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Diplomacy in Action

Readout from USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah's Trip to Burma and India

Rajiv Shah
USAID Administrator

Washington, DC
March 13, 2013

1:00 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Welcome, everyone, to the Foreign Press Center. We’re honored and privileged to have the USAID Administrator, Rajiv Shah, here today to tell you about his recent trip to Burma and India. Please remember, when you’re doing your questions and answers, to identify yourselves – your name and your media outlet – before you ask your question.

Thank you so much. Administrator.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to be here for this brief description of what we accomplished during our visit last week to India and to Burma.

In both settings, our efforts at USAID in those countries are designed to put a new model of development partnership into practice with partner countries, partner companies, and members of civil society in both India and Burma. We have, under President Obama and Secretary Kerry’s leadership, embraced and developed a new way of working, where instead of the old model we’re now creating innovative public-private partnerships, extending the reach and impact of U.S. taxpayer investments, seeking counter-party and leveraging investments from partners in countries where we work, and perhaps most importantly, bringing real innovation to these partnerships to deliver better results.

In India in particular, we focused on an effort to turn our traditional program there into an innovation laboratory that can help address the effort to end extreme poverty inside of India, but also bring Indian resources and talent and entrepreneurship to Africa, Burma, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and a number of other settings as India takes more responsibility on the global stage for ending extreme poverty and its consequences in other parts of the world.

We focused our efforts in health, agriculture, and energy, the three priorities we’ve established for working with India as an innovation laboratory. And we were able to document progress on some important initiatives. For example, we’re working with the private sector in India and local institutions to help end preventable child death. India accounts for nearly 20 percent of all children under the age of five who die from preventable diseases. And we have embraced a major Indian effort to end preventable child death. In fact, India, Ethiopia, and the United States co-hosted a major effort here in Washington last June to set the objective of ending preventable child death in a generation and ensuring that every child lives to experience their fifth birthday.

And as part of that, we launched a number of public-private partnerships, and met with and raised resources from Indian philanthropists and business leaders. Some of those partnerships will result in new products and technologies that are developed that can help in the global fight to end preventable child death. That includes new diagnostic technologies for a range of diseases, including tuberculosis, and it includes efforts to create new preventative and other solutions such as a zinc syrup that Indian companies will develop that can be distributed around the world at very low cost.

Our efforts in Burma focused on following up on President Obama’s groundbreaking trip, where he launched a very important partnership for peace, prosperity, and democracy. In his speech in Burma, he noted that the United States would work as a partner helping to deepen and make more durable the important initial steps towards democratic reform. And as our colleagues in Burma continue down that path, taking concrete actions, we would on that basis be able to engage in expanded and larger-scale partnerships so that the Burmese people can experience the benefits of a democratic and connected society.

After meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, Thura Shwe Mann, a number of government ministers and leaders, we were able to visit a computing facility, a technology park in Rangoon, where we met with hundreds of computer science students and also a few dozen technology entrepreneurs. It was in that setting that we were able to announce a new public-private partnership with CISCO to create CISCO networking academies at universities in Burma. Those network academies will bring the best of American networking technology to that setting, allowing students to connect around the world, but also allowing students to upgrade their technology skills and be able to be part of, hopefully, a future thriving innovation economy.

Those types of public-private partnerships, which actually cost U.S. taxpayers very little, but are critical for the U.S. Government to help bring in this case five technology partners – CISCO, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Intel – on a tech delegation to Burma – those types of efforts are really a great example of this new model in practice. And I was thrilled with the very strong reaction, positive reaction, from young people throughout Burma to that effort.

While we were already there, we had a chance to meet with civil society and hear about some of the continued challenges they face, being heard by government and being part of, hopefully, increasingly open processes. As part of the Burmese commitment to the Open Government Partnership which President Obama announced, we’re working with the Government of Burma and civil society to ensure that civil society is protected, has the space to operate effectively, and is connected to the reforms that are currently taking place.

So these types of new partnerships, conditioned on local investment and leadership, conditioned on good policies and efforts to fight corruption and usher in democracy, and conditioned on measuring and delivering results, do in fact have the capacity to expand the reach of a global innovation economy that America leads, and to accomplish some great moral victories like ending preventable child death within the next two decades, which we now believe we will be able on path to do in both India and Burma following these efforts.

Thank you. I’m happy to take a few questions.

