Yesterday, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah delivered a major speech before the Council on Foreign Relations on how the administration is elevating development and transforming foreign assistance. Shah framed the speech saying the decision by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to elevate development was not a “show of gratitude…It was a challenge.” To accept the challenge, and embrace the new world order, Shah said USAID changed its approach in three key ways: delivering value for money by making critical tradeoffs and shutting down missions and programs; prioritizing innovation through the Grand Challenges for Development program; and instituting a new model for partnership that relies more heavily on “local entrepreneurs, civil society organizations and partner country governments.”
Shah cited the agency’s decision to invest directly in the Afghan Health Ministry as one such example of finding efficiencies and partnering with local institutions. He said, “By investing directly in the health ministry instead of foreign contractors, we saved more than $6 million last year alone. As a result, we can plan to draw down our health support in Afghanistan more quickly knowing the country has the capability to successfully manage the transition.”
Shah also spoke at length about USAID’s efforts to support democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, partnerships with the military on the frontlines, and the decision to partner with the private sector on development initiatives. He closed his remarks by outlining three areas where USAID can seize opportunities to express value at home and abroad: building resilience to humanitarian disasters, not just relief; strengthening food security, particularly through Feed the Future; and promoting economic growth through continued investments in children’s health and education.
In closing, Shah pronounced, “We know these efforts can work. We have seen this in individual sectors and we’ve seen it in aggregate…And when it works, it shows our assistance is not just “from the American people, it’s for the American people.”