USAID Administrator Samantha Power Remarks at USAID Welcome Ceremony

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Monday, May 3, 2021

Ronald Reagan Building
Washington, DC

MS. STEELE: It is my great pleasure to welcome USAID's new leader, Administrator Samantha Power.  I would also like to give a special welcome to her husband, Cass, her daughter Rian, her son Declan, and her father, Eddie.  We've all been eagerly awaiting her arrival and we're so glad that she's finally here with us. 

Administrator Power needs no introduction as she is well known to all of us.  However, I do want to highlight a few words about her and her work.  When President Biden nominated her as USAID Administrator, he called her a world renowned voice of conscience and moral clarity with unparalleled knowledge and tireless commitment to principled American engagement.  Really quite impressive.  Administrator Power brings a wealth of experience to USAID.  She served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the Obama Administration, and prior to that she was the Senior Director for Human Rights and multilateral affairs at the National Security Council.  She began her career as a war correspondent in Bosnia, shining a light on the horrendous acts of genocide occurring there at that time.  Since then, she has become a champion of human rights, a relentless defender of democracy and the rule of law, and a voice for the most marginalized people around the globe. 

Although this is her first role at USAID, she and our agency have worked on the same issues on many occasions.  For example, while USAID was helping to build democratic institutions in places like Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sudan, she was bringing international attention to the acts of genocide in those three countries at that time. 

While USAID’s DART members were helping to set up Ebola treatment centers in West Africa, she was coordinating other donor governments to contribute to the global response.  And while USAID was providing food and shelter to Syrians who were forced to flee their homes, she was negotiating diplomatic solutions at the UN Security Council to end their suffering.  All throughout her career, Administrator Power sought to place human dignity at the center of our foreign policy, and that aligns perfectly with USAID's values.  I have no doubt that Administrator Power will be the most tireless advocate for USAID's development and humanitarian goals, at the National Security Council, and on the world stage. 

USAID is, indeed, very fortunate to have her at the helm, and I look forward to seeing all that you will achieve under her highly skilled leadership.  And now, please join me in welcoming USAID's new leader, Administrator Samantha Power.  

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, Gloria, for that generous introduction and above all, for, again, answering the call to serve, and offering such essential leadership as Acting Administrator.  I've had the benefit of watching you guide USAID through this transition.  And I just want to thank you for the example you've set and for the decades of service that you have given this agency -- exemplary service.  

I also want to thank my family.  Don't get me started about my family.  Like so many of you, I'm here because of the individuals beside me.  I wouldn't be able to take this on if not for the support that they're offering me.  It's a shared sacrifice, as you all know.  And I'm just immensely grateful to Declan, Rian, Cass, Eddie and our wonderful au pair from El Salvador, Selena, without whom I definitely couldn't take this on.  So thank you, all of you.  I love you. 

This is a proud and humbling day.  Of the many blessings I've had in my life, none -- none has matched the privilege of serving my country.  And I'm really honored to do so again on behalf of President Biden.  To serve alongside all of you, the superb development professionals of this indispensable agency.  The truth is, I wanted to be one of you.  When I decided to head off to the Balkans in my early 20s, I initially tried to find work as an aid worker in the hopes of directly attending to the suffering there.  But sadly, I quickly realized I didn't have the skills.  I wasn't an engineer or a health or agriculture specialist.  Indeed, as a liberal arts major with an excessive interest in Major League Baseball, I had no technical expertise whatsoever.  What I did have was a passport and a notebook and, after much debate, a laptop that my mother bought me.  So, I became a war correspondent. 

While in the field for the first time, I of course, quickly encountered USAID staff and was struck by what animated them, what animated you: A bedrock belief that America could be a powerful force for good in the world, a recognition that while there are potent structural forces shaping the direction of world events, it is the choices of individuals that leave the greatest mark and a bias toward getting close.  Getting close to complex challenges that escape easy solutions. 

Throughout my career, whether I saw USAID in East Timor supporting economic recovery after independence, whether I saw USAID personnel at the Syrian border during Assad's merciless assaults, whether I watch USAID in action in northern Nigeria in the effort to protect and educate girls, or in Ukraine in the fight to rid the country of corruption, you have been out there promoting individual dignity and demonstrating true grit. 

Dignity.  Perhaps best summed up in a simple borrowed phrase: nobody is better than you, but you're better than nobody.  Something we hear President Biden talking a lot about, the idea that every individual has equal worth.  Every individual deserves to be treated with respect.  And every individual wants to provide for themselves and their families, to breathe clean air, and to live, love, pray, and speak freely.  And grit, a purpose driven resilience that allows you to throw yourselves headlong at the hardest problems on planet Earth, knowing that powerful actors are pulling in the other direction. 

Despite this knowledge, maybe even because of this knowledge, you don't shy away from the world's pain.  You don't compartmentalize it.  You don't consider it someone else's problem.  You act, you serve, you draw on that grit, and you promote people's dignity.  And that's what I want to affirm today, because for all the lofty pronouncements we can make about America's global leadership, it is our country's actions, our ambition, our ability to get big things done that truly moves minds and changes futures.  Whether responding to humanitarian emergencies or paving the way for sustainable and inclusive development, there's a clear USAID effect.  The good that all of you do in the world, often with our Foreign Service Nationals leading the way, that good saves and improves lives.  It engenders goodwill.  It boosts America's standing in the world, and it inspires others to cooperate with us.  I've seen it.  You've seen it. 

I saw it firsthand during the Ebola outbreak that ravaged West Africa in 2014 and gripped the rest of the world in fear.  It was America's willingness to step into the breach and deploy a whole of government effort with USAID at its core that changed the world, that moved the world.  Because America led, because USAID led, the United States was able to rally a coalition of 60 countries to contribute on the ground and secure 134 co-sponsors for a resolution at the UN  Security Council, declaring the epidemic a threat to international peace and security.  That was the largest number of co-sponsors ever for any Security Council resolution in UN history and it came about because USAID led. 

Today with the world battling a different plague, Americans see what you all have long understood, that this country's fate is inextricably linked with the rest of the world's.

In fact, as you well know, the world's most pressing challenges cast a large shadow over our own lives here at home.  A long simmering crisis of poverty and violence in Central America that sends people in desperation to our southern border; a rapidly changing climate that sends fiercer storms to our shores and inflicts on our communities, droughts, deep freezes and wildfires; authoritarian regimes growing bolder, strengthening their hands by exploiting vulnerabilities in our democracies.  The truth is none of these challenges is distinct.  They all feed into and feed off of one another.  It is creeping authoritarianism that allows corruption to thrive and many conflicts to persist.  Climate events, which increasingly displace people and spread hunger, health crises which devastate economies.  But just as these challenges are linked, so too are their solutions.  And this is part of what makes USAID so vital. 

USAID is the only agency addressing all of these threats and many more at once.  It is the work our teams will do obtaining and distributing COVID vaccines that will allow us to get back to educating girls and ameliorating global hunger.  It is the expertise you offer in helping countries collect taxes that allows them to run sustainable health systems.  It is the drought resistant crops you helped develop that will help countries resist the worst effects of climate change.  It is the assistance you provide to empower civil society, expand press freedom and combat corruption that allows for the broad based prosperity which benefits us all.  It is the management and operational teamwork here in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere that fuels our activities all around the world.  And it is the tangible results of your work, communicated to the American people and members of Congress, that allows us to expand the constituencies supporting what we do. 

Over time, I hope to learn from you, to learn from your experience attending to the world's ills and unlocking the world's possibilities, because it is your expertise, your relationships at home and abroad, and, yes, your belief in individual dignity and your grit, which makes you uniquely able to meet this moment and demonstrate America's leadership on the global stage. 

Now, I realize just how sobering and daunting today's challenges are, and I am aware that they evade easy answers.  I also know that they come at a time when we've all been drained and exhausted by the pandemic.  I've heard from so many of you about the immense demands that have been placed on you and your families, and the bone weary fatigue that comes with it.  Personally, I've been humbled in my attempts to educate my children over the past year and chastened when I've had to quiet their pleas so as to participate in yet another Zoom.  I've also heard about how difficult it is to do your jobs amid serious structural diversity, equity and inclusion issues, while sometimes feeling undervalued or even looked past. 

But for all of this, you have shown that your integrity, your commitment to truth telling, your desire to do good in the world doesn't waver.  Whether you are a Foreign Service Officer or a Foreign Service National, whether you're career staff or contractor, you are part of one team pursuing development not as a job, but as a calling: a calling, you dedicate yourself to even in times of great difficulty.  It is your dedication under extremely dangerous and trying circumstances that ended the last global health epidemic by defeating Ebola, first in West Africa and then in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  It is your dedication that has sustained broad bipartisan support for USAID's budget and priorities in the face of fierce political pressure.  It is the dedication of every single staff member, no matter what their role or where they sit that allows 10,000 USAID staff members to touch the lives of millions in over 100 countries. 

It is your dedication that ensures the strength of this institution goes beyond any administration or any administrator.  You have my profound gratitude for your service, and you have my commitment and the commitment of President Biden, that we will spend the next four years empowering you, ushering in changes that give you the flexibility and trust that you deserve, allowing you to take the risks that this moment in history demands.  And using our seat at the table, the seat you earned for this agency, to elevate the humanity of our foreign policy. 

If there has been one goal I've pursued my entire career, it has been that: to advocate for a more humane approach to the world, but that humanity depends on who we draw into public life.  It depends, in short, on all of you.  Ten years ago, then Vice President Biden addressed this agency on its 50th anniversary.  The way he put it is he said to tens of millions of people around the world, you are demonstrable evidence of our nation's commitment to their dignity. 

Today, as USAID celebrates its 60th year, it is the honor of a lifetime to join you as your Administrator, to act, to serve, to affirm dignity alongside of you. 

Thank you so very much.  I can't wait to work with each and every one of you.  Thank you. 

Last updated: May 17, 2021

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