Remarks by Administrator Rajiv Shah to the USAID Alumni Association Meeting

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I look around the room, and I see so many familiar faces. In my nearly four years as USAID Administrator, I have sought out many of you for counsel and support. I wanted to say thank you, and that although USAID may not be your day jobs anymore, but you continue to be a strong and important part of our USAID family.

I know we also have some of our Agency’s new crop of leaders here today, and I very much look forward to having a discussion with everyone.

It is a special privilege to join you today—at what I believe is a critical moment in the history of the work that we have all dedicated our lives towards.

I know you had a chance to watch the video we released celebrating our Agency’s 50th anniversary. Isn’t it great? I am tempted to begin every day with it.

We belong to an Agency that was founded on the simple and extraordinary premise that American prosperity and security can be achieved through human progress.

That by ending poverty abroad, we could brighten the future of Americans at home.

In the fifty years since USAID was founded, we have seen how human ingenuity and partnership has solved some of our greatest challenges. 

Child mortality has fallen by 42 percent and life expectancies grew globally by 17 years.

More than 90 new democracies came into existence, including 17 in sub-Saharan Africa in just the last 15 years.

GDP-per-capita grew by 2000 percent and poverty rates fell by 48 percent—lifting over 600 million people above the dollar-and-a-quarter poverty line.

In fact, hardly anyone noticed in 2005 when—for the first time in human history—poverty rates began falling in every region in the world, including Africa.

So it’s been a remarkable few decades. But what’s even more remarkable is the potential for progress ahead.

In roughly two years, the global community will gather together in New York to outline the next—and hopefully—final set of Millennium Development Goals.

That agenda will likely reflect the growing international consensus that—for the first time in history—we can end extreme poverty and its most devastating corollaries, including child death and child hunger.

In January, during the State of the Union address, President Obama echoed this conviction when he called upon us to end extreme poverty in the next two decades.

But even as we stand within sight of the finish line, we know we cannot keep doing things as they’ve always been done.

We need a new model—a new standard of leadership in development that measures success not by the dollars we have spent, but by the results we have helped deliver.

As each of you knows, over the past several years, we instituted an ambitious set of reforms that have now touched upon every part of our Agency—from budget to talent management.

In each area of reform, we set aspirational targets that have established a common language for success, challenged our partners, and encouraged us to step out of our comfort zone.

We’ve rebuilt our policy and budget offices from scratch—giving us greater control over how, when, and where we spend our resources.

Since 2010, regional bureaus have reduced program areas by 29 percent, including in Feed the Future and global health.

We have advanced a far deeper focus on science and technology— mobilizing a new generation of innovators through our Development Innovation Ventures Fund, our Grand Challenges for Development, and our Higher Education Solutions Network.

These efforts have application for everything we do—from enabling poll-workers to better monitor elections with mobile phones to equipping community health workers with cutting-edge and affordable tools.

And we’re increasingly working with local communities to create the conditions where our assistance will no longer be necessary.

In 2012 alone, we shifted $1.4 billion in funding to local institutions, firms, and organizations—helping to replace aid with self-sufficiency.

Out in the field, this means that we are inverting the traditional partnership model.

Today, for example, long-time partner Indiana University now serves as a sub-grantee to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kenya, which is a direct partner.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we’ve built a world-class team with a renewed focus on supporting our staff and attracting a diversity of talent.

We are all part of one team and each of us share—and is responsible for—an equal stake in our extraordinary mission.

Taken together, these reforms haven’t just changed the way we work. They’ve changed the kind of results we can deliver.

Over the past five years, President Obama has launched three major global development initiatives to focus our efforts and rally the world behind ambitious, but achievable goals: eradicating widespread hunger, ending preventable child and maternal death, and bringing electricity to impoverished communities around the world.

The last time I spoke with you, I had the chance to share a little bit about our work in Feed the Future—which is in its fourth full year of implementation.

This year, we released the second Feed the Future Progress Report, which highlights increasingly impressive results that are changing the face of poverty and hunger across the world.

In the last year, we have helped 7.5 million farmers adopt improved technologies or management practices.

And to address the root causes of hunger, we have established a new target to reduce stunting by 20 percent in Feed the Future countries. In 2012, alone, we reached 12 million children through nutrition programs.

Last year, President Obama led global food security efforts to the next level by introducing the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition.

Today, it is a $3.75 billion public-private partnership that has encouraged reforms from nine African governments and commitments from more than 70 global and local companies. 

In Tanzania, Yara International is constructing a fertilizer terminal at the nation’s largest port, and in Ethiopia, Dupont is expanding seed distribution to reach 30,000 smallholder maize farmers and increase productivity by 50 percent.

Soon, we realized that this very same model—of public-private partnership coupled with serious market-oriented reforms—could be brought to bear on the single greatest barrier to growth across Africa: access to power.

For most of the world, electricity allows businesses to flourish, clinics to store vaccines, and students to study long after dark. But for more than 600 million people in Africa, these opportunities simply do not exist—stifling the growth of economies and the hopes of citizens young and old.

In June, President Obama announced Power Africa to double access to power on the continent and connect American investors and entrepreneurs to business opportunities abroad.

In Tanzania, for example, Power Africa is financing the construction of three renewable energy plants, the first in a series of solar mini-grid projects to expand access for the more than 85 percent of Tanzanians that lack access to the grid.

We are not going to stop here.

Today, our Agency is stronger, more nimble, and more focused than ever before—precisely at a moment in history when we stand within sight of some of the most incredible goals that humanity has ever imagined.

To help ensure we meet those goals—that we surpass them—we have outlined a specific and exciting agenda ahead to build on our progress, institutionalize our reforms, and scale our efforts.

It includes building on our Higher Education Solutions Network—weaving this new emphasis on science, technology, and innovation into the very fabric of our work around the world.

Already, twenty leading Missions have stepped forward—from Jordan to Pakistan, Brazil to Kenya—and are eager to be laboratories for deep engagement with partners in the scientific, university, and private sector community.

Fundamentally, that’s what our work is about—designing, testing, and applying innovations in local communities to help end extreme poverty and its most devastating consequences.

And we will continue to strategically and assertively pursue reforms to our food aid program—which, as you know, hasn’t been significantly changed since President Eisenhower was in office.

We made great strides this year towards these reform goals, and we will continue to work with Congress and our partners to achieve the reforms needed to feed millions more vulnerable people around the world.

I just wanted to close with a story from President Obama’s trip to Africa in June. It’s a story I hope you will take great pride in because it reflects the tremendous work that each of you were a part of at USAID.

We had a great trip. The President met Feed the Future farmers in Senegal and young leaders in South Africa. Everywhere he went, he spoke about our nation’s new model of partnership in development.

Towards the end of the trip, we touched down in Tanzania, where the President was going to highlight Power Africa.

As we drove from the airport to the presidential palace, crowds were packed several people deep for miles.

A few weeks before we arrived, the Chinese President had visited on his very first foreign trip. But he didn’t receive the greeting that we did.

Sometimes, as we read the paper and watch the news, it is easy to forget what America means to millions of people around the world.

And what we can continue to mean as we join the world to end extreme poverty—and end it forever—in our lifetimes.

Thank you.

Wilson Center, Washington, DC

Last updated: October 29, 2013

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