Can Tho, Vietnam
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: First of all, thank you all for joining here. I think many of you got to witness the town hall and I think you all have a sense of the incredible intellect and passion that Vietnamese young people here at Can Tho University feel toward improving the climate and the environment in their communities and in their country. I found it very inspiring, honestly, hearing their determination to address challenges that have become very real for them and their families. And, you know, to hear from a young man who had to raise his sister because his mother could no longer do agriculture and therefore had to find a new livelihood and became a security guard and had to leave the family to go into the city, leaving a son and the sister behind, I mean that's an example of such a human cost of this changing climate that many, many families just at this point don't yet know what to do with.
And so that is, you know, something that we think is extremely important. That's why I'm in the Mekong, that's why President Biden asked me to come particularly to this region, because this is such a vital engine of the economy, such a vital source of protein and of rice for the country, but also for exports. And if the agricultural sector is undermined by rising sea levels, by unpredictable weather patterns, by salinization, by so many of the challenges that I have heard about, that is going to harm the welfare of communities here in this country. And that's something the USAID has been working to support those communities for a very long time.
You asked about education and the role then – that education can play and the role that USAID can play as it relates to education. Well I think you see actually, just in this space, here at CTU, this is a space that is just opened, in fact, and it is a place where the investment that we have made in a student network dedicated to tackling climate change, it is a space that they will be able to take advantage of. We've also created a makerspace here, which is a place that young people are encouraged to come together to brainstorm about tech solutions, to take the ideas that they're learning in the classroom and try to think about how those ideas can be applied in the real world. And we also have an innovation energy entrepreneur fund where, you know, this is whether it's a graduate of CTU or anyone in the private sector here in the Mekong can come forward with an idea about how to use innovation, new technologies to address either mitigation and lowering emissions and making society more green or what we heard so much about today, adaptation, which is helping families and communities deal with the very negative effects of the change in climate. So this is a hub for learning.
USAID is also active elsewhere in the country. Obviously, Ho Chi Minh City at Fulbright University, where as well, the young people showed a very similar idealism and energy, desire to take what they were learning in the classroom and improve the society around them. USAID is a big funder of Fulbright University. We also do educational reform, curriculum reform. There's a partnership with the Da Nang University, Vietnam National University of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam National University of Hanoi. That is really important because that educational and curricular reform is done in consultation with the private sector. So what we hear from so many in the business community is actually we need students who have studied. We need students who have critical thinking. We need students who are willing to think outside the box and be willing to come up with new ideas and not just be part of old systems. And so, making sure that the curriculum at these three major universities is tailored so that students are actually getting the education that the private sector is looking for, so that then we are – Vietnam is preparing its young people for the demands that business people have. I think that education reform activity that USAID supports is also very, very important.
REPORTER: And I heard that the USAID is going to launch a big new project in the Mekong. Can you elaborate about it?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yes, we have – we intend to start by investing $50 million, in fact, in a whole range of projects here. Much of the emphasis is going to be on agricultural resilience and helping those farmers that we've heard from - whether fish farmers dealing with salinization when they farm fresh water fish and not knowing what's going to happen to the freshwater fish population. Rice farmers who can no longer predict the rainfall and the dry seasons in the way that they used to. City planners and people who are thinking about, you know, what to do with the floods which are increasing now as the tide comes in and it affects, of course, Can Tho. And so thinking about city planning, infrastructure planning. But, basically this $50 million investment is an investment in resilience in being able to equip communities that are on the front line of a climate, of climate harms and who want to avoid climate disaster, helping them develop the tools to be able to continue to do agriculture in this difficult environment and develop the policy tools to try to improve the circumstances that right now are negatively impacting livelihoods.
