Remarks by Administrator Rajiv Shah at Howard University

Monday, October 15, 2012
Administrator Shah at Howard University
Patricia Adams, USAID

Remarks as Prepared

For generations, Howard University has been a vital and committed presence in the global development community.

Your emphasis on advancing human welfare led to the founding of the PACE Center and advancing a pharmaceutical industry that is attentive to the needs of the most vulnerable.

Your emphasis on STEM—science, technology, engineering, and medicine—has helped answer the President’s call to harness the power of innovation and expand the realm of what is possible in development. 

And your emphasis on international and cultural learning has sent students around the world to exchange ideas and share expertise.

This past summer, the Howard University chapter of Engineers Without Borders deployed to Kenya, where they helped establish rainwater harvesting and bio-sand treatment systems for villages in a tea farming community.

And this past year, you named six Fulbright students—the largest class ever—including Sheena Hall, who will be helping women in India learn the basics of entrepreneurship and Camille McCAllister, who will be studying health interventions in Maori communities in New Zealand.

This sense of service and commitment is not limited to the University’s walls, but is carried in the careers and futures of every Howard alumnus.

I know, because I see it for myself every day at USAID, where aluma Denise Rollins serves as senior deputy assistant administrator and oversees programs in 22 countries, from Kazakhstan to India and Bangladesh; where alumnus Creighton Lee provides support as a human resource specialist to thousands of staff who serve in Washington and around the world; where Keith Crawford serves as a democracy specialist, helping strengthen accountable institutions and advance the aspirations of citizens; and where alumni Patrice Lee and Jimmie Curtis serve as contract specialists, ensuring that our partnerships build the capacity of local communities to direct their own development.

Today, Howard University is an instrumental partner in USAID programs around the world. Through the HIV/AIDS Initiative Nigeria—the largest of its kind in Africa—USAID and Howard University have helped support routine HIV screening programs and strengthened clinical management for people living with HIV/AIDS.

And through our work on the ROADS project, we have focused prevention and treatment on hot-spot communities along the transport corridor in East and Central Africa. Today, that project has grown to cover 45 sites in 13 countries—from South Sudan to Zambia.

This proud legacy—of harnessing the power of research to improve our world—is something that each of you is a part of in the Howard Community. And it’s needed now more than ever— as we address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

We know that powerful demographic shifts are underway that will add billions of people in the settings least able to handle their needs. We know that climate change is real—and temperatures will grow warmer, rains more erratic, and droughts more vicious, putting disproportionate pressure on developing countries and the global poor.

And we know that these issues will be increasingly intertwined with extreme poverty and conflict, as we see in the reality that Yemen’s capital Sana’a could become the first city in the world to run out of water.

But we also know that our opportunity to resolve these challenges has never been greater.

In the last few years, social media has helped turn authoritarianism on its head across the Middle East. New technologies have transformed the lives of millions. And private investment in emerging economies now dwarfs official development assistance.

Thanks to partnerships with path-breaking institutions like Howard, we now have unique opportunities today to solve our challenges and realize incredible end-state goals—goals that will fundamentally change the world we live in and brighten the future of generations to come.

Consider three goals that are achievable today that have not been in the past

First, we believe we can end preventable child death and get nearly all children reading in their classrooms. In the last 50 years, the world has reduced child mortality by 70 percent. Now despite this progress, every year 6.9 million children die before they celebrate their fifth birthday.

And in the last decade, we’ve increased school attendance by 50 percent. But even though many more of our kids attend school, less than half will learn basic skills at grade level. That’s why we joined UNICEF and the Governments of India and Ethiopia to host a Call to Action in Child Survival to help rally the world around the goal of ending preventable child death.

And our new approach to education prioritizes reading outcomes, so we can be sure that our children are actually learning in classrooms.

Second, if we accelerate poverty-reduction efforts, we can reduce extreme poverty by 90 percent.

This isn’t fiction. Between 2005 and 2008, overall headcount poverty fell in every region of the world—including Africa—for the first time in history.

This effort to essentially eliminate extreme poverty begins in our farms and our fields, where we can unlock extraordinary economic growth through agricultural development. Because we know that agricultural growth is up to three times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors.

And third, within a generation, we can help transition nearly all democracies with a bare minimum of democratic trappings to complete democracies, where all citizens can participate in their government, fight corruption, and enjoy equal protection under the law.

In 1974, nearly 75 percent of the world was defined by authoritarian rule. If we stay committed, we could flip the scale to realize a world where 75 percent of countries will be democracies—and 90 percent of those will enjoy the full rule of law and accountable institutions.

Taken together we can ensure that a more interconnected world is defined by greater opportunities instead of rising threats.

But just setting these goals and envisioning this future doesn’t make it real. We need to provide a path there.

We have to move beyond a top-down institutionally driven model of development and create a new model that brings tens of thousands of new people into our efforts to realize these goals: Everyone from big private sector companies, like Citi and Wal-Mart to individual student organizations right here on campuses—like Howard’s Freshmen Leadership Academy.

Today at USAID, we are increasingly focused on harnessing the creativity and expertise of this broad development community to solve challenges that were once thought intractable.

