Remarks by Acting Administrator John Barsa at The Global Fragility Strategy: A Multi-Stakeholder Consultation Workshop

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

[As Prepared]

Thank you, Dr. Hewitt.

Good morning, everyone. It’s a pleasure to join you today.

I want to thank the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) for organizing the workshop. This is an invaluable forum for us in the Executive Branch to hear from you, the peacebuilding community, as we work towards the development of a U.S. Global Fragility Strategy.

I also want to acknowledge the tireless advocacy by this community that led to the passage of the Global Fragility Act. The organizations represented here today have long understood the risk that fragility poses to stability, security, and prosperity—and that such a multi-faceted challenge requires a comprehensive, holistic approach to address.

Through the Act, you’ve helped to marshall the resources, support, and—perhaps most importantly—the sense of urgency this issue demands. We’re where we are today because of you, and your input will continue to drive us forward.

At USAID, our overarching mission is to advance a more free, stable, and prosperous world. We embark on that mission not just because Americans are a generous and compassionate people, but because we also understand that our national interests are linked to global developments. Greater stability and prosperity abroad enhances our security and prosperity at home.

That’s been the premise of our foreign assistance since USAID’s creation in 1961. The world has changed dramatically since then, and our investments and approach along with it.

Over the past twenty years, the increased prevalence of armed conflict, violent extremism, and large-scale displacement has fundamentally altered the nature of our work. We’ve gone from an Agency primarily focused on poverty alleviation and natural disaster response to one that tackles the complex set of problems that give rise to and drive crises.

Today, much of our work occurs under the umbrella of addressing fragility and fostering resilience. Through targeted, multi-sectoral assistance we aim to prevent crises before they occur; stabilize those that do; and create conditions that serve as bulwarks to external shocks. Of course, the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic have brought even greater urgency to the imperative to address global fragility.

These shifts don’t just reflect how the world has changed, but also how our understanding of development assistance has evolved. In particular, the critical role that effective institutions and inclusive, citizen-responsive governance play in creating an enabling environment for development.

Fragility is the breakdown of these characteristics. And as we’ve seen, fragile communities and countries are prone to conflict and displacement and vulnerable to violent extremism. They’re also less capable of managing their own development agenda or emergent threats, from pandemics to natural disasters to the interference of malign actors.

In short, fragility is anathema to development. Unaddressed, it inevitably leads to recurrent cycles of violence and crises.

That’s why USAID has already undertaken a number of internal reforms aimed at strengthening our effectiveness in fragile contexts.

We’ve promoted adaptive management of our programs so they can more readily respond to highly fluid situations. We’ve developed a set of tools to help our field staff adapt strategies and operations to fragile, shock-prone, and non-permissive contexts. And we’ve enhanced coordination between our emergency response, peacebuilding and stabilization, and long-term development teams to ensure their work is mutually reinforcing.

But given the preeminent challenge of fragility in many places where we work, we knew that we had to rethink the way we work, not just what we do.

That recognition led to the creation of our new Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization, which many of you helped us conceptualize and bring to fruition.

We anticipate the new Bureau will become operational in the coming months; once it does, it will sit alongside the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance and Bureau for Resilience and Food Security on the frontlines of USAID’s work to address fragility, prevent conflict, foster resilience, and respond to global crises in a strategic and integrated fashion.

Together, these new Bureaus will provide us with the technical and operational capacities to confront the challenges ahead.

The Global Fragility Strategy will guide our collective efforts as we navigate those challenges.

We’re proud to play a lead role in the strategy’s development. Fragility is an inherently developmental challenge, and USAID will continue to contribute our expertise on issues like conflict management and mitigation, democratic governance, human rights, and more. We’ll also lean heavily on our on-the-ground experience, vast network of missions, and local and other implementing partners to help shape our input.

But we recognize that our foreign assistance alone is insufficient to tackle the breadth of the problem. Our work has to be aligned with and complemented by efforts on the diplomatic and defense side.

All around the world and in a variety of contexts, we enjoy a robust cooperative relationship with our colleagues from the State Department and Department of Defense (DoD). We’re committed to codifying that cooperation on fragility through the new strategy. By establishing clear roles and responsibilities that reflect our respective expertise, we’ll be even more effective.

You are equal partners in that endeavor.

You’ve already contributed a great deal to our understanding of fragility, elevating it as a key U.S. Government priority, and maintaining momentum towards the production of a global strategy. We’ll continue to rely on you for ideas and guidance as we move through the consultations process and to help us implement and monitor our assistance on the ground. Events like this that bring together a diverse set of organizations and experiences are particularly useful, and I look forward to reviewing the outcomes.

Thank you again for your participation.

Last updated: September 11, 2022

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