Administrator Samantha Power at the Summit of the Americas Young Americas Forum Town Hall with NTN24’s Gustau Alegret

Speeches Shim

Friday, June 10, 2022

Magic Box
Los Angeles, California


GUSTAU ALEGRET: Thank you so much. A pleasure to be here today. With such an amazing woman leading one of the most impressive agencies from the U.S. government. Samantha Power, the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, she leads 10,000 people all around the world in 100 countries. Since she took her position, she has transformed USAID into extending efforts to end the COVID-19 developing gains, and it has imperiled leading with climate change, addressing conflicts and humanitarian crises. And you know that her experience, it's wide. She was a journalist and war correspondent. She was in Kosovo, Rwanda, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, tough places for a woman and for a journalist. She's a writer, she's a diplomat, she was a U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President Obama and also served on the White House National Security Council for the Obama Administration, and it's a pleasure for me to be here with Samantha Power. Samantha, thank you so much.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Great to be here, Gustau. Nice to see you all.

ALEGRET: Let me start with a broad question for her. This is the forum led by young people, entrepreneurs, people who are eager to go around the world and solve the problems, and we have many --pandemic, climate change, corruption. And I'd like to hear from you some comments about the role that you see in these young people to address those problems. How do you see their role and the role that they can play in the future, in the near future?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Great. Well, first of all, even the list of challenges and problems you've outlined indicate that us older people haven't exactly cracked the code. We haven't exactly solved the challenges of our time. And so, just on those grounds alone, we need new blood, we need help, we need different people at the table. Right? I mean, it'd be one thing if you didn't have these values, right? So, you know, I think even when I think now the privilege of running USAID, we have all of our programs and, you know, there's one way of thinking about programs, whether in this hemisphere or anyplace in the world, as you know, kind of youth empowerment programs. But if we were only to do that and have dedicated programs in youth, rather than having you centrally part of our discussions on how to do digital transformation, or how to have an open and inclusive internet, or of course, climate change, where we definitely aren't where we need to be, that would be just signing ourselves up for the same old, same old. So, I think that integration and, in a sense, really the handing of the baton to young people is really important. And just because I mentioned digital, just a word about that. I think there, like what is completely second nature to you all about using social media, seeing your peers and worrying about young people and how much misinformation there is on the internet, but you all having better ideas about how to combat that than people who just may have heard of Twitter for the first time, like yesterday, you know, never mind, like the new vehicles and the new social media platforms that are being used. Crowdsourcing, you know, the ability to organize on whatever issue concerns you and your community. You just can do that in a way that we really can't. And so, it's not really optional. It's not like a luxury. Oh, do we, you know, bring young people or do we not? We will not solve the problems of our time if we don't, you know, have youth not only at the table but central to devising the solutions and implementing the solutions in our communities.

ALEGRET: You're a woman, you're a mom. How do you balance living such important roles, time-consuming, 24 hours, and being -- let me put it that way, good mom, taking care of your family and balancing private life with public service?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah. Poorly. [laughter] I was -- when I was UN ambassador, and I remember President Obama's cabinet. Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In" came out, you know about us women, how we need to stand up for ourselves and lean in and claim what is ours the same you might say, lean in young people, too, you know, claim what's yours. And I ran into Secretary Clinton at some event, when I had like, forgotten a change of diapers for my daughter, and, you know, ended up on the phone with Secretary Kerry at the same time I was holding her, and she just peed all over me. And I saw -- I, without the diaper that she would have needed. And I saw Hillary Clinton. I said, you know, she said, "How's it going?" And I said, "You know, they say lean in, I feel like half the time, it's fall down." And she said, "No, no, no, it's not lean in, it's not fall down, it's lean on." It's lean on, like, you can't -- you know, you're -- even when I'm here at the Summit of the Americas, you know, and I'm trying to organize things back home for my kids. And you know, I'd be nowhere if I didn't have support, from friends, from family. Being able to call my mother still and say, Mom, I just there's -- President Biden has called me to the Ukrainian border, I've got to go meet him, can you fly to Florida at the last minute and take care of my kids, you know, who are at camp?

