Friday, October 22, 2021

MODERATOR: Welcome, Ambassador Samantha Power. We're so pleased that you're here. Thank you for making the time.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Great to be here. And welcome, everybody.

MODERATOR: So, let's go right to it. So, we know that official foreign assistance used to represent about 80 percent of all capital flows to developing countries. Now, it's something like 10 percent. What role do you see for philanthropic organizations and strengthening development and humanitarian assistance outcomes in partner countries? And what are -- maybe you can talk about also what the comparative advantages of each sector is in their respective roles?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Great. Well, first, maybe I'd start with a statement of the obvious, which is, the problems are really quite formidable right now, the challenges. We're all heading into COP. I'll say a word in a second about what philanthropists and foundations have done in that climate space, which is monumental.

But, none of us can look at even the bipartisan support that USAID now has managed over many years, and the very generous contributions of the taxpayer--up to $27 billion budget every year across a range of sectors--so important. And yet, compared to COVID-related fallout, the intensification of climate shocks, more displaced people in the world today than at any point since World War Two, since Hitler. The changing complexity, even with the migration challenges at the southern border, different nationalities now coming, reflecting sometimes democratic backsliding, sometimes increased physical insecurity, and gang violence in particular countries; often just economic disparity. There's a lot going on, and one can get daunted. Again, particularly I think, some of the climate trends can cast people into that frame of mind. But the other way to look at it is, all right, if not now, then when? Right? It's all-hands-on-deck; governments have responded, and then maybe we'll get to talk about COVID and what the Biden Administration has done and now moving out to try to build a coalition to vaccinate the world and treat people who are afflicted by COVID. But there are just so many dimensions of this that the public sector alone won't be able to meet. So, that's the sort of predicate, I guess, for the question.

In terms of comparative advantages, I think, well, let me say one other thing, which is USAID, actually, has really built out over many years. More than I had understood before I took this wonderful job, its capacity for working with the private sector. And it does that both at headquarters. We have the wonderful Michael Meltzer in charge of our private sector hub. But most impressively, it's kind of scrappy USAID mission staff out in the real world, cooking up private sector partnerships to grow smallholder, small landholding farm products and bringing them to market in rural Guatemala, in the western highlands of Guatemala. Where USAID bears the risk on the front end with a modest investment; maybe it's just $500,000. But that's enough for the private sector to say, okay, well if you're bearing the risk, why don't we come in. And then lo and behold, you get an order of magnitude. More than what the farmers were doing before such a modest investment by us, that is leveraged to produce three, four, five times as much for the farmer. And then that, in turn, gets leveraged to bring resources back to the community because of the sales on the market.

So, I think on private sector outreach, both in the field, there's always more we can do, and especially given the scale of the challenges. But USAID has come a long way, and the structures have grown up. Another example is, the USAID Administrator is the Vice-Chair of the Development Finance Corporation. So, also the old OPEC, which is now DFC, is out there. David Marchick, today, is in India and South Africa, scouting potential partners for vaccine manufacturing, so we can extend equitable--have more equitable vaccine manufacturing around the world--so, it's not all concentrated in a few places and the few companies. And so, he's out there scouting USAID missions around the world, or, you know, deal spotting. And because our field presence is our comparative advantage, and maybe can be for you as well as a philanthropists. I mean, half of these Missions, they're out there looking. What can we do about climate adaptation? Work in the private sector traditionally hasn't really wanted to go in the same way that they have, you know, in terms of transition to renewables. We can be your eyes and ears. But the infrastructure that I mentioned, that we have in the private sector, We actually don't have as much of that when it comes to engaging philanthropists, foundations, et cetera. And so that's one of the things in my tenure, given the gap between the needs in the world and the resources that the public sector alone, and even with the private sector, can provide. We need to build out that connective tissue to all of you. And if you have ideas and want to follow up, please come to me because this is a very exciting part of our reform and modernization agenda.

