Administrator Samantha Power at the Swearing-In Ceremony for Counselor Clinton White

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Tuesday, October 4, 2022
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Remarks

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Clinton, I have something to tell you, which is that this is the fullest this room has been since the pandemic. And that’s all you, just so you know. That’s where we start. Thanks also to everybody who has joined virtually. We can’t see you, but we are so heartened that you are here and Clinton can see all of the names of his colleagues and friends who have joined from afar, a couple of whom I will single out. All of you who are here, and out there, are such an important part of his life and I imagine it means the world to him, and for him, to know that you all are with us. 

I’d like to extend a few special warm welcomes. First, to Lloyd Mitchell. Where is Lloyd Mitchell? There is Lloyd Mitchell. Great. Thank you so much for giving Clinton his first job. His first job in development. Where would we be without you? Lloyd is president of the Mitchell Group, a USAID partner. And Doris Martin. Doris served as senior advisor to the late Ambassador John Hicks, who was USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa when Clinton was getting his start in Washington. 

So, Lloyd and Doris, it’s a pleasure to have you with us to celebrate this next chapter in Clinton’s now storied career, and again, thank you for bringing him to Washington, D.C., and introducing him to the work of this Agency.

I also would like to – and I know – Mohmed and Tahani, where are Mohamed [Abdalah] and Tahani [Elmogrbi]? So, we have with us former Libyan FSNs, who now live in the United States and performed such incredible service for USAID and for the people of Libya. And now we are so lucky to have you here in the United States, we hope on the journey to becoming Americans yourselves, but also thank you for coming to root for Clinton. It’s a tribute to Clinton as well. Just the rolodex – some people brag about their rolodexes with fancy foreign ministers or heads of state. The thing that Clinton is most proud of in his rolodex is his ongoing relationships with his former colleagues who are FSNs and so I’ll say more about that in a little bit. 

And then Sherif. Is Sherif Zohdi here somewhere? Maybe he hasn’t arrived yet. Or maybe he’s joined virtually and because of BlueJeans can’t say “I’m here, I’m here.” But Sherif, Clinton will tell his story, but he’s an Egyptian FSN who worked in the comptroller’s office with Clinton back when he was at our Mission there and made his way to becoming an FSN 13. And then I’ll leave his journey there and Clinton will tell you the rest of the story. But it’s an incredible story and it’s one that just speaks to the talent that is overflowing across hiring authorities at this Agency, and I’ll let Clinton speak to that. 

I also want to join Paloma, of course, in thanking Ken, really and truly. You technically had Interim Counselor in your title. You were counselor extraordinaire these last ten months. Having served twenty years – I know what we do at USAID is very exciting and impactful and it’s wonderful to make a difference – but you have made such a difference over the last twenty years. And I know when one gets settled in a new life with new routines and rhythms, just to throw all of that up in the air and disrupt your family life, and just the pace of life. And then to do so without missing a beat, and just coming and throwing yourself into these reform initiatives, working with me, with Paloma, with everyone here. Always being a voice that brought such invaluable perspective from the field. So, even though you were here, you were this voice in our ear all of the time saying, ‘I don’t think it’s going to feel that way out there, I don’t know.” But having been Mission Director – such a leader across the world in Colombia and Afghanistan, and so many roles around the world, and in leadership positions here – you could not have been a more perfect person to launch us as we saw today, with administrative and reporting programs, as we sought to truly empower our FSNs. You turned the language of empowerment into concrete steps that we still need to get across the finish line – our localization agenda. What stands in the way of partnering with local organizations, which was lived by someone first-hand, by someone who tried to do, when you were out there in the field. So as Paloma said, to serve for twenty years, that’s a hell of a contribution to this country, to this Agency, to the world. But to come back and do it again in such stellar fashion, we’re just so grateful Ken. Thank you. And [I was] sorry to get COVID to miss your sendoff. I had to do you a little justice here, because I wasn’t able to be here in person last week. So, have a great second-retirement, maybe there’s a third-retirement out there somewhere.    

And now to welcome Clinton’s family. First, of course, Shenita, here with us today in person, I’ll say more about you in a minute. Clinton and Shenita’s two children, Naria and Reece, who are watching virtually. Naria is a senior at the University of Georgia, majoring in psychology. You should know Naria, that your dad says you’re quite likely to follow in the international development track, that you have a huge amount of conviction and commitment in that direction. I know an Agency that would be hiring – the hiring cycle is open – and who might know some people who know something about USAID who can help you out there. But majoring in Psychology is the perfect preparation for coming to work at USAID, so you’re most welcome. 

