Friday, January 20, 2023

Davos, Switzerland


JULIE HYMAN: As we’ve been talking about, this is the first winter Davos that has occurred since COVID. So really the first opportunity that many of these global leaders, CEOs, NGOs have had to get together. Let’s talk about some of the things that they are working on. Samantha Power is with us. She is the USAID Administrator, former ambassador to the U.N., and also a member of the National Security Council. Thank you so much for being here, Administrator. So, let’s talk about first of all your presence sort of coming back to the Davos meeting. 

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I was last here more than a decade ago when I wasn’t a U.S. official. And I'm just struck. There's snow around us here. But in much of this country, there’s not snow.

HYMAN: Right.

POWER: And certainly, people weren’t talking about climate change to the degree that they are now. For every business leader, climate change is a relatively new feature of the business model. The risks that have to be baked into strategic planning are different. But also the sense of urgency around climate change, I think, is really different than it would have been when I was last here.

I think that there is a sense of responsibility among those who come to Davos. They think that this is a place to come to solve global challenges. Certainly as the leader of a development and humanitarian agency — the biggest in the world — we know that the gap between public sector financing and what is needed on climate change, on food security to support Ukraine and countries like Ukraine that find themselves in conflict, that gap has never been larger.

And so it has never been more important to mobilize the private sector to solve these problems. Not just to give money away as charity, or at the end of the year for tax reasons, or even out of the goodness of their own heart, but as part of their business model. To think, how can you take what you do well in order to make profit and translate that into something that can actually help mitigate the effects of climate, transition to renewable energy, enhance girls’ education, or get medicines to people in the last mile of the country.

You might deliver your product, if you’re Coca-Cola, out to very rural areas. Well, how about delivering medicines for neglected tropical diseases? And that's the kind of partnerships that you can cook up at places like Davos.

HYMAN: Well, and it’s interesting that you talk about those real tangible partnerships, right? Because we were talking a bit before we came on air about the sort of disconnect between how the world perceives Davos and what it can actually accomplish and the sort of hubris that is perceived among the participants here and the meetings that are actually happening on the ground. So, how do you think about that — especially as someone who was here before, sort of on the other side of the table, so to speak.

POWER: Well, for me, it’s all about results. And results can happen here, but more often they require pretty extensive follow-up. But I’m just coming here from a meeting where we convened a bunch of ag and food executives, CEOs, and posed the question to them, what can each of us — USAID included — do to support Ukrainian agriculture.

Ukraine is the breadbasket of the world. We all now are familiar with the Ukrainian flag, the yellow and the blue. A lot of people don't know that it’s — the grain is the yellow, and blue is the sky. Ukraine has been feeding the world for generations. And because of Putin’s blockade or his destruction of ports, because now, even with an inspection regime to get food out of the Black Sea ports, Russia is really slow-walking the inspections, so much food is backed up.

That has effects in places like Somalia, Lebanon, Egypt. And so bringing those CEOs together to say, okay, how can we get seeds to Ukrainian farmers, how can we expand storage capacity, what are the logistic things that can be done to get more exports out — well, the Bayer CEO was there. Bayer does medicine, as we all know. But also half of its portfolio is in agriculture.

And they announced in the meeting that they were going to provide 25,000 seeds to Ukrainian farmers, likely on a monthly basis. And seeds are one of the most precious inputs that Ukrainian farmers can’t get access to. And that's not just important for jobs and for livelihoods in Ukraine when they’re so under siege, but so important again for developing countries.

So that’s an example that just came from this meeting. And it’s a very specific result of bringing Ukrainians together with CEOs, together with development professionals in order to try to solve real world problems.

And again, there’s a lot of rhetoric. The key is the follow-through and those specifics, and then moving the seeds out into the real world.

HYMAN: Right. And this also brings me to a really good point, which is, there's been so much talk about support of Ukraine from a military perspective, right, providing tanks. They’ve been putting in a lot of requests for more of all of that. What you do, is what we don't talk as much about, the food initiatives that you were just talking about.

And then you also just announce an initiative on the infrastructure within the country. Tell me about that.

POWER: Well, one of the messages that I’ve sent to CEOs here and have met with dozens of them in various settings is Putin is aiming, we know, to gobble up Ukraine, to take over Ukraine, to destroy Ukrainian infrastructure. He’s trying to do that on the battlefield. And as you say, that’s where a lot of focus is.

But he’s also trying to destroy the economy — starting with the energy infrastructure, the critical infrastructure — but the economy as a whole. And so as a result, while solidarity with the people of Ukraine is beautiful, and I’ve actually been really struck by the emotion of the CEOs and how they talk about Ukraine and talk to Ukrainians, it’s very moving. But better than solidarity is actual investment. Because every investment that a company makes in Ukraine at this time — not just waiting for the war to end — but at this time, is an investment in Ukraine's survival and ultimately Ukraine’s victory.

So I announced yesterday $125 million new energy infrastructure investment. And this will be for everything from stopgap mechanisms like generators and pipes in order to deal with the repairs that have to be done when pipes get destroyed to also auto transformers and substations, the really sophisticated technology that is, in a sense, the heart of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

We’re hoping, again, that the private sector will come in and make significant contributions and also that other countries will pile on.

HYMAN: Now, both with the hat you wear as administrator and as on the National Security Council, there was some reporting in The New York Times today that the administration is maybe changing or shifting towards a different stance on Crimea in terms of supporting the Ukrainians desire to retake it. Any comment on that?

And maybe the — I also wonder though, when you're talking about aid to Ukraine, how the military track works with the aid track and how closely you’re coordinating because you have to, I suppose, in some ways to know where the aid can be deployed and when and how safe it is.

POWER: Well, one of the reasons President Biden elevated USAID and put it on the National Security Council is the belief that development, diplomacy, and defense have to go together everywhere. Economic development, diplomacy, and defense are at the heart of what it’s going to take for Ukraine to win this war and to become a democracy.

So absolutely, I work hand-in-glove with Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin. And again, I think if Secretary Austin were here, what he would say is that keeping the lights on in Ukraine is every bit as important as making sure that Ukraine has the weaponry that it needs to defend itself and to take territory back that was unjustly ripped out from beneath it.

Regarding changes in policy, what we know is what President Biden has said, which is that we are standing with Ukraine, its territorial integrity, its independence for as long as it takes.

HYMAN: Samantha Power, USAID Administrator, thank you so much for doing this, appreciate it.

POWER: Thank you.

Samantha Power Administrator Samantha Power Travels to World Economic Forum

Administrator Samantha Power Travels to World Economic Forum


USAID Administrator Samantha Power will attend the World Economic Forum from January 17 to 19 in Davos, Switzerland. During her visit, the Administrator will emphasize the role and responsibility of the private sector in helping unlock solutions to critical global challenges. 

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