Dr. Rajiv Shah led the efforts of nearly 10,000 staff in more than 70 countries around the world to advance USAID’s mission of ending extreme poverty and promoting resilient, democratic societies.
Under Dr. Shah’s leadership, USAID applied innovative technologies and engaged the private sector to solve the world’s most intractable development challenges. This new model of development brings together an increasingly diverse community—from large companies to local civil society groups to communities of faith—to deliver meaningful results.
Dr. Shah led President Obama’s landmark Feed the Future and Power Africa initiatives and has refocused America’s global health partnerships to end preventable child death. Feed the Future, alone, has improved nutrition for 12 million children and empowered more than 7 million farmers with climate-smart tools they need to grow their way out of extreme poverty. In April 2014, USAID launched the U.S. Global Development Lab to harness the expertise of the world’s brightest scientists, students, and entrepreneurs. At the same time, the newly formed Private Capital Group for Development forges a more strategic relationship between private capital and development.
Dr. Shah also managed the U.S. Government’s humanitarian response to catastrophic crises around the world, from the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
Through an extensive set of reforms called “USAID Forward,” Dr. Shah worked with the United States Congress to transform USAID into the world’s premier development Agency that prioritizes public-private partnerships, innovation, and meaningful results. He currently serves on the boards of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, as well as participates on the National Security Council.
Previously, Dr. Shah served as Undersecretary and Chief Scientist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he created the National Institute for Food and Agriculture. Prior to joining the Obama Administration, he spent eight years at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he led efforts in global health, agriculture, and financial services, including the creation of the International Finance Facility for Immunization.
He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and the Wharton School of Business. He regularly appears in the media and has delivered keynote addresses before the U.S. Military Academy, the National Prayer Breakfast, and diverse audiences across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Dr. Shah was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He has served as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, been named to Fortune’s 40 Under 40, and has received multiple honorary degrees.
He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife Shivam Mallick Shah and three children and has given up mountain climbing for family bicycle rides.
Since the dawn of humanity, extreme poverty has crowded at the heels of progress—stifling hopes and undermining growth across the centuries. Today, we stand within reach of a world that was simply once unimaginable: a world without extreme poverty.
In the United States, with a dollar-and-a-quarter in your pocket, you can buy a bottle of water or a pack of gum. But for 1.2 billion people around the world, this is all they live on every day. No matter how much you adjust for the relative price of local commodities, a dollar-and-a-quarter is a desperately meager sum—and with it families must make daily choices among food, medicine, housing, and education. Every decision is a trade-off with potentially catastrophic consequences. Do you buy medicines for a sick parent, provide an evening meal for your children, or put a few pennies away towards a new roof or next year’s school fees?
This is what we call extreme poverty.
The race to the skies helped build a constellation of satellites that provided the data we used last week to help move hundreds of thousands of people out of harm’s way in the Philippines, and the invention of the computer chip and ARPANET, fundamentally a public/private enterprise, helped create a flourishing valley of entrepreneurs throughout our country but in particular in Silicon Valley, that have demonstrated to the world that it’s possible to envision an entirely different future, profit from it, and also make sure that it reaches the farthest corners of the globe quickly. But today, our innovation economy must expand and change even more rapidly to an important, emerging new trend, and that trend is that the middle class around us is changing dramatically.
For centuries, less than 1 percent of the world’s population enjoyed the privilege of a little bit of extra money in their pocket. By 1990, the global middle class numbered 1.8 billion people, but still mostly living in North America, Europe, and Japan. Over the last two decades, growth in emerging economies has turned billions of people into producers and consumers—creating both opportunity and challenges for the United States.
In a recent speech at Duke University, USAID Administrator Raj Shah told an audience that to provide food security for the 860 million people who go to bed hungry every night and to set communities on a path from dependency to resilience, we need new solutions and that means, quote, “not only working with long-standing research partners like Kansas State and Virginia Tech to develop new drought-tolerant seeds, but also harnessing the private sector to scale them.”
