Administrator Samantha Power With Donald M. Payne Fellows

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

As Prepared

Good afternoon everyone, and welcome. I’d like to thank my colleagues for hosting this event at such a busy time in the world––Nicholas Bassey and Peter Malnak.

These are leaders at USAID who are instrumental in helping us become the inviting, inclusive, diverse workplace we need USAID to be in order to tackle the increasingly complex and interrelated global challenges we face today. 

I also want to offer an enormous thanks to our partners at the Ralph Bunche Center at Howard University. We are grateful to have your expertise and dedication to expanding opportunities in the development space and building a Foreign Service that truly represents and reflects America. 

And of course, I want to thank and commend our class of Payne Fellows. 

It is such an important and exciting time to be engaged in global development; to be in the arena and lend your vast technical expertise to solve complex problems that transcend borders; to leverage USAID’s reach to marshal resources from the private sector, private foundations, allies, and multilateral institutions as we seek to deliver sustainable results; and to use your voices to tell USAID’s story. 

So thank you in advance for all the great work that you’ll do upon graduating.

I am looking forward to hearing from all of you, but before we begin the discussion, I want to talk about Congressman Donald Payne; a man who believed deeply in our ability to make things better, and about what it means for USAID to invest in your futures in foreign service. 

Congressman Payne dedicated his life to promoting civil rights, equality, and democracy. In Congress, he was perceived as a quiet person, but those lucky enough to work alongside him say he was, in fact, “a quiet storm.” 

His embrace of Dr. King’s notion that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” brought him to different corners of the world to show solidarity with oppressed people, to urge compromise, broker truces, and bring peace to warring factions. 

His experiences as a longshoreman, a teacher, and a waiter grounded him throughout his ascendancy to Congress. As President Biden remarked after Congressman Payne’s passing in 2012, “He was the kind of teacher a lot of us wish we had when we were in school, a teacher who never lectured you, a teacher who demanded a lot of you, a teacher who knew what you needed and was able to help you where he could, but expected you to act.” 

Congressman Payne’s calls for peace and justice and support for those in need resonated with people around the world, including throughout his many exchanges with local parties in Northern Ireland in support of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. 

It was Donald’s experience as a young civil rights campaigner in New Jersey that fueled his efforts to secure rights for others globally. During a debate in Washington about fair employment principles that would increase representation of religious minorities in Northern Ireland, Donald remarked, “I and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus can easily identify with the Catholic minorities. I recognize many similarities in how they are treated with how people here were treated.”

Donald Payne gave American lawmakers new and unique perspectives on human suffering in conflict zones, explaining to his colleagues––and to the American people––the importance of delivering more than just relief to those affected, but also justice for atrocities committed. After authoring the Sudan Peace Act to deliver famine relief efforts and a comprehensive solution to the civil war in Sudan, he successfully led Congress to pass a resolution condemning genocide in Darfur. 

And if that wasn’t enough, Donald Payne’s advocacy for global health funding saved tens of thousands of lives all over the world by leading Congress to secure billions in funding to fight malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS under the PEPFAR program. 

Seeking his first term as the first African American elected to Congress from the State of New Jersey, Donald said, “I want to be a Congressman to serve as a role model for the young people I talk to on the Newark street corners. I want them to see there are no barriers to achievement. I want to give them a reason to try.”

What I see in this group of Payne Fellows is a continuation of his legacy—both his desire to break down barriers to service, and his commitment to make the world better through development and diplomacy. 

The talent and the drive and the perspective that each of you will bring to our work at USAID are not just welcome additions––they are necessary to our success.

That’s why I’m thrilled that we have expanded the Payne Fellowship from 10 to 15 fellows in 2021, with a plan to expand even further in the years ahead.

You may be embarking on your careers, but I don’t want you to think of yourselves as “future leaders.” You are in a position today to generate the progress that changes lives for the better. 

You are accomplished researchers laying the groundwork to identify causes of environmental health disparities. Advocates and organizers unifying and empowering refugee communities as they pursue higher education and prepare to enter the workforce. Peace Corps volunteers with language and entrepreneurial skills and unmatched experience managing complex projects in conflict regions around the world. Development practitioners working to provide humanitarian assistance and educational opportunities in USAID partner countries. And, you bring a diversity of perspective that breeds innovation, richer discussion, smarter risk management, and better outcomes for the people we serve. 

Making USAID the kind of inclusive place that prizes your contributions has been my top priority for the Agency. On my first day as Administrator, I hosted a meeting to sign our Agency’s new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategy, and kickstart an effort to build the infrastructure necessary to integrate these principles into USAID’s policies and operations. 

To deliver meaningful progress on our DEI strategy, we’re focusing on a few key aspects: First, accountability in building new recruitment pathways through expanded outreach to minority-serving institutions––including a plan to double the number of Payne Fellowships by 2023 to diversify the ranks of USAID’s Foreign Service. Just yesterday at Delaware State University, we signed the first MOU born out of our Minority Serving Institutions Partnership Initiative that allows our Bureau for Resilience and Food Security to tap into the expertise of Historically Black Land Grant Universities and collaborate on research that will boost our capacity to address food insecurity around the world. 

Second, greater opportunity for professional development––including a plan to increase participation in our International Career Advancement program by 150 percent to build the skills of our staff from groups traditionally underrepresented in foreign policy. 

And third, we are hiring advisors in all of our Bureaus and Offices across the Agency to focus specifically on DEI and introducing mandatory DEI training for all staff and new hires, while building out our training curriculum to include tailored courses on unconscious bias, microaggressions, and cultural competency.

This last point is critical. We can do everything right in terms of bringing in a diverse workforce, but unless that diversity is respected and nurtured we will have failed to build a true culture of belonging.

President Biden has made clear: prioritizing these principles doesn’t just make us stronger and more capable as a country, it brings us closer to reaching our country’s most sacred, but as of yet unfulfilled ideals.

The greatest strength we have as a nation is our ability to draw on the world’s vast array of perspectives and capabilities––and to apply fresh ideas from diverse backgrounds to the kinds of challenges that transcend borders. 

Congressman Payne brought his personal experience fighting for the rights of his Newark, New Jersey community to the world because he knew that what ordinary people longed for was to be treated fairly, with dignity. 

I have no doubt that you’ll carry forth his legacy as you prepare to begin your careers in Foreign Service. 

I want you to know that at USAID, your ideas are welcome, encouraged, and cherished. 

Just as Congressman Payne sought for the kids he’d talk to on the Newark street corners, I want you to see that there are no barriers to achievement. 

Thank you for listening, and for choosing to take on the important life-saving, dignity-affirming work we do at USAID to make the world better. 

I’ll turn it back over to Nicholas now to moderate our discussion.

Last updated: November 21, 2021

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