USAID at ACCORD Network Conference: Alfalit was there, too!
MODERATOR: Ambassador Green; Administrator Green – he has several titles. The exciting thing about Administrator Green is that he comes with three key areas that he brings together into this role in USAID. The first is he is a development practitioner; he actually served in the country of Kenya in the Peace Corps long ago and understands development from that perspective.
He also served as an Ambassador in the diplomatic corps in the U.S. Foreign Service in the country of Tanzania as an ambassador in the 2000s. He also now, in this current role, has his title of the head of USAID. So, he brings that development piece. And then, finally, he was a Member of Congress from the state of Wisconsin for several years as a representative there. So, he brings a wealth of experience, a wealth of education, and a wealth of skills to this position. What I’m so excited about in being a member NGO of Accord Network is the reform initiative that he began – he and his team at USAID – that they’re driving; it’s a very ambitious initiative. It’s very courageous and I know that all of us here, particularly those smaller organizations that are benefiting from the New Partnerships Initiative – and there’ll be more talked about the New Partnerships Initiative – that we’re benefiting tremendously from this reform initiative.
So, it’s with great honor that I present to you and bring up to the stage, Ambassador, Administrator Mark Green. (applause)
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Very kind – I don’t know if I can keep up to that, but, good morning, everyone.
MODERATOR: So, we are set here to have a what we call a fireside chat sans fire. But, we’ll still call it a fireside chat. Now, I have done this event a few times; I’ve invited a fair amount of U.S. Government folks and the member that comes to my mind this morning is a while back we were doing an event in the D.C. area and I invited a Capitol Hill Chief of Staff to come help train us on advocacy and he was so excited to come, but before the event he said “No we’re many, where’s the event?” I said it’s at the Ford Center in Chevy Chase and he said “Chevy Chase, that’s all the way across town!” and he canceled on me. So, with that, Mr. Administrator you’ve come to North Carolina to find us. We are very grateful for that.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: And I come to North Carolina from The Bahamas. That’s where I was yesterday taking a look at the Dorian relief – anyway, good to be here.
MODERATOR: Glad to have you. A series of questions here for you. We’ll just dive right in. First, since taking the helm as Administrator, you’ve oriented USAID around the journey to self-reliance. How is this impacted your work? And what have you accomplished over the past couple of years?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, back when I first was approached about coming to USAID, the President’s Chief of Staff was a guy named Reince Priebus. I’ve known Reince for many, many years; a fellow Cheesehead, Badger, and he had called and he said “What about USAID?” And I said, “Well, look I’m very opinionated when it comes to development. Throughout my life I’ve seen a lot of what doesn’t work and I’ve seen some things that do work. And if you’re in and up for it, I’d be thrilled and honored to be in the arena.” So, I’ve lived in Africa a couple of times in my life. And I’ve been struck in every visit that I’ve made, everywhere I’ve traveled, by human dignity and the importance of human dignity and the fact that going back to that village where I taught school, no matter how little people had, they wanted the same things for themselves and their families that you and I want for our families: They wanted a brighter future; they wanted a chance to lead themselves; self-reliance.
And that really is what we’ve tried to build everything around. So, when I came to USAID that very first day that I walked in the Reagan Building, I said a couple of things. First off, I believe the purpose of foreign assistance must be ending its very need to exist. Recognizing that there are a few places where countries have advanced to the point where they should be taking things on themselves and a whole bunch of places where that’s a lot further ways off. But where we find people – families, communities, and leaders – who are willing to do the difficult things to get themselves towards self-reliance, I believe as a nation – a country founded around values – we should walk with them along the way. And that really is the whole notion of the journey to self-reliance: walking with good people who are trying to do the right thing for their communities, their families, and their country.
