Remarks by Administrator Rajiv Shah at the University of Arkansas

Monday, September 9, 2013
Administrator Rajiv Shah at the University of Arkansas

[As Delivered]

I want to thank Chancellor Gearhart for having me here, and congratulations on your outstanding stewardship of this great university; Dean Vayda for that kind introduction; and Dean Jones for your strong leadership of the school.  Although he isn’t here today, I’d like to take just a moment to recognize Senator John Boozman, who’s been a real champion for the university, as you all know, but also a proud partner for me in helping to ensure that our work – both Senator Pryor and Senator Boozman have worked to make sure that our work, internationally, is supported and garners real results on behalf of America’s National Security and Foreign Policy Interests on a regular basis.  So, you have a special delegation at work, here, in Arkansas. 

I had a chance to travel, actually, with Senator Boozman, to visit a program in Ethiopia, recently, called Project Mercy.  Project Mercy is a local organization – Senator Jim Inhofe actually hosted us and took us on that trip; I think his daughter, Molly, is here today – and we had a chance, there, to see what some of our work together can really achieve.  We met new midwives who had been trained, we met families that were receiving animals so they could manage livestock, and earn income and feed their children diets with more protein.

It was a memorable trip, in part, because our vehicle got stuck in the mud – which happens in these types of affairs – but also because when we arrived, finally, we were a little dirty, but we got to meet 1,700 kids whose lives have been fundamentally transformed.  And transformed, not by handing out food or even handing out text books; Transformed by trusting their own instincts, and their capabilities, to empower themselves to improve their core economic activity, and to use the fruits of that labor to move their entire community out of poverty. 

Those types of activities are what I’d like to talk to you about here, today.  Because I think, at the end of the day, we all play a role, whether we’re in the nonprofit space; in government; whether we’re at big companies, like Walmart, where I spent this morning; or whether like some of you are going to be, smaller scale entrepreneurs upon graduation, creating new ideas and new businesses that can transform the world. 

I’m especially grateful and inspired, in that context, by Maggie Jo Pruitt for your leadership and commitment.  I know that you’ve not only served as an excellent liaison to my team and gave me great briefing materials about how wonderful the school is, but you’ve also been named 1 of 16 nationwide campus ambassadors for Agricultural Future of America, and that’s something for everyone here to take pride in, so, congratulations. 

Now, nearly a hundred – you’ve all seen this plaque, I hope, or this inscription. As University of Arkansas students, you are part of a proud legacy of harnessing the power of science, technology and innovation to fundamentally change our world.  This inscription honors the 1862 Act of Congress that established land-grant universities in this country.  Fayetteville, in what must be considered a very, very good investment, contributed $30,000.00 to have the university located right here in this town, and I’m sure the descendants of those that made that decision are pretty proud of themselves today. 

And for 150 years, as a great research institution, you’ve helped to bring science and technology both to agriculture and to community, and you’ve defined the community broadly.  In fact, more than 60 years ago, the University of Arkansas sent researchers and students on a mission to Panama to help that nation improve its agriculture and its agricultural food production.  This was the very first American land-grant institution to send a foreign mission abroad, and that’s a real point of pride today.

Over the course of several years, that team helped Panama improve its agriculture and farming; create methods for storing fragile seeds in humid climates; introduced new tools, like replacing hand tilling with a plow, and decades later, we’ve used that basic model of American partnership based on science, technology, respect for local conditions and an understanding of local partners, to transform the face of hunger, poverty, growth and opportunity in many, many, many parts of the world.