So, I'm just lucky; I'm blessed to have that support. And what, you know, I feel that USAID is. I know how many people don't. And I know how many -- you know, that's why post-pandemic, so many women are not coming back to the workplace, right, is that they have to, you know, fundamentally -- or they're trying to come back and aren't being welcomed back in the way that they need to because who did the pandemic fall to? The homeschool, to get your kids organized, you know, all of that if you're a parent, who fell to women across the hemisphere, across the world. And so, we at USAID have to be incredibly conscious of the disparate effects of any one of the crises you mentioned at the beginning. The disparate effects are going to be on marginalized communities and vulnerable people, and they're going to to be on women. And we need to remember that.

ALEGRET: You're working in a world full of men. And let me close the subject. And I know that this is something worrying for many young women - women in the region, that they want a professional career as successful as yours. And when they interact with their peers, males in the same room, they feel this intuition in which sometimes it's not comfortable, or they get displaced, or not treated with respect. What's the message, your message to the women, the young women in the region that are dealing with men, in order to fight for all these problems that are common for us?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah. I'd say two things. I mean, first, I actually wrote after my time in the Obama Administration; I wrote a memoir called "The Education of an Idealist," which was -- oh, thank you. That's not a book promotion, but simply to say that in writing it, I thought to myself, if I were a young woman, like, what would I most need to hear? And I thought, oh, what I need to do is I need to make clear that we all have those feelings in the -- we women, no matter how -- what your CV ends up looking like, your resume ends up looking like, it never changes. You always have that little thought bubble in your head of like, “did I go on too long?” You know, when I raised my -- this used to happen to me, actually in the UN Security Council, where I represented the United States. And it was, you know, for a long time, I was the only woman ambassador of the 15. And I would make a? but I was at the United States, so I was a very powerful host country of the United Nations, the largest donor, and I would make a point. And my male counterparts who, you know, I had great relationships with, they would then make some different point. And then some guy would make the point I had made - worse. And then the other male Ambassadors would pick up on his point. You know, and now there's all these studies that show that this is a recurring theme.

And so, it's just like that. And I feel it's my responsibility to say it's like that. I describe my like, brain sometimes as a batcave, like in Batman, because all the bats are like fluttering around. I'm like, I'm trying to make my point, but then my batcave, the bats are like, no, don't say that someone already said that. Or yeah, you know. And you just have to go for it. And I guess that's the -- so the first is you're not alone; everybody feels that way. Never compare your insides to somebody else's outsides. So, everybody's like strutting along, and they look like they have it all together; chances are they have some bats in their batcave, too, maybe not as many. So, try to just know that that's a normal state of affairs.

But the second thing is in a way more important. It is mission driven. You have something that burns you up inside; that is your reason to get out of bed, or to go to work in the morning, or to try to organize. And when you're at those moments of like, will I, won't I, there's so many ?, that are not treated with respect or the way that I think I should be treated, just remember that thing that you were pursuing, that cause that is yours. And just think about all the people who aren't in the room at all. And just think, “I'm so damn lucky to be in the room. I'm going to use this moment.” And so, what? Like, what's the worst thing that happened? They laugh at me, or they snicker, or they ignore me, or they wait for a Juan to make the same point. You know, that's compared to what people are struggling with in the world. You know, and the more we speak, and the more when we are women, and we're more than one in the room, the more that we affirm one another and lift one another up. Over time, that's going to change. But if you have the goods, and can deliver and really, I always say, know something about something, if you really have the expertise, that in the end, over time, that is going to prevail, particularly if we have one another's backs, but we're just so -- you know, again, it's a weird way to look at it, you could be pissed about how the room looks, and how the dynamics are unfolding in the room, or the half-full approach is - I'm in the room, I get to be in the room. And so, let me use being in the room on behalf of those who aren't yet there.

ALEGRET: Thank you, Samantha.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure.

ALEGRET: This is a conversation not with me but with them. So, we have some questions. We are ready for your questions. I think there is a mic over here. I'm going to be very strict with names and questions. Right to the point. While people are preparing, I have one question that we collect through the internet. It's from Nikolas Sanchez Baragas from Colombia. You know that pandemics show inequality in accessing the resources needed to fight the pandemic, masks, vaccines, and so on. So, the question is, in this international cooperation and agreement among countries to fight this global pandemic, is it possible to fight it with equality, with fairness for everyone, but not among countries, but within countries, in different types of societies? The poor, middle class, and the people with wealth and well-positioned in those societies. Equality?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah, it's a great question. Let me say a word because I represent the United States about the dynamics among countries since it's no secret that countries in the north and the west had vaccines developed for a long time before they started to make their way to many of your countries. And, you know, we can't pretend that that didn't happen, that the countries didn't look out for their own citizens first. And so, what I think is really important out of this is to build a world, and this, again, is where young people are going to come in, where you're not dependent on someone deigning to give up some of their supply for you, where those kinds of capabilities exist within your country preferably, or within your region, in a manner that guards against scenarios where other countries are doing what governments are elected to do, which is to look out for their own citizens.