In this short quote, Administrator Shah encapsulates two important ideas – and these ideas are the backdrop for my remarks today – our relationship with institutions of higher education is long-standing, special and has been, and will continue to be, critical to global development. But also, times are changing, the challenges are enormous, and the ever-expanding constellation of actors mandates that we approach our partnership differently.
I speak today to honor the important role that social workers can fulfill. In many countries including my own, social workers are recognized for the invaluable work they do with vulnerable children and people who are poor, disabled, or suffer disadvantages. They work in our schools, our hospitals, our prisons, and our government. The International Federation of Social Workers describes social work as an effort to “address the barriers, inequities and injustices that exist in society.” What is more vital and laudable than that? Celebrating Social Work day is one way of recognizing the contributions of social workers around the world.
Social work as a profession in Vietnam is relatively new. You know the need to quickly increase the number of trained social workers. According to recent figures from MOLISA there are 6 million people with disabilities, nearly 3 million poor families and about 1.5 million children orphaned, abandoned, or who are victims of violence, abuse, or neglect. Within Vietnamese communities there are victims of family violence, drug and alcohol abuse, HIV/AIDS and homelessness. Their care and social and economic inclusion would be made easier through the attention of social work services.
We belong to an Agency that was founded on the simple and extraordinary premise that American prosperity and security can be achieved through human progress. That by ending poverty abroad, we could brighten the future of Americans at home. In the fifty years since USAID was founded, we have seen how human ingenuity and partnership has solved some of our greatest challenges.
According to the World Bank, in 1980, roughly half the population in the developing world lived in extreme poverty; that number is 1 in 5 today. The MDG target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline. Maternal mortality rates have been nearly halved since 1990. The number of children who die before the age of five is half of what it was in 1990. And we are in reach of meeting the MDG target of cutting world hunger in half by 2015.
There has also been a revolution underway in the development world, with a burst of new creative partnerships, bringing government, NGOs and the private sector together in ways that bring new ideas, new technologies, new investment, and greater scale to help solve stubborn problems.
At USAID we have been seized with the challenge of transforming the agency into a modern development enterprise. Under the leadership of USAID Administrator Raj Shah, we have put partnership, technology and innovation at the heart of how we do business. We are renovating systems and increasing our ability to gather evidence and understand results.
The goal of USAID’s support to technology in Cambodia is to bring tangible benefits to citizens and effect positive change through improved communications and access to information. I hope that as you participate in the BarCamp, you will consider how you can combine your skills, what you learn here, and emerging technologies to contribute to a brighter future for Cambodia. This is a chance for Cambodia to become, in the words of USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, “a country that believes that dedication and innovation are the only things needed to bridge the gap between the inconceivable and the achievable.”
Our experience both here in Vietnam and globally is that a vibrant civil society sector is essential to connecting individuals facing the greatest HIV risks to lifesaving services. Thanks to the critical efforts of many of the civil society organizations represented here today, thousands of people in Vietnam are living happier, healthier, and more productive lives.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your contributions, and to say how proud USAID is of its history of support to building the organizational, technical, and advocacy capacity of civil society in Vietnam. With donor support, civil society organizations in Vietnam are increasingly at the forefront of delivering relevant, high-quality, and low-cost HIV services to those who need them most.
This morning, I was reflecting on President Obama’s recent visit to South Africa—a visit that so many here were a part of: chance to visit Robben Island, a chance to speak at a state dinner in Pretoria and to meet with so many amazing leaders from South Africa and across the continent. President Obama told us all multiple times that his own personal commitment to a life of service and the fight for justice was born initially out of his efforts to organize students to fight against apartheid and on behalf of President Mandela while he was in school.
In his toast at a state dinner, President Obama described the concept that’s so familiar to all of you of “Ubuntu,” noting that this is a word that does not translate easily into English but defines the sense that all of humanity is bound together in ways unseen. We don’t often have moments of coming together and respecting Ubuntu as we do in this very special moment here today.
Last updated: March 26, 2015