So, I am proud to be with you here, today.  Now, this is the Walmart Distribution Center, not far from here.  How many of you had a chance to visit here – anyone?  Oh good, some.  Excellent.  This morning, in fact, was a very special moment to visit the distribution center in Bentonville and sign a landmark, new agreement with Mike Duke, the CEO of Walmart.  Together, we are going to expand the USAID/Walmart partnership to use the sourcing of food to help hundreds of thousands of people move out of poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The distribution center, which is, as you can see: a massive and incredibly impressive array of bay doors and trucks and conveyor belts and computerized logistics, enables the company to reach 130 stores within a 200-mile radius of that building every single day.  As we signed a new agreement to bring Walmart’s capability – this is fast work for us because we just took that picture this morning and we didn’t even have time to look up, as you can see.  As we signed this new agreement, we made a commitment to bring Walmart’s core capabilities, in philanthropy and in business, to many parts of the world to transform the face of hunger and poverty.

We’re going to work together to improve sourcing on supply chains, like cashews in west Africa, and reach farmers that are small-scale, usually women-headed households, help them improve their incomes and move out of poverty.  Together, we’re going to, actually, look at – USAID has six emergency distribution centers for our humanitarian relief efforts: when a flood hits Pakistan, or an earthquake hits Haiti – and we are going to rely on Walmart’s ingenuity and knowledge of faster, cheaper, safer supply chains, and logistics management, to help improve the efficiency of that enterprise.

And the reason these partnerships matter so much is, because if we can work together and be more efficient, that means a medical laboratory that has to ship drugs, or vaccines, to a rural clinic in Haiti, can do so more effectively, more efficiently, more children get served and, in the case of our work, fewer children, under the age of five, perish. 

Or, in agriculture, if we can help make sure that perishable crops make it to market without being wasted, or spoiled, or lost in supply chains, even when the rains make roads seemingly impassable in places like Bangladesh, and we’re helping to both improve rural incomes for farmers, like the families we met near that Project Mercy site, and we’re helping the children in those countries gain access to lower-cost, higher-quality foods that can transform their own condition of malnutrition.

As the world has grown more interconnected, this is the new face of development.  The days of hiring a contractor to build a road might still be relevant in some parts of Afghanistan, but, in reality, over the long-term, if we are going to end extreme poverty, unnecessary child death and widespread child hunger, we’re going to do it by bringing businesses with real supply chains, logistics capabilities, the capacity to invent new technologies and the determination to measure results, and work in partnership, to some of the farthest corners of the globe.

We’ve seen some success already.  Some of our existing partnerships with Walmart, and many others, have helped tens of thousands of farmers move out of poverty in just the last few years.  In Honduras, we’re enabling more than a thousand families to sell boxes of vegetables to Walmart by helping to support the quality of their production and ensure that their output meets basic FIDO sanitary conditions.  In Guatemala, I’ve had the chance to actually visit communities – one in particular, where when I went with my boots on ready to walk the fields and talk about agriculture, I met with a woman who had two young kids and sat down and said, “Well, tell me, what do you guys need from us?  I’m the head of USAID and I’m going to try to do my best to help you,” and she said – I was thinking she might say, “We need better seeds, or farm implements, or tools – maybe a tractor.” 

What she said was, “We need you to build schools,” and the reason is, over the last five years the USAID/Walmart partnership had helped 600 families improve their production of potatoes and onions, sell it to a global, in this case, a regional supply chain of Walmart businesses, and those families were experiencing triple, quadruple, the income that they were just a few years back.  And the first thing they do, especially when women benefit from those increases in income, is they get their kids off the farm so they’re no longer working, they send them to school, they buy uniforms, they buy textbooks and they try to do what many of your parents, or those of you that are parents, are likely doing for your children, which is make the sacrifices to ensure that the next generation has a shot.

It’s a very fundamental concept and it really does work and apply across the world.  This is a photo of what we do in some of these communities.  This was taken, I believe, in western Guatemala, and the way you can measure the level of malnutrition in these settings is by a series of measurements.  In this case, this is arm circumference measurement and by tracking age and weight and arm circumference.  Very, very basic things.  You can find out if children are stunted, or malnourished, and begin to assess the level of challenge that exists in some of these communities.