We call it “open source development,” and it reflects our desire to literally open development to problem-solvers everywhere—from students on campus to CEOs of major corporations.

Universities are actually one of my favorite places to talk about open source development, because I know you guys get it. You grew up in a world where real-time information and good ideas aren’t the privilege of an elite few but actually belong to everyone with a phone in their pocket.

I call it the “Kiva-world” where a student from anywhere can go online and choose the individual dairy farmer she wants to support in Bangladesh and offer that farmer a $25 loan. That dairy farmer can then invest in her business, vaccinate her animals, improve her feedstock, and track milk output and local prices through her mobile phone.  

In an open source development model, inventors around the world could observe that her biggest challenge is getting the milk to a chilling facility before it spoils and could invent new forms of “on-farm” ultra-pasteurization that could solve that problem for her and others.

If we’re going to tackle our greatest challenges, then we have to employ a much bigger definition of development to get us there. In fact, in the last few years, some of our best ideas have come from young people outside the traditional development community.

Through our Development Innovation Ventures fund, we’re investing in a team of young graduates who started a company called EGG-Energy to provide off-grid electricity to homes across Tanzania. They call it the “Netflix Solution”—low-income families rent out portable, rechargeable, affordable batteries to power their homes for five nights at a time.

In Tanzania, where 90 percent of people lack access to electricity—but 80 percent live within 5 kilometers of the power grid—this could be a unique solution to a pervasive problem in development.

The truth is—you are part of an incredible generation of young people. On campuses across the country and the world, you’re expressing a surge of interest in tackling global challenges, oversubscribing courses on public health, international education, global politics and development economics.

And at USAID, we are working hard to support and engage this enthusiasm.

That is why it is my honor and privilege today to announce the Payne Fellowship Program, an extraordinary program that will honor the memory of Congressman Payne by supporting the next generation of leaders in global development.

With two fellowships valued at up to $45,000 annually for two years, the program will provide opportunities throughout the students’ graduate studies, including two summer internships—the first working on international issues for a member of Congress and the second with an USAID mission overseas.; as well as consistent and supportive mentoring throughout the fellowship program and into early employment. 

After receiving degrees in subjects relevant to development today and meeting the requisite standards, the Payne Fellows will be welcomed with appointments as new Foreign Service Officers for USAID.

The Fellowship begins accepting applications today through January 23rd—and you can learn more by visiting I encourage you to pass the word to your friends and apply. 

The Fellowship program is a unique and important example of how USAID is engaging the talents of young people, while building a diverse and creative workforce.

A range of perspective, skills, backgrounds, and experiences forms the very backbone of our Agency and enables us to effectively respond to varied global challenges. That is why we created an online space for young people everywhere to deepen their engagement in development. 

It’s called USAID Fall Semester—and if you visit, you’ll see three buttons that say “serve,” “solve,” and “join” the conversation about development. And by clicking on any of the three, you’ll be able to access opportunities and resources tailored just for students.

If you’re a freshman and you’re looking for your first internship, we have a list of opportunities. If you’re working on your senior project, and you need some information about one of our projects, you can access a wealth of information that we’re opening up and making easier to use. You can even use an iPhone or iPad app to read third-party evaluations of our work.

If you have a great idea and are looking to help solve the toughest challenges in development, we list all competitions and prizes we offer. We want your ideas—whether it’s for a new mobile app to connect families separated in a crisis or a new learning tool that helps teachers track the progress of their students.

And if you simply want to join the conversation with development professionals—and help us do our jobs better, we now have a one-stop-shop for all our engagement tools, including Facebook, Twitter, and a brand new tool we launched just this week through crowd-hall called Ask the Administrator—so that you can get your questions answered.

Now this one website isn’t going to do it all. We know that federal government is still a tough thing to get your arms around. But this one website is our effort to break down the walls of bureaucracy and open up development for you.

I joined USAID determined to bring a business-like focus on results, based on the premise that if we can show and deliver great results, Americans will support us.

For the last few years, many of us in development have continued to spend tremendous energy on improving our effectiveness—and it’s working. We’re choosing to do smart things, focusing on key competencies and appropriate roles. We measure relentlessly, inviting cold hard facts to challenge our warm, fuzzy assumptions. We become hard-nosed in pursuit of soft goals, and in doing so, we have often invoked the ideal of “How They Do It In The Private Sector.”

I recently had the chance to meet with several business leaders and CEOs, and set out to take notes and learn what new methods we might be able to borrow and adapt for our work.

But what has surprised me is the central and powerful place that some exceedingly soft ideas have in these hard analyses. Forging common purpose and shared values. Meaningful work. Deep respect for others. A sense of being part of something bigger than oneself. These deeply personal and important issues.

Development attracts many of the best students, brightest minds, and strongest spirits. Open source development can help keep all of us inspired by offering the true reward of being successful – combining productivity with meaning.

When you bring your expertise, your ideas, your ingenuity to the task; when you can see that something you’re learning in a classroom is helping communities withstand natural disasters or when you commit yourself to a career in the service of others—those are deeply rewarding results for you, and millions of people everywhere.

Thank you.

Howard University, Washington, DC