Friday, December 2, 2022

Ronald Reagan Building, Washington, DC

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thanks so much. That’s incredibly generous, Nisha. What’s also generous is just how much of your time and your intellect and your heart you are giving to us at USAID – again – in this different role. And I don’t know what we would do without you in ACVFA, and that is a form of service to all the people in the world again, who you’ve dedicated your life to. 

I have seen firsthand the way you have been, through your career, able to marshal powerful actors on the Hill, in the private sector, in the Interagency. I always knew when I was in the Situation Room, and you were there and we were on the same side of things – which was pretty much every time – that I was in much better shape. That our arguments were going to be presented and land in with the most powerful punch imaginable – just drawing on this lifetime of experience you bring across sectors – so I feel incredibly lucky. 

I also want to thank a member of USAID’s current staff – a remarkable person – Sophia Lajaunie, who is orchestrating ACVFA and pulling all of this together. And it is no exaggeration to say that we would not be here today without Sophia and – it really, having such an inspiring and dynamic leader as Nisha – and such an inspiring and dynamic workhorse, as Sophia puts us in a really, really strong position. 

I want to thank everyone who’s joining in the audience today. And we have so many people joining online also. 

I think you are seeing something really special. If you’ve ever heard of USAID, in truth you should know ACVFA too. Because without ACVFA – as Nisha sort of hinted at – basically USAID, you know, likely would not exist. 

It was ACVFA, which was established in the wake of World War II and the global reconstruction effort that followed, that argued to President Truman that America needed to establish a dedicated development authority. Even though the World Bank and the IMF had been founded years earlier, that first group of appointed experts recognized that the development of poor countries could not happen only through loans – aid, voluntary grants were necessary as well. 

The Committee visualized this Agency as a place where diverse partners could come together in pursuit of a common mission to promote economic development abroad to avoid future conflict – which of course was looming large in people’s minds – to spur collaboration with other free nations and international institutions, and ultimately to safeguard human dignity around the world. 

In the years since, ACVFA has evolved to be not just an advisor to USAID, but a bridge linking the institution of USAID to nongovernmental organizations, to the private sector, to religious leaders, to civil society. 

ACVFA has helped guide our approach to crucial global development challenges from foundational efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and post-conflict reconstruction, to recruiting new partners to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic, to supporting the expansion of democratic governance after the Berlin Wall fell – the Iron Curtain fell. 

Together, we have navigated through major challenges and, I think really it is fair to say, spurred long-lasting impact in the real world. 

And we’ve done so again by convening a diverse set of experts to advise us and steer us, not just again through new solution sets but through new relationships entirely beyond those that we at USAID may have already established. This emphasis on partnerships I think it is really, really important. It is these partnerships that are going to help us deliver development progress beyond the scope of our programs and beyond the size of our budgets. 

We need to convene, to catalyze, to spur new policy shifts, not only in our own government but at international institutions, who are major players in impacting development and mitigating harms, for example, from climate shocks and otherwise. It is these partnerships that this Committee is really, really poised to help us build. 

And that’s because the group gathered here today is in fact the most diverse – that is the Committee gathered here today – is the most diverse in the history of ACVFA. And I don’t just mean diverse on the basis of nationality, ethnicity or gender – though that representation is absolutely essential as we commit to being an Agency for inclusive development at every level of our work starting with our people, but of course also extending out into who we are working with in the field.

But I also – this board is extraordinary for its diversity of experience. It’s remarkable. We are blessed to have at our side leading business executives, top scholars, civil society champions, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and lions of international development who will forget more about work in this field than I know I will ever know. 

Some of them bring to the table years of experience in the public sector, working with foreign ministries and commerce agencies, or they come having brought experience from different periods working right here at USAID. 

Others have worked at the UN or the World Bank, other parts of the international system. Still others are leaders of industry, executives in finance, tech, food systems, sustainability, consulting. And everyone is a subject matter expert in their own right, whether on democracy, advocacy, procurement, philanthropy, or technology. And we need their expertise, we need their support, we need their connections, we need their help. 

Since the last time USAID had the benefit of a board to advise us three years ago, it’s hard to imagine that this can be the case but the challenges in the world have, of course, multiplied.