So, that sounds a little bit cynical, maybe, or a little bit jaded. But I think, you know, when -- because governments are elected for the reasons that they are, that is a structural issue in the world where you're going to see leaders privileging, you know, the fate of their own citizens. Now, the enlightened response and the reason that we, the United States, have led the world in vaccine donation. You know, when President Biden came in and made that a real priority and empowered us at USAID to administer vaccines, and we've given 70 million away here in the region, but is that we have to see that enlightened self-interest means that our fates are connected. And we have to deal with public health challenges not only in our own countries but all over the world, even just for the sake of our own citizens, even for the reasons that leaders are elected. So, that's why out of the pandemic, we're investing so much more in health systems in the hemisphere, both because we know that that's what countries need, health systems in many ways are much weaker today than they were two and a half years ago, at just the time we need them to be stronger because climate change is going to give us more diseases of that nature that take more lives. But also recognizing again that our health is connected to your health, you know, that we can view it in a silo. So, that's one, the dynamics, alone, but we need to think about self-sufficiency, and the ability to produce in places, for example, outside the United States, and make investments in vaccine manufacturing and other commodities down here in the health sector.

In terms of the question itself, about equity within countries, the pandemic in the United States as well, just as in every country, I think, here, elsewhere in the Americas, was, you might say, the great revealer. So, I mentioned earlier, the disparate effect on women, no question, whether domestic violence, educating the kids, homecare, educating -- or taking care of older parents who might have been affected by the pandemic, the same thing across the Americas. And then if you were poor, you know, your ability -- what are you going to do when your kids are home? What are you going to -- how are you going to keep working? And if you were dependent on that second salary from the mother in the family, or for the -- you know, what is that going to mean for your ability even to make ends meet? What does it mean when vaccines are much more readily available in places with more sophisticated health systems than in places, you know, where the health clinic takes miles to walk to? Like vaccines are not accessible, or weren't accessible for a large part of the last year and a half, even when they became accessible in your country, they reached underdeveloped communities last?

And so, you mentioned PPE, and testing, and diagnostics, just every aspect of the pandemic. If you were poor, or vulnerable, or living on the margins before, you were way worse off. And that's why the death rates are much more substantial, even in some cases where the testing wasn't available. So, it's not even counted necessarily as a COVID death, but we just know that it is in the poor, and you know, we have our same partners and our same constituencies and the people we know. And so, getting out of our comfort zone and reaching into communities, you know, that may be indigenous communities, like Afro Colombian communities as we're trying to do, or in Guatemala, actually, for the first time having an indigenous peoples strategy to make ourselves -- to discipline ourselves to go to places that in some cases, even governments don't reach out to, in many cases, in fact, don't reach out to and give the privacy that they deserve.

ALEGRET: I don't know if we have the first question ready. I want the people who wanted to ask to come to the mic.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: No batcave, no bats. Come to the mic.

ALEGRET: My only request is to please your name, and the questions. Avoid statements. Start with the comment.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: And I'll try to be brief, so we get more questions. But please come up and stand behind the gentleman, so we have more.

QUESTION: Good morning, Ms. Power. Nice to meet you. My name is Saudi . I'm Guatemalan American. And I do international work in Mozambique with the refugee's [inaudible]. My question is, What an American -- how -- when I go abroad to Africa, everybody is [inaudible] coming from the U.S. When I go to work with Latinos, I can do this Latino. And here at home, I get condemned because many of them see that I am trying to open the borders to other people. So my question is, me, coming from a diverse background, what is my role as an American and as a Latino? How do I make my work better and count? Do I represent the country?