QUESTION: Aziz Haniffa with India Abroad and Raj, but you’ve always told me that vis-a-vis India you all have moved away from sort of the traditional aid programs to a lot of public-private sector partnerships. And – but India still has birth deaths, problems of diarrhea and a lot of huge health issues. And you get this critical mass of Indian American doctors who are sort of the biggest group here going out on their dime trying to do something for the motherland, et cetera, but they always keep talking about the bureaucracy and the red tape they run into. Are you finding this bureaucracy and red tape sort of anathema to this kind of partnership? Because here is a group who can do an immense amount of work in terms of alleviating health issues.

And also in terms of the partnerships you all have with India in terms of the work you all do in Africa, et cetera, India was one of the countries that always had good relations with Burma even during the junta and the regime that kept on ruling there. Are you all thinking of this kind of partnerships where you all coordinate with India in terms of alleviating some of the development issues in Burma?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Yeah. Thank you, Aziz. Let me just say on the first question it’s been clear to us that this public-private partnership model has enabled government to be more focused and effective, and enabled American – Indian American institutions and partners to join the effort.

So the two examples I’d offer are this call to eliminate preventable child death, which now includes as the official UN Ambassador to that task Mukesh Ambani from Reliance Enterprises and a number of other business leaders. And because of their involvement, we sense that the Indian Government, which has a lot of motivation and leadership on this, is even more focused on doing this work in a results-oriented way and breaking through the bureaucracy. In fact, the state leaders of the plan to eliminate preventable child death from all of the high-burden states in India came to Mumbai, presented their plans and programs to me during the visit. And I was very impressed with the businesslike approach they’re taking to measure and report on results. They now each have report cards where they publicly document the reduction in preventable child death year on year. So those are the kinds of gains I think you can have.

The other example is in tuberculosis, where our partnership with the Hinduja family and hospital is helping to provide more capacity for new technologies like the gene expert diagnostic test to be rolled out across India by the government in partnership with us and Hinduja. So those are just some examples where the partnerships allow others to come in.

On India’s role as an emerging development partner for neighbors and other countries, the President has made a number of commitments during his visit around that, and I’m pleased to say there’s been real progress. While I was in India, there were more than 200 African agricultural fellows training and learning in Indian universities. That’s a direct result of Partnership for an Evergreen Revolution that we launched between President Obama and Prime Minister Singh. Indian-developed agricultural technologies are spreading across the region with our support and in partnership with us in Afghanistan and Bangladesh, and that’s helping to move millions of people out of a condition of hunger and extreme poverty.

And we’ve partnered with the group called SEWA in India, the Self-Employed Women’s Association, to work with their Afghan counterparts and ensure that as this important transition happens in Afghanistan women are empowered and active and have a real voice.

So those are just some examples of that new way of working in practice.

QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Richard Finney with Radio Free Asia. Could you say something more about your program to end preventable child deaths in Burma? What is the actual situation there? What are the causes of these deaths? What are the obstacles to doing something to remedy that? Thanks.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, thank you. Burma has the highest rate of preventable child death of any country in the region at 61 per 1,000, or about 55,000 deaths a year. The goal that has been established for just the next three years is by the end of 2015 to achieve 37 per 1,000, which amounts to approximately 20,000 child lives saved every year on an annual basis.

The reason that’s achievable is because we have good evidence and know what the causes of death are. It’s diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, and something called birth asphyxia, children being unable to breathe in the first 48 hours of life. And while I was there we brought together a significant public-private partnership with Johnson & Johnson from the United States, with Laerdal, which is a medical device manufacturer in Norway, and with the College of American Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American College of Midwives and Nurses, so that those three professional organizations could partner with medical service providers in Burma to help achieve that result of saving 20,000 children’s lives every year.

I’d just add that the highest rates of child death are also in the least stable parts of the country, and it’s been seen all throughout the world that as more children survive, families invest more in their children’s future, send them to school, and that leads to more stability in communities where we work. So this is both morally the right thing to do and very much in our collective desire for security, stability, and prosperity in the region. This is a critical effort. And because of this new model that will bring some of the technologies these companies have to offer to Burma, to high-risk communities, we’re pretty confident that we’ll achieve the measured result of 20,000 lives saved by the end of three years.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: The question was about, do we have assistance from the government. And absolutely, in fact, this is probably the first large-scale national effort where the government will be in the lead and will work with us and with these partners to invest its own resources. They have made a commitment to double their own investment in this sector, which is very low today, and to take on more responsibility for providing the types of basic efforts that will save these lives.

MODERATOR: Sorry. Right up here.