In 2009, President Obama started a program started a program called Feed the Future, and through Feed the Future, we partner with businesses and universities, scientists, technologists, and local farmers to help them improve their production all over the world.  We focus in 19 countries, where the countries themselves have said, “We’re going to expand our investment in agriculture, we’re going to change our regulations to allow businesses to thrive, and we’re going to fight corruption in this sector in this place.”  And when countries do that, we, the United States, will make significant investments.  We’ve increased our level of investment in agricultural development from about $250 million dollars a year to nearly $1.2 billion dollars a year. 

The reason we’ve done that is because we measure and know that these efforts deliver real results.  Today, through Feed the Future, we’ve reached 7 million farm households.  We do household surveys and we measure the nutritional status of children, like the one you see in this photo.  We’ve helped 12 million children move from a condition of malnutrition to nutritional self-sufficiency, and we’re not doing it by handing out food.  Much like that University of Arkansas team did in Panama a long time ago, we’re doing it by help people tap their own capacity to be self- sufficient.

If we’re going to expand this effort, and reach hundreds of millions of people – remember that 860 million people will go to bed hungry tonight – if we’re going to reach hundreds of millions of people, we need to expand the kinds of partnerships we launched this morning with Walmart.  We had an opportunity, recently, to visit Africa with President Obama, and he had a chance to meet with some of the beneficiaries of our Feed the Future program.

This woman’s name is Nimnah and she’s a Senegalese farmer who now – she told the president her story.  Her story was five or six years ago, she was a small-scale producer, not producing for commercial markets, consuming most of her output for her family.  She has six children at varying ages and was taking care of all of them – many of them working on the farm.  Today, she’s using interesting mobile money based cell phone technology to manage a group of – a couple hundred female farmers in her area.

Pooling together their food production and output; checking by mobile phone, local prices; negotiating with the middleman to get the best price; and as part of a sourcing effort that has allowed her to increase her income ten-fold, and in her community now, they’re buying and deploying tractors – starting that positive cycle of technology, innovation, business success that so many entrepreneurs, here in America, have been famous for.  And so when the president met with her and got to hear about her effort, it was very exciting to see that, even in a time when some think Washington struggles to work, we can work in a bipartisan way across the public and private sector to really do transformational things.

Now, this is a picture of the world at night, and I share this because, in what I’ve been talking about in food and agriculture, it’s really a new model of development that is grounded in public/private partnership.  Well, that same model is perhaps more necessary in energy generation, and electricity access, than in any other area of work.  In fact, I understand you’re having a record hot day today, and we’re able to have this conversation because we take for granted the fact that we have access to reliable and low-cost energy.

As you can see, the parts of the world at night, that they’re simply not lit up: major population centers in Africa, certain parts of Asia, and even still, certain parts of Latin America, represent one of the next big, important development frontiers.  In order to address this problem, especially for 600 million Africans who do not have consistent access to reliable energy, we’ve launched a new program called Power Africa.  And Power Africa is designed to bring public and private partners together, so that country governments make policy reforms so that – and that often means deregulating their utilities, and adjusting their pricing systems and cracking down on waste and leakage in their existing management of electricity grids. 

Private companies, ranging from GE to local investment houses, will come together to generate 10,000 megawatts of new energy – enough energy to reach 20 million people.  And the United States government will provide a broad range of support for this effort, including some technical support from partners like USAID, but also loan guarantees, and credit guarantees and export/import program benefits from our partner agencies like the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.  This effort, which includes more than $7 billion dollars of U.S. public finance and more than $14.7 billion dollars of private investment, we believe, can serve to transform so many of the economies, and especially in subs Saharan Africa, that, frankly, are growing at 6, 7, 8, 9 percent today, but are starting to hit a real wall, and some that already have, because of how unreliable energy access is.