Reece is a senior in High School at the Rabun Gap School in Georgia. Also, great Georgia connections where I went to high school, so I feel very connected to you all out there. 

And just to share a little, but that Reece and Naria and Shenita know, but some of you may not have stumbled into over the years, but Clinton, on top of everything we’ll talk about, is also a painter and a singer, and he has recorded some of his own songs, including a duet with Naria and another for his mom for her 80th birthday. 

Naria and Reece are also artists – and whatever hobbies or extracurriculars they have been drawn to, Clinton has always made the time to be involved. Whether coaching Reece’s football team –and Reece, I was hearing about your jump shot, which I gather is improving at rapid pace, and that you’re a great point guard – helping Reece sharpen his writing skills – or giving Naria pointers in her artistic pursuits or talking about events in the world that tap all of your empathy. 

We see in the way he is a family man, so much of what we see at the workplace – his selflessness, his willingness to serve, the way he listens, and his commitment to others. That generosity of heart was, I gather, instilled in Clinton by his grandmother, Emma Hart Williams, a Black woman who grew up in the Jim Crow South. As the Civil Rights Movement gained strength, Emma took part in the wave of activism that transformed this country – as did Clinton’s Aunt Lula, who was inspired to join the Freedom Riders after seeing a picture of one of their buses that had been set on fire. 

Despite the hardships and all the discrimination that Clinton’s family faced, they persevered. His grandmother started successful businesses offering house cleaning and seamstress services. Clinton’s father, Edward, attended Princeton and spent time on Wall Street before heading up the Housing Authority in New Haven. Clinton’s mother, Geraldine, became one of the few Black Americans then enrolled in nursing school, eventually working as a nurse in New Haven’s public schools. 

It was there in Connecticut, where Clinton spent some of his earliest years, and where his parents, Edward and Geraldine led the local NAACP chapter, marching along with their sons in the town’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade, while teaching Clinton and his brother Teddy about the importance of equality and social justice.

It turns out these lessons about service stuck. A friend of Clinton’s who is watching from home today, Dr. Dallas Jackson, remembers meeting Clinton after the family moved from New Haven to St. Petersburg, Florida. Clinton, upon arriving, joined his new school’s service club. He didn’t miss a beat. And through his example, he was able to inspire others to get involved in projects that benefited the community selling Christmas trees to raise money for less fortunate families, trick-or-treating, but of course, not for candy but for money for UNICEF, and organizing community clean-ups with Easterseals. 

Clinton’s wife Shenita met Clinton in 1990 while in college at the University of West Florida. Clinton was the President of the Black Student Union and a member of a service fraternity. Shenita got to know Clinton as a man devoted to his family, devoted to church, and devoted to giving back to his community. And perhaps most importantly, Shenita saw in Clinton what so many saw in his grandmother – an affinity for teaching others to believe in themselves. 

He also has a legendary work ethic. While earning his MBA, Clinton worked part-time to support himself. But actually, does it count as part-time when you have three jobs? And seeing Clinton’s Google Doc that he presented to the Front Office of what he wants to achieve, does it count as a job when you have three or thirteen, Counselor? 

Because Clinton worked on campus in the school affairs offices, he held a position with the school’s Small Business Development Center and he managed to pull shifts at McDonald’s. Perhaps this ability to juggle so many tasks at once is why one USAID colleague claimed Clinton is able to get more done “than three people combined.”

After earning his degree, Clinton took that work ethic to the Mitchell Group where he began to cut his teeth in development, working on USAID contracts. From there, he went on to serve as a Business Operations Manager at Lockheed Martin where he received the company’s highest honor, the Lockheed Martin Leadership Award. And during a stint as a Senior Budget Analyst with the United States Peace Corps, he learned about USAID’s New Entry Professional Program, which provided the opportunity to work abroad that he had been long seeking. 

After nearly two decades in USAID’s Foreign Service, Clinton has driven progress on Agency priorities from here in Washington as Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Management Bureau, as well as from posts in Egypt, Pakistan, Senegal, and Ghana, where he served as USAID Regional Controller. 

The same orientation toward service that Clinton possessed as a teenager and a college student has made him stand out as a transformational leader here at USAID. He has continually set the bar higher in the Agency’s areas of greatest need. Most notably through his support and advocacy for the Foreign Service National community. 

