Administrator Samantha Power at the Swearing-in Ceremony for USAID/Philippines, Pacific Islands, and Mongolia Mission Director Ryan Washburn

Speeches Shim

Monday, January 24, 2022

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much, Karen, for your leadership of the bureau and for presiding over this event. A highlight of my day—probably my week. I just love having a chance to be part of these.

Thank you, Ambassador Ramualdez, for your remarks, especially for the personal reflections on the relief that has been offered in times of need, whether from a typhoon or from a once-in-a-century pandemic. I thought your reflections really brought home the good that we can do when we work together. And just to underscore, we are so committed to and grateful for this partnership between our two countries—a partnership this is as old as our Agency itself. So thank you for helping us celebrate this very exciting day.

As was mentioned, our esteemed U.S. Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, Erin McKee, is here as well. We’re hopeful that Erin McKee will be coming back on board one day soon, Senate willing, as Assistant Administrator for the Eastern European region—a difficult time in that region, but, Ambassador, thank you for your service and, again, thank you for always being willing to answer the call.

Thanks also to Gloria Steele, who I had not expected to see here. This is the first time I am seeing Gloria virtually since I last grabbed the baton from her. She of course did such a tremendous job as Acting Administrator at USAID in the first part of 2021. And that’s after a lifetime of service and such contributions in Asia in particular.

Thanks also to Heather Variava, our Chargé there for kicking us off and the partnership between you and Ryan will only double down on all of the achievements you have established and left in your wake previously.

Welcome to everyone online and in Manila tuning in to witness this historic swearing-in of Ryan Washburn as the Mission Director for the Philippines, the Pacific Islands, and Mongolia. I want to give a special thanks to Ryan’s loved ones who are joining us, including Ryan’s parents, George and Bunny, his wife, Julie, his three daughters, Emily, Maya and Ruth, as well as his siblings, Tara and George. That is quite the family turnout.

I would also be remiss not to acknowledge Deputy Mission Director Sean Callahan for serving as Acting Mission Director. Sean, you have our greatest gratitude for your leadership overseeing the Mission. I hope you’ll get a little bit of a breather with Ryan now having arrived there in Manila, but again, eternal thanks to you for your leadership.

Ryan — committed tennis player, talented homebrewer, and avid walker of his dog, Java — is well known at USAID, having served in many roles for more than two decades.

But the role Ryan takes the most pride in is as father. Even when taking multiple calls from DC in a single sit-down, Ryan, according to Julie, has been known to spare no time between work conversations, assisting his daughters with a college essay or whatever else they may need help with.

It’s no surprise that what Ryan is most proud of is having raised with Julie three strong, successful young women. Julie, Emily, Maya, Ruth: Thank you for continuing to support Ryan and for sharing him with us and the world.

Growing up in Boonton, New Jersey, Ryan learned early on about the value of connecting with individuals from different backgrounds. Ryan’s parents, originally New Yorkers, opened their home to the Fresh Air Fund program, which allows children from lower-income communities to experience summer outside of New York City. Ryan’s own grandmother had been a Fresh Air Fund kid, a touchstone experience for her and one the family wanted to extend to others.

His parents also hosted foster care children. It was through his relationships with his three foster siblings, as well as meeting other children his family hosted, that Ryan’s eyes were opened to the world outside of his hometown. That interest in the wider world only grew as Ryan went to school, trained to become an economist, and began his career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic.

The Peace Corps was where Ryan met Julie. And indeed we have Julie to thank for Ryan being introduced to an economist from USAID. Ryan, having never heard about USAID before, peppered the economist with questions. “What did USAID do? How could it be better? What opportunities exist to advance economic development?”

After a stint doing think tank research on cash transfer programs, he applied for the opportunity to work as an economist for USAID. And thankfully for us, he was hired!

From Mali to Ghana, Rwanda to DC, Zambia to Indonesia, Ryan cultivated a sterling reputation in the Agency for being persistent, detail-oriented, and approachable, maintaining that reputation even as he moved up in the ranks.

A colleague from Zambia remembers back in 2011 how Ryan was placed in charge of managing the U.S. Government’s high-level delegation to the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act Forum. She says, “Ryan led seamlessly. He managed all of the complicated relationships, protocols, logistics and moving targets without a hitch.”

The most impressive part? He did all of this while recovering from a concussion sustained just weeks before the event from an early morning bicycle accident.