Very briefly, just on comparative advantages, because I've gone on too long. Our appropriations process at USAID, between the time someone has an idea whether me, or again, a great Rwandan development officer or agricultural expert in Guatemala. When they have an idea, and when we are actually able to flow resources toward that idea--think of the life of any appropriation cycle. It'd be lucky if it's two years between the idea and the getting the money for, let's say, a new initiative. You can move things around, of course, within a Mission up to a point. Philanthropists can just move really, really quickly. And I think we've seen this even on the vaccine manufacturers as a good example where a number of foundations went out and began scouting, and actually drawing connections between some of the large pharmaceutical companies and, you know, potential partners in Senegal, in Rwanda, in South Africa. And you saw that. So thinking through what is that catalytic, fast-moving, more nimble, you know; you don't have to deal with all branches of government, right, to get it in. There's no interagency process, hopefully. I'm sure you have boards, but just as we're trying to make USAID more fit for purpose, more fit for this moment, swifter. And to compress some of those timelines that have saddled our ability to move quickly. So too, I think, have most boards in response, especially to the COVID fallout.

So, I think, often we'll be at the table saying, we can do this share of this, you know, new water project. Or this new food security initiative, or this new anti-corruption endeavor, which I hope we'll have a chance to talk about democracy and governance. And that's a big slice of it. And we're lucky that we're the public sector, and that the Congress has been so generous to give us that. But we're still not resourced to move this initiative out of the Capitol, where we know, you know, many of the issues are lying, you know, in the rural areas. And other donors, Germany has stepped up in big ways of late. Japan remains, you know, a great development donor, the European Union, of course, goes without saying. But most donors have not significantly increased their assistance commensurate with the increase in needs that have flown from both, again, the intensification of climate effects and the pandemic. So, the gap is widening, even as governments remain very interested in programming and all these areas. This is why food rations are being cut in places where the UN is operating. Most governments aren't giving less in the pandemic. But it's just food needs are swallowing up, you know, whatever new resources are brought online.

MODERATOR: So, Ambassador Power, I was struck by, you know, your desire to reach out to private foundations and the philanthropy sector in general. You know, we've had three days of conference with all these different foundations and funders. Is there a way for them to contact your staff directly to talk about this? Because I know that there are a lot of ideas that have been put across about where, you know, to maximize what we call these kinds of cross-sector partnerships. Maybe, we could get that from our staff; is there something that you would recommend?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah, my chief of staff is going to kill me but Gideon Maltz at USAID, who I had a chance to work with, as well, at USUN. He ran the Tent Foundation for Hamdi, who some of you know, the CEO of Chobani. Building out this private sector, you know, kind of effort to support refugees who had come in, in the wake of the Arab Spring. And now, of course, we have that challenge that many of you are interested, as well. In supporting about how we support our Afghan brothers and sisters. Anyway, Gideon comes from that background, and we would love to hear from you, to talk to you. And I think in my experience, there are two ways to do it. One is just talk to us about what you think your comparative advantages are, and then let us go off and think about where that can plug in. But the other way is around a problem set, which is, you know, you care a lot about migration in the Northern Triangle. Or, you know, labor rights in Bangladesh, or, again, adaptation when so many countries are dealing with such setbacks to the development gains that all of us had invested in over such a long period of time. Tell us what you care about, and then we can look at what we're doing and again, matchmake with missions and projects that may be just nascent. Or maybe far along, where you can come in and make the critical difference to something that we've baked with the government. Because I guess that's the other comparative advantage, perhaps, that we can offer you, which is our relations with host governments. Our ability to go right into the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Agriculture.

On the governance and human rights, it can be a little harder. Because sometimes what we're supporting together are the civil society partners, the independent media that are holding government accountable. That's often what we're doing together. But when we have moments of reform -- let me put this on your radar, if I can, I'm sorry. But this I'm very excited about, which is that we all lament the democracy authoritarian trend lines, right, 15 straight years of freedom and decline. But there are bright spots happening right now. Sudan, a female-led set of political protests, overthrew Bashir, you know, the genocidal dictator who ran Sudan for 30 years. But the fledgling civilian government is really struggling. It's really hard to undo the damage caused by a government that commits genocide, and it's completely corrupt. And yet, the hunger for engagement from people like you or from the private sector is off the charts. And the political will is off the charts. But the degree of difficulty as well.

