Remarks by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah at the University Of California, Berkeley

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Remarks as Prepared

Good afternoon, UC Berkeley and the Blum Center staff and students. It’s wonderful to join you today, and it’s clear—looking around the room—that Berkeley’s renowned spirit of activism and citizenship has not changed since the days you first inspired the free speech movement.

Today, this long tradition has taken shape in the form of the Blum Center for Developing Economies, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the Big Ideas @ Berkeley competition. Each is a world-class example of how universities can harness the rigor of the academic community and the ingenuity of students to deliver incredible gains in human progress. Thanks to this emphasis, the Global Poverty and Practice minor is the largest minor on campus and includes 400 students, one-third of whom are in the sciences or engineering.

That’s what we call a critical mass.

In February, USAID signed a significant new agreement with the Blum Center to help connect this energy and intellect to the greatest challenges in development. We recognized that the Blum Center represented something special: a center for deep analysis and broad engagement that not only generates new ideas, but also tests and applies real-world solutions. In fact, we’ve admired it so much that it is now the model for a network of development laboratories we’re forming across the country.

Big Ideas @ Berkeley is another superb example. With USAID support, this annual contest has enabled student teams to work around the world perfecting low-cost solar heaters, engineering water purification systems, and diagnosing malaria with cell phones equipped with a powerful microscope.

One Big Idea winner—Laura Stachel, here with us today—decided to tackle the challenge of unreliable electricity that has kept more than 300,000 health facilities around the world in the dark. As an obstetrician and public health doctoral student, Laura came up with the idea of a portable “solar suitcase” to help ensure lights never again go off in a rural clinic in the middle of a surgery.

Today, her organization—We Care Solar—has provided over 70 solar suitcases to clinics serving hundreds of women and infants around the world. We Care Solar not only won a Big Ideas @ Berkeley competition, it is also an award nominee in our Saving Lives at Birth Grand Challenge. Like Big Ideas @ Berkeley, Grand Challenges for Development invite problem-solvers from around the world to generate high-impact innovations that address particularly pervasive problems.

This proud legacy—of collaborating with your intellectual peers around the world to solve the great challenges—is something that each of you is a part of as Berkeley 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.

But we also know that our opportunity to resolve these challenges has never been greater. Private sector investment in emerging economies has even grown to dwarf official development assistance. New technologies are changing the lives of millions worldwide, just as social media has helped changed the course of history across the Middle East and North Africa.

Thanks to partnerships with path-breaking institutions like Berkeley, 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 the 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.

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 Dupont to individual student organizations right here on campuses—like the university’s Engineers Without Borders chapter and entrepreneurs like Andrew Crane-Doesch, who is here today.

A doctoral student in energy and resources, Andrew recently received a Development Innovations Fund grant from USAID to scale up the use of biochar—an innovative approach that applies charcoal to the soil to improve crop yields by as much as 23 percent. With our support, Andrew will help 1,000 farmers test the use of a kiln to produce biochar right on the farm.

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 Bangladesh 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.

By employing this much bigger definition of development, we can tackle our greatest—and most somber—challenges.

At the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum last April, President Obama spoke about one of these challenges: preventing mass atrocities and genocide. Recognizing the power of NGOs, faith groups, and young people to help prevent mass atrocities, the president emphasized that achieving this goal didn’t start from the top. “It starts from the bottom up.”

During that speech, President Obama announced that USAID would reach out to individuals, civil society groups, and private sector partners to seek new technologies and approaches for preventing and responding to mass atrocities and genocide. In other words, an open-source development approach to addressing on of humanity’s greatest challenge.

Today, I’m pleased to share this video announcing our Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention. This unique competition will identify five core problems in atrocity prevention where new ideas and technologies are sorely needed. Each problem-set will have its own competition, with prizes of up to $10,000. Once we receive the winning concepts, we’ll use those innovations to inform a second round of prizes focused on building actual prototypes.

Today, we’re presenting the first two challenges, which will be open for proposals on October 31st.

The first tackles the tendency of atrocity cases to lack real, hard evidence that can hold up in national and international criminal courts. This absence can be for a number of reasons—including the need to protect witness identities and the inability to safeguard the integrity of evidence in the middle of armed conflict.

And the solutions can be found in any number of technologies—including, for instance, a camera equipped with GIS capabilities that can accurately record the location, time, and direction of a motor attack.

The second problem focuses on the challenge of third-party enablers who intentionally or unintentionally perpetrate atrocities. This is a challenge students know well—having led the charge against companies whose gold or tin mines profit armed militias at the expense of local communities. Today, we have new standards in place—like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative—to ensure companies and governments are accountable to citizens.

But we still have a long way to go. We need new tools and technologies that raise the profile of this issue and increase the pressure on all parties. You can learn more at, and I encourage you to submit your best ideas.

Because 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 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, including one that enables you to become a part of our virtual Foreign Service from right here on campus. If you’re working on your senior thesis and you need some information about one of our projects, you can 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 tool we launched just this week through CrowdHall called Ask the Administrator—so that you can get your questions answered.

Now this one website isn’t going to do it all. We know that the federal government is still a tough beast to get your arms around. But this one website is our effort to break down the walls of bureaucracy and open up development for you. Ultimately, we hope we can be a resource to you as we work together to expand opportunity and improve human welfare around the world.

I joined USAID 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 are 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 to 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.

Berkeley, California

Last updated: October 12, 2012

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