REPORTER: And can you share a bit? How many projects that the USAID is doing in the Mekong Delta alone and what are the criteria to select or to [inaudible] a project?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, in every country where USAID works, we're really interested in hearing from the communities in which we work. And we are going to be a much more visible presence, as you see here with this brand new room here at CTU, we will be a much more visible presence. Our team members will be out and about, as I have been just over the last few days, listening to people about how they can prioritize among their needs. And that is what we do all around the world. We listen, again, to local leaders, to local young people, to local female entrepreneurs. And then that is where the ideas come from. And then we work together with our local partners to implement those ideas.
With regard to specifics, I’ve given you a few examples of the partnership with CTU. But in addition to that, of course, we have done work together in this area in Mekong Delta region in combating COVID-19. So in the health sector, we are looking, as well, as part of this emphasis on resilience, to look at what are the health implications of climate change, because as the climate changes, disease patterns also change. And we want to work with our colleagues in the Ministry of Health to make sure that health workers and citizens and the health ministry itself is prepared to deal with what will be a change in disease patterns here for the communities. I think that the investments that are described on these placards around us are extremely important examples of what we are doing here as well. An investment, for example, in electric bikes, you know, going from having scooters, motorbikes that emit carbon and do not use renewables to actually making sure that we have green scooters traveling all around the country. That's a kind of project done here. Green
hydropower [hydrogen] is going to be, you know, extremely, extremely important. That is something that this energy fund is making an investment in.
But, you know, one of the messages to the people of this region is, bring your proposals forward. We have funded some startups that have these ideas about how to use technology to solve these climate challenges and some of those are funded in the Mekong Delta. But we want more people in Can Tho and elsewhere to know that we are open to these partnerships where we provide some startup money and we help the companies that we work with get access to finance that they need in order to grow their solutions.
REPORTER: Currently, in the world we see that the USAID work more with the private sector. In the future, do you have plans to cooperate more with the Government of Vietnam to have larger impacts?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, first of all, when it comes to, for example, addressing some of the challenges in the Mekong Delta, I mean, you know, the Mekong planning that the government is doing is absolutely critical when it comes to dealing with plastic pollution. The government's own rules on recycling, those are going to be so critical. Everything that is needed to – or so much of what is needed to adapt to a changing climate, whether in the health area, educating young people to themselves be part of coming up with solutions for adaptation or for lowering emissions. You know, fundamentally, this state is an absolutely critical player. So much of what needs to be done needs to come through regulation or through governmental communication or through social services provided at the local level or at the national level.
So there – it would be impossible to think about solutions in the agricultural, education, health, energy space without having a very, very in-depth partnership with the Government of Vietnam, and again, at every level of government. So we have that, and things even that we do with other actors, you know, with community based organizations or with companies, we do those and are always consulting with the government and to see how those projects with non-governmental actors align with governmental objectives.
But it isn't enough, you know, to fund something over here without making sure that the regulatory environment, the enabling environment, the taxation, the education, that all of that is aligned with, the broader development model, which is a model that now more than at any time in history, has to take account of the damage that development has done in the past and all over the world to the environment, but also the chance for development to be done in a manner that creates new jobs, that actually takes account of protecting the environment from the very beginning. So these are conversations that are absolutely critical and I enjoyed meeting with governmental leaders here in Can Tho earlier today. I look forward to meetings in Hanoi with the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and other very senior government officials to discuss just this. This set of initiatives that we want to do in partnership.
REPORTER: And, you know, we have to wrap up the visit tomorrow. But so far in your trip, you know, impressions, what you like?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, I think, what I'm most struck with – I've been to two universities, to Can Tho University and to Fulbright University, and, you know – I think there's a temptation to think of young people as waiting to become leaders, as getting educated so that one day they can become leaders. But the young people of Vietnam are leaders now. They're already leading. And the sense of urgency that they are bringing as they see their families, particularly in this region, already suffering the effects of a changing climate, a changing environment – they are in a hurry. Vietnam's young people are in a hurry to get things done, to improve their communities and their country. And that is very inspiring to me. Thank you. Thank you so much.