Administrator Samantha Power at the Swearing-in Ceremony for Incoming USAID Mission Director for Tunisia Scott Dobberstein

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Thursday, September 2, 2021


ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, Andrew, and good morning everyone—and good afternoon to our colleagues in Tunisia.

Scott, congratulations. It is a pleasure to be here to swear you in as our new Mission Director for Tunisia, a country you know so well––a country whose culture and people are so close to your heart. We thank your wife and your sons, Elliot and Yanees, who are busy with their studies at college, for their sacrifice. Any deployment is a family affair. They say you can never go home again, but I’m really glad that you and Insaf will have the chance to head back to her homeland.

Scott comes from a small farming town in Northern Minnesota––a long way from his new home in Tunis. In search of a career that would allow him to travel and experience life in countries around the world—or to escape the Minnesota winters—Scott began working at USAID right out of grad school. And quickly, Scott’s Midwestern charm earned him the respect and trust that underpin so many of USAID’s partnerships.

One of USAID’s Foreign Service National colleagues said of Scott, “he is a very strategic person. I have barely heard him say ‘no.’ Instead he will tell you in a very intelligent way, so that you understand yourself...‘no, it is not good.’” So clearly Scott, you are as much of a diplomat as you are a development professional.

Scott’s time at USAID has led him across the globe, including stops in Poland, Senegal, Indonesia, and Uganda. Scott has also served time here in Washington, where he helped stand up the human rights and learning divisions as Deputy Director of USAID’s Center for Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance.

When he served as Deputy Mission Director in Senegal, he was responsible for our regional office in the Sahel, where he led programs to promote development, democracy, and resilience throughout Western Africa. And from there, Scott served as our Mission Director in Mali, where he shared best practices and applied learnings from his previous posts to promote environmentally sustainable agriculture and strengthen the country’s health systems to lower maternal and child mortality. Learning best practices and applying them to new terrain is critical to our ability to support our partner countries, especially in an age where challenges and threats like climate change and pandemics easily transcend borders.

Now, after a long and distinguished career, Scott has found his way back to Tunisia. Scott’s personal connection to the people of Tunisia runs as deep as his professional experience. As Andrew noted, Scott’s first post was in Tunis as a Housing and Urban Development Officer in 1990. It’s also where he met his wife, Insaf.

After years of dedication and service to people across the world, Scott’s already full career has come full circle.As one foreign service officer who worked with Scott in Mali put it, “I will remember him as the Mission Director whose heart was always with Tunisia.”

And while Scott’s return comes at a time when the Tunisian people face challenges requiring a renewed focus on transparency in governance, the country and its people are also at the doorstep of great opportunity. It was in Tunisia of course where, more than a decade ago, a fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after enduring daily humiliation and extortion by police for simply trying to earn a living. And it was in the streets of Tunis where Bouazizi’s act of protest drove people to the streets, inspiring mass protests across the Middle East where a swell of individuals of all ages, religions, and ethnic groups rose up to demand their most basic rights.

It feels like a long time ago. But since then, USAID has worked with the Tunisian people and their government to rebuild abusive law enforcement institutions, reform a broken justice system, and foster opportunities for young Tunisians.USAID economic and governance assistance programs have aided Tunisian officials in their efforts to shape a government that is responsive to the needs of the Tunisian people, supportive of the thousands of young Tunisians entering the job market each year, and able to fight the very corruption that led to the uprising in 2011.

But despite meaningful gains, Tunisia remains at an inflection point. The democratic progress and reforms are fragile and at risk. Months of violent protests over the government’s response to the pandemic have led to a tenuous political situation that threatens its fledgling democracy. Unemployment remains far too high––and like much of the world, in addition to the human toll of COVID-19, the pandemic has had devastating economic consequences for Tunisia.

Our Mission has worked in close coordination with the Government of Tunisia to address the impact COVID-19 has had on communities. We’ve dedicated over $34 million in assistance to mitigate the immediate crisis and prepare for the pandemic’s long term economic and social effects. And by partnering with a leading microfinance institution in Tunis, USAID has been able to provide much-needed capital and expertise to more than 4,000 small and medium businesses—half of which are women- and youth-owned—in order to mitigate the economic impact of COVID.

Moments like these, when partner countries are at a crossroads, create space for leaders like Scott to demonstrate the United States’ desire to deepen our relationship, leverage the expertise within our ranks at USAID, and help create the kind of inclusive and pluralistic future that Tunisians long for. And in our new Mission Director, we have a seasoned pro who is ready to meet this important moment. Throughout a 30-year career he has shepherded USAID partner countries through difficult periods.

Scott recognizes that while the United States cannot solve all of these challenges, there are things we can do together with the people of Tunisia to mitigate their impact. We can help strengthen partnerships between the government and civil society. We can enhance competitiveness in the private sector to increase access to finance and to help create jobs. And we can continue to work closely with the Government of Tunisia to advance its reform agenda.

In early 2018, when Scott was sworn in as the Mission Director in Mali, the Foreign Service National Committee presented him with two symbolic items used in Malian tradition when inducting a king: a gourd, representing acceptance, tolerance, and inclusivity; and a sword, representing justice, courage, and impartiality.

We’re of course not making him a king today, but Scott has embraced each of these principles throughout his 30-year career with USAID and infused them into our partnerships around the world. The team in Tunisia is lucky to have you back, Scott. I am personally grateful to have you take the lead at an important Mission for this agency and for the United States––and for democracy. And the Tunisian people are lucky to have you as a partner at this important juncture.

On behalf of the entire Agency, thank you, and best of luck to you and your family in this new chapter. It’s my pleasure to now administer the oath of office.

Last updated: September 02, 2021

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