ALEGRET: Thank you. Thank you very much.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. Well, I maybe should have said this at the beginning. I'm an immigrant to this country from Ireland, and obviously share President Biden's view, which used to be uncontroversial in the United States. You know, that the great source of our strength is our diversity. And it's in having people with a background like yours, and I don't know your story, I don't know how you came or what your mother, you know, or your father went through to have you here in a position like this, or your grandmother for that matter. I don't know your story. But I know that whatever allowed you to take that journey gives you not only the experience that you have and the perspective you have, but reflects a kind of grit and determination that makes this country just so much stronger. I mean, it's, again, that was not controversial. The Statue of Liberty -- what was on the Statue of Liberty was never controversial, it should never be controversial. It's all the studies, you know, the empirical studies show that diversity makes us better in every respect. And as somebody now privileged to run an agency of 10,000 people, you know, I'm really trying to emphasize recruiting from more diverse parts of the country, you know, traveling to historically Black colleges and universities. We now have a renewed memorandum of understanding with Florida International University, which is the largest Hispanic-serving institution in the United States.

But we need this diversity, equity, and inclusion approach also to apply to our USAID Missions in many of the countries, including Guatemala, where, as we hire most of our staff abroad, are actually nationals of the countries in which we work. We have nearly 5,000 people of the 10,000 who work at USAID who are nationals of Guatemala, of Ukraine, of Afghanistan, of Togo, for that matter. I mean, it is the nationals of these countries that make USAID, you know, incredibly strong. But even there, we sometimes only recruit, like we have in the U.S., from, like, the same places and the same communities and the same circuits. So even there, thinking, how can we have people from indigenous backgrounds, or from rural areas, or who may not have gone to the top universities in the country, but have backgrounds that would inform our programming choices. So, you know, again, you don't have to sell me about how much you have to offer. And yeah, in our politics, which are very polarized in the United States, when you take a strong position, there's going to be probably close to half the country that disagrees vehemently and increasingly even questions one's right to have a different opinion. But diversity of opinion also is what makes this country great. So I hope you will continue to do your work. And I, you know, I hope that our welcome mat to people like you who offer so much to our country can be extended near and far, and that we get back to the kind of bipartisan support for the idea of inclusion and the strength in diversity that we know explains so much of America's innovation, everything from Silicon Valley to devising drought-resistant seeds that we now are using in rural Guatemala to try to fend off the worst effects of climate change.

ALEGRET: Thank you, Ms. Power.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. Ladies. Ladies, we [inaudible] step up. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Samantha. My name is Pablo Garcia from Ecuador. The question is, when we consider that with international cooperation, we have systemic issues that require not only a lot of will but also a lot of resources, and with USAID, you are trying to help everybody around the world and so many countries, so many people. So in those cases, sometimes when you do a project, something like that, and you put only half of the resources that you need to do that job, sometimes you receive less than half of the return. So how do you deal with those problems? Because if you want to help everybody, there's just not enough money. But if you try to help so many people at the same time, sometimes that -- the amount of money is so much less than they need that the return probably is less than [inaudible] which you receive. Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Honestly, it is a question that burns inside of me and my team the entire time, because USAID's budget this coming year is going to be bigger than it's ever been in history. And I don't know in my lifetime that the gap has ever been so great between what our budget is and what the needs in the world are. I mean, just climate change alone and the need to help countries adapt, to help farmers adapt, to help, you know, people who live in urban communities adapt. It is really taking its toll. And so I just actually met with President Lasso of Ecuador this morning and we had a version of this conversation, which is, okay, great USAID is now back in Ecuador having had to leave, you know, previously. And now we're back, we're so pleased to be back. But, you know, our public financing of these programs is so modest compared to childhood malnutrition, compared to the need to build a different kind of police force, compared to the environmental protection and the energy programs and the transition to clean energy that Ecuador is making.

And so my main answer to you is it can't just be, you know, it can't just be public financing from countries like the United States. It has to be that, and we need new donors to be part of that. When countries transition away from assistance, which is what every country wants and what I want. I want to work USAID out of existence, right, by countries not needing assistance. But when countries make that transition, when they become new donors, that's incredibly important. Like some of the countries, the former Soviet Baltic countries, we now work with, they are our partners, [inaudible] that thrills me. Because that's about moving along the stage of development. The Republic of Korea is a major donor now, you know, and an incredible partner. Not doing as much work in this hemisphere, of course, as might happen over time. But when you see countries graduate and then come back and give back, give the kind of assistance that the Republic of Korea, which was flat on its back after the Korean War, the assistance that they received, it's so gratifying. So that's part of the answer is new donors.