No matter where he has been stationed, as I have already mentioned, Clinton has spent time not only working with FSNs, not only talking to FSNs, but getting to know the individuals who constitute the core of our work – 70 percent of our overseas workforce – people with such expertise, such institutional memory, such contacts, such passion about serving their own country and their own communities. He has earned their trust and he has supported their development, not only while in-country, but consistently after he leaves, with that rolodex I mentioned. 

Colleagues from around the world recall his devotion to local staff and his commitment to supporting their careers with awards, skills training, and a singular mentorship style. His team members describe him as a visionary leader. Not only is he light years ahead in his approach, one said, he truly values talent.

And I’ll just give you one example, in addition to having our guests from Libya and Egypt here with us today. But I was meeting with Shenita and Clinton just now in my office and he spotted a piece of art on the other side of my office, and he said, “Oh I see you met Ana [Diaz] in the Dominican Republic.” What? He was like “Oh Ana, yeah, she’s not only an incredibly talented FSN, but what an amazing artist.” He recognized the art of our incredible Ana in our Dominican Mission and sure enough it was a sketch that she managed somehow to whip out in an hour, turn it around. I can’t say it’s true to life, it’s a caricature, so it’s not. But it's the most incredible caricature that I’ve ever seen. So hello Ana, if you’re watching, Clinton was also very impressed. But this knowledge, again, of the individual talents in the workplace, outside of the workplace is so important. And I think again, in talking to Shenita, that this is something that she has brought to their time abroad together, and is something they view is the essence of being in these roles and having these opportunities. 

Wherever Clinton goes, he also immerses himself in the local culture. In Pakistan, he learned how to drive a rickshaw. In the Caribbean, he visited every historical site he could. And everywhere he went, he ate the local cuisine, and again, preferably with Shenita by his side. According to an Ambassador who will remain nameless, “he ate and he ate and he ate.” But he cooked too, learning to prepare local meals to share with staff.  

He also always stands by his team, consistently. Just weeks after arriving in Pakistan, our team in Islamabad was badly shaken by the 2008 bombing of the Marriott Hotel. But when our Mission Director asked if anyone wanted to go home, Clinton insisted on staying, as did most of the team. And his attitude was, as we were just reflecting on in my office, our attitude was, ‘we’re in, we’re in. We’re there for these communities in thick and thin.’ And in Egypt, during the height of the Arab Spring, he stayed behind during not one, but two evacuations, supporting the Mission with a small team and our Foreign Service Nationals. A colleague of his put it best – “Clinton has one of the biggest hearts I've encountered at USAID.”

As USAID’s Senior Development Advisor in Libya, Clinton supported FSNs to organize the first Women’s Empowerment Summit to further the rights and economic power of women in Libya.

And in his most recent post as Regional Representative for the Eastern and Southern Caribbean, Clinton continued to demonstrate an ability for managing a tough mandate.

In his role, he oversaw the Mission’s portfolios across the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and Barbados; Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Bahamas, winning favor and earning praise from host governments and partners alike for his ability to quickly zero in on critical issues and marshal the players and the resources necessary to quickly address them. 

Over the past three years, Clinton has boosted climate finance investments to the region’s countries to build resilience in the face of what we know are more frequent and intense climate disasters. He has worked to strengthen partnerships with national governments and key ministers to help address food insecurity, and to provide young people with alternatives to illicit activities and violence. 

Clinton also worked tirelessly to deepen the U.S. relationships with regional multilateral bodies, like the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and CARICOM – the political and economic union of 15 states in the Caribbean community. Thanks to Clinton, USAID now offers bi-annual portfolio briefings to CARICOM’s leadership – and I will say – I do think this is a template for how we should be engaging VIPs and multilateral development banks, making sure not only knowing what they’re doing, but that they know what we’re doing in finding synergies in this way. But in this instance, I’m sure that the legendary barbecues in Guyana, where the headquarters are located have nothing to do with the appeal of offering those briefings. 

In Clinton’s time abroad, he has not lost sight of making a difference at home. He has led the way in forging partnerships between USAID and our nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, helping us inspire young, diverse students to take up the discipline of development. He pioneered an internship program to connect students from Alcorn State University with the Barbados Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology to study environmental impacts. And earlier this year, he also launched a digital literacy program for young people in St. Lucia, that connects the island nation’s Ministry of Education with experts at Tuskegee University.

Clinton has been making these kinds of connections his entire life. Connections that open doors for a new generation; connections on behalf of vulnerable people and communities that just need an opportunity, just need a crack in the door. Connections that can deliver progress far beyond what our programs alone can deliver.

