Remarks by USAID Acting Administrator Alonzo L. Fulgham at the 46th Annual Islamic Society of North America Convention

Friday, July 3, 2009
46th Annual Islamic Society of North America Convention

Assalamu Alaikum.

I am honored to be with you today as the Islamic Society of North America gathers to discuss the ideals that bind us all together as Americans - the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

ISNA has, since its inception, striven to build bridges of understanding and cooperation between people of faith.

You represent the power of open dialogue to foster ideas and create change in our communities - from your civic engagement here at home, to your efforts to help those in need after the tsunami or in Darfur.

I speak to you today seeking to build on that spirit of collaboration through dialogue.

We are seeking to expand our outreach to Muslim Americans to preserve the inalienable rights of life and liberty, and to facilitate the pursuit of happiness in communities of faith around the world.

These rights are at the heart of the work of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

USAID is an independent agency of the U.S. Government that provides economic, development, and humanitarian assistance to improve the lives of people around the globe.

USAID provides funding to promote such things as economic growth, social welfare (including health and education), good governance, and disaster response in developing nations.

USAID's 2008 budget was nearly $19 billion dollars. These are your tax dollars and USAID is your agency - performing valuable work to help ensure that people around the world can claim the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that you and I enjoy as Americans.

USAID has missions in 35 countries with Muslim majority populations. Funding for these programs total more than $6.09 billion dollars.

With this large presence on the ground, USAID is a central player in the President's agenda to improve relations with Muslims around the world and to assist our partner nations in meeting their development goals.

As the President said in his June 4 Cairo address, the United States of America is seeking a new beginning in our relations with Muslims around the world. Our work begins here at home in our conversations with Muslim American communities around our shared interests and common goals.

A Koranic verse indicates that a people's condition will not improve until they undertake the work themselves and put in the effort to change. This self-determination is respected and practiced by Muslims looking for ways to make their lives and those of their families, communities, and nations more fulfilling and peaceful.

USAID helps to empower people by offering them the tools to create a better life and to guide the direction of their own countries.

Our goal is to foster greater prosperity by working in partnership with the people, governments, and organizations we serve in diverse communities throughout the world.

We recognize that development in Muslim communities must be carried out within the context, not only of Islam, but also of the particular country's social, economic, cultural, and political realities.

Our staff reflects the diversity of the American people, and is enriched by the contributions of Muslim Americans and Muslim Foreign Service Nationals serving at USAID.

We are a stronger institution for the expertise and outlook they bring to the U.S. Government.

USAID's professional recruitment strategy seeks to build a diverse work force where all can feel comfortable expressing their own religious identities while serving our country.

USAID recognizes that American Muslims have a significant voice in the direction of our international development efforts.

I encourage the active involvement of American Muslims here at home to assist USAID as we seek new partnerships with governments, citizens, community organizations, religious leaders, businesses, and international organizations.

Our aim is to work hand-in-hand with you to achieve the development goals we identify in cooperation with our host governments and local community partners - with many of these goals echoing the theme of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We welcome the opportunity to continue a dialogue with American Muslims on ways that USAID can make our assistance to Muslim communities overseas more effective and how we might better work in partnership.

I want to share with you a few examples of our work that are central to meeting the President's agenda of renewed partnerships between the United States and Muslims around the world.

These examples reflect USAID's core mission of long-term, sustainable assistance. I share these with you as background for your input on areas for collaboration and new ideas for engagement.

Through our programs around the world - including in Muslim-majority countries - we work in concert with local communities and organizations to ensure that the rights of women are protected.

We have seen first-hand that countries where women are educated are far more likely to be prosperous than those where women are not.

President Obama has stressed that the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country which seeks to support expanded literacy for girls, as we will also support initiatives which help young women pursue employment opportunities.

USAID is already doing this around the world and we will expand our efforts.

For example, since 2002, USAID has partnered with the Government of Afghanistan to expand and improve education in that country.

Under the Taliban, only 900 thousand students were enrolled in school, all of them boys. Today, there are more than five million students in Afghan schools, and a growing number of them are girls.

In Pakistan, USAID is partnering with local women's organizations to enhance opportunities for women.