So, too, I'm just back from the Dominican Republic in our own hemisphere. Tremendous effort to rebuild the police force from scratch, to make government transparent, to move beyond all the cliches about anti-corruption. And to actually put in place new public procurement laws that are transparent; a new ombudsman to hold the government accountable. And again, you might have a regional focus or have already done work in other sectors and just be interested in, but look at these bright spots, see if we can meet the Zambias and the Malawis and the Dominican Republics. Those countries that are bucking the trends, and making really tough choices. Are there ways to flow resources so they see that that opens up new opportunities at the same time that they deal with some of the difficult initial shocks of actually putting in place economic reforms, or political reforms, for that matter?

MODERATOR: So, let's talk. You talked about the COVID response. I thought we wanted to touch on that. You've made a point that it's America's actions on the global stage to truly win hearts and minds, not our rhetoric. And so, for the Biden Administration, can the Biden Administration spearhead a global vaccine distribution in a way that reminds the world of what the United States can uniquely do? And if that is the case, how can we help you in supporting these outcomes that you had -- that President Biden had talked about at the COVID Summit last month around the UN General Assembly?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: It's a great question. I think one of the useful dimensions of the COVID Summit is having gotten the world to agree now on a set of targets. So, for those of you who just kind of read about the summit in the headlines, or maybe saw a speech or two, check out the targets that were articulated. Because on everything from oxygen--right, everybody's focused on the vaccines. But the number of people who have died needlessly because they didn't have access to oxygen in a time of crisis is very, very high. And there's been a market failure. There's no -- so far, the private sector, that's a perfect example. In fact, we were already working with the Skoll Foundation on that. So, that's a great example of actually where USAID and Skoll have come together to address a market failure. We're very interested in others coming on board. This is a need that's going to outlast this pandemic. And, of course, we don't know how long this pandemic will last. But you know, there's been an oxygen shortage in many countries for some time, but this has surfaced that.

And so, that's an example of something we can do together. But I use it more as illustrative that the targets out of the Summit, which was around not only vaccinating the world but also saving lives. And in a sense, where we're moving toward which is building back better, that all of those now have sort of specific ambitions associated with them. And the period between now and the next Biden-chaired Summit is the period where all of us are trying to establish a kind of division of labor. And saying, okay, we got this part; what do you have? And where do these comparative advantages come in?

So, on the vaccinate world, which is really your question. The target that the leaders at that Summit agreed to, was to vaccinate 70 percent of each country's populations by the UN General Assembly next year. So, that's by September 2022. As many of you know, the Biden Administration began vaccine distribution around the world through COVAX but also bilaterally, earlier in the spring. And we have just, I think, donated/delivered our 200 millionth dose today or yesterday. I'm not sure where the clock struck. The commitment is we're ready to donate. And I want to stress the United States is donating, not selling vaccines. We have more than a billion Pfizer vaccines alone that are in train.

So, that is important. And more supplies coming online; as India comes back online. They've had to stop exports because of the extent of the crisis within their own borders. And they're churning out doses very, very quickly. And so, we hope by the first quarter of next year that all of the supply won't be the negating issue that it has been for all of 2021 in most of the developing world. And China, of course, is contributing vaccines in different countries that are less effective. But nonetheless, few choices between no vaccine and a less effective vaccine, countries are making those choices.

And so I think that we're focused on supply. But to give you an example of, again, something that comes up when you finally have enough supply online. It emerged that we faced a syringe shortage, because the very specific kinds of syringes that were needed to go with these Pfizer doses. It turns out, we didn't have a supply of syringes commensurate with the new supply of Pfizer. So, again, that's something that we scrambled quickly to address. But as supply, again, does come online, including but not limited to the Pfizer, that's again what the Summit was for, to leverage our contribution, to get other countries to contribute to do more.

We are going to collectively, bump up against what are the other binding constraints--whether it's syringes or whether it's testing. The Global Fund, which has been so important in providing therapeutics and providing testing, PPE, funding the Global Fund. And those resources, as perhaps governments are very focused on the vaccine dimension. Now, that's another example where a lot of resources are now migrating to the vaccine as if it can be the only answer. It can't be the only answer. We know we're living breakthrough infections here. But more than that, again, our target is 70 percent. So, when people get infected, are they getting tested? Do they know? Do they isolate?