But the other answer is, we at USAID with you, have to find a way to bring in the local private sector, and I have to find a way with my partners in the U.S. government to bring in the American private sector as well. And we see it in agriculture, that, you know, sometimes we will bear the first loss. We will guarantee a loan, we USAID, with our public sector financing. And that then makes it easier for the private sector to come in, and think, "Okay. Well, if you're going to bear that loss and that initial risk, we can come in, and then maybe we can even make money over an economic investment." That's harder for civil society work, support for independent media, you know, where it's not fundamentally going to be a situation of profit. It's going to be about, you know, if you're an Ecuadorian American and you've done well in the United States, or if you live in Ecuador and you really believe in the strength of your democracy, can we work with you to support media that may not be able to make it but for outside assistance. So it really depends on the sector as to how much scope there is for bringing in other forms of investment. But we have to get way more creative than we have been. It can't just be traditional public sector financing given that growing gap and giving the -- when you have half the resources you need, you're going to, as you say, have half the results or even less.

ALEGRET: Thank you, Pablo. Can you follow up?


ALEGRET: Something that you mentioned but you didn't mention. Give me one second.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah, no problem.

ALEGRET: Corruption.


ALEGRET: Corruption is one of the cancers that affects, unfortunately, most of the Latin American democracies.


ALEGRET: It's not exclusive from this hemisphere. But it exists. And when you arrive with money, with programs, and you have to deal with corruption that is local, and it's embedded into governments or private sector, how do you deal with this?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, first, let me say, President Biden is actually the first American president who has made combating corruption -declared it a core national security priority. And I'm the first USAID Administrator that has set up an anti-corruption taskforce at USAID precisely dedicated to this issue. But I want to be clear, in the past, the United States has always cared about corruption in terms of our money. You know, our, like, and that's kind of at the core of your question, is, like, if we're investing in a country, we want our money to go to good use.

But what we're doing now is not just that, not just saying, "Okay, is there fraud, is there waste, is there abuse, is there corruption? In terms of, you know, when we support a health program, is it getting -- is the money reaching the beneficiaries? When we support education, is the money actually helping buy textbooks to refurbish schools or is it going to some crook?" We care about all of that, we have to. And that's why working with USAID is sometimes super complicated for organizations because there's a lot of checks and balances to avoid that kind of corruption. But there's a systemic kind of corruption that affects people's lives even if they never work with USAID. We want to make sure now that we have programming, for example, when the Dominican Republic President Abinader, or President Lasso, for example, in Ecuador, come in on an anti-corruption agenda and platform, then we are able to help them, you know, develop a new procurement law so that they are publishing online who is actually getting the contracts, which is where a ton of corruption occurs, you know.

In the environmental sector, when it comes to illegal trafficking, you know, of lumber or when it comes to what happens in the Amazon, are programs focusing on those actors who are profiting from your natural resources, your generations' future? And so that's where we're trying to ramp up our programming as well, which is complementary to but quite different from the traditional mindset of, like, our money can't go to waste. That we have to guarantee. We have a lot of checks that I hope guard against that. But similarly, when young people speak, when they go out and they elect leaders that want to fight corruption and that buck these trends that you describe, we want to be there and support them.

And to the prior question, we need to catalyze the private sector to see something different is happening in this country. You know, if you come in with foreign investment, or if you come in willing to build your factory in a country that's fighting corruption, that is going to help leaders at the municipal, at the regional, at the national level show their people that there's an economic benefit to doing hard things. And that's been the problem. I think we are in a democratic recession in part because when there have been democratic openings, there hasn't been enough economic results on democratization or on greater respect for human rights. And so then there's a backlash against reformers, demagogues come in, and then you start to see more corruption. And so we have to have, there being an economic dividend on the political reform agenda that we seek as well.


QUESTION: Hello. Hi, my name is Kayla Dunwood and I'm from Chicago. A big fan, Administrator Power. Thank you for being here. My question is, because we are the Young Americas Forum, I know there are many of us that want to pursue international development, work on humanitarian affairs projects in our own homes. But because we are young, may not have the assistance of our government or big donors to help us. So I was wondering if you had any advice as to where we could start.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Are you talking about in the United States or are you talking about in any country?

QUESTION: I mean, I'm from the U.S., so you can talk about here, but any country.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah. So just across the Americas? I mean, look, I think the main thing that holds young people back, apart from older people, is a sense, you know, of, like, of sort of your point, you know, which is, the problems are so big, I have so little. How am I going to -- how am I going to chip away? How am I going to -- how am I going to make a difference? And, you know, I think we're fortunate to live at a time where there are -- there is a robust network of civil society organizations where eventually, you know, once you've gone to university -- because I know there are some here who are still university age or may have just graduated. But, you know, once you get your experience doing your internships or volunteering, those opportunities hopefully will come along where you'll be able to latch onto an organization that is doing something that you care about. That's my hope for you, that you'll have those opportunities.

