Remarks at a Swearing-In Ceremony for Dr. Rajiv Shah as USAID Administrator

Thursday, January 7, 2010
Swearing-In Ceremony

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon. (Applause.) It is so wonderful to be here for this occasion. As some of you know, I’ve been in this room before in the last year expressing a certain level of anxiety and frustration. All of that is behind us as we not only celebrate a new year, but have the great honor and privilege of formally swearing in our new Administrator for USAID.

There are so many distinguished guests here. I know there are members of the Diplomatic Corps, and we thank you and welcome you. There are certainly many members from the State Department and even the White House and other agencies who work with and support the vital assistance that USAID represents. There are two people, though, that I want especially to recognize. One of them is a strong supporter of the State Department, of USAID, someone who has, throughout his public career, in a bipartisan fashion, shown real leadership and understanding of the foreign policy of our country and has been a real champion on so many of the important issues facing the United States. And that is Senator Richard Lugar from Indiana. (Applause.)

I have a fellow Cabinet colleague whom I must thank and acknowledge because I had to make a phone call to him a few months ago. And he’s a dear, dear friend of mine, and it was early in the morning, and it was to ask Secretary Vilsack if he would mind if I nominated Raj Shah to be the USAID Administrator. And there was this long silence on the other end because some of you know that Raj was serving as an Under Secretary in the Department of Agriculture, but Secretary Vilsack gave us, if not his blessing, his understanding. And for that, we are very grateful. And Tom Vilsack is one of the great leaders of our country, and I’m so grateful to you. (Applause.)

There are many people to thank who have helped to make this moment possible. I especially want to thank Alonzo Fulgham. Alonzo – (applause) – served as Acting Administrator of USAID over many months of transition with distinction. We are so grateful for his dedication and service. And I’m especially grateful to the family, the friends, the colleagues in the family of USAID for your patience, for your fortitude, and for your commitment to the work that you do every single day.

It is also a wonderful pleasure to welcome and acknowledge members of Raj’s family. His wife, Shivam, his son, Sajan, and his daughter Amna, along with other relatives, friends and colleagues who are here with us, we thank you for serving with Raj, because it is a family commitment with all that lies ahead of us in the months and years of the Obama Administration.

I know it’s been a long wait to have a new Administrator named, and it took even longer to get him confirmed and sworn in, but it has been worth the wait, because in Dr. Raj Shah, we have a passionate, visionary, experienced development expert at the helm. And I am so thrilled that he will provide the leadership that is needed today as we not only work in partnership on so many of the issues that we care deeply about, but that we continue to elevate the role of development in our foreign policy.

Yesterday, I was privileged to give a speech that I had been waiting to give until we had an Administrator – so I was especially pleased that that day came – in which we outlined our new approach to development, our commitment to rebuilding AID as the premier development agency in the world, bar none. (Applause.) When I finished my speech, someone came up and whispered to me, “Does Raj know what he’s getting into – (laughter) – how much work he has ahead of him?” I said, oh, he totally gets it, and he is more than ready.

There is no doubt that we are going to be taking on an enormous agenda. But we don’t have a choice. We’re working on major initiatives on food security and global health, we’re pursuing new ways and making a greater commitment to women and girls, we’re expanding partnerships not only with governments and multilateral institutions, but with the private sector, the NGOs and civil society and the faith community. And we’re undertaking the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review through the State Department and USAID. Alonzo has been co-chairing that. Raj will now co-chair it.

And it takes an exceptional person to walk into this with his eyes wide open and to embrace the multitude of challenges that we face. Someone who understands the mission of USAID, who understands the courage and commitment of the men and women who we ask to spend long hours, often away from family and home in difficult places serving our country. And it takes a leader who knows that our AID workers make these sacrifices because you too believe in the power of development to improve lives and advance America’s goals and values around the world.

I believe Dr. Raj Shah will be the transformational leader that USAID has been waiting for. One only needs to ask his wife Shivam the lengths to which Raj will go to achieve important goals. After all, this is a man who flew to India for one day to propose to her at the Taj Mahal when she was traveling there alone. (Laughter.) This is also a man – (applause) – who summated the 14,400-foot Mount Rainier, one of the most difficult climbs in the continental United States. And it combines the challenges of an unforgiving glacier with the unpredictability of an active volcano. That may be the best preparation Raj has for working in Washington these days. (Laughter.)

So he brings determination and an unwavering belief that anything is possible. Yet he also brings the humility and quiet confidence instilled by his family. He also carries with him the enduring images of his first trip to India as a boy with his parents, both immigrants from that country, where he saw that nation’s rich history and diversity, but also saw human suffering on a scale that inspired him to action then and continues to inspire him now.

He brings a wealth of experiences – a degree in medicine, a degree in business, his tenure at the Gates Foundation, at USDA. He did groundbreaking work in each place along the way, helping to transform the global system of vaccine financing. And he has the support of those who have worked with him along the way. I received a 10-page, single-spaced, typed list of people who were willing to go to bat for Raj in the Senate with respect to confirmation – names of giants in the field of not only development, but diplomacy, public service, the private sector, the foundation world, here at home and internationally as well.

So it is with great gratitude, delight, and relief that – (laughter) – I welcome you officially, Raj, to this new job. And if you’re ready, I am really excited about swearing you in. If you will join me, and if your family will join us as well.

(The Oath of Office was administered.)

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.

Ronald Reagan Building, Washington, DC