And so, at USAID that has caused us to reshape our very orientation. Everything that we do is aimed towards helping people in countries advance and build their own capacity and take on their own bright future opportunities. So, we’ve done a few things. For example, we’ve pulled together a set of metrics that we assemble into what we call roadmaps, not very creative, roadmaps for each country. It is designed to measure where countries are in each of the key sectors that we all believe are important. We try to measure where a country is from a capacity perspective and where they are from a commitment perspective because I’m also a firm believer if our country partners aren’t willing to put their own skin into the game, I’m not sure why it is that we should. I mean we need them to affirmatively take things on. So, we plot this on a roadmap to see where countries are and try to help them along the way. And so, that’s caused us to be not outputs oriented but outcomes oriented. It’s caused us to go country by country to understand challenges and opportunities. But it’s also caused us to understand how it is that we advance those outcomes. And that’s really — the reference was made to the New Partnerships Initiative — that really is where it comes in. I’m interested in outcomes. I’m interested in helping countries rise and whatever it takes to get there we should do. And so very often, many of the groups who are represented here; you’re a key voice and a key leader to helping countries along the way. And our job is to make sure that we work with you and tap into your abilities, your capacity, and what you see.
MODERATOR: Do you have any particular favorite countries who you think are well poised to move down the journey to self-reliance?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, I love traveling, although don’t ask me while I’m traveling. (laughter)
I like when, maybe, returning as much as anything, but everywhere I go, I see the spark of human dignity and that’s what is absolutely reaffirming and reinforcing for me. In terms of countries that I think are in remarkable places in their development, classic one is India; one of my first visits. India — when USAID first started working with India, we were delivering food aid; sacks of grain. And now that would be insulting to Indians. Instead we’re working to help them test out technologies to take on some other challenges. I turned on the faucet for a water ATM when I was in Hyderabad a couple of years ago and that was very cool. On the other hand ,I’ve also visited clinics and met women suffering from tuberculosis. So, you see a country advanced in so many ways, but a country that still needs our help, again in catalyzing investments and testing out technologies.
So, I’ve been to Colombia five times as Administrator – I’m an Africanist – I’ve been to Colombia five times as Administrator. I see enormous opportunity in that part of the world with the caveat that they’re facing profound challenges from next door. The Maduro regime has inflicted a level of suffering on people that I think, as neighbors, very hard for us to fully fathom. And I think, in many parts of the Middle East, I see sparks of hopefulness. We’ll talk a bit about now in Northern Iraq and in restoring the mosaic of faiths in Northern Iraq; a long way to go but I see signs for hope and optimism.
MODERATOR: Excellent. As Dave mentioned, you this long career in relief and development and in your experience what unique qualities do faith based organizations bring to the table for you?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So a long career, which means I haven’t been able to hold a job. I’ve sort of gone along each step of the way. Again, from my earliest days I taught school in western Kenya. I often tell people with no electricity, no running water. One windup telephone in the entire village, didn’t even have glass on the windows in the school. But all around me, I saw things that shaped my view towards development and really learned a ton along the way. And part of what I learned was the reach that the faith community brings to our broad work of lifting lives and building communities.
So, for me, number one is that the community of faith, faith-based organizations, and the church formally, are trusted voices that can help reach, geographically, areas and also, demographically, areas that government cannot reach effectively and, quite frankly, don’t want them to intrude upon. So, to me, it’s those trusted voices that help us reach out and minister in ways that provide the investments for lifting lives. Secondly, and very important, something that too often government forgets, and I’ll give you a specific example: Faith based organizations, in many parts of the world, were there long before anybody; before the government even knew those places existed and will be long after government is packed up, fold its tents, and gone home. And so, if we’re going to be effective, understanding that continuum of experience I think is key.
Classic example, I look at the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the battle that we have against the Ebola outbreak. One of the classic, in my view, mistakes that was made in the early response by the World Health Organization was that you had these wonderful, faith-based, health organizations that were providing the only care, quite frankly, in many of the communities of Eastern DRC and the outbreak occurs and a bunch of men and women in big white planes and armored convoys come crashing into DRC. Displace all the faith clinics and set up these government run facilities and we wonder why there are problems. And when I did my trip to Eastern Kivu, Eastern DRC, I had a number of these organizations, many of whom you know quite well, came to us and said look you know we’re not resentful or angry. We were here. We’re going to be here. You guys are here on a temporary basis. If you’re really interested in the well-being of these poor people, why don’t you work with us, you know we can help you. And so, I think all of those things together. And then, finally, it is motivation and projection of values. I do not believe in a values-free approach to development. We have to project certain values. We are a country founded on values, so I think that’s terribly important. I am old fashioned, I believe in Reagan’s shining city on a hill. I think that is what we need to exhibit.