But it wasn’t just Ryan who led the mission to succeed. Ryan’s trademark is that he empowers others. So in addition to telling early-career staff that he believed in them, Ryan showed them that he did, offering them opportunities to lead on programming and high-level events.

And wherever he served, Ryan always brought a deep level of respect for the communities in which he served. Insistent on trying out the local cuisine. Traveling beyond the Mission walls to meet villagers in remote locations. Even participating in an FSN-organized fashion show, donning colorful traditional clothing in celebration of a female national hero in Indonesia. I regret to say we don’t have photos currently on hand, but for those of you out there who may, you know where to find me.

When COVID-19 struck during Ryan’s last post as Mission Director in Indonesia, he naturally had to usher in rapid, destabilizing changes: a dramatic shift to telework, painful ordered departures for family members, and a reinvigorated push on public health. During that time, Ryan held regular town halls to update Mission staff on the response to the pandemic. And he kept spirits up, sharing inspirational videos and checking in to see how staff were coping.

Due in no small part to Ryan’s persistence, even in the midst of the pandemic, in July of 2020 the Government of Indonesia agreed to a major framework with USAID to strengthen democracy, reduce poverty, and fuel economic growth. One of his colleagues sums it up best: “Ryan led the mission through the threat of a government shutdown, through budget cuts and dramatic priority shifts, and we always came out on top and, in fact, stronger.”

And now, Ryan is officially stepping into the role of Mission Director in Manila at a critical time. The Philippines, the Pacific Islands, and Mongolia, like the rest of the world, continue to combat the pandemic, and face yet another wave fueled by the Omicron variant.

The Philippines continues recovery efforts in the wake of Super Typhoon Rai, known locally as Odette. Making landfall just before Christmas, the typhoon displaced over 1 million Filipino families, knocked out power in more than 60 cities, and left many bridges and roads impassable.

Other natural disasters, like the recent volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga, have devastated homes and livelihoods throughout the Pacific Islands as volcanic ash contaminates air and water quality and seawater floods coasts. This latest disaster has impacted more than 100,000 people, nearly the entire population of Tonga.

For its part, Mongolia is seeking to root out corruption, diversify its economy beyond the mining sector, and promote democratic governance in a region known for its authoritarian leaders.

In a country where more than half of the population is under 30, young Mongolians yearn for a future with a fairer justice system and a system free of elected officials who wield the power of their office for personal enrichment.

And on top of that, the climate crisis, which threatens us all with rising temperatures and more extreme weather, but disportionately impacts many of the island nations whose programming Ryan will oversee—nations that contribute the least to global emissions.

But Ryan, despite the daunting agenda, you have a great team. Over 160 Mission staff will have your back every day.

Throughout the region, they are already helping to distribute tens of millions of life-saving vaccines, donated medical equipment, and life-saving PPE while combating COVID-19 misinformation.

In the Philippines, the Mission is opening access to food assistance and collaborating with partners in local communities to restore electricity and rebuild homes. I was pleased to learn of the extensive planning put into place before the storm by the Government of the Philippines and local governments. The use of preemptive evacuations and early warning systems as well as the prepositioning of relief supplies undoubtedly saved lives. At USAID, we are glad to have played a part in strengthening climate resilience, reducing the risk brought by this storm, and responding to needs on the ground.

And in Tonga, they are providing emergency shelter, safe drinking water, hygiene kits, and more. Our teams are also unlocking public and private funding in the Pacific Islands that will help farmers adopt climate-smart agriculture practices, preserve rich biodiversity, and assist low-lying communities currently threatened by rising sea levels.

And they are encouraging public servants in Mongolia to enact policy reforms that will enhance democratic engagement, counter endemic corruption, and foster the growth of entrepreneurs and small businesses. Overall, a massive portfolio, but one I trust that you, Ryan, are more than equipped to handle.

Being a Mission Director requires sacrifice, not least of all in the form of having to be separated from family for prolonged periods of time. Ryan, I was glad to hear that at least one member of your family, your dog Java, recently arrived in Manila. And Julie and Maya should soon follow when Maya graduates high school this spring. I’m excited to see what your attention to detail, your mentorship, and your empathy can achieve in the Philippines, the Pacific Islands, and Mongolia as you take on this new role.

Last updated: May 05, 2022

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