Remarks by Administrator Rajiv Shah at Florida International University

Friday, September 21, 2012

Remarks as Prepared

Thank you, President Rosenberg and Dr. John Stack and good afternoon, FIU.

I’m pleased to see so many of you here today—not only because it’s a Friday afternoon in Miami…but because your presence truly demonstrates the passion and commitment that our youth today have for global issues.

For decades, this spirit has defined FIU—shaping your university into one of our nation’s leading centers for research that both advances our human knowledge and improves our world.

Time and again, the U.S. Agency for International Development has turned to the researchers, professors, and students here at FIU to help us tackle some of the greatest challenges of our time: from minimizing the risk of disasters in El Salvador to ensuring the sustainability of some of our most precious natural resources, like the Mara River in Tanzania.

It’s a partnership that has not only grown over time, but has delivered some extraordinary results for people around the world.

In the late 1980s, FIU and USAID partnered on the Agency’s first major media initiative, which focused on training journalists across Latin America in investigative journalism and election coverage. Within a few years, it brought media owners and journalists together to produce the first journalist ethics code for Central America.

This effort built on a long-standing partnership—dating back to 1984—to strengthen the capacity of justice systems in Latin American countries.

Over 27 years, we’ve helped build rural justice houses in Colombia; established an association of law school deans in Nicaragua; and formed strong relationships that continue to bring hundreds of law students to FIU’S College of Law each year.

In fact, I understand we have about 30 Colombian law students here tonight. I’m eager to hear about your experiences, and encourage you to chime into the moderated discussion we’re having together right after these remarks.

More recently, FIU and USAID joined forces to assess structural vulnerabilities to earthquakes in Latin American and Caribbean towns—and help shore them up.

In January 2010, this work became even more urgent when a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, leveling Port-au-Prince and killing hundreds of thousands of people. Overnight, the mission to save as many lives as possible became our primary concern, as USAID staff launched the largest humanitarian relief and search-and-rescue operation in history.

In the days and weeks after the earthquake, half of all American households contributed to the relief efforts—which means more people donated to help Haiti than watched the Superbowl.

With fast action and result-oriented partnerships, we cut cholera deaths to below the international standard. And we also focused on long-term development efforts—like helping nearly 800,000 Haitians gain access to mobile banking services.

Here at FIU, students and faculty not only launched campaigns to collect money and raise awareness, but they organized a medical relief team and helped Haitian immigrants fill out applications for temporary protective status. To coordinate these efforts, President Rosenberg established a task force with current SGA Council President Pablo Haspel that continues today to advance long-term, sustainable development in Haiti.

For example, FIU’s College of Nursing worked with the National Institutes of Health to assess how survivors in Haiti are doing with their prosthetics. And the FIU-led Digital Library of the Caribbean is digitizing books and artwork—so we can help preserve cultural memory.

Recognizing that earthquakes are not the only threat vulnerable communities face across the world, FIU has built a 15-foot machine to simulate the power of a category 5 hurricane precisely so we can understand it and beat it. 

Think about that for a minute.

Undaunted by one of the greatest natural forces on the planet, your university has designed and built a machine capable of delivering real-world solutions to a problem that has devastated communities from South Florida to New Orleans to Santo Domingo.

In fact, a few months ago, we partnered together to test some of our transitional shelters, and learned that they could stand up to 100-mile winds. This test has not only provided insight into the construction of emergency shelters, but will also have real impact on the way normal homes are built in areas at risk for storms.

Realizing Incredible Goals

This proud legacy—of harnessing the power of research to improve our world—is something that each of you is a part of as FIU students. And it’s needed now more than ever— as we address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

We know that powerful demographic shifts are underway that will add billions of people in the settings least able to handle their needs. We know that climate change is real—and temperatures will grow warmer, rains more erratic, and droughts more vicious, putting disproportionate pressure on developing countries and the global poor. And we know that these issues will be increasingly intertwined with extreme poverty and conflict, as we see in the reality that Yemen’s capital Sana’a could become the first city in the world to run out of water.