But in the meantime, you know, thinking that I have to make a big difference to make any difference I think is a counterproductive way of thinking about things. And so I'll quote here President Obama, who I used to, you know, have, you know, debates with when we -- when I had the chance to work for him in his Administration. And sometimes I'd want to do these really big things. And we may not have the resources or Congress may be, you know, standing in the way, or, you know, all the things that you know make change hard. And he would say, "Sam, remember, better is good. Better is good." And sometimes we want what's needed or we want what's best. We may not be able to get it, and especially when you're a young person and you're just starting out.

And so the question is, can you make something better for someone? And if you lower the bar on yourself, if you lower the pressure on yourself, it's much easier to start. And then lo and behold, you know, you may not change the world, right? But if you change some individual world or make something better, whether through volunteering or through tutoring or doing something, you know, really small, you gain that experience that you will then bring as the stage on which you work gets bigger over time. But just thinking to oneself, "Better is good," I feel like can be consolation sometimes, and a reminder that if everybody took that approach, just to try to make something a little bit better, then together, right, especially, you know, if you take up all the young people, if they took up that charge, and were dedicated to changing just something small in their communities, even in their own families, if you aggregate that, you know, across a lot of people, that can do more than make things a little bit better. So thank you.

ALEGRET: Thank you. I love your city.

QUESTION: Hello. My name is Kevin Gabran. I'm Dominican American and I'm a very big follower of your work. Thank you for everything you have done. So my question is, in your perspective, what is the biggest challenge the United States has in terms of development?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I think I've already addressed the resource gap. And I really -- I can't underscore enough the exponential damage that climate change is doing to all of our development objectives. I mean, look at the SDGs. Some of you operate using that, you know, in your countries, developing national action plans around the SDGs. Look at the progress we were making on the MDGs before. And it looked like things would progress apace. But when you start to see, you know, every year hotter than the year before or with more rainfall or more drought. Too much water or too little water, right? And then we're seeing the good news on climate change as we're seeing the private sector move when it comes to renewables and clean energy transitions. I mean, again, too late, you know, or later than is -- than what we need. But nonetheless, that's happening. And once the private sector starts going, once you can make money off something, there's a pretty good chance that over time you're going to start to see really profound change.

And, you know, we see it -- we see it in the United States, we see it in our development relationships around the world. Countries are really eager -- not the big fossil fuel producers, but most countries are really eager to move to solar, to move to renewables, to move to wind. And we can support them in doing that. But where it's really challenging is adaptation. Which is not, how do you lower emissions? It's how do you deal with the emissions that have already gone too high and the damage on the climate that has already been done. And there, we haven't been able to attract the private sector in the same way.

And so that gap that we've been talking about just grows bigger and bigger as small island states, you know, have to begin planning, like, going door to door to say, "Where can my people move to? What other countries can we go to?" Because our shorelines are eroding. Or because we can look ahead 10, 20 years, and know that the sea levels are rising so much that in a whole part of our country, people aren't going to be able to live. And then you run into, like, migration challenges and, you know, the difficulty of actually finding a welcome in other countries, given the movements. Look at the changing complexion of even the people who are coming to the southern border of the United States. You know, the rate of migration actually within Latin America is increasing apparently at 17 times the rate that the rate of migration to the United States is increasing. We know that that's increasing at historic rates. And it's because people are looking at -- nobody wants to leave their home, by and large. I mean, they want to provide for their families where they are. But when you see the food crises, compounded now by Putin's invasion of Ukraine, but also fueled by these preexisting conditions -- whether it's natural disasters, like hurricanes, or unseasonable weather that changes the dynamics for agriculture, which is a huge source of income and wealth in the region. So, I think that that -- those gaps on adaptation are really tough. And then you look at pandemic -- the pandemic we've just had. Every scientist is telling us we're going to have more of those because of the warmer temperatures and so forth.

So, that -- I think it's -- a lot comes back to our warming planet, the need to move much more aggressively to stop the temperature rises so that we can limit the damage. But, also especially for those of us who bear the greatest responsibility, as the largest emitters, we could be in a position to dedicate more public and private-sector resources to helping countries adapt. I think those are monumental challenges.