A highlight of my career in development, to date, was traveling with President George W. Bush to an AIDS clinic in Tanzania when I was Ambassador and seeing him blown away by the impact that PEPFAR was making on poor people who are HIV positive and, quite frankly, uncertain about how long they had. That’s a good thing, and none of that would be possible if we weren’t partnering closely with the community of faith. So, I cannot imagine an effective development Agency that doesn’t partner with the community of faith.
MODERATOR: In a previous Administration we had the New Partners Initiative in which a dozen of our agencies became new partners or major partners with the Agency. In your iteration, we have the New Partnerships Initiative and I think if you asked any of us about USAID in your area, that’s the first thing we think of as the rollout of a New Partnerships Initiative. Tell us about that and tell us what your goals are.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: When I came to the Agency, a lot of things to learn and a lot of things that I learned about that quite frankly surprised me. Probably one of the biggest surprises that I had — I did not have an appreciation for how the partner base for USAID was shrinking. So, you know I look here in 2017, 80 percent of all of our money was going to just 75 organizations. And it had been dropping steadily since I think about 2009-2010. It declined. And that’s a bad thing for an agency. Among other things I believe in competition and we need everybody’s best. We need everybody’s most innovative, ingenious ideas. That’s how we continue to be effective.
And so we began reaching out to organizations that we knew that weren’t partnering with USAID. They’re still doing work in the field. I mean they were doing work off private donations and other sources, but they weren’t partnering with us, and I said okay what gives. And they said well you guys are too slow. You’re too bureaucratic, you’re burdensome. Don’t have time for 40-page full color proposals, and especially when we know that maybe they’ll get considered. So, what we began doing as a team, and I see Randy Tift, here, who is leading so much of this reform effort for us, is taking a look at mechanisms that lower the burden on partners and potential partners as they approach us with ideas. That really is the purpose of the NPI, is making sure that we stop that shrinkage, try to diversify the partner base. And then, the final piece to it as you heard me just say, I believe in the sense of the journey to self-reliance. In order to do that, we need to help incentivize indigenous NGOs; oftentimes faith-based NGOs in the field, because we need them to build their capacity to take this on and God-willing take this over at some point. And we haven’t been very good at that.
And so, all of this is aimed at strengthening that as well. So, I can tell you that the NPI has already had a profound effect. So, we launched it in only May of this year. Since May, we have received 208 concept papers for our first round of funding under NPI which about 200 million dollars of that we have available. And today, in fact, I can announce a couple of new awards that we’ve made. We’ve just made an award to World Relief, who I know is here. (applause)
And World Relief is working to strengthen maternal and child health services across four countries. And our goal here is to expand and leverage our existing networks. Again, that helps us accelerate outcomes.
Secondly, we have an award to Palladium International which is going to work to provide sub-awards to a number of smaller and newer partners and potential partners to improve health systems and to mentor new organizations, which we think is key. Also, as part of NPI we’re creating an NPI incubator which is designed to develop training and resources for new partners. Again, we have so many partners out there — potential partners with really good ideas doing really good things and there is a disconnect with us. And so, we’re looking to help build their capacity, help them understand this strange language that we speak in Washington far too often. But we believe that we can accelerate their growth and also their ability to tap into the resources that are generously provided by the American people. So as you can tell, NPI is truly a major part of our plans for the future.
MODERATOR: Excellent. Thank you very much. Next question: USAID has been at the forefront of advancing international religious freedom. We had a couple of Ministerials at the State Department over the past couple of years. Why is this such an important priority for you?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Thanks for the question. First of all, I’ll say it’s an important priority for the White House. Quite literally at the very highest levels. It is a high priority for some guy named Mike Pence, who I served with in Congress, and of course, remains a good friend and this is a personal priority for him. I could tell you because he talks to me about it all the time. So, religious liberty is important to the Administration writ large. I would also say religious liberty is in our DNA as Americans. I mean that’s what brought people here in the first place in terms of the pilgrims. And again, I think as a blessed land, I think we feel a special obligation to try to share in those blessings in other parts of the world. So that’s also why it’s important.