At the same time, we’ve seen increasing capital flows and thriving entrepreneurship serve as engines of growth and the most powerful tools to advance poverty worldwide. Private sector investment in emerging economies has even grown to dwarf official development assistance.

Thanks to partnerships with path-breaking institutions like FIU, we now have unique opportunities today to solve our challenges and realize incredible end-state goals. Goals that will fundamentally change the world we live in and brighten the future of generations to come.

Consider three goals that are achievable today that have not been in the past.

First, we believe we can end preventable child death and get nearly all children reading in their classrooms. In the last 50 years, the world has reduced child mortality by 70 percent. But despite this progress, every year 6.9 million children die before they celebrate their fifth birthday. And in the last decade, we’ve increased school attendance by 50 percent. But even though many more of our kids attend school, less than half will learn basic skills at grade level.

That’s why we joined UNICEF and the governments of India and Ethiopia to host a Call to Action in Child Survival to help rally the world around the goal of ending preventable child death. And our new approach to education prioritizes reading outcomes, so we can be sure that our children are actually learning in classrooms.

Second, if we accelerate poverty-reduction efforts, we can reduce extreme poverty by 90 percent. This isn’t fiction. Between 2005 and 2008, overall headcount poverty fell in every region of the world—including Africa—for the first time in history. This effort to essentially eliminate extreme poverty begins in our farms and our fields, where we can unlock extraordinary economic growth through agricultural development. Because we know that agricultural growth is up to three times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors.

And third, within a generation, we can help transition nearly all democracies with bare minimum of democratic trappings to complete democracies, where all citizens can participate in their government, fight corruption, and enjoy equal protection under the law.

In 1974, nearly 75 percent of the world was defined by authoritarian rule. If we stay committed, we could flip the scale to realize a world where 75 percent of countries will be democracies—and 90 percent of those will enjoy the full rule of law and accountable institutions. Taken together we can ensure that a more interconnected world is defined by greater opportunities instead of rising threats.

Opening Development to Problem-Solvers Everywhere

But just setting these goals and envisioning this future doesn’t make it real. We need to provide a path toward getting there.

We have to move beyond a top-down institutionally driven model of development and create a new model that brings tens of thousands of new people into our efforts to realize these goals. Everyone from big private sector companies, like Citi and Walmart; to individual student organizations right here on campuses—like FIU’s Alternative Spring Break, led by Tracy Argueta.

Today, at USAID we’re increasingly focused on harnessing the creativity and expertise of this broad development community to solve challenges that were once thought intractable. We call it “open source development,” and it reflects our desire to literally open development to problem-solvers everywhere—from students on campus to CEOs of major corporations.

Universities are actually one of my favorite places to talk about open source development, because I know you guys get it. You grew up in a world where real-time information and good ideas aren’t the privilege of an elite few, but actually belong to everyone with a phone in their pocket.

I call it the “Kiva-world” where a student from anywhere can go online and choose the individual dairy farmer she wants to support in Guatemala and offer that farmer a $25 loan. That dairy farmer can then invest in her business, vaccinate her animals, improve their feedstock, and track milk output and local prices through her mobile phone. 

In an open source development model, inventors around the world could observe that her biggest challenge is getting the milk to a chilling facility before it spoils and could invent new forms of “on-farm” ultra-pasteurization that could solve that problem for her and others.

Students Delivering Meaningful Results

If we’re going to tackle our greatest challenges, then we have to employ a much bigger definition of development to get us there. In fact, in the last few years, some of our best ideas have come from young people outside the traditional development community.

Through our Development Innovation Ventures fund, we’re investing in a team of young graduates who started a company called Egg-Energy to provide off-grid electricity to homes across Tanzania. They call it the “Netflix Solution.” Low-income families rent out portable, rechargeable, affordable batteries to power their homes for five nights at a time. In Tanzania, where 90 percent of people lack access to electricity—but 80 percent live within 5 kilometers of the power grid—this could be a unique solution to a pervasive problem in development.

