Remarks by USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah at the Launch of the Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance

Monday, February 27, 2012
Launch of the Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance

[As Prepared]

I am very pleased to welcome you today for the launch of USAID's new Center of Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance. It is designed to become a core evidence-based resource in the field , and strengthen our own culture of data, research and evaluation within USAID.

This Center represents our Agency-wide focus on measuring performance to determine what really works. Instead of driving our programming based the conclusions of a handful of experts, we will conduct ongoing, in-depth oral histories, impact evaluations and country assessments to understand where and how we can be most effective.

Over the next three years, we plan to perform over two-dozen high-quality DRG evaluations. This means conducting the Agency's first evaluations on the impact of DRG programming on local governance, human trafficking and gender; and-for the first time-using public opinion surveys in a systematic way to capture base-line data, identify control and treatment, and establish measurable indicators.

Instead of playing it safe in a field that demands constant innovation, we're going to reward calculated risks and creative approaches-whether that's a mapping platform designed to combat trafficking or procurement reforms that make it easier for us to partner with local civil society organizations. And instead of continuing an ineffective program, we'll bring it to an end-and publicly share our experiences so we can all learn.

In short, we hope our Center will do for the field of rights and governance exactly what the MIT Poverty Action lab has done for poverty reduction.

In just a brief time, the Center has already gotten off to a promising start - from launching the new Counter-Trafficking in Persons policy last week at the White House to designing a brand new Grand Challenge for Development in Open Government Partnership and atrocity prevention.

This is just the beginning of our efforts to integrate our democracy programming with our core development work. Because as President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made clear-if we wish to advance growth and progress, we have to support both democratic and economic empowerment.

As the Arab Spring-and the ongoing protests in Syria-so powerfully reminded us, economic prosperity and democratic freedom must go hand-in-hand.

But the reality is-in a tough budget environment-we need to work even harder to ensure that DRG programming isn't squeezed out by major Presidential initiatives or Congressional priorities.

That is why we announced nearly a year ago that we would create a new track of funding within our Presidential initiatives to support smart investments in DRG. Because strong institutions and democratic rights not only ease the work of global health and food security-they are essential to its long-term success. This second track empowers the Center to work effectively across each of our development priorities.

And to ensure that the money we're investing in governments doesn't undermine the aspirations or rights of citizens, we are adapting our financial risk assessment to further include DRG considerations. Now, for the first time, DRG experts will sit on every risk assessment team to determine whether our assistance empowers a government at the expense of its people.

At the same time, we will continue our core funding and program support for democracy, rights and governance. Support that enabled us to bring over 60 organizations together in Tunisia to form the nation's first civil society network; and to deploy five Local Capacity Development Teams to Egypt-reaching over 1,000 small organizations in the months following the revolution. Over the summer, we made 52 grants-and nearly half of them went to organizations partnering with us for the very first time.

Development practitioners-myself included-sometimes fall victim to defining human welfare solely in terms of GDP, hunger or mortality. But we know that progress is defined not solely by the quantifiable, but also by our ability to nurture dignity and advance human potential.

Around the world every day, our staff is fulfilling this mission with commitment and ingenuity-helping to empower marginalized communities and expand democratic space.

An FSO in Kenya, Catie Lott is leading the effort to create an integrated, Mission-wide strategy in support of Kenya's effort to shape a new political system through devolution. Thanks to Catie's leadership, the Mission's offices in health, education, resource management and climate change have all committed to working together on a new devolution program.

An FSN, Otto Saaki designs and manages all our direct grants to Zimbabwean human rights organizations-a very difficult job under very difficult circumstances. He is also the leading force behind our human rights defenders program, which trains and supports activists under threat.

And in Bangkok, Michael Bak leads our partnership with MTV-EXIT, an innovation counter-trafficking program that uses documentaries and music videos to reach 300 million households worldwide.

With the Center's Launch today-and a robust new emphasis on evidence-based learning-we can help advance these efforts, ensuring they are more effective, cost-efficient and results-oriented than ever before.

Thank you.

Washington, DC

Last updated: October 19, 2017

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