Let me give you some more practical reasons: I used to lead the International Republican Institute, which is a democracy and liberty organization. And I believe that protecting religious liberty, which we call our first freedom, is an antidote to authoritarianism. So why is it that the Government of China goes as hard as it does after Uighurs and after Christians? Because they fear religious liberty. They fear people who think of something beyond what’s dictated to them by the central government. So we believe it’s an end to authoritarianism. And then, just finally, that first freedom is called the first freedom because it makes all the others possible. If you don’t have freedom of worship, which is freedom of conscience, then the rest of the liberties don’t really matter so much. So, freedom of speech, well, if you don’t have the freedom to think for yourself and worship as you see fit. Freedom of speech declines in terms of its importance, so that’s why it’s so important to us.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question. I’ve been in meetings with you where I’ve just walked away really impressed with how much you care about situations around the world. So, my next question is: what keeps you up at night? What are the hotspots that are concerning you these days?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, I tell everyone the same thing. Again, one of my surprises, perhaps, realizations upon coming to USAID, is the idea, is the level of displacement in the world. We have 70 million displaced people in the world. People that are not where they were and probably not where they’re going to be. I am concerned more than anything else about children being born in camps or in displaced communities, growing up in those communities or camps, and God-willing the fence comes down and the gate opens up. I worry about the future for those people. They are vulnerable to the worst kinds of exploitative forces. And I worry that if we fail to find ways to reach them – nutrition, education, connectivity, to the world around them – I fear that we’re going to be having 10 years from now, 20 years from now, conversations about extremism once again, I just see this cycle repeating itself. So, we’re spending a lot of time at USAID thinking about how we, and it’s usually through our partners, deliver hope in the services to displaced people. Because we fear what happens if we fail. I’ll be very honest about it. So that is what concerns me more than anything else.
MODERATOR: What is one thing you’d like every American to know about foreign assistance?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, every now and then I will read something in the press or on the public airwaves about USAID or the U.S. Government giving money to bad guys. There was a Senator, who will go nameless, keeps talking about you guys are giving money to bad guys and they’re using it to further their control. Really? Well, we’ve given money to — as you know, we work through partners. There are very, very few places in the world and very few cases where we provide direct support to governments. There are a few for very particular reasons. But the vast, vast, vast majority of our money, we work through partners and NGOs to help build capacity; do good things; deliver services, and relief. But again as much as I can shape it, helping countries on the right track to accelerate and lead themselves.
Secondly, I look at what we do in the area of foreign assistance as being a projection of values. It is what we stand for. So I am very proud of the fact that America is far and away the largest contributor of humanitarian assistance in the world – far and away. And that 2, 3, and 4 added together don’t approach us. That to me is a source of pride. I was up at the UN last week, was asked about it and I said it and I’ve been asking for burden sharing and that’s it. Look, I’m not asking for us to do less, I’m asking for others to do more, given the level of need. The fact that we are as a people, in a government, the first to respond, I think that’s a fantastic thing. That is our brand. That is what I want other countries to know and think of when crisis hits, whether it be Dorian in The Bahamas or the crisis of Venezuelans being forced to flee the tyrannical regime of Maduro. The fact that we are the first and most generous, I think is fantastic. To me, that’s what it’s all about.
And then, I guess, the final point related to that, for USAID when we provide assistance, it’s not a handout it’s a hand up. It is. Do we put conditions on our development assistance? You bet we do. Because we believe just that this is classic American; we do it domestically, but we do it as neighbors, we do it as people of faith. We help people who will fall and get back on their feet. I think that’s a good thing. That’s what I believe in. I know that’s what all of you believe in. That’s the way we do foreign assistance. We do the humanitarian side because we stand with people when crisis strikes. On the development side, it is meant to be a hand up. That’s who I think we are.
MODERATOR: Excellent. This is the last question from me and a couple of core members that have been asked if they have a question also. Here’s my final one: What are a couple of books in the past year that you’ve read that you’d like to recommend?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: I am reading right now the biography of Ulysses Grant that came out I think a year ago, two years ago from Chernow. Enjoying that. I like books which feature imperfect people because it gives me some hope for the future. I re-read this year one of my very favorite books: it’s called The River of Doubt. And it’s the story of Teddy Roosevelt post-presidency doing something really stupid and foolish. He led a National Geographic expedition down a river that was called The River of Doubt in Brazil. And almost died, in fact it probably cost him ten years of his life. He picked up all sorts of bugs – if any of you lived overseas, you know that’s what always happens. And I love it because it shows foolishness, courage, and hope. Final book I read this year that I love is called Savage Harvest. And it’s the story of what happened to David Rockefeller. Those of you who are old enough know David Rockefeller, the son of Nelson Rockefeller disappeared in Papua New Guinea. He was out doing development work, also collecting art and disappeared, and it’s the story of what happened to him. So you could tell I like far off things, I like flawed people. And it allows me to think okay maybe there’s hope for people like me in all of this.
