Thursday, October 20, 2022

Miami, Florida

DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ADAMS-ALLEN: Good morning everybody. ¡Buenos dias, todos! It’s great to be with all of you today – hello to the folks in the room, to the folks online – on the final day of USAID’s second annual Hispanic Serving Institutions Conference and Career Expo, fittingly titled “Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger World.” 

It’s significant that we are holding this conference on the heels of Hispanic Heritage Month – a time when we celebrate generations of Hispanic Americans whose contributions to our nation’s history span every pillar of American society from education, health care, business, public service, military service, and yes, international development. 

It is an important reminder that the work to make USAID stronger, more diverse, and more responsive to the needs of the people we serve does not end with a date on the calendar.

I want to thank Neneh Diallo, USAID’s first Chief Diversity Officer in sixty years, for that introduction, and to her entire team for their work. 

And to our hosts, here, at Florida International University – thank you for showing such tremendous hospitality and partnership. 

USAID and FIU have been long-standing partners in advancing development objectives globally, and this year, we are thrilled to be embarking on an exciting new chapter. One that I hope will be written by all of you, the students of Miami’s first and only public university, and all of the students tuning in from Hispanic and Minority Serving Institutions around the country.

Since its founding in 1972, Florida International University has been forging pathways for generations of students to take advantage of the opportunities this country has to offer. 

It might just be a coincidence that the University’s founders decided to break ground on an abandoned airfield, but to this day, FIU has served not only as a harbor for first-generation students working toward a brighter future, but also as a runway from which countless graduates have taken off, equipped with the tools they need to start careers, build businesses, run for office, and to give back to their communities. 

Graduates like Kimberly Castillo – who is serving as the Advisor for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in our Office of Human Capital and Talent Management. 

Kimberly was instrumental in organizing last year’s inaugural Hispanic Serving Institutions Conference. Beyond her day-to-day work driving progress on our DEIA agenda, she serves as the president of the Hispanic Employee Council of Foreign Affairs Agency, one of USAID’s employee resource groups.

And students like Moon Medina – a current FIU student in the Masters in Global Affairs program, who is interning in our Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization.

If you know Moon, I’m sure you know their infectious passion and enthusiasm for uplifting marginalized voices, including as a founding member of FIU’s Pride Student Union. Representatives from USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives encouraged Moon to apply for a USAID internship after interacting with them at a roundtable discussion on LGBTQI issues.

The lived experiences and expertise of Kimberly and Moon are an automatic value-add to our work at USAID’s mission, not to mention that their embrace of our values and commitment to diversity enhance our inclusivity. 

Hispanic Americans who make up eighteen-and-a-half percent of our country, make up just 10 percent of the civilian government workforce. At USAID, the numbers are even lower – just seven percent of our workforce is Hispanic. Our goal is to increase that number, for many reasons, but primarily so that we can tap into the talent, insights, cultural competency, brilliance and expertise of a population that has contributed so much to America’s promise. 

That’s one of the reasons I’m here with you today, to hopefully pique your interest in USAID and the work that we do to save lives, and I’ll start by just sharing a bit about my own journey into development. 

The reasons that people are drawn to development work are as varied as the individuals themselves. I spent summers in the relative wealth and comfort of my mother’s New England community – Massachusetts to be precise – and the school year in the riotous beauty and vulnerability of my father’s home country of Jamaica. Going back and forth between these two very different worlds – one marked by wealth of opportunities and the other for the lack of such opportunities – left me wanting from an early age to do something that would help me pay forward the incredible privilege I have as an American by working to fuel hope and opportunity in communities like the ones that helped raise me. The practice of global development provided me with the professional community, tools, and experience I needed to give back.

Some of you may be here today, curious to learn about USAID’s work for similar reasons. 

Maybe you have a desire to expand access to education or strengthen health systems in a region of the world that could prosper and thrive, if only people’s basic needs were met. Perhaps you or your family have been affected by conflict or violent crime, and your calling is to study and develop solutions to address the root causes of that suffering in order to alleviate it for future generations. 

Or maybe you recognize that today’s toughest global challenges affect all of us when we do not protect and support the most vulnerable among us – the marginalized and underrepresented populations in this country or overseas – that we know shoulder the heaviest burdens of climate and health shocks, conflicts, corruption, democratic backsliding, and more. 

This concept is core to our mission at USAID, and over the Agency’s history, we have partnered with Minority Serving Institutions to empower and support these populations with the intent of delivering results that outlast our programs. 

For example, working with USAID’s Feed the Future Innovation Labs, researchers at Tuskegee University have worked directly with farmers in countries like Tanzania and Ghana to improve the agricultural and nutritional yields of their crops. 

In Mali, Guinea, Senegal, and Nigeria, scientists from Alcorn State University have provided training to rural families on alternative crop development, budgeting, and agricultural marketing to diversify incomes and strengthen communities’ financial positions.

And right here at Florida International, researchers have worked with USAID to support communities in Ecuador and Peru to reduce water contamination in the Pastaza River Basin and develop structures and policies that allow local populations to manage their own water supply. 

In a globalized world –  a world that grows more interconnected and diverse with each generation – the safety, security, and prosperity of the United States of America requires greater investment in our own diversity; and in new ideas and perspectives that can sharpen our approach as we deepen our engagements with our neighbors, partners, and allies. 

Many of you are already putting these ideas and perspectives to work, in your classrooms and through your own research.

You’re collaborating across borders to strengthen health systems and prepare for the next pandemic, I hope. You’re leading the nation in developing approaches to make coastal areas more resilient against the devastating effects of climate change. 

If USAID is going to do better development – by engaging new partners from underserved communities, incorporating essential principles of inclusive development, and elevating local partners and their expertise – we need to attract candidates who represent the full tapestry of culture and diversity of these United States. 

If there is one thing you take away from this conference, let it be that if you wish to have a global impact, there is a place for you at USAID. And I’m not just talking about the obvious pillars of international development work: education, health, etc. We also need your voices and perspectives in our contracting, our communications, our budgetary operations, financial management, and legal support.

We are taking seriously the enhancement of internship opportunities, career advice, research grants, and recruitment efforts. And if you are here today, either in person or watching virtually, I want to urge you to be in touch with USAID staff who you’ve heard from throughout the conference. Strike up a conversation, connect with them during lunch, reach out to them over email. Ask how you can get engaged and how you can apply to work with us. 

The members of the USAID team with us today have been hard at work over the past year, developing new avenues to fully take advantage of the expertise developed and housed at institutions like this one.

And I’m pleased to share that we have also strengthened our partnership with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities to increase the number of paid USAID internship opportunities for students at Hispanic Serving Institutions across the nation.

No matter your major or your area of interest, our doors are open and we are inviting you to join us. 

Before I wrap up here, let me just tell you how excited we all are to hear from our upcoming Case Competition participants. A first-of-its-kind opportunity, made available through a USAID partnership with PepsiCo, it’s engaging more young actors and underrepresented students, giving them concrete experience thinking through collaborative, locally-driven solutions to the development challenges we work on every day at USAID. 

With USAID’s mission to lead the the United States’ international development and humanitarian efforts, the Hispanic community is not simply a natural partner to help us drive progress in the countries where we work – you are necessary partners, and we need more than ever today, as the world continues to grow more diverse and grapple with increasingly complex, interconnected, and frankly borderless challenges. 

We’re not just grateful for your interest – we are in need of your perspective and your energy, and we look forward to embarking on this next chapter with you.

Thank you very much.

USAID HSI/Latinx Conference Paloma Adams-Allen
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