Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Eisenhower Executive Office Building

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Hi, everybody. Thank you, Paula, for hosting the OECD Development Assistance Committee peer review here at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. We are incredibly fortunate as we try to drive toward desired development outcomes around the world to have the NSC coordinating among the range of actors – who do complicate the development agenda, but are absolutely each vital in their own way toward securing the promotion of individual dignity and development around the world. 

And we couldn’t have anybody more experienced and more dedicated to never resting on what we have done up to this point, but always driving to secure better outcomes out in the real world. And so, Paula, we’re really lucky to have you in this role. And I hadn’t realized you were around for the last review in that role, but looking at the chart, it looks like we did pretty well. We got three fully implemented, ten – twelve – partially implemented, and three we won’t talk about.

But we feel really fortunate at USAID to have the leadership and the commitment from the White House, from the President of the United States, the National Security Advisor, to Paula, and the way development permeates across all directorates here at the White House. It wouldn’t work otherwise. 

Thank you, Ambassador Moorehead, for your impressive, formidable steering of the Development Assistance Committee over these last four years. I don’t see any signs that you are letting up as you head toward the finish line – as you see that tape on the horizon. But your leadership, your candor, your rigor, have been really cherished by me personally and by our whole agency – and I’m sure by the rest of the U.S. development community. 

I also want to thank the entire OECD Peer Review team, led by France and Norway. A “peer review” sounds simple enough on its face, but this is a momentous effort. The process takes over a year. It requires analyzing the entire, in this instance, U.S. development infrastructure – with all of that complexity – that’s over 20 government agencies in the U.S. contributing to development cooperation. And so, we don’t make it easy for you with our structures. I hope we make it easy for you with our accessibility. But, it involves an in-depth review of our cooperation with two countries where the United States has essential development partnerships, in this case Indonesia and Kenya. And thank you, Ambassadors, for being here. And please, again, thank your teams in the field for their embrace of this process, which will help us, I hope over time, secure not only better outcomes and better partnership in Indonesia and Kenya, but more broadly. So this is early mornings, it is late nights. And your team, again, was undaunted, France and Norway driving this at the state level. 

I think that in having Ambassador Amayo and Ambassador Roeslani here, in a sense, we should view them as invaluable partners, which we know they are. But also, as they share their thoughts with us, to imagine all of the partners we have on the ground who are not here. And to remember that our job day to day is to always be seeking out – extracting feedback. Sometimes it’s not easy to give that feedback, when you think that development resources flow and when you fear the vulnerability of those resources – especially at a time of stretched budgets. But that candid feedback is so critical, and we have to work fervently to create spaces where there is trust, where we can hear, warts and all, what the frustrations are, as well as what you think needs to be scaled and extended. And so, there’s a sort of spirit to this enterprise that needs to inculcate everything we do in every country. 

I want to just step back and share a little bit of history – because it’s history that I wasn’t familiar with before I came to USAID. And it’s important history. It was in the wake of the Second World War, where it became clear that just as it had been absolutely essential in the war – to win the war – for partnership to be tight, and alliances to be strong, and there to be a division of labor. So too, in the wake of the war, it would be necessary to come together in just that way to rebuild the wreckage that the war had left behind. And so donors formed what would eventually become this OECD Development Assistance Committee. And back then, we committed to being transparent with each other, and to being transparent to the world. We committed to holding one another accountable. And in the decades since, it’s fair to say we have benefited enormously from each other’s expertise, learning from our mistakes, and again, seeking to replicate and extend our successes. 

Now, needless to say, today, the need for development cooperation is every bit as evident as it was back when the DAC was founded. Not only because we, yet again, sadly face an open war in Europe, and all of the devastation that that entails. But also on multiple fronts, we face threats that are affecting people’s lives across nations, and again – it’s almost to the point of axiom or cliche – but threats that no one country can take on alone. 

We have the transition now to hopefully beginning to treat COVID as an endemic disease. But you know, the world has experienced its first decrease in life expectancy in more than a century. I mean, that alone should be just a siren call to optimize in the way that we deploy scarce resources. We face anti-democratic movements that are also proving contagious, with the kind of insurrection that we saw just blocks away from this building a few years ago, attempted – some version of that – attempted in Brazil earlier this month. We face climate shocks, where it’s now to the point where even to talk of shocks is generous. It’s chronic climate pain that is being inflicted and causing flooding in so many countries and parching in so many others. I was in Pakistan not that long ago and got to see what it’s like for a third of a country to disappear underwater. And it’s something I will never forget. And I traveled not long after that to Somalia, which is experiencing its fifth straight failed rainy season – unprecedented. 