And that’s exactly what we hope Clinton will do in his role as Counselor. We are looking to Clinton to strengthen our ambitious efforts, to build a more diverse Agency that prizes different perspectives and nurtures diverse talent. We will rely on his more than two decades of foreign service experience to help us support our Foreign Service Nationals, give them opportunities to advance, and better tap into their incredible expertise. And we seek his wisdom on how to elevate voices from the communities where we work, and dramatically ramp up our engagement with local organizations. 

Of course, these major reform priorities depend upon our ability to cut the time our staff spends filling out paperwork, increasing the time they’re able to spend in the field and with our partner organizations. And so we will look to Clinton to help spearhead our bureaucracy busting initiative, with the goal of saving our Agency staff members millions of hours collectively. Our Agency already tackles the world’s toughest challenges. Needless bureaucracy should not be one of them. 

To say that Clinton will only be focused on internal reforms, is not only to sell his expertise short, but it is to ignore the many pages long Google Doc – his agenda for this role. From climate change to private sector partnerships, to youth engagement, Clinton brings with him a knowledge and love for service. A knowledge and love for USAID. A knowledge and love for the people who work at USAID, from all backgrounds, who are hired under all different authorities. A knowledge and love of course for the foreign service, in which he grew up in part. And a knowledge and love for the work. And I cannot think of a better set of ingredients for a Counselor to possess and I can’t think of anybody that I would rather seek counsel from over the next several years Clinton, than you. And I am so grateful to you, I’m so grateful to Shenita, and to all who got you into this line of work, to your kids for again loaning you to us in this incredibly important role. And with that let’s get it started. I look forward to swearing him in.

COUNSELOR CLINTON WHITE: Well good morning everyone. I want to thank the Administrator, Deputy Administrators, my wife Shenita, family, Ken, colleagues, NEP Class 7 and very distinguished family and friends, all those who are listening online. 

Ambassador Power, I remember the first time we met virtually, it was the virtual signing of USAID’s 2021 DEIA Strategic Plan on your first day as Administrator, and it was a historic event. But, before the signing we also shared a moment about how the best pizza in the world is in New Haven, CT! Now, that's no typo in my speech. New Haven has the best pizza, not New York. Anyone who doubts us hasn't been to Pepe's or Sally's or if you are old school, knows about Naples pizza. If there's anyone from New York or Chicago in the audience, I'm so sorry to tell you the truth, but I’m happy to take you to New Haven for a slice!

But, I also want to thank my wife Shenita and all of her support. None of this could have been done without you, since day one, shoulder to shoulder as equals and most of the time she’s been pretty much ahead of me. But as mentioned, my family, mentors, and friends have been a part of my history, my principals, and values, and desire to bring equality and economic opportunities for everyone.  

Now, the last time I came back to Washington, I was leaving Egypt after the revolution and the hard work that we had done there, and I went into an All Star team in M Bureau led by Angelique Crumbly, with Colleen Allen and Angela McNerney. And I was thrilled, again, this time to be coming back to Washington to be joining another all-star team with our Administrator and our two Deputies, and yes, Dennis. But, as much as I am pleased about moving into this position, it’s not about me, but about this Agency and its mission.  

Now, as you heard, one of the countries I did cover was Suriname and there is a saying in Suriname: ADJA-INI. It means “It is inside You” and I remember being at an event with some friends and colleagues and just reflecting on those words when I learned what they meant. 

One of the ideals from this Administrator and others is achieving our goals through the character of the community in our Agency. And that community includes the over 3,000 local development partners in over 100 countries where we serve. Remember for us all to be effective at what we do, we have to work toward a more inclusive development agenda. Inclusive development is rooted in the belief that every person is instrumental in transforming their societies.

It’s the leadership like Mission Directors Lawrence Hardy and Anu Rajaraman who are examples of development diplomacy when it comes to combating climate changes, encouraging inclusive economic growth, gender, and reaching marginalized and vulnerable populations, all with an ongoing backdrop of the world facing a food security crisis.  

I’m also happy to be able to work with DA Paloma and HCTM on Foreign Service Modernization, a key to how we can advance our reforms.

And although we have made strides to addressing sexual misconduct, there is still more we need to do to make it crystal clear, in actions as well as words, that we care how all our employees are treated. Working with people like Keetah Salazar-Thompson and John Groarke, we are going to get there.

When it comes to Trafficking in Persons, the worst modern day slavery that we’ve come across, we still need to do more to advance on that. Working with people like Nichole Graber, we're also moving toward a different trajectory.  

And when it comes to DEIA, I don’t want us to just think of it as an acronym, because each of those letters and each of those words carries a heavy burden we must overcome.