ALEGRET: Okay. Let's have a question -- a last one, I think -- for women. Yes? Your name and the question, please.

QUESTION: Sure. My name is Dr. Injeri Osborne. I'm a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. I'd just like to thank you for your words of encouragement. It really spoke to me, your speaking on the theme of self-sufficiency, as well as the interconnectedness of the five Cs of youth development, as we all have had to grapple with -- think about how we can affect change by addressing each one of those five Cs.

One of the things that I would like to just, you know, mention is the fact that -- the stress that the pandemic caused on our individual countries, the fact that it's created even more corruption in some countries. You know, that sentiment of pessimism is felt throughout the Americas. And I just believe that having more forums such as this, where we have female leaders, such as yourself, speaking, to inspire young women like myself to figure out how we can address those problems in our individual countries.

And so, I wanted to ask you, just to bring it back, what has -- what difficulties have you experienced as [inaudible]]? And how would you speak to -- you know, our young women in the audience here and online, just about how we can address the fact, that impostor syndrome, seems to be always there, and how we can just step up to the plate when it's needed, and to really inspire other women in our countries.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, look. Let me say that, in the same spirit of your comment, you know, that -- which is, in a sense, representation really matters, right? So, to be here -- and again, it's -- I feel very, very privileged to be among you, who are the change-makers in your countries, and often have, you know, faced many more barriers than I have faced in my career, to be where I am today. And so, that's very inspiring for me. But I think, in the spirit of representation, you know, what we need -- we, again, of older generations -- need to do, irrespective of our gender, is make sure that there's a role for representation of youth, you know, of somebody who is young and female, and has her own -- his own story to tell, and to make young people feel like they can have a role in the change-making.

I think, in addition to the comments I've made previously about being a woman and some of the sort of, you know, challenges along the way, I guess one of the biggest things that I think you have to grapple with in the Americas -- women of all ages have to grapple with, but still, young women -- is unconscious bias. And so, I'll just give you one example. It actually interestingly wasn't -- it doesn't involve a Latin American ambassador. But when I was U.N. ambassador, we had the privilege, just by virtue of timing, to choose the next Secretary General of the U.N. And as you may know, despite the fact that the U.N. has been around since 1945, there has never been a female Secretary General. Right? It's crazy.

So, it's very challenging to become Secretary General, because you have to make it through Russia, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France -- the five permanent members -- and then also through the whole General Assembly. So, it's -- you know, it's not easy to become Secretary General. But I was having a conversation with a European ambassador -- very, very progressive -- about how I thought it was time -- well-past time -- at that time, it was 70-plus years since the founding of the U.N. -- it was time, like, to have a female Secretary General. And he kind of -- you know, he took it on board. And he said, "Yeah, you know" -- he said, "Absolutely." He said, "But just make sure that she's competent."

I was like, "What?" And I mentioned this to my Jordanian counterpart, whose name is Dina Kawar -- a female representative from a country in the Middle East, very -- you know, itself very rare. And Dina, who is now the U.S. -- sorry -- Jordan's ambassador to the United States -- a really amazing woman -- but I mentioned that. I just was coming out of this. I was just like, "What is it about -- what is it exactly about this exchange that is making me completely insane?"


And she's, like -- she just -- you know, she said, "What do -- what does he actually think? Does he think that some woman is going to say, 'Well, I was going to get my hair done today, but I decided, no, I'll just become Secretary General,' you know?" And then -- and she said, "Why would that kind of comment never be made, you know, in the context of some other, you know, male candidate?

And so, one can get very angry about it. But I actually think to laugh about it, to render it -- as absurd as it is -- to talk about -- to tell the story -- I know this guy -- well, because I included this in my book, "The Education of an Idealist." And I know he's like -- because he's progressive. He didn't mean it. You know, it's just -- it's the wiring, you know, at a certain point. So -- and I think your generation -- like, I watch it on social media, the irreverence -- you know, the way of turning things around, the way of, you know, bringing in pop culture, the way of -- I think there are ways to go meta on it all in a way that can, you know, begin to chip away at this.

But I say that -- I -- you know, I was at the inauguration. You know -- is that what we call it? The inaugural ceremony. Sorry -- the inaugural ceremony -- yesterday. And I was looking at the litany of leaders from the hemisphere. And it's not terribly diverse, at least in terms of, you know, female representation. That's for sure. But then I see Kamala Harris, you know, and how long it took for us, and her getting to give the welcome, and how inspiring that has been to my daughter -- you know, to see her in that role.

