Remarks by USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah in Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of USAID

Thursday, November 3, 2011
50th Anniversary Celebration of USAID

It is an honor to share the stage with Caroline Kennedy, whose poise, passion and commitment to public service has been a source of inspiration for generations of young people. I am so glad she was able to join us today to help us celebrate her father's legacy.

Let me also welcome senior members of the White House, State Department and congressional staff. I want to especially thank Secretary Clinton, Gayle Smith and Cheryl Mills for their strong support of USAID and development work more broadly. Our USAID community would not be complete without you.

I would also like to say hello, good morning and good evening to staff watching from our Missions across the world.

And I would particularly like to recognize the USAID 50th Anniversary team, especially Abby Sugrue, for your hard work in making today truly special as well as her father, Bill Sugrue, who served for many years as a USAID Foreign Service officer and has joined us today.

Fifty-one years ago, a young man in the midst of a tough presidential campaign described the American nation poised on the edge of a new frontier-a frontier that offered hope, as well as new challenges.

"Beyond that frontier," he said, "are the uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus."

As he accepted the Democratic Nomination for the Presidency, Senator John F. Kennedy called on Americans to push past this frontier.

He spoke with a conviction that global prosperity and security could be achieved through human progress, and that our future as a nation would be determined by our actions-and good deeds-across the developing world.

As he gave campaign speeches in small-town rail stations and big-city union meetings, Kennedy spoke of this vital connection with the developing world. He encouraged medical students in Michigan to serve in Ghana and famers in Iowa to use their agricultural surplus to help feed hungry families around the world.

And at a high school in Indiana, Kennedy challenged an auditorium full of seventeen year-olds to study hard so they could one day help close the gap between the rich and poor.

As Kennedy stepped forward to lead the country at the height of the Cold War, one of his first acts as President was to outline this vision of peace through development.

In a letter to Congress, President Kennedy called for a new American Agency with the flexibility to respond to international emergencies and the commitment to long-term global development.

An Agency that could represent the best of American ideals abroad-while advancing the safety and prosperity of Americans at home.

Fifty years ago today, President Kennedy founded the United States Agency for International Development.

In the fifty years since, the men and women of USAID have worked on the frontlines of poverty and conflict, laying the foundation for a safer, more peaceful world.

In that time, cases of polio have been cut from 350,000 to 2,000, placing us on the verge of eradicating the disease forever, just as smallpox was decades earlier.

Child mortality fell by 60 percent and maternal death rates by a third, while fertility rates were cut in half. 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, global poverty rates fell by over 80 percent and global literacy grew 60 percent.

These are more than statistics-these are results that reflect a legacy of human progress.

That legacy has been powered not by policies but by individuals-paramount among them, the men and women of USAID who rose to the challenge, harnessed innovation and helped deliver transformational results.

Individuals like Richard Greene, now our Mission Director in Bangladesh, who began his career as a health development officer in Sudan in the 1980s. Richard helped design and launch the President's Malaria Initiative-a game-changing program that has already helped cut malaria deaths in half in over 40 countries.

Or Gloria Steele, who was born in the Philippines and now leads our mission there. Through her leadership, Gloria has helped establish the Philippines as a model of President Obama's Partnerships for Growth Initiative, supporting the rise of East Asia's newest, most promising emerging market.

Or Nitin Madhav, who survived a life-threatening ambush by militiamen while working in Rwanda and only became more determined to dedicate his life to development. As our officer-in-charge for Burma programs, Nitin helped facilitate critical reconstruction efforts in Burma after the devastating cyclone in 2007.

Whether risking personal harm to vaccinate children-like Ellyn Ogden, our Global Polio Coordinator-or using personal credit cards to help Hondurans pull off their first democratic election-like Agency alum Bob Murphy-our history as an Agency is woven from stories like these.

Stories of innovation, hardship, analytic excellence and entrepreneurial spirit.