Working with Alcorn State University and having two interns through our Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology go to Guyana to work on food security and climate smart agriculture, this is what this is opening up the doors for.

When it comes to FSN Leadership, I know the Administrator mentioned Sherif Zohdi as an example. He was the Chief Accountant in Egypt, as she mentioned, he rose up to a FSN 13, but not only that, he was part of a global group of FSNs from financial management that were training everybody around this Agency and still continue to do that out of the CFO Office. And they’ve been working to burden-bust a number of things. But with Sherif though, he left Egypt and came to the United States to immigrate and then became a USAID institutional support contractor working with the CFO’s office.  Not only that, he’s helping with the audit opinion and all of those things and Sherif is now going to be working as a direct hire at BRM.

Roman, you are lucky to have him.

But it’s also an honor to FSN leaders like Sharon Ramsaran, one of our FSNs in the ESC Mission who will not only be taking a lead position, but will be running our new satellite office in Trinidad and Tobago.

Working with women like Kiran Maharaj, a media owner and democracy advocate, Founder of the non-profits Media Institute of the Caribbean and Caribbean Investigative Journalism Network. We’re working with her on a number of things on democracy, but as well as, she was also one of the pioneers of one of the first radio stations for women, Heartbeat Radio. And she asked me to be on the show one day.

But when it comes to private sector engagement, it’s people like Nehal Sanghavi, who started his work in private sector engagement work at the Agency as a Senior Advisor at our Mission in India as a United States personal service contractor. He worked there for 9.5 years, elevating our private sector engagement in India and then he got the bug of Foreign Service and now he joined in 2022 as a new Foreign Service Officer. These are the people and skills that we have in this Agency that are not only working within, but also helping us to learn out. 

It is working with youth leaders like Senator Lisa Jawahir in St. Lucia, who went through USAID’s funded House Democracy Partnership program, where she is making a change in empowering the vulnerable, marginalized, women and youth.

One of our champions of localization in Pakistan, as you mentioned, has been Shiraz Ashraf, one of our Foreign Service Nationals who is a Supervisory Financial Analyst, managing a huge team. He’s been running and doing the localization and making a big difference throughout our Agency, not only in Pakistan, but he’s also being called to provide support in Africa and as we build new bridges in the Caribbean. 

As the Agency’s Counselor, I look forward to amplifying the importance of digital development and to elevating the implementation of USAID’s Digital Strategy, so we can continue to build a USAID that tackles existing and emerging challenges in an ever-changing digital world.

As well as amplifying climate change-yes, I am looking forward to getting back to New Haven next week, but not for pizza this time, but on the Climate Justice Forum with Yale University, working with people like Jolisa Brooks, Mansfield Blackwood, and Sashi Jayatileke, to bring about a more positive change so that everyone’s voice is heard and we can leverage the private sector, are paramount.

Inclusive partnerships are the way we work with the CARICOM Secretariat led by Dr. Carla Barnett and the relationships that we have with our Ambassador there, Ambassador Lynch, and we helped to advance this partnership and this relationship that we have with Dr. Didacus Jules and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Commission. Working with these local institutions as equal partners is how we advance our goals.

It’s working with CDA Shante Moore in Trinidad and Tobago to open a new satellite office and building our relationships with Minister Pennelope Beckles-Robinson, the Minister of Planning and Development, who said, “The fact that USAID has extended their presence in the region, and chose Trinidad and Tobago, shows their commitment to working more closely with their partners and to adding real value to developing the region.”

Similar to our opening a new office in Suriname with Ambassador Williams, we reinstituted or restarted our Model USAID program, where people can actually learn more about what USAID does. And we brought a number of youth to this particular program. And it’s helping to advance our goals, not only there but in the region. But also working with people to advance LGBTQI reforms in the Caribbean, with somebody named Lucien who is the current chair of the Caribbean Forum for Liberation & Acceptance of Genders & Sexualities (CARIFLAGS), who was part of that training.

So as I close, I would be remiss without acknowledging PM Mia Mottley, who I spoke to and she not only spoke highly about USAID’s presence in the region, but she reminded us about the work that we’re doing and that there is a moral imperative, which I truly believe. I also want to affirm to her that I will still stay engaged with the Caribbean going forward.

So with that, we have to remember that an inclusive community to advance our global challenges is what we have to do. That also means being a Counselor for everyone!

If we are all not winning, then none of us are winning.

It goes back to “ADJA-INI”.  

Again, thank you Administrator, thank you Shenita, thank you everyone.

Ronald Reagan Building

Last updated: December 06, 2022

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