, or will not be able to pursue their education, when taken flight. So, you know, this was a room of individuals who care above all about security, and they see climate change as a profound, and even existential threat to security in the same way that invading armies may be in the imagination, or maybe in certain parts of the world – but climate change, a profound threat to national security. 

And so too, development investments that help communities prepare, so that they are not displaced, so that the seeds they plant are more drought resistant, or so that there are water catchments that allow people to deal with water scarcity, and prevent flooding. They – these defense professionals, these uniform military – are probably the biggest evangelists for development investments in official circles that you can encounter. So we talked about the American approach and then each of them shared their national experience right now with climate change, and whether that's whole islands at risk of disappearing underwater, or populations already being forced to move, or coastal countries like Bangladesh, who look ahead and recognize that so many of the communities that have been able to develop economically are now at risk of those gains been reversed in very dramatic fashion.

And so really, it was an appeal on their part to do more development, more disaster resilience work, building out national capacities to respond as well to emergencies. And it was also an appeal on my part to defense professionals to raise their voices and make the case, the security case, for much more substantial investments in building resilience. So that was the nature of the dialogue.

QUESTION: Why did you want to play rugby today? 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. Well, I wanted to play rugby today because I think that when we come to someone else's country, one of the things that is very important to do and very valuable to do is not to come bringing what matters to you, but to really try to understand what matters to the people with whom you're engaging. So I know how important rugby is to the people of Fiji. I know how important rugby is becoming to young women and girls in Fiji. And so I really wanted to show my respect. Show, as well, my vulnerability, my weakness – despite my name. I wanted to show how challenging what they do as second nature really is. And to send the message that you've heard me share today, which is when we unleash women and girls who have mentors, like the mentors that they have here today and that they play with elsewhere, they will be off to the races. It is just the job of government, of family, of teachers, of coaches, and of development partners, to support that journey. 

Thank you so much.

Administrator Power travels to Papua New Guinea and Fiji


In August, Administrator Samantha Power will travel to Papua New Guinea and Fiji to emphasize the U.S. government's commitment to the region and highlight USAID's efforts in the Pacific Islands to make an enduring, positive impact across the diverse countries where USAID works. 

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