As a consequence of these climate pains and this climate damage, and Putin’s unjustified invasion, you all know we face the most widespread hunger crisis we've seen in our lifetimes. So we are making historic investments and are blessed to have seen strong bipartisanship in support of those investments – in food security, in global health, in stability and democracy. And not only in emergency assistance, but in that long term climate resilience – which is so pivotal. But we have to work together, we have to work with others. We need to invest in solutions alongside other nations – share best practices with each other. So that just as quickly as these threats are evolving, so too, our approach evolves as well. And nimbleness is not always something that USAID is famous for. But that is something we are really working really hard to achieve. 

As you’ll hear, people across the U.S. government have taken the recommendations of the peer review committee to heart. We certainly have at USAID, we are seized every day with the challenge of modernizing our agency to meet this unprecedented confluence of challenges. So we have set out – as many of you know – a new reform agenda aimed at delivering progress beyond our development programs. So making our development programs the best versions of themselves, but also recognizing that programmatic resources alone are not going to get us where we need to get – or above all, get our partners on the ground where they are aspiring to be. So we are thinking beyond our $30 billion budget, to understand how we best use our expertise, our relationships, our hustle, our advocacy, to push for reform elsewhere to draw in others, to leverage more resources so that every dollar of ours brings in – crowds in – resources from others to spark innovation, and to inspire change. And again, a broad set of reforms through a variety of partners and partnerships. 

There’s a lot that goes into this reform effort. And I’m not going to speak about our broad reform agenda here. I just will speak, as Suzanne predicted, in fact, to one of the recommendations that you have set out for us today, which is – which very much aligns with our priority, which is to advance a model of locally led development. A model that prizes the knowledge of the people in the communities we are hoping to support. One that respects their expertise and engages them as partners rather than as beneficiaries. A model that elevates the voice of marginalized populations that are too often ignored. As we develop our program planning – or as we evaluate the results of our efforts – a model that creates a more sustainable growth by intentionally investing in local change agents who will be there long after USAID personnel who come from the United States have returned home and even long after USAID missions, we hope will have worked themselves out of business. 

That’s why we’ve set a new target that by 2025, USAID will provide at least a quarter of all our program funds directly to local partners. This is a significant leap over where we currently are – ramping up the percentage of funding that goes to development partners from countries where we work has long been an ambition of people who work at USAID. Prior administrators have come forth and set ambitious targets. And in all honesty, it has been a very stubborn target to move in real life. But we hope when we release our first tranche of data to at least have some modest inroads made toward that target, and to know that it’s also a mindset that changes and gives rise as well to a different spirit of partnership, including in how our prime grantees and prime contracting partners – how they themselves operated and who they themselves engage with.

So we are determined to get there. But we know in practice that so-called localization is not easy. It is more complex to plan and implement locally led efforts, we get that working with new players, by definition, carries new risks. It will take a wide collaborative commitment to placing local voices first, even if it means broadening our traditionally very, very conservative risk appetites to understand that there is significant risk as well in pursuing development outcomes that are less likely to be sustainable, because they depend on people who, again, are not of the communities in which we work. 

But we are getting off to a good start. I managed – I mentioned that we’ll have the metrics releasable sometime in the coming months. But last November, we unveiled our Central America local initiative, which sets aside $300 million over five years to generate locally led progress in Central America. We have – in that instance – already exceeded our targets for awards to local partners during the first year of that initiative. And so now we are pursuing a similar localization initiative in Africa, and looking to other regions as well. And again, we very much appreciate the support of President Biden and the team at the NSC in driving this agenda. 

We know that we are just one agency. And we know ultimately, we are just one country. We know that by collaborating with other nations, we can achieve a faster and more thorough transition. So in December, USAID partnered with Norway’s development agency, Norad, to organize a joint statement from bilateral donor partners who committed themselves to locally sustained change. A total of 15 partners endorsed the statement, promising to prioritize local voices. This is important work and there is more to come. And we’re thrilled that the OECD and the DAC are taking up this agenda and driving it forcefully as well. 

Many of our colleagues in the U.S. development apparatus already meaningfully incorporate localization in their work. And they have important expertise that they are going to be sharing later this morning as we embark on this effort together. But I want to just close by by emphasizing the critical point that Suzanne has made so often, which is that we have to learn together as a development community. And we have to change together. 

I have spoken about just one of the DAC’s recommendations on localization. But there are nine other recommendations in the report. And you will hear today from others in the U.S. government as we consider, together, how we can be better partners. While this is a peer review of the U.S. and its development infrastructure, it helps all DAC’s members learn what works and what doesn’t. Just as we have learned from the peer reviews of other DAC members, we hope other countries will be open to learning lessons from this as well. Taking on the challenges that we face today requires this comprehensive coordinated effort we all aspire to, and I am grateful to all of those who work every single day to achieve development impact out in the world. 

I am grateful as well, to those who are critics and who reflect critically – constantly – on what we are doing. There is no other way honestly, that we will improve if we do not receive that feedback. If we do not take it with an open mind and an open heart. We need it. We value it and we thank you.

Administrator Samantha Power at the OECD Development Assistance Committee Peer Review US Formal Launch
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