It’s easy to talk about energy access and think of large-scale power production facilities, and, in fact, that’s a big part of success.  But there’s also an important role to play – there’s the president, I think hitting a soccer ball – and there’s an important role to play for students.  In this case, there are two graduate students from the United States – I think MIT – that created this ball called the Soccket Ball, and it looks and feels just like a soccer ball.  You kick it around for a little bit, about half an hour, and it has enough stored energy then, to power your mobile device for four to eight hours.  And, those are the kinds of new inventions and new technologies that, frankly, can be the next phase of university and student partnerships with the biggest development challenges we face around the world. 

In the background, here, you see two gentlemen in blue ties: Jay Ireland of GE and Paul Hinks of Symbion Power.  Most of the energy Power Africa produces will, in fact, come from companies like Symbion and General Electric, but often, and especially if we want to reach communities in rural areas that are not going to be on a modern energy grid for some time, this new technology frontier is an area where I believe students and faculty, graduate students and entrepreneurs, can really apply themselves to do some transformational things in the coming year.

This is my last slide and it’s just a photo of the president delivering the State of the Union address.  But, at this year’s State of the Union, the president noted that it is possible to end extreme poverty in two decades.  And it’s easy to say something like that because lots of people say all kinds of things can be achieved, and sometimes they are, and sometimes they aren’t.  But the reality is, for the first time in human history, in these last five or six years, we’ve seen dollar-and-a-quarter a day poverty go down in every single continent on the planet.  That had never happened before, until about 2005.  It paused for a little bit around the 2008 financial crisis. 

But that acceleration is happening today.  And frankly, those of you in this room, especially those of you that are students, have the capacity to, in the next 15 to 20 years, actually contribute to the end of extreme poverty.  I want you to think about what that means, for just a moment.  That means that of the seven million children under the age of five who will die this year, mostly from easily preventable causes, the great majority will survive.  That means that of the 200 million children that are stunted, which means they are not achieving the, technically, the right brain development because of severe, but hidden, hunger and malnutrition, that means that can be reduced down to just a few million kids.

And when you see these types of transformations – and it means hundreds of millions of people having energy access – when you see these kinds of transformations, it’s not just moving people out of poverty, it is fundamentally changing the structure and demographics of these economies.  We know, as more children survive, parents have fewer kids, they invest more in sending those kids to school, and that has contributed to what economists call the “demographic dividend” in parts of southeast Asia.

We know that as more children survive, we see educational attainment succeed, and we see the level of wealth created go far higher than simply multiplying per capita income by the number of people in a society.  And we know that, with your support and your engagement, we can be successful in this enterprise and in this effort.  I’ve had a chance, over the last few years, to visit dozens of college campuses and meet thousands of students, and the one thing I’m impressed with and amazed by everywhere I go is, I think there’s a deep, abiding desire across our college campuses, and I know, right here in Arkansas, to get a great job, to do well, to apply your skills in a way that sustains your life.  But there’s also a deep quest to do that same task in a way that contributes to making our world safer, more secure and, ultimately, more just.

And you live, at perhaps the only time in history, when right out of the gate, whether you’re at Walmart or General Mills, whether you’re inventing a Soccket Ball or creating a solar-powered light suitcase that helps people – helps doctors provide services in areas where there’s no energy, you have the ability to contribute to that future.  And here’s what success looks like.  This is a photo of when we arrived in Tanzania on this presidential visit.  For the seven miles from when the plane landed at the airport to visiting President Kikwete’s palace, on both sides of the street, often way too close for their own personal safety to the motorcade, lined up shoulder-to-shoulder, 8 to 40 people deep, were Tanzanian citizens who had come out to welcome an American president.

That doesn’t just happen because, you know, for any leader.  In fact, the Chinese president had been there three weeks earlier and you wouldn’t see that kind of outpouring.  That happens because this country represents a core idea that all people have the ability to succeed and have certain inalienable rights and when we lead around the world, in a smart, focused, business-like way with that basic, moral proposition, we, in fact, inspire everyone.

So, thank you.  I look forward to your comments and your questions, and I hope you’ll contribute to this mission as you pursue your amazing careers.  Thanks very much.

Bumpers College

Last updated: September 24, 2013

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