From our excellent, core staff of Foreign Service Nationals to the newly minted DLI 20 class, I know that each of you has or is currently writing your own powerful story-of dedication, achievement and delivering results-and I thank you for your service

One year ago, President Obama's released the first-ever presidential policy on global development and unequivocally placed development alongside defense and diplomacy as partners in our foreign policy.

And in the first-ever formal review of our country's development and diplomacy operations, Secretary Clinton made clear the importance of global leadership through smart civilian power.

Simply put, at no other time has our Agency had such clear and such strong support.

But with that support has come greater responsibility-and a need to deliver the next decade of meaningful results more effectively and more efficiently than ever before.

We have learned important lessons about how to improve our efforts-about the value of partnership; the importance of sustainability; and the need to foster innovation.

Because you understood the power of private sector partnership to promote sustainable growth in the developing world, we established groundbreaking programs like the Global Development Alliance and the Development Credit Authority to leverage the resources and expertise of an entirely new range of private sector partners.

Because you understood that finding a sustainable end to global hunger would require agricultural investment in addition to food aid, we are working through President Obama's food security initiative-Feed the Future-to address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition.

And because you understood that innovations required a greater willingness to take risks, we launched the Development Innovation Ventures to accelerate the time it takes transformational solutions to reach the people who need them most.

Across our work-from education to food security-we are harnessing a new wave of science and technology to accelerate progress in ways that were simply unimaginable in the past.

A decade ago, we were still trying to figure out how to get pregnant women and severely malnourished children to clinics miles away.

Today, we can do our best to bring the hospital to them, through frontline community health workers armed with affordable, easy-to-use, point-of-care diagnostics to save a mother's or newborn's life in any setting.

A decade ago, we had limited ways to reach the poor who often lived in the most remote areas of a country.

Today, the spread of mobile technologies allows us to help remote populations access market data, monitor elections and even conduct banking transactions.

Our mobile programs are fighting graft in Afghanistan, helping Haitians build wealth without building banks and giving farmers and fisherman around the world a fair price for their goods.

But I believe an even more remarkable future lies ahead.

A future where each development dollar we spend builds 10 dollars of local capacity on the ground, simply by leveraging the flow of global-and local-private sector capital.

A future where hundreds of quality evaluations of USAID projects help form the Wikipedia of development learning-a global commons for evidence-based practice and knowledge that informs revolutionary new approaches.

A future where every project from major development organizations across the world are visualized on a geospatial map, where citizens of any country will be able to literally see the scale and impact of our work and share their ideas.

And a future where developing countries not only graduate, they build world class development agencies themselves, teaching us about new ways to spur economic growth or produce clean energy.

I know I speak a lot about procurement reform and indicators and a new way of doing business.

Maybe you all have heard me from time to time?

But I believe those steps are crucial to turning USAID into the modern development enterprise of the future-a future I know we can realize together.

I want to conclude by saying thank you.

Every day, across the world, the work you do represents the very best of America: the generosity, goodwill and ingenuity that unite us as a people. It is one of the purest expressions of generosity from the American people.

But your work also derives benefits for the American people: it keeps our country safe and strengthens our economy.

By helping entrepreneurs open businesses, we spur the growth of new markets and energize our own economy-as we have in South Korea and Taiwan and as we are doing in Indonesia and Ghana.

By driving innovations in agriculture, we help nations break free of the devastating cycle of food riots, famine and failed states-as we did in Asia and as we are working to do now in the Horn of Africa.

And by providing assistance in times of transition, we express our shared values of freedom, dignity and justice-as we did in Eastern Europe during the end of the Cold War and as we do today in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

As we mark 50 years of progress, we step forward with renewed commitment and a greater focus on partnerships, innovation and meaningful results-thanks to your lasting dedication to this Agency and the people we serve.

President Kennedy famously challenged our nation during his inaugural address-asking us not what our country could do for us, but what we could do for our country. Few people have answered that challenge with as much clarity, dedication and sacrifice as the people of USAID.

For that continued service, I thank you.

Washington, DC

Last updated: September 15, 2017

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