That’s the purpose of our Development Innovation Ventures Fund—to support entrepreneurs who have a good idea and need the resources to test it. That’s why we launched our Innovations Fund for the Americas to create dedicated, cost-effective solutions to development challenges in Latin America and the Caribbean.

New Ways to Engage—USAID Fall Semester

The truth is—you are part of an incredible generation of young people.

On campuses across the country and the world, you’re expressing a surge of interest in tackling global challenges: oversubscribing courses on public health, international education, global politics, and development economics. In fact, since 2006, there has been a 34 percent increase in the number of degrees conferred in these areas across the country.

At USAID, we’re working hard to tap into this enthusiasm—finding new ways to work together. That is why I’m so pleased to announce a new fellowship opportunity to embed talent from FIU—and other leading American universities—directly at USAID.

This fellowship will enable researchers working at the cutting edge of their field to join individual offices at USAID—like our Global Health Bureau or Office of Science and Technology—for a limited period of time.

This is a really exciting step, but we also want to do more as an Agency to reach not just individual fellows but thousands of students. That’s why we created an online space for young people to deepen their engagement in development. It’s called USAID Fall Semester—and if you visit, you’ll see three buttons that say serve, solve, and join the conversation about development. And by clicking on any of the three, you’ll be able to access opportunities and resources tailored just for students.

If you’re a freshman and you’re looking for your first internship, we have a list of opportunities. Or you can talk to FIU student Ana Quintana—who is here in the audience today and just finished an internship with us this past summer.

If you’re working on your senior project, and you need some information about one of our projects, you can come access a wealth of information that we’re opening up and making easier to use. You can even use an iPhone or iPad app to read third-party evaluations of our work.

If you have a great idea and are looking to help solve the toughest challenges in development, we list all competitions and prizes we offer. We want your ideas—whether it’s for a new mobile app to connect families separated in a crisis or a new learning tool that helps teachers track the progress of their students.

And if you simply want to join the conversation with development professionals and help us do our jobs better, we now have a one-stop-shop for all our engagement tools, including Facebook, Twitter and a brand new one tool we launched just this week through crowd-hall called Ask the Administrator—so that you can get your questions answered.

This one website——is our effort to break down the walls of bureaucracy and open up development for you.

But this effort isn’t limited to USAID.

In March, President Obama launched the 100,000 Strong in the Americas to promote new educational exchanges between the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean.

You can find links to scholarship opportunities and support from the business community on our website or by visiting

Ultimately, we hope we can be a resource to you—as we work together to expand opportunity and improve human welfare around the world.

A Moral Mission

I joined USAID a week before the Haiti earthquake, determined to bring a business-like focus on results, based on the premise that if we can show and deliver great results Americans will support us. For the last few years, many of us in development have continued to spend tremendous energy on improving our effectiveness—and it’s working.

We’re choosing to do smart things, focusing on key competencies and appropriate roles. We measure relentlessly, inviting cold hard facts to challenge our warm, fuzzy assumptions. We become hard-nosed in pursuit of soft goals, and in doing so, we have often invoked the ideal of “How They Do It In The Private Sector.”

I recently had the chance to meet with several business leaders and CEOs, and set out to take notes and learn what new methods we might be able to borrow and adapt for our work. But what has surprised me is the central and powerful place that some exceedingly soft ideas have in these hard analyses. Forging common purpose and shared values. Meaningful work. Deep respect for others. A sense of being part of something bigger than oneself. These deeply personal and important issues.

Development attracts many of the best students, brightest minds, and strongest spirits. Open source development can help keep all of us inspired by offering the true reward of being successful – combining productivity with meaning.

When you bring your expertise, your ideas, your ingenuity to the task; when you can see that something you’re learning in a classroom is helping communities withstand natural disasters; or when you commit yourself to a career in the service of others—those are deeply rewarding results for you—and millions of people everywhere.

Thank you.

Miami, Florida

Last updated: September 25, 2012

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