The behavior change associated with ending the pandemic. There are really interesting behavioral insights that are being brought to bear in a number of our Missions around the world if people want to contribute to that. And bring that analytic expertise about how we draw on what we know about human behavior, but in a culturally specific way. By testing and doing randomized controlled trial trials quickly, that's resource intensive. And that's not the kind of thing that our budget cycle two years ago before a pandemic was on anybody's mind had envisaged a need for.

So, those are some examples, I think. But there's no way that we meet the objective of, in a sense, wrestling the pandemic to ground and ending deaths from the pandemic in the near term, if it's just governments in this conversation. So, governments, foundations, high net worth individuals, there's a place for you in there. If people are interested in following up on oxygen, on PPE, on any aspect of this, or on other expertise, maybe we're not thinking about the right way. I set up a COVID Task Force here that is run by Jeremy Konyndyk. So, he would be the best person with Eric Postel, a former senior USAID deputy, who's done a terrific job, really thinking through the private sector piece as well.

MODERATOR: Okay, so I want to step back a little bit. And I think people would be interested to understand, sort of, your thought process and priorities. I mean, you had talked about USAID and all the things that are going on in the world, just a huge amount of things to do. In your remarks, you talked about four interconnected gargantuan challenges: COVID-19, climate change, conflict/state collapse, and democratic backsliding. You know, there are also issues we just mentioned about food security, education, women's rights, global health. I mean, that's huge. So, how do you prioritize all of this? And I think people would want to know how you see all of this. And you want to do everything, but it's really difficult to do so. So what's your response to that?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah, I mean, it's not easy. I mean, first, I'll say that the internal reform agenda at USAID is also, which would not be as obvious perhaps. But trying to ensure that we have a more diverse workforce, which is something that didn't get a lot of attention over many years. We actually have our most diverse Foreign Service class coming in now -- and just bringing, I mean, just such different backgrounds, recruiting from different places. I just launched an MOU with Delaware State University on Monday of this week. Because they're doing all this cutting-edge research on water safety and food safety in a microbiology department. We have had research partnerships with all kinds of universities, but we've never really, until this year, moved out with historically black colleges and universities.

And then this will surprise, maybe, some people, but USAID's, a lot of our resources, the vast majority have tended not to go to local organizations. And there's a set of reasons for that that have to do with compliance again, with the regulatory requirements of working with USAID. Another distinction, I hope, with working with foundations.. Please, whatever red tape or bureaucracy you have, shear it--because you can. I will do everything in my power to do the same, but there are slightly more constraints on me. But the result has been that actually local organizations, the organizations that we most want to see sustained into the future, actually haven't been able to. They don't have the accounting or the general counsel or the people to help them comply with so many of these paperwork burdens and requirements. So we have to improve the balance between funding international organizations and those local partners, who are the ones who are the most plugged into their communities over time and into the future. And then again, speed and nimbleness, and trying to work with Congress to get some more flexibility of funding. Because the crises that we're thinking about today, and maybe appropriating around today, aren't necessarily even going to be the ones a year from now. And so is there some way to create more and more flexible means of actually deploying USAID's resources. And the U.S. government's, out in the real world.

So, that's, I think, just important because you have to, just as you do at your foundations, you have to think institutionally to try to set yourself up for success programmatically. So given the extreme poverty now that is befalling people who had actually pulled themselves up out of very difficult circumstances. There is just the basic need to combine the emergency assistance that we've been providing for conflict around the world. And unfortunately, new conflicts that just a year ago started in Tigray, in Ethiopia, don't help matters there. And then the burning conflicts that persist in Yemen, Syria. And then the new needs that have arisen in Afghanistan, commensurate to the flight of people, but also just to the collapse of the economy. So, just the humanitarian emergency share of what USAID is. I mean, in an ideal world, I'd love to be doing only development, right, only investing in ways that are going to empower people to improve their own circumstances.

So, there's that piece of it. That we are seeking to adjust the way we provide humanitarian assistance so that it takes more account of the fact that often people are chronically displaced and not just temporarily displaced. So, it becomes that continuum between humanitarian developments is very important. And then you named all the key priorities, and climate touches every single aspect of what USAID does around the world. COVID touches every single aspect; and the governance crisis and the backsliding on human rights make governments less accountable to their people in managing either the economic fallout and the inequalities associated with COVID and climate or the crises themselves.

