Remarks by Deputy Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt at the Office of Transition Initiatives 20th Anniversary Celebration

Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Deputy Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt at the Office of Transition Initiatives 20th Anniversary Celebration


Thank you to The Center for Strategic and International Studies, for hosting and coordinating this event. CSIS facilitates important opportunities for ideas to percolate—and produces great opportunities for results to take place.

In particular, I’d like to thank my good friend and mentor John Hamre—President and CEO of CSIS—and Bob Lamb, Senior Fellow at CSIS, for his support. 

Thanks as well to Ambassador William Swing, who has led the International Organization for Migration for years and been a steadfast partner for USAID.

And thank you to USAID leadership, in particular Nancy Lindborg, our Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, for her past four years of leadership of the bureau.

In the aftermath of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall—and amid dramatic political transition across Eastern Europe—we created OTI to deliver rapid assistance to the most vulnerable communities.

Today, OTI’s legacy of success now stretches through 60 countries across the globe:

From communities in Colombia free of the devastation of illicit drug trafficking…

…To rural clinics in Rwanda saving thousands of children from malaria and malnutrition…

…To vibrant schools in Indonesia, where a new generation of entrepreneurs, doctors, and engineers are preparing to lead their country towards a more prosperous tomorrow, for all of their citizens.

Across the globe, OTI lays the foundation for a brighter future—at a time when things are perhaps the most bleak.

This work takes more than expertise.

It takes a boundless dedication to our Agency’s mission of ending extreme poverty and promoting resilient, democratic societies—all while displaying unwavering courage in the face of immediate danger.

It’s no surprise that OTI is often referred to as the “First Team” in USAID’s development response.

Today, we’re here to not only celebrate a landmark anniversary for OTI, but reflect on the lessons we’ve learned over two decades of working in the most complex and dangerous environments.

OTI has pioneered a new model of development—harnessing critical reforms, cutting-edge innovation, and local leadership to deliver real results.

In the late 90’s, OTI helped establish a robust political dialogue in post-war Kosovo that helped stabilize the country.

In the years following September 11th, OTI worked alongside our military colleagues to counter extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

And, in the wake of the Arab Spring, OTI worked with civil society and new political leaders in places like Tunisia and Libya to draft new constitutions, elect fair leaders, and give citizens a true voice in their nascent democracies.

Time and again, OTI has demonstrated that it is one of the world’s leading authorities on helping countries rebuild after devastating conflict.

Yet even in dynamic and dangerous situations, OTI excels at doing development from the bottom-up—tailoring solutions to the needs of the communities it serves.

While OTI has special authorities that allow them to move into the field quickly, the key ingredient to its success is an organizational culture based on rapid response and incredible flexibility.

Unlike a typical contract, which may be based on inputs—like the number of trucks purchased or staff hired…

…Or outputs—like the completion of an irrigation channel—the deliverables in OTI’s contracts are flexible, able to turn the focus of a project on a dime if necessary.

But, above all, it is committed to transparency and real, measurable results.

That’s why OTI hires independent local monitoring teams, trains them in quality control and impact evaluation, and deploys them to keep a watchful eye over implementing partners.

And it’s why OTI also forms local partnerships with civil society—from women’s rights advocates in Tunisia, to tribal leaders in Afghanistan—that improve the impact and sustainability of our efforts.

Simply put, OTI is an incubator—one that empowers citizens to capitalize on their ambitions to create free, democratic societies.

But as you know, the world we live in today is markedly different from 1994. It is one of constant change and transformation.

Citizens use hashtags—not snail mail—to organize demonstrations. Politicians host town halls in virtual video chats, not in community centers.

That’s why—back in 2010—Secretary Clinton and Administrator Shah asked OTI to grow in size.

Today, as we deal with an unprecedented array of global crises, that investment is paying dividends for millions of families on the brink.

In Syria—where there are more than 6 million people displaced—OTI has delivered life-saving assistance.

It has provided 10 emergency shelters, as well as 95 trucks and ambulances, to help local authorities give emergency care for innocent bystanders fleeing unspeakable violence.

In Afghanistan, OTI deployed 40 international election observers from 22 countries to oversee the recount of eight million ballots.

Not only did the election go off without incident, but it ushered in Afghanistan's first democratic transition of power.

And in Honduras, OTI trained squads of local leaders on identifying and rooting out threats to their community’s security.

It even provided geo-spatial mapping technology, so citizens can track the outbreak of violence in real-time, and alert authorities before it spreads.

But tackling challenges like Ebola and extremism require not only hard work—it demands a forward-thinking approach that taps into the best tools, technologies, and talent.

As innovation has transformed the field of development, OTI has stayed on the cutting-edge—working in the most fragile places, with the most advanced tools.

In Haiti, OTI has trained 90 young innovators on open-source mapping and data collection, empowering them to create the country’s first crowd-sourced map.

This will do more than improve the efficiency and transparency of aid delivery—it will empower entrepreneurs to launch new businesses, create jobs, and get their products to a global market.

And in Afghanistan, OTI is conducting a groundbreaking data analysis project.

It is combining big-data surveys with on-the-ground observations to create our most precise picture of the country in years—and anticipate vulnerabilities in the critical years ahead.

Whether OTI is helping build a vibrant civil society in Burma or empowering citizens to participate in their own government in Ukraine, its service and expertise represent the very best of American foreign policy.

Because while we can work in active conflict—or help countries transition from violence—the most important thing we can do is prevent conflict in the first place.

As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates once said: “Development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”

Across the world, OTI works hard to ensure that an inspiring expression of democracy does not lead to yet another bout of bloodshed.

But we’re not just avoiding future military involvement; we’re also expressing American values.

When schoolchildren can focus on their homework with their bellies full and smiles on their faces, they embody American values.

When famers can grow strong yields and ship them to profitable markets, they embody American values.

And, when community leaders can bring together citizens to rally around stability and broad-based economic growth, they embody American values.

These are just a few examples of OTI’s legacy that points to the broader impact of USAID’s work in the global community.

Thank you for your kind attention, and I look forward to our discussion today.

Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC