Reasons for Optimism at USAID

June 22, 2017 By Sean Hansen

After sailing through his nomination hearing with strong bipartisan support, senators on the Foreign Relations Committee and other development leaders have called for a speedy confirmation for Ambassador Mark Green as the 18th Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

USAID is in need of confirmed leadership as the first phase of the White House’s executive order to reorganize the executive branch is due to conclude at the end of June. Green emphasized that as Administrator, he would “make sure that our programs respect our taxpayers,” highlighting that “we all realize that we have to use these dollars as efficiently and as effectively as we possibly can.”

The good news is that Green’s testimony also highlighted steps taken since 9/11 to reform U.S. development policy. He highlighted initiatives like PEPFAR, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Feed the Future, and Power Africa “that have transformed U.S. development assistance [and] brought about remarkable changes in many parts of the world and taught us lessons that we apply to this day.”

Harnessing Technological Change. As Green pointed out, “USAID is also pioneering new technologies to help entrepreneurs gain access to financing, combat diseases like Zika and Ebola, and bring electricity to whole communities and countries.” In recent years, USAID launched its Grand Challenges in Development initiative to address the world’s greatest development challenges through partnerships with businesses, major funders, and other development groups to leverage impact.

For instance, after the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa in 2014, USAID partnered with the White House Office of Science and Technology, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Department of Defense to launch a new challenge to fight Ebola. The goal was to deliver practical, low-cost innovations that could quickly help tackle the outbreak and future health emergencies. DuPont and Johns Hopkins University responded to the challenge with a successful proposal to engineer and commercialize an improved Ebola protection suit for health care workers.

Leveraging Resources. “There are literally trillions of dollars that could be mobilized for development,” Green pointed out in his hearing. Since 2006, USAID has built more than 1,600 partnerships with private sector businesses that have together leveraged more than $19 billion in public and private capital for development projects. These business partnerships use market-based approaches to address some of the most challenging development problems around the world, making U.S. taxpayers’ dollars go further.

One example Green cited was Power Africa, which has leveraged more than $54 billion of commitments from over 140 partners from an initial investment of just $8 billion. As one of the largest public-private partnerships for development ever, it’s made a big impact— in addition to connecting 44 million Africans to electricity and producing 6,500 megawatts of power, Power Africa and Electrify Africa have created more than 1,500 U.S. jobs while producing $250 million in export sales for American businesses like GE. These successes are a win-win for America— not only are Americans helping deliver electricity to sub-Saharan Africa, but U.S. companies and workers are benefiting as well.

Congress’ Track Record of Reform. Green testified that “international development is one of those quiet places where Republicans and Democrats have long come together on a bipartisan basis. It was, after all, President Bush who created MCC and PEPFAR, and then President Obama who launched Power Africa and Feed the Future.” In fact, Congress has passed eight pieces of bipartisan legislation in the past two years that have codified reforms to U.S. development policy.

If confirmed, Ambassador Green has the opportunity to solidify and expand these reforms to further multiply the impact of public private partnerships and leverage resources and technologies from the private sector. While he will face a host of other challenges— including the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II, and a budget proposal that seeks drastic cuts to USAID— he remains hopeful about the opportunities and improvements that have been made at the agency. In Green’s words, “There are reasons for great optimism.”

Image: U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania, Mark Green, right, cuts a ribbon during a dedication ceremony at Jitegemee Secondary School in Dar es Salam. The school received $130,000 in improvements from the U.S. government, including two new classrooms and a 60,000-liter water storage tank. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/CC.