Since 2005, USAID has provided training to 50 community women's organizations in Baluchistan, enabling them to raise crop and livestock productivity, improve farm water management, and foster market linkages for agricultural products.

This assistance helps them to achieve improved family security, raises their status, and bolsters local economies.

USAID has also partnered with a local bank to expand microcredit opportunities in Baluchistan and in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where small businesses have been unable to obtain credit. This bank already enjoys more than 93 thousand active clients, 20 percent of whom are women.

We also know that development is closely intertwined with human rights and governmental transparency. When people lack a voice in their government, they struggle to make their needs heard.

Our work aims to ensure that people have a say in how they are governed and that their rights are protected. One way in which we do this is by enhancing the ability of nongovernmental organizations to advocate the development needs and priorities of communities to their government.

Through the innovative Leaders of Influence Program in Bangladesh, USAID engages religious and community leaders in a dialogue on democratic values, human rights, and their role in development.

Of the approximately 20 thousand leaders who have participated in the program, many have gone on to partner with USAID on development projects benefiting their communities.

USAID also recognizes that the path toward a better future for people in the developing world depends upon today's improvements in education, economic development, science and technology, and health.

In his Cairo speech, the President set forth a number of specific initiatives in these areas.

USAID, together with other government agencies and organizations across the United States, aims for expansive engagement with Muslims around the world in these and other areas. We know that activities that grow out of partnerships are more relevant and sustainable, and represent a far better investment of taxpayer dollars, than activities developed in isolation.

For example, drawing from our efforts in the Middle East and North Africa, USAID participates in a public-private partnership effort that has awarded grants to 22 social innovators from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and the West Bank.

These projects were chosen in a competitive process that is intended to reward innovative thinking and locally-developed solutions to locally-identified societal problems.

Winning projects included: reviving traditional handicrafts in Egypt, encouraging volunteerism in Jordan, and supporting organic agriculture in Lebanon.

These programs, as well as many others we implement, are laying the foundation for a better future for the people they serve. Yet while we plan for tomorrow, we must also stay focused on the urgent needs of today. USAID supports large, life-saving relief and reconstruction programs in regions that dominate the headlines.

For example, in Pakistan, conditions are dire for the nearly two million people who have been displaced from their homes by recent fighting.

USAID has provided nearly $124 million dollars in assistance to Pakistan's conflict-affected populations since August 2008.

This assistance supports the Government of Pakistan's emergency relief efforts by helping to provide adequate shelter, clean water, food, hygiene kits, and other necessary emergency relief supplies and programs.

Overall, more than $169 million dollars has been provided by the U.S. Government to assist the people who have, tragically, been caught in the middle of this conflict.

Also in Gaza, just days after the start of the conflict that began in late December 2008, USAID stepped in to provide badly needed humanitarian assistance such as medical supplies, plastic sheeting, blankets, and food baskets.

USAID partnered with organizations that already had an extensive presence on the ground in order to ensure that the assistance reached Gazans rapidly.

The United States is the single largest bilateral donor to the Palestinian people. In our Fiscal Year 2009, the U.S. contributed $965 million dollars.

Of this amount, USAID's budget of $781 million dollars for programs in the West Bank and Gaza is the largest ever, addressing critical humanitarian needs and support to a moderate government which is committed to a two-state solution.

With thanks to you - the American people - our assistance dollars are helping the people in these places, as well as many others around the world.

However, we meet at a time when the United States and the global community are facing new, complex challenges - the global financial crisis, diseases that cross borders, global climate change, and our common food security.

Our success in meeting these challenges must build on our best practices of open dialogue and community empowerment, beginning here at home with our outreach to Muslim Americans and other communities of interest.

I encourage you to reach out to better know USAID's work - to become familiar with our projects and programs, and to be proactive in sharing ideas you might have.

Allow me to invite you to a U.S. Government outreach panel we will be participating in tomorrow afternoon at 3:15 p.m. in Room 152B. You can also visit our booth at the bazaar, and visit our website at

In turn, I commit to continuing to reach out to better know and understand the ideas and interests of Muslim American communities. Please join us in this dialogue by visiting to share your ideas.

Thank you, and I wish you a successful conference. Insha-allah.

Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC