Administrator Samantha Power’s Q+A Session Following Her Keynote Speech India Institute of Technology—Delhi

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

MR. KESHAV GUPTA: Thank you so much, Administrtor Power, for these moving remarks. Very insightful indeed. I’m Keshav Gupta, founder of The Dais. We are an organization working on sustainable development goals, and especially empowering youth and finding their role in it. Besides that, I’m also currently the president of the American Center eSports club here in New Delhi. And I’m also working as the youth working group coordinator for the World House Project with Stanford University, which in fact, is working on lessons of Gandhi and Dr. King. So, it’s a personal pleasure to be here and to be moderating this question-answer session. 

For our audience members, if you wish to be recognized, kindly raise your hand, and our ushers will bring our mic to you. In the interest of time, please keep your questions brief and succinct. And also, when you do raise your questions, kindly state your name and your institution’s name. I will use the moderator’s privilege to ask the first question here.


MR. GUPTA: Thank you, Administrator. So, in your speech, you outlined the crucial nature of the partnership between India and the U.S. And looking at this decade, and in light of the food security crisis that the world is dealing with right now, how do you see India and the U.S. playing a role together, especially to address this problem? Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. Well, let me first say that there are ways in which India is already contributing to meet urgent food needs. So, one example would be the country of Ukraine, or I think, nearly 200 tons of assistance had been provided, all forms of assistance, I think, including medical. Afghanistan, which as you know, has had its challenges, but particularly starting last year into this year, has been in a very, very dire situation as the government there really struggles to manage the economy and the regular markets and banking system and have a hard time constituting themselves since the takeover of the Taliban. There, I think India has committed to provide 50,000 tons of wheat, which I cannot tell you how critical that is. I believe 35,000 tons of that is already either on its way or has arrived. So, there are examples like that.

That said, I know, with the March harvest here, that India’s own wheat output, as I indicated in the speech, was much, much lower than people had expected. But, I think that's very important. I also think, you know, we don’t know, we, as we’d like to say, in the States, many people are done with COVID, but COVID isn’t done with us. And, we know that if a new variant strikes, even as all of us collectively have made significant headway, I think, in contributing to the vaccination drive in developing countries, there may be a surge of demand again, and that is where we’re India, again, with the model and the example that it has set domestically, but also has played such a critical role in producing vaccines, and getting them out to the door to developing countries. Often at a much, much lower price than other companies have offered. So, those are some examples, but I would also not understate the importance of India’s voice and its diplomacy.

Some of you have followed the news. I spoke about Putin’s effective, in a sense, blockade of Ukraine’s ports, the 20 million metric tons of grains and oils that are so desperately needed to bring down global food prices and to reach those countries that get a very large share of their grains from Ukraine. I mentioned I was just in Somalia a few days ago. More than 50 percent of Somalia’s wheat comes from Ukraine. It’s just stuck. I think in Egypt and Lebanon, it’s more than 80 percent, just stuck. And so, again, those countries are hustling and trying to get support from elsewhere.

But, I do believe that the diplomacy that India has done has been a factor in the deal that the United Nations Secretary-General struck. We hope that deal sticks. It’s of course, with the bombing of the port of Odesa a few days ago, the deal was very much hanging in the balance, but the Ukrainians are trying to move forward with UN and Turkish support. But sometimes, needless to say, we in the United States, we do things differently. We’re out there, we’re often at podiums, like this one, expressing views about this or that. And I know, there are differing views on that approach. But there are a lot of different ways, publicly or behind the scenes, to try to urge policy shifts or different stances by a variety of actors around the world. And I do think that even the humanitarian exceptions policy that has been put in place when it comes to the wheat export ban is very, very significant. Because when there are humanitarian emergencies, that’s a place where India can look out for its domestic needs, at the same time, in those very urgent circumstances that some countries are facing, it manages to be responsive.

MR. GUPTA: Thank you. Thank you so much for outlining, rather comprehensively, all these different themes. Thank you so much, Administrator. We’ll be now opening the floor for a few questions to our participants in here. So, ma’am, could you kindly --

TOOBA KHAN: Hi, I’m Tooba Khan. I’m an MTech student here at IIT Delhi of cybersecurity. My question is that ma’am mentioned how India has been, how India has an impact, a global impact. It has an expertise in a global impact and global application. How do you see our country’s evolution from being a food recipient to being a contributor, global contributor, in the countries where USAID works?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much. I mean, that’s, in a sense, the turn that I was trying to speak to in my remarks and that I am so struck by as I myself study USAID’s history because I’m a newcomer to USAID myself. I can’t take credit for any of the programs you like, I can’t take credit for any of them, the programs you don’t like, blame me, don’t blame the wonderful Indian nationals who are out there doing God’s work every day. But I’m really, really struck by the history. I gave the number in the speech, of what share of USAID assistance or support over the decades went into food aid and food security, and it’s more than half. And that in 2010, because Indian ingenuity unlocked itself and India became an exporter of food, playing such a critical role in global markets broadly, and in developing countries specifically, then we’ve been shifting toward much more kind of catalytic seed financing, private sector partnerships, maybe blended finance where we bear the first risk, but just let Indian entrepreneurs go off to the races, and do their thing. And the same is true with Indian civil society, where it’s just an awe-inspiring panoply.

So, what I think, though, is noteworthy is not only kind of, just the dynamism that exists, that one just has to set foot in Delhi, or any part of the country to experience the energy and the determination in what we in the United States, of course, have benefited from, with all of the immigration, our country is so much stronger as well because of what Indians have brought to it. But it’s not just that, it is actually the very fact that it used to be otherwise and relatively recently. I mean, the credibility, the stature, the respect, that that generates among countries that find themselves, let’s say, in a version of the circumstances that India might have found itself, if not dependent, taking in food support from outside, knew it had arable land, and it had this potential but in that kind of before phase. And those countries are fully, equally capable, I mean, held back by all kinds of factors beyond the control of the individuals in the country, I mean legacies of colonialism, legacies of division of conflict, the Cold War. I mean, there are a lot of factors that have contributed to the hamstringing of economic development. But when Indian agronomists and economists and tech entrepreneurs and women leaders, like your President, and so many others, through India’s history, but in the government and civil society in business here, I mean, it just, has an authority, that expertise because of the accelerated timeframe in which you have achieved so much development progress, that when other nations that may have developed into more modern economies, even long before, been exporters of this or that long before, it just feels different.

And I’m sure, although I haven’t yet experienced these, what we call triangular partnerships firsthand when we work side by side in third countries, although we’re doing more and more of that and we the United States want to do even more. But I do think also, the knowledge is very fresh here. I’m not somebody -- personally, I’ve been involved in foreign policy and diplomacy, and I’ve been an academic. But I’m not somebody myself who has figured out how to deal with changing weather patterns in the fields of my country, right? I’m not somebody who has led a vaccination drive, at an accelerated campaign, and personally fought disinformation. And personally, overcome access challenges in the deepest reaches of my country. Whereas India, the domestic experiences that your experts can bring to countries themselves again, grappling with such familiar analogous challenges, I just think it can be incredibly impactful.

MR. GUPTA: Thank you so much, Administrator Power, for this again, very insightful response. Being mindful of your time, we will be taking one more question before we close our question and answers session. So, you can raise your hand if you’d like to. Gentleman over there, please. 

SWAGATHAM DEY: Hi, I'm Swagatham, I’m representing the same institution. And my question is so, India has a very huge number of young people, by some, highest young population in the world right now. So my question is, how do you think these people are going to play a role in the country’s future leadership development?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: How does the fact that India has such a young population play a role? Is that -- yeah, great. 

Well, I mean, obviously, having large numbers of young people entering the job market is a source of great dynamism and fresh ideas, it also can be challenging, keeping up with the pace of young people entering the workforce. So, I think always keeping an eye on domestic job opportunities, employment, going the last mile to those parts of the country that remain underdeveloped, those communities that haven’t yet witnessed the same kind of staggering trajectory, that some parts of the country or some communities have. So, I think that there’s that aspect of it. In the context in which I'm engaging, namely, what does India have to offer globally? Sub-Saharan Africa, a place whereas I indicated, and as many of you know, India has already done so much. I mean, that is precisely the population demographic of most countries on the continent. And so, here again ,if you look at developed nations like mine, where you see either population straight lines or you see population declines in many countries, India’s own absorptive capacity, its own ability to find economic homes and opportunities, and to take advantage, again, of all of the talent and the, again, the ideas and the creativity of young people, while not suffering, again, some of the economic instability that other countries have experienced, just by not, in a sense, being able to keep up with that influx. As India tackles that challenge, which I am absolutely confident it will, kind of getting the benefits while managing some of those risks. That’s just a perfect example of my exchange, I think, with your colleague about, again, how those insights from civil society actors, youth leaders, private sector, actors of all kinds, and government officials and development practitioners, again, those experiences are just going to be absolutely invaluable to countries that are grappling, again, with amalgamous at least population trajectories.

And maybe just the last thing I’d say, and I know, we’re short on time but it's just that again, I know Indian people have their share of challenges. I mean, it’s, of course, this is when you have climate shocks of this magnitude, when you have a population as heterogeneous as this one, I mean, and when there’s still massive under development and poverty in parts of the country, those challenges exist. But the hunger, for example, in like the countries I just came from, Somalia, Kenya, I was in Zambia and Malawi a couple of weeks ago, the hunger for Indian expertise, for the lessons of these experiences, to be imparted in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect is hard to find words for. And so, again, that’s just going to happen on its own. The United States may or may not have an insight into it or a window into it. We like the idea of doing trilateral partnerships because we have, just as we’ve had in India over the decades, we have in 80 countries, USAID missions that are primarily comprised of nationals of the countries in which we work, about two-thirds of our overseas presence. So, for Zambia, Zambians, Malawians, Kenyans, Somalians in the countries I’ve just come from.

And, so we feel like we have a sort of field presence and a set of development objectives aligned with country national plans of seeking to reach their SDG goals. And so, we think that hopefully, again, in the spirit of partnership, that we can provide platforms or at the minimum connections for Indian private sector actors, researchers, economists, young people, whatever it is. But regardless of whether, again, we are doing things trilaterally, those conversations are already happening and that desire, again to, frankly, to emulate the kind of poverty alleviation, the kind of economic growth, the kind of innovation that India has managed in such a relatively short period of time, that those requests, that hunger, I think is going to produce its own results and its own rewards in the years ahead.

MR. GUPTA: Thank you for, again, a very deep analysis on this, Administrator. Out of the last comments that you have made, to me, the two very critical things that have stood out for me is your empathy, and the need to be together in all of this. So, once again, thank you for the patience with which you’ve taken all these answers.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Can I thank the audience for its patience because we got a late start and I have empathy for you for the late start that we got, and I apologize, but I thank you so much for the wonderful questions. And maybe I just close by saying all of the things I’m saying can sound abstract, but you who attend this formidable institution, or who teach here, or who have graduated from here. I mean, you are the people that I’ve been talking about over this last hour, you are the people we’ve been waiting for. So, I just can’t wait to see what you do not only here in India but all that you can offer countries around the world. So, thank you.

MR. GUPTA: Thank you. 

New Delhi, India

Last updated: August 02, 2022

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