So, again given food insecurity, our investments in Feed the Future are going to be expanded, not reduced. And given the disparate effects of the pandemic on women and the great revealer that it is where pre existing inequities have been exacerbated. There, too, we're looking at how we make women the first port of call for providing microfinance, doing an agricultural program, and so forth.

MODERATOR: So, I want to be sensitive to your time. Thank you so much for taking time out. I have one last question. I think people would really be interested. I mean you've had two leadership positions now in the U.S. government, and you wrote a book about sort of how your expectations of you and how you change by your service and how it changed how you looked at the world and what government can do. So, you have been the U.S. Ambassador to UN, now Administrator of USAID; both are similar in that they require diplomacy and a focus on prioritizing U.S. interests. Can you take a moment, just a few minutes that we've got and that you have, to talk about effective U.S. leadership in the world and how have these two roles shaped your views, or maybe changed them?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: It's a great question. When I was at the United Nations, when it came to doing everything from building the anti-Ebola coalition, to supporting John Kerry as he shepherded the Paris Agreement through to completion. To supporting John Kerry while he shepherded the JCPOA, to try to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions through to completion. I mean, none of those initiatives would have happened absent the U.S. being the catalytic player. And things are different now, not only because of some of what transpired on the American side and walking away from, for example, Paris, and the JCPOA. And I heard President Biden describe the question he sometimes gets when he says America's back, and then occasionally somebody will say, for how long? And so that just creates a different negotiating environment. And certainly, we see that.

But I know for my counterparts when I convene a ministerial on Tigray, you know, where you might say, well, the UN can do that. Well, the UN can; but at the UN as well, there are other forces at work that can really make it difficult. For example, to get a consensus around even just a public statement. I mean, it's been really hard to get the atrocities and the starvation that's occurring in Tigray on the agenda of the Security Council. To even have a meeting has been hard. And that's getting harder. And so international institutions, as you well know, it's harder to mobilize them. There are more actors, including but not limited to China, that are running interference on behalf of governments. That are cracking down on their people and just have the, nope, don't interfere in the internal affairs kind of mantra on standby. And that makes those institutions less impactful than they were, even when I was there.

But that said, as the COVID Summit shows, as I hope you're going to see at COP as well. As you see the United States fielding this team across USTR and USDA. And, of course, USAID and the private sector players from the United States and the foundations there who've been investing in mitigation and adaptation, well before the U.S. government began to scale these efforts. We are still the country where Moderna and Pfizer, you know, got made and got distributed more quickly initially than anyplace else. We are still the country giving away vaccines. And it never even occurring to us to sell them when countries are in their hour of need. And we are still the country of reconciliation negotiations, And God willing, that we'll be taking ambitious and aggressive action domestically that positions us for the right kind of leadership internationally.

So, I think maybe, that would be where I would end, which is to say that the links between our humility around human rights and democracy which is certainly greater now than it might have been. It probably should have always been as what it is now. But nonetheless, the scares that we have had and continue to have. The misinformation, the kinds of issues that we have raised continually and globally to have those issues surface--that has a bearing on how we talk about democracy, human rights, transparency, and anti-corruption internationally. And it should. And I actually don't think it has weakened our voice. I think it's created more of a sense of being on the same side of a really difficult set of challenges. But in the climate area, and the COVID area, and the agricultural innovation area, those areas, what America's competence and innovation and ingenuity, and including our foundations, which are an example most of them exist because of the ingenuity of somebody in, you know, in some family or on some tracks, I mean, that is still something that people around the world are just hungering to partner with and to take advantage of. And that's what I see as USAID Administrator is just, okay. Now let's get talking. How do we solve these problems? It's that problem-solving ambition and then the ability to bring not just our government, but the rest of you for the knowledge that all of you are coming on your own paths, and sometimes alongside us.

MODERATOR: Okay, so we've run out of time, Ambassador Samantha Power. Thank you so much for making the time to be with us. We know how busy you are. And we thank you for all that you're doing for this country. It's good work around the world.

Global Philanthropy Forum
Share This Page