QUESTION: Welcome back. This is Tejinder Singh from India America Today. Following up on an earlier question: On March 6th in Mumbai, you reiterated U.S. commitment to end preventable child deaths. What are you – is there anything you are doing to prevent killing of girl child before birth or at birth?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Yes. So we are working with the Government of India and with a host of private sector partners in India to address preventable child death in a holistic manner. And when Permanent Secretary Rao presented the state-by-state plans and measures of success, one of the goals that they measure is addressing the gap in – or addressing the very stark reality that girls are discriminated against in many different areas, and especially the critical issues you’re raising with respect to girl infanticide and other issues. So that’s very much a part of their program.

I would just point out that our role isn’t necessarily to fully fund these programs. Our role, in this new model, is to bring the kinds of public-private partnerships to bear so that India can be successful in its own effort in this regard. And we’re excited that that appears to be working.

QUESTION: And now to my question. On December, 2011 when you visited, you mentioned that your Indian mission is going to be a cutting-edge laboratory. How far that is successful in 2013?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, one of the things I am very proud of is we made a set of commitments with respect to our program in India, and I believe we’ve met them. President Obama was there; he launched this partnership for an Evergreen Revolution to bring Indian technology and expertise to other parts of the world. Today there are hundreds of fellows training in Indian research institutions from Africa, and we have joint programs with India in a range of countries there, including with Indian private sector companies like Jain Irrigation and Bharti Airtel that are working with us actively in many parts of the world, including in India.

We made a commitment that we would work with India more actively in Afghanistan and Bangladesh and other settings, and we’ve seen very real follow-up and real results come from those efforts. And we made the commitment that we would transition that effort to be a genuine public-private innovation laboratory, and we’ve done that. We’ve launched a partnership we call the Millennium Alliance with a group called the Federation of Indian Commerce and – Chambers of Commerce and Industry. And through that effort, we are jointly financing the efforts of social entrepreneurs and other business starts that are trying to do everything from create new medical technologies, ambulance systems that can succeed in the private sector, to an effort I saw that I was there, that – with a company that is called Gram Power that is actually creating a microgrid, an off-grid energy solution for using a smart microgrid. And we’re working today through one of our development innovation laboratories at MIT to connect that program to some new battery technology coming out of Boston that could help greatly expand the scale and use of those kinds of technologies.

These are the kinds of win-win innovations and technologies that are now the focus of the program. So I believe we’ve lived up to that commitment, and I think we’re starting to see some of the exciting outcomes of that effort.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times. Dr. Shah, you’ve mentioned Afghanistan, U.S. and India cooperating in Afghanistan, especially USAID. Could you speak a little bit more about that, and USAID’s role in Afghanistan post-drawdown? And what will your commitment or your role be there in that country? Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, the United States made a very strong commitment in Tokyo last summer to maintain our development partnership with the people of Afghanistan. And we recognize that a big part of why Afghanistan has the opportunity to succeed is that after focused, results-oriented investments by the United States and other partners, there are now 8 million kids in school; 37 percent of them are girls, compared to no girls in school under the Taliban. Today there are 1800 kilometers of road. We’ve tripled energy access in that country, and we’ve seen an annual growth rate of somewhere between 10 and 12 percent take hold. There’s obviously much, much, much more work to do, but those are the underpinnings of a society that has an opportunity, if they make the right decisions, to be stable and self-sufficient in the future.

So our commitment was to continue that partnership on a conditional basis. So as the Afghan leaders and government make the right determinations about living up to their commitments to fight corruption, to have transparent democratic processes, and to collect and replace development aid with their own domestic revenue, we will continue to be a partner there that’s focused on delivering and enhancing those kinds of results that allow our troops to come safely and allow us overall, as American taxpayers, to save significant resources.

With respect to Indian partnership in Afghanistan, I would just highlight the example of the SEWA group, which works with thousands of women in rural communities throughout Afghanistan, helping them form self-help groups and be more connected to their communities and their society, and raise their own levels of income and education, which we believe is critical to success.

MODERATOR: And over here.

QUESTION: Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. How do you see the USAID relationship with India evolving the next four years? The last four years has evolved from a donor relationship to a public-private partnership. Can you give us a sense to that?

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, I think we’ll continue as a public-private partnership. And I hope as we see more of these types of technology partnerships in particular yield real results that we will work together and share the burden together of bringing those solutions to many other parts of the world. The effort to improve upon the example of Gram Power, that’s creating renewable energy access and offering light in communities that don’t have it simply by bringing these new technologies with a unique business model that serves the very, very poor to other parts of the world – that would be a big breakthrough.

So we’re excited that the Indian Government is standing up its own form of USAID. We’ve been a partner in helping them think that through, design and execute on that ambition, and we believe over time that that’s the direction this program should go.

MODERATOR: Okay. I believe that’s the last question that we were able to take, correct?


MODERATOR: So thank you so much for coming.

ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Thank you. Great. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you all.


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