Tuesday, January 10, 2023


ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much, Fayrouz [Saad], and thank you for everything you do every single day, every hour of every day, to get the message out on what USAID is, what we are trying to achieve in the world, and who we are – and particularly to share USAID’s mission with communities like this one. Thank you as well to Charles Kiamie and the leadership of Arab Americans in Foreign Affairs Agencies for their role in organizing this event, and for each of your respective roles in trying to bring more Arab Americans into the world of foreign affairs.

So, I’m incredibly excited for this event. I’m here today both to encourage you to join USAID, my parochial mission as somebody who has the privilege of running USAID – but also if that, you know, shouldn't appeal for some reason, if we're not sufficiently persuasive – to help you envisage a career for yourself in foreign affairs, or national security more broadly. And, you know, we are emphasizing diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility at USAID in unprecedented ways – but for this community in particular, I think we have to say off the bat that it is not always easy for you to envisage yourself working in the area of foreign affairs, whether that be in development or more narrow national security domains.

But before this country’s founding, Arab Americans have played foundational roles in making history for this country – helping expand the American economy, developing medical and technological advances, creating businesses and jobs across the country, and that encompasses a lot of different sectors – what I’ve just described. But today, a remarkable 12 percent of Arab Americans are public servants.

Yet, despite this long lineage, again, even before the country was founded, and despite this contemporary ability to punch above the demographic weight or the numerical weight of the population in the realm of public service – you are too often made to feel as if you don’t belong. And this happens in a range of subtle and not so subtle ways. I don’t have to detail for you – airport searches, racial profiling, suspicion of dual loyalty. There is maybe no arena of American democracy where Arab Americans have been viewed with more suspicion, in fact, than in this broad domain of national security. Students and professionals like those of you who are joining us today – and I’m thrilled by the turnout – have been made to feel at times as if your families abroad, your religion, your culture, maybe even your student activism, can prevent you from being able to receive a security clearance. And I know many, for a long time, have felt it in some cases even to be futile to apply. That is, that the barriers are just too high.

When I reflect on my own journey – and I want to be very clear – I didn’t encounter anywhere near the structural impediments or the kind of cultural discrimination that many Arab Americans have faced. But, even I, without those impediments as a woman, as an Irish immigrant, growing up in Pittsburgh and Atlanta – like Fayrouz [Saad] or parallel to her immigrant community experience – to be honest, thinking of myself one day as having a role at USAID, when first of all the agency itself would have been foreign to me, but had someone explained what the agency was – to envisage there being a place for little me, you know, at my public high school in Georgia, it would have been as outlandish as being told that I was going to play centerfield for the Atlanta Braves or the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I could not have conceived that I would have had something tangible to offer. And I say this because that’s me with my background, again, without those impediments. And so, you know, I think all of us take very personally the responsibility – I know Fayrouz [Saad] does, I certainly do – for us while we’re in these roles, while we have this privilege to show that people of all backgrounds are welcome, that their contributions are vital – and urgently needed. And it’s fair to say that we haven’t always done that at USAID. That the first formal Arab American outreach event in USAID’s history – 61 year history, you know, an agency created by John F. Kennedy Jr – that the fact that that first formal outreach event, this event that we’re all a part of today, is occurring in the year 2023, after 61 years, I think is a reflection of a neglect in being proactive in making this agency as diverse and inclusive as it must be. But by targeting communities that we have previously neglected, we are trying to change that, and we are building a team that looks like America.

Arab Americans – I mentioned earlier the public service statistics, which are very striking, but even in the area of foreign policy and national security – Arab Americans are already playing an indispensable role, and some of you will be familiar – probably – with some of these names. But just to give you a few examples, Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr is a former Deputy Assistant Administrator here at USAID. He was absolutely crucial to restoring American aid to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, under this administration. And Maher Bitar, my own deputy in Washington when I was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, would represent me two, three, sometimes four times a day at the White House, in deputies meetings, negotiating issues ranging from North Korean nuclear proliferation to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa to responding to the horrors in Syria.

American foreign policy, generally – and USAID in particular – offer countless opportunities to apply the skills, the perspective, the passion for service that so many of you already possess. In addition to your education experience, you may be doing research, your writing, digital media skills, I say this especially to the young people, so many of the social media accounts in the U.S. government right now, and in the foreign policy domain, are being driven by young people, by new entrants to this world. But for those of you, you know, who are further along in your careers, your professional experience in foreign policy and in other parts of the federal bureaucracy. If you haven’t, you know, come close to working in government before you may have traveled extensively, you may know how to expertly navigate religious, linguistic, cultural differences. Some of you may have skills that you may not have ever thought about applying to foreign policy – business experience that could facilitate public private partnerships. For example, those with companies crucial to lowering emissions: clinical skills from the medical profession or the public health profession that could aid the design of initiatives to combat disease – that’s a big part of what USAID does, agricultural skills that could be brought to bear in helping stave off world hunger – specifically, as societies try to become more adaptive to some devastating shifts in the climate. I could go on. There are few global challenges on planet Earth that this Agency – USAID – does not address, and there are few professional careers that you could have out there that would not in some way be applicable to our work. And it is meaningful work – having the opportunity every day to try to solve the world’s hardest problems.

It’s not easy, but it is a life of meaning and I really encourage you to consider coming to work at USAID or one of the other national security foreign policy agencies. One of the things that I want to specifically highlight just before closing here is that I’ve rattled off a list of skills, but think about the lived experience that you have. At USAID, specifically, we work to shape policy in a manner that puts people first. We think a lot about the human consequences of American foreign policy and many of you have directly or indirectly experienced the consequences of times when the federal government or officialdom in any domain have failed in that mission, have failed to put human consequences at the center of actions or decision-making.

You may have seen your friends or loved ones suffer from decisions made in the abstract, where the lasting impacts on communities have not been fully thought through. And you yourself may have encountered some of the barriers that the very communities around the world that we are seeking to partner with, seeking to support, seeking to propel forward or unleashed so that they propel themselves forward – those barriers that we are trying to lower or knock down are ones that you or people you care about may yourselves have encountered. So, as we try to craft a more empathetic foreign policy – as we work to empower the people too often denied a voice in decisions that affect them – USAID, and the foreign policy world more broadly, is most certainly a place where you belong. So don’t doubt that. please.

It’s my pleasure to now introduce Shereen Faraj, our Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau of Policy, Planning, and Learning, and the newest member of our Senior Executive Service. In her years in government, Shereen has helped respond to the crisis in Syria, negotiate with G7 and G20 nations, she’s helped build relationships with donors and multilateral organizations, and she’s helped lead efforts to fight child trafficking and support refugees and unaccompanied minors in federal custody. Currently, we’re incredibly fortunate that she is helping develop new USAID policies that are grounded in strategic thinking, as well as in evidence and – what I keep coming back to – in lived experience.

Shereen, welcome and take it away. Thanks, everybody.

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