Remarks of Administrator Samantha Power Swearing-in Ceremony of Paloma Adams-Allen, USAID Deputy Administrator for Management and Resources

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Hello everybody. I am so happy to get to do this here today, and be able to welcome Paloma and her family to the agency. Thanks to all of you for tuning in. And Mark, you have just done such a tremendous job as Principal Advisor. I don’t know where we would be without you these last five months. This is a day that was a long time coming. But to have the chance to have Paloma join us as Deputy Administrator for Management and Resources—a person who is no stranger to our agency—and to bring her into a role where she has a chance to touch every aspect of what this agency does, just thrills me.

I just had a chance to meet with Paloma’s lovely family—her husband Travis and their daughter Priya. Other loved ones are tuning in, I gather, including Priya’s sister, Emilie. It is so great to have you all here. And Priya, I want to start by saying happy birthday. It is Priya’s sweet sixteen today and she is spending her morning celebrating her mom. And I gather also Sunday was Paloma’s birthday—so lots to celebrate here this week!

Paloma’s mother, Emilie, is also with us virtually today. And because I know Paloma’s love of travel and learning and creating opportunities for others began with her upbringing in the small seaside village of Strawberry Fields, Jamaica, I want to thank you, Emilie. Because we owe you a lot—and the people that Paloma has touched in her life owe a lot to you and what you inspired in your daughter.

Paloma has already used her many gifts, that we’ve heard a little bit about so far, to make life better for people throughout her formidable career. And I know the seeds of change were planted early with love and support from you and Llewelyn.

In Paloma’s statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she discussed this duality in her upbringing—with the summer months spent in New England, and the rest of the year in rural Jamaica, in a small village of about 50 people. Paloma described the journeys back and forth as jarring because at such an early age, just by accident of birth, she had access to education, resources, and the ability to leave the island and experience other parts of the world.

It was Paloma’s empathy, her curiosity, and her determination that brought her to this difficult and meaningful line of work that so many of you are also embarked upon. About her decision to pursue a career in development, Paloma said she wished to “pay forward the incredible privilege I have as an American, by working to fuel hope and opportunity in communities like the one that helped raise me.” To pay it forward.

This sentiment is one shared by so many of our colleagues here at USAID, and I’m sure by many of Paloma’s longtime colleagues who are watching today. I couldn’t be more inspired by the path that she has charted for herself—and Paloma, I just can’t think of all the young people that you have inspired and will inspire here as we seek to strengthen this agency. But just that generations of young professionals can see in you and the way that you carved out and claimed these opportunities for yourself. Inspiration for us out there in the world to be grateful for those opportunities for others who aren't so fortunate.

It was as an undergrad in Development and African American Studies at Brown that Paloma met Travis, who said about their early friendship, “Even though she was a senior and I was a sophomore, which seemed like a big deal at the time, Paloma invited me to get to know her, and I have been in awe of her ever since.” Travis went on to say, “Paloma knew that she wanted to provide opportunities to people, like her, who are raised in rural areas without a lot of resources. Where community members band together to paint the one room schoolhouse so the children have a bright building to walk into everyday.”

It was during Paloma’s previous stint with USAID as Senior Advisor to the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, and most recently through her leadership as President and CEO of the Inter-American Foundation, that she laid the foundation for the important work ahead of us to deliver results for our partners in Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Paloma has forged partnerships with civil society organizations that are making those investments in young people and that are advancing efforts for peace and security in El Salvador, for example. She has generated new business opportunities for smallholder farmers in Colombia, who now sell their coffee to global retailers. And, back in the day, she spearheaded the Obama Administration’s efforts to activate private sector engagement throughout the region.

One Public Private Alliance Advisor from our Mission in San Salvador remembers the speed with which Paloma would refer private sector contacts to our teams in the region. Letting no detail escape her memory and following up with granular questions like, “What did Microsoft say about the free licenses for public schools?” or “What’s the status report of Walmart’s regional MOU?” This ability to go big, and go small into the details that are going to matter on the ground, is what makes Paloma so extraordinary. The same Advisor emphasized this point: “Paloma Adams-Allen makes things happen because she is a true leader.”

There’s much one can celebrate in Paloma’s leadership style and all that she’s bringing back to this agency. There is her keen intellect, her empathy, and the organization and preparedness that Travis noticed so early on. But throughout her career, Paloma has also demonstrated a unique ability to deepen the impact of development efforts from all levels of an organization—from the front lines of field work to the 30,000-foot decisions that allow complex organizations to function more effectively.

As she prepares to take on this critical deputy role for USAID, Paloma is able to draw on her experiences developing policies and programs for the people we serve around the world as well as her demonstrated ability to successfully manage complex operations, steward resources, create and lead diverse teams, and advance reforms that will enhance the impact and sustainability of the investments that we make.

Within our Hemisphere and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to investing in more local organizations and diaspora groups, engaging more proactively with women, young people, and historically marginalized communities.

In Central America specifically, a region Paloma knows so well, President Biden has committed to investing $4 billion over the next four years to expand economic prosperity, and strengthen governance in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. With a greater focus on community-based NGOs, cooperatives, as well as universities, faith-based groups, and other local partners to help grow and empower the kinds of institutions that can deliver long-term results.

