Africa / Agriculture / Asia / Latin America

With Clinton and Shah, will USAID regain its leadership role in development assistance?

Secretary Clinton Visits Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton with women from AWARD—African Women in Agricultural Research and Development—during a tour of the headquarters of the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute, in Nairobi, Kenya, 5 August 2009; Sheila Ommeh, a Kenyan AWARD Fellow and geneticist studying Kenya’s native chicken breeds at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is pictured second from right (photo credit: US State Department).

The New York Times asks if—with Hilary Clinton, a formidable political veteran deeply committed to development work, at the helm at the US State Department, and Rajiv Shah, a young medical visionary fresh from exciting health and agricultural development work at the Gates Foundation, now in charge of the United States Agency for International Development—USAID can, and will, reclaim its leadership role in international development.

‘[F]or this [Rajiv Shah] politically astute son of Indian immigrants from Ann Arbor, Mich., who is now the highest-ranking Indian-American in the administration, it is his ambitious campaign to rebuild Usaid that will ultimately determine his success or failure in Washington. . . .

‘Interviews with several Usaid employees suggest that Dr. Shah has begun to re-energize the agency in the last 10 months. His efforts recently got a major lift from the White House, which issued a new development policy that pledges to restore Usaid as the premier American aid agency. . . .

‘The heyday of Usaid dates back to before Dr. Shah was born. In 1968, it had 18,000 workers running programs in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa — a vibrant legacy of John F. Kennedy’s call for the United States to reach beyond its borders. But after years of debilitating budget cuts that drove away many talented people, the agency now has fewer than 9,000 employees. . . .

‘As the agency has withered, wealthy private philanthropies like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have taken its place as leaders in development. So it is perhaps no accident that Dr. Shah is an alumnus of the Gates Foundation, where he ran its agriculture program and developed a $1.5 billion fund to finance vaccinations. . . .

‘He wants to implant Gates-style entrepreneurialism, championing ideas that come from beyond its usual circle of contractors. At town-hall meetings, Dr. Shah is equal parts evangelist and wonk, talking about Usaid’s future while larding his vocabulary with corporate-speak words like “metrics.” . . .

‘Dr. Shah also has to contend with a boss, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has a deep interest in development and has largely won an internal administration debate over whether Usaid should be more independent or stay under the influence of the State Department. . . .

‘The State Department has almost finished an exhaustive, year-long review of diplomacy and development. The review will reinforce Usaid’s expanded role but lash it even more firmly to the State Department. . . .’

Read the whole article at the New York Times: Curing the ills of America’s top foreign aid agency, 22 October 2010.

Read about Sheila Ommeh’s presentation to Clinton on her visit to Kenyan in August 2009.

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