And so, every one of you, in leading an organization or in taking a role in -- just, you know, going before a school, going back to the place you went to school and speaking, and describing the work that you do or the issues you care about -- you're chipping away with the women and -- with the young women and with the young men about what's normal, you know, about what's doable. And so, just know that that responsibility unfortunately starts young, but you're bearing it with great dignity and grace. So, we're very lucky to have you. Thank you.

ALEGRET: Thank you so much. Okay. I see we have to finish. I’m sorry. We don't have much time. We -- the president is almost here, and the Secretary General. I'm sure that the questions are very interesting. I'm so sorry. Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Sorry. Thank you so much. Thank you, everybody.

QUESTION: Samantha, I want to give you one minute, at the very end of this conversation, to tackle one that I think is the topic kind of elephant in the room. Many people -- some people in Latin America believe that the U.S. agency that you lead is the kind of institution that the U.S government used for political objectives, proposing development. And I think it's fair, as we finish, giving you the opportunity to explain if this is what is going on and how the U.S. agency that you lead separates these two things.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah. I appreciate the chance to answer that question. And I think it is certainly something we hear. So, let me first say -- and you know, I was talking to our friend from Ecuador -- USAID, you know, had to leave Ecuador because of charges that it was political. There are a lot of accusations by individuals, let's say, across the hemisphere that because USAID focuses on anti-corruption work, or because we fund independent media or the training of independent media, or because we support free and fair elections, that that's too political.

So, I want to separate out that kind of charge, because, fundamentally, we make no apology for trying to strengthen the rule of law and respect for human rights as part of our programming. So, that's not what's meant, I think, in your question. But that is something that we go, "Oh, it's so political. It's, you know, siding with the opposition." We don't support any political party or any particular political agenda. But we do have, as a north star, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a desire to see the rule of law strengthened and not eroded.

And unfortunately, we've ended up in very -- with much more friction in certain relationships with certain governments, because if there is democratic backsliding going on, some of the organizations that we fund are going to say that. And that's the nature of supporting the rule of law. So, that's one aspect of the charge.

I think that, separate -- which is what you're talking about -- is USAID doing the bidding of the United States? Are we pursuing our foreign policy objectives rather than development objectives? And there's no question that USAID is a U.S. government agency. We're not going to get away from that, nor should we. We -- but I think if you look at President Biden and my -- our worldview, we believe it is in our foreign policy interest to be meeting the needs -- the food needs -- of people who are now paying sometimes 30 percent more for wheat. We believe it is in our interest to help you adapt to the worst effects of climate change. We believe it is our interest, when there's a hurricane, to -- or an earthquake -- to send search and rescue people to help with the earthquake and to send additional assistance -- you know, humanitarian assistance -- when a hurricane has ravaged full neighborhoods.

So, the work that we do fundamentally is development and humanitarian work. And what I'm trying to emphasize is that it is your voices -- local organizations, local leaders, young people -- that help us define what our priorities are as we figure out, in this sea of need, which issues we prioritize and where -- you know, our evaluations of the work that we do are not just done by some consultants who come from Washington; but you know, that you are the ultimate judge of whether our programs are delivering for your development needs.

So, we believe that your -- if we can support your development, then, yes, that is in our interest. Guilty as charged. We believe that that will make for a more stable, prosperous hemisphere that will help us combat future pandemics and nip viruses in the bud so they don't spread. For sure there's, again, that relationship to U.S. interests. But if we are better at elevating your voices and working with local organizations, what we are doing is working ourselves out of jobs so that your growth is more inclusive growth; so that your development isn't just, you know, certain communities benefiting from that development, but much more broad-based; so that marginalized people are at the table. And sometimes sooner they're at our table than they are at tables with their own governments, you know? And that is the kind of catalytic role, I think, that we can play. So, fundamentally, our -- you know, we look at your development objectives and try to graft our programming onto your education, health, you know, rule of law, climate, energy, and other needs.

ALEGRET: Administrator Power, USAID, thank you so much for your leadership and time.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you. And congrats on presenting your charter, your youth manifesto, to the presidents, coming up next. That's going to be a great event. So, congrats to you and thank you for being here.

Last updated: June 15, 2022

Share This Page