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Modernizing USAID

USAID food truck in Afghanistan
USAID food truck in Afghanistan

USAID is changing its culture, changing the way it does business.

When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced on January 6th that development would no longer take a back seat to diplomacy and defense as a tool in U.S. foreign policy, she announced that the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, would bear much of the responsibility for expanding the role of development. On May 5th, USAID's chief administrator, Dr. Rajiv Shah, laid out a far-reaching plan for reforming the organization.

"Back when I was sworn in, I talked about my belief that we have a narrow window of opportunity to elevate development," said Dr. Shah.

"To capture the moment, we have to actively seize this opportunity. We have to act quickly, and differently, or we risk losing our chance."

Bearing in mind the recent criticism of a U.S. senator, who said that USAID was not living up to its potential, Dr. Shah realized that "USAID needs to change its culture, and change the way it does business. One of our biggest champions, someone who has supported this agency throughout its history, someone who's deeply committed to development and has seen it work in places around the world, made things very clear: either we reforms ourselves, or we will no longer be in business. . . . But there’s another message here – and that is that the time to change is also right."

"In four core areas, we already are putting a new approach into practice," said Dr. Shah. "The first is honoring our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals – not by delivering services but by building sustainable systems to support healthy and productive lives.

Second, USAID will partner with "countries that are reasonably well-governed, economically stable, globally connected, and market-oriented." Such countries "could serve as engines of growth that could power entire regions and demonstrate what is possible when the right people, ideas, policies, and resources come together."

Third, since "Science and technology innovations are critical drivers of growth," USAID will use science and technology to develop and deliver transformative tools and innovations.

And finally, USAID will insert its development expertise into policy debates for active conflict areas and frontline states.

"I'm hopeful," said Dr. Shah. I'm optimistic. . . .If we can unite in our work, I’m confident that we can unite in extending hope to the places on earth where hope hangs on by a thread, and we can render hunger and disease and poverty to the ash heap of history."