I have spent my first five months here at USAID listening to people at this agency, to try to better understand what stands in the way of us optimizing our impact. To begin to define an ambitious reform agenda that will improve the day-to-day lives of the incredible people who work at USAID. While ensuring that we are fit for purpose as an agency that is determined to solve the toughest problems of our time. Our agenda is so important and we have so much talent. The question is, are there more things that we can do as a Front Office to unleash and unlock this talent that exists within the workforce. That is already making such a difference in the world, given the scale of the challenges in the world. Our partnership Paloma, I feel like, can be so important in strengthening and supporting those incredible people out there doing this work. I could not be more excited about this reform agenda and hearing from you how you think we could go forward and implement it.

Achieving it will require fresh thinking, of the kind that Paloma brings. And tactical prowess in decision-making on all aspects of management, personnel, and long-term positioning of the Agency in the world. Which is why, as Deputy Administrator, Paloma will be providing strategic policy guidance to many Bureaus and Independent Offices. She will serve as the principal advisor on budget, finance, management, and institutional policy, operations, and external relations. All of those areas are areas in which—as we seek to strengthen this agency—each one of those aspects of operations and management are how we are going to go about doing it.

In this role, she will help USAID strengthen its long-depleted workforce, as well. And I know this is something that Paloma and I are both passionate about. Paloma will be instrumental in helping significantly increase USAID’s ranks to expand those ranks so we can meet the complex challenges of this moment. She will also help us staff up equitably, bringing more intentionality to our recruitment and retention efforts so that we can welcome and grow a workforce that looks like America.

Even with the incredible demands placed on USAID, by the real world exigencies that confront us everyday. From climate, to conflict, to COVID, to everything else, to the economic fallout that so many countries are grappling with right now. I just could not be more confident, Paloma, that with you here, helping lead this agency that we are going to optimize in order to tackle these incredibly challenging issues of our time.

Paloma’s cousin, who is out there on the live steam, said of Paloma, she has a “deep love of people and a strong moral compass that orients her work in the world.” A colleague from the Inter-American Foundation called her a “high achiever with a soft touch.”

The entire Agency, Paloma, is so excited. And we all know how fortunate we are that you have come back home to this agency. And that you will have the chance, and are seizing yet another opportunity to pay it forward for people to expand opportunity. I can’t wait to see all the great work that you will do as Deputy Administrator. I can’t wait to see how this agency looks different, because of that soft touch and also the tremendous rigour and brilliance you bring to this critical role.

So with that, I just want to first thank your family for their sacrifice and their service. It is always a family affair. You’re already thinking about travel schedules and how to reconcile all of that. I know that as a mom, though, there is always one priority that will come first. So rest assured, no job is going to stand in the way of celebrating her wonderful two children. And again, thank you for giving us Paloma. For loaning her to us. This agency is truly grateful to your family.

And with that Paloma, congratulations. New Deputy Administrator here at USAID, come on up here. And it would be my pleasure to administer the long awaited oath of office to Paloma. Thank you.

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR PALOMA ADAMS-ALLEN: Thank you, Administrator Power, so much for your kind words today on such an important day for me and my family. Really just so grateful. I would also like to thank my longtime friend and colleague, Mark Feierstein, for a lovely introduction. Mark I thought it was only ten years, but eleven years.

Today is really truly a homecoming for me. I absolutely love this agency and it has been difficult to watch my colleagues struggle for the last several years. And I am so happy to be back here and happy to get to work with all of you. It is a real honor and a privilege for me to return in this role as Deputy Administrator for Management and Resources for USAID. I am so blessed and grateful for the trust and confidence that President Biden and Administrator Power have placed in me to serve in this critical role.

I am elated of course to be joined today by my loving husband, Travis and our two amazing daughters, Priya who is with us in person, happy birthday. And Emilie, who is following along virtually from her field trip. I wouldn't be here today without your love and support. Thank you for standing by me, always.

I also want to acknowledge and thank my mother, Emilie Adams, who is out there somewhere virtually; and my father, Llewelyn Adams who is with me always—in spirit. They instilled in me a deep sense of fairness and justice, as well as a really strong work ethic. For that and so much more, I am forever grateful. I finally want to thank all of my extended family, friends, new and longtime colleagues, some of whom are here today, that are joining us virtually and in person.

As I enter this new chapter of exceptional responsibility, please know that I intend to approach this role with all of the capabilities I have gained through experiences as a development professional, a diplomat, a leader, a mother, and a proud Jamaican-American woman. I stand ready to work with all of you—colleagues, partners, and all other stakeholders—to tackle the ongoing global development challenges that this Agency is charged with addressing. And to effectively oversee the management and resources that USAID needs to deliver on our mission.

As the U.S. government’s chief global development agency, it is imperative that USAID remain nimble enough to respond to the many geopolitical challenges and crises facing us—and to do so with the proper practices of management and oversight commensurate with the responsibilities given to it by the American people.

My focus in this role will be on working with all of you to further maximize the agency's development impact, in three ways. One, by better aligning our strategies and resources to deliver results; by expanding the aperture for more U.S. and local organizations to share their expertise and local knowledge with us as partners; and by building on prior efforts to enhance the Agency’s procurement capabilities—so that it deploys resources in a faster, more responsive manner.

In order to maximize our impact, in fact to do anything, we must also support and invest in USAID’s greatest strength and resource: our people. One of my foremost priorities, therefore, will be on ensuring the Agency has enough staff, who are equipped with the right tools, systems, and resources. And bolstered by a supportive culture—one that identifies and responds to the outsized demands placed on USAID, and embraces and exemplifies the values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

I know this agency well enough to recognize that I’m taking on a big task. But I have no doubt in our collective ability and commitment to advancing our life-saving mission.

Again—it is an honor to rejoin USAID. And now, I’m ready to get to work!

Last updated: October 19, 2021

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