Climate change just in that short period of time has intensified – droughts, floods, heat waves, cold fronts, typhoons, tornadoes – all are seeming to proliferate. 

Putin’s war – which we had a version of three years ago but nothing at the scale that we are seeing that started on February 24 – is not only devastating Ukraine, but it is, as you well know, fueling inflation and contributing to an unprecedented global food crisis. 

Around the world, democracies are under attack as misinformation and the misinformation machines grow more sophisticated, and as lies and harmful disinformation – willful disinformation – spread like wildfire. And of course the pandemic, though it doesn’t get headlines in the same way, still rages claiming hundreds of lives each day and snarling supply chains that communities are relying upon to survive or to make ends meet. 

Each of these global crises feeds on the other. Natural disasters destroy farms, conflict spikes prices for fertilizer and food, misinformation fuels the spread of the pandemic, right? Everything is connected. 

And of course it is the most marginalized and least resourced communities that are affected first and usually that are hit the hardest. It is the racial and ethnic minorities who are forced to live in the areas most affected by pollution and climate change. It is women and children who are shut out of economies devastated by conflict and COVID-19. It is indigenous communities and LGBTQI+ communities who must fight for their right to participate in the democratic process and to benefit from equal rights. 

Our ACVFA member Paul Weisenfield, who you will hear from in just a bit, shared a quote with all of us in a recent board meeting, and this just kind of sums it up: “The reason development is so hard is because everything is important.” Right? What do you not do to do this other thing with more intensity?

Each of the crises we face today can be described with virtually the same words: urgent, devastating, some existential. So, not only do we struggle to prioritize because the challenges are so interlinked, but it is actually the case that we can’t just focus on one without focusing on the other, or we will face setbacks, even in the domain to which we give our focus. 

So, we have to broaden our effort, we have to bring in these new allies and new partners, we have to not see development as solely the product of governments or international organizations, but as a shared commitment that far more institutions and organizations can embrace. 

And I thought Nisha spoke eloquently to the private sector case, the case to the private sector, for just the extent to which their markets and their concepts of operations are being affected every day by these development challenges. 

This approach to deliver progress even beyond our programs is something our team is already demonstrating. In Ukraine, for instance, our Ukrainian staff – who work day in, day out, despite their countries, their families and their communities facing bombardment and incredible peril – recently enlisted local fashion houses to sew sleeping bags for displaced communities. 

The same team partnered, as you might have read in the news, with SpaceX to set up internet antennas to facilitate communication within Ukraine’s borders. They broadened the impact of what USAID and the U.S. government were doing in Ukraine by looking outward, not inward, and by bringing that development hustle to bear, and I could not be more grateful. 

That is the type of action we hope this board helps us supercharge. And today, I’m incredibly excited, because we’ll be hearing from some of our Committee members on the global challenges that we face as a development agency. 

And as a country, we know we can create a bigger tent to tackle those challenges. So, we have a conversation coming as you know, on opportunities to strengthen food security, and to support nations as they withstand the impacts of a changing climate. 

We have a discussion on how we can help fuel a global democratic rebound and fight the corruption that fuels autocracy around the world. And here I would note, again, that for all the talk of the democratic recession and all the data that attests to that, you have authoritarian, totalitarian, autocratic governments very much on their heels at the moment. Whether it’s Putin’s blunder in invading Ukraine and all of the devastation that is wreaking inside Russia and on Russian families, whose soldiers are sent to fight or in the Russian economy, or what you’re seeing in China, or, of course, the incredibly inspiring and courageous actions of women and young people in Iran. 

You know, for all of the talk of democracy’s dysfunction and demise, you know, there is a reason that democracy is the worst form of government apart from all the others – so, as was once said. And we are seeing that the resilience, the absorptive capacity, the learning, the iteration that we can do, the involvement of our greatest resource or citizens – that is what makes this model the more adaptive model and the more productive and impactful model over time. 

So I want to thank this board so much for letting us benefit from your wisdom, for giving us your time – which is the most precious commodity that any of us have on this earth – and for sharing your collective wisdom with everybody gathered here today. It’s – I think – we’re going to get a taste here, and the public’s going to get a taste of all that this diverse range of experts has to offer the development challenges and this development agency, so thank you so much.

Samantha Power  Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid
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