Dr. Rajiv Shah
Ronald Reagan Building
January 7, 2010
1:30 pm EST
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Thank you very much.
When I began preparing my remarks for today, I asked my wife, Shivam, for advice.
She told me — when you get on stage and everyone is cheering for Secretary Clinton, just pretend they’re cheering for you.
Shivam, thank you for all of your good advice, but of course for so much more.
Secretary Clinton, thank you for your moving words and gracious introduction.
We’re fortunate to have a Secretary of State with such passion, knowledge and commitment – born from decades of personal dedication to this cause. Madame Secretary, I speak for all of us here in saying we are inspired and honored by your powerful example.
Secretary Vilsack, thank you for being here. It has been a great privilege to serve this Administration at the Department of Agriculture, and I will remain deeply committed to the work we began to strengthen science and improve nutrition, wellness and food security in our nation and around the globe.
When the opportunity to join USAID presented itself, you encouraged me to follow my passion – and it is my passion for development that brings me here today.
I would also like to thank Senator Lugar for joining us. Thank you Senator, for your leadership, guidance and support.
I also want to thank Alonzo Fulgham for his outstanding work as Acting Administrator and his tireless advocacy on behalf of development and the people of USAID.
It’s nice to see so many friends of development and USAID with us today – our colleagues from the White House, State Department, Pentagon and other agencies, including the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the Congress. And it’s an honor to see so many of our valued partners – from partner governments, NGOs and the private sector.
I am also honored to be in the presence of our former Administrators – McPherson, Natsios, and Fore – who have left us such a strong legacy.
I have come to really believe in the African proverb that suggests “if you want to go fast, go alone – but if you want to go far, go together.”
We want to work together with all of you to go as far as our vision and talents will take us.
Yesterday, Secretary Clinton articulated a powerful call to action for us. Her charge builds on the President’s bold vision to embrace development as indispensable to American foreign policy.
As a result, we find ourselves at a unique moment of opportunity. A powerful consensus has formed across this government, at the highest levels, that development is vital to both our national security and the shared interests of an interconnected world.
And with a billion people living in hunger and with the growing threat of climate change, we know the scale and complexity of the challenges we face have grown. But our capacity to tackle these problems has never been greater.
This agency stands ready to seize this moment.
Now is the time for us to step up and deliver against the ambitious goals the President and Secretary have set for us:
* To improve lives and fight poverty,
* To expand human rights and economic opportunities,
* To build democratic institutions and improve governance –
* And, in the process, to advance U.S. foreign policy to enhance our own prosperity and security.
We know this will be hard. It will require us to make changes in how we operate and to hold ourselves to higher standards of partnership and accountability. Especially during these tough economic times, we have to demonstrate how we use precious tax dollars to achieve lasting results.
And yet, we take on this responsibility with great confidence – because our success lies in the hands of the talented, dedicated men and women who serve this country at USAID. I know we can do this, because of people like Dr. Julia Becker-Richards. She has dedicated her life to creating education and health opportunities for Guatemala’s Mayan population, at times facing great personal danger. She has changed the lives of thousands of people.
Dr. Becker-Richards demonstrated her resolve working as a Personal Services Contractor, and became part of the Development Leadership Initiative, which aims to double the size of USAID Foreign Service corps so we can effectively execute our mission.
I know we can meet our goals, because of people like Ms. Gartini Isa. In Indonesia, she helped to nurture a new generation of leaders willing to stand up for human rights. The seeds she helped to plant have grown Indonesia into one of Southeast Asia’s great democratic success stories. She was one of more than 4000 Foreign Service Nationals at the Agency whose service is essential to the success of our mission.
Last year, they were both awarded one of the agency’s highest honors, the John Withers Memorial Award.
Many of our development professionals have endured hardship. You have spent time away from your families, and even put your lives on the line to help others help themselves. In fact, forty percent of our Foreign Service Officers have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Sudan. Every time we enter this building for work, we pass a powerful display on the wall with the names of colleagues who have given their lives in service of our mission.
This personal courage and commitment to serve others is a side of America more people need to see. Our workers in the field are the face of America in the communities we serve. You embody America’s values and commitment to help lift up others along with ourselves.
Each of us has our own story to tell about the passion that brought us here. But each story speaks to a common belief: no matter how complex or daunting a challenge may seem, success is possible.
It is a belief founded not on idealism alone, but on our country’s heritage of turning crisis into progress.
This agency has helped to reduce poverty for millions of people and helped countries put themselves on the path to sustainable economic growth.
Through our work in health, including oral rehydration therapy and immunization, USAID has helped save millions of lives and contributed to the dramatic reduction of unnecessary child deaths around the world. Now, we have the opportunity, through the Global Health Initiative, to save millions more and create sustainable health systems so that hundreds of millions of people have the opportunity to lead healthy lives.
We helped spark an agricultural revolution that created the most dramatic increase in food production in history – and helped our partner countries in Asia prevent massive starvation. Now, we have the opportunity, through the Food Security Initiative, to reverse the unacceptable trend of increasing hunger in our world – and help tens of millions of people conquer extreme poverty through agricultural development.
And we’ve helped people advance democracy, human rights and good governance in places like Nepal, Ghana and Colombia, among others.
The lessons we have learned in all of these areas will be critical to our work going forward – in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.
But if we are to fulfill our charge of creating positive change throughout the world, we must be prepared to create change within our Agency.
The President and Secretary have both spoken about our need to pursue our work with partnership not patronage. And about a need to better coordinate our work within our own government and with public, private and multilateral partners. The role models of our field – from Norman Borlaug to Mohamed Yunus to Wangaari Maathai – used the power of their leadership to build partnerships that became global movements for change.
We need to rebuild the capacities USAID once had to analyze, plan, and invest strategically for the long term. And we need to develop new capabilities to pursue innovation, science and technology – and to better focus our programs on women and girls, who have the power to lift their families and communities out of poverty.
We need to change our business model – strengthening our in-house development expertise so we can use contracting more appropriately, and focusing our efforts on building the local capacity that is critical key to the sustainability of our efforts.
The object of our aid is to create the conditions where it is no longer needed, so that communities thrive, governance is strong, and schools and other institutions continue to operate long after we leave.
And most important, we must stay relentlessly focused on results. We have this unique opportunity to create massive improvement in the human condition – but to seize this opportunity, we have to do a better job establishing baseline data, measuring progress, being transparent about both our successes and our failures – learning from both and improving our approach as we go forward.
During the last few weeks, I’ve worked with many of you and admire your enthusiasm and courage. You have shared your ideas, and your excitement for our future gives me great confidence.
It’s through your creativity and commitment that USAID will honor our motto, “from the American people.” We do this not just by extending a helping hand, but sharing the hopefulness of the American Dream to people around the world – the mother who eats less so her children can eat more; the girl who risks her life to get an education; the entrepreneur who beats the odds to create a small business that employs his neighbors.
I remember seeing that dream at work in a remote village in South India. When I was in medical school, I volunteered in a poor tribal community. There in a one-room schoolhouse where children who didn’t speak our language, who didn’t enjoy our freedom from hunger and disease; but they could look up on the wall of their classroom and find inspiration in the portraits of their heroes – Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru — and our founder John F. Kennedy.
President Obama has called on us to “reach for the world that ought to be.”
We can seize this moment. If we have the courage to embrace new ways of doing business, we can lead this change.
I want to thank President Obama and Secretary Clinton for the opportunity to join you in this mission. I can’t wait to get started. Thank you very much.