MODERATOR: Nice. I missed a question, so let me ask this question. How is USAID supporting the Administration’s efforts to help ethnic and religious minorities specifically in the Middle East?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: And this is an initiative that I think in so many ways is really led by Vice President Pence and in his great interest. When you look at places like Northern Iraq as my friend and former colleague Frank Wolf constantly reminds me, take a look at the Bible. Other than the obvious in the Holy Land, there are very few places where you’ll see more biblical references than in Northern Iraq. And yet with the evil of ISIS, and affiliated groups, which sought to wipe off the face of the earth Christians, Yazidis, and other minorities. If we’re going to help restore what is sometimes called the mosaic of faiths and ethnicities in Northern Iraq, I believe that we have a role. The Iraqis have an interesting term for it. They don’t refer to religious minorities – I mentioned that and I was pushed back. They said, “No, we don’t call it that.” I said, “What do you call it?” They said, “We call it component communities. Because in Arabic, component means without it something is not whole. And so, we look at the component faiths. If we don’t have them, we are not whole.” And I like that. I think it’s a good way of thinking of it. So, at the request of the Vice President, what we have been doing is looking for ways to help the component communities be able to return. And I traveled there myself at the request of the Vice President, met with a number of faith leaders; Orthodox and Catholic in particular Chaldean Catholic in particular, as well as some of the evangelical faith based organizations that were doing humanitarian development work. And I looked and I said, okay what is causing Christians, Yazidis, and others to flee? And what will it take to encourage them to come back to see a potential for a future in areas targeted by ISIS?
And that really is what we’ve been working on. And so, what we’ve been trying to do is to really do a couple of things: First, is to restore some of what ISIS destroyed. So, we’re working on restoring some underlying services to communities. And we have reached out to the communities and let them dictate to us what they’ve lost and what they need – water systems, electricity, so that they can say okay, yeah we can live here. We see this working. And that’s been the biggest piece of it. But also to provide some counseling. These poor people have had traumas that, you know, that’s very hard for us to even imagine. And so, we’ve been working to provide some of those services. So, actually through NPI, the New Partnerships Initiative – I’ve got a couple of other award announcements: We have one that is going to six community and faith-based organizations in Northern Iraq. Almost all of them are new partners. But these are organizations very closely connected to the communities, doing work there to help recover, particularly young people, provide some vocational training, some livelihood opportunities so that again they look and say we have a we have a future there.
Secondly, and a fair bit of this is through our partner in your member, Samaritan’s Purse, is we’re working to specifically try to recover some of the displaced religious and ethnic minorities in the Ninewa Plains in Western Ninewa Province. And again, it is aiming to listen to the leaders in these communities and find out what it would take to provide some opportunity. Just a couple of cautionary notes, and I’ve said this directly to Vice President Pence. So many people were lost there. Christians, in particular, were targeted and almost wiped out in many of these places. We can’t bring them all back. For example, in an ethnic minority, Yazidis – 10,000 Yazidi youth now live in Germany. Be honest I’m not sure all of them are going to go back to Sinjar. But we will create conditions that make it an option and give them a choice.
Secondly, it is very important for Christianity writ large, for Christian faith traditions to work together. If we argue amongst ourselves, to put this bluntly, we will finish the job that extremists have started. And so, it is very important that that we work to create the conditions for Christian traditions that have been there to be able to flourish. Those are the two immediate challenges or long-term challenges that I see. I am very proud of what this Administration has done. Nearly $400 million is now in the genocide recovery effort. And again, from the Vice President’s leadership, to so many of you who are involved in this effort, I could not be prouder of the progress that’s been made. It’s hard work. There’s no guarantee of success but I’m really proud of what, I consider you all part of the team, what the team is doing.
MODERATOR: I would add to that that I know that that was really difficult work and we’re very happy to see what you’ve accomplished there. So, thank you.
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, it’s kind that people thank me. My greatest contribution is getting out of the way of in many cases of wonderful people who are doing good things.
USAID at ACCORD Network Conference: Alfalit was there, too!