In a recent speech at Duke University, USAID Administrator Raj Shah told an audience that to provide food security for the 860 million people who go to bed hungry every night and to set communities on a path from dependency to resilience, we need new solutions and that means, quote, “not only working with long-standing research partners like Kansas State and Virginia Tech to develop new drought-tolerant seeds, but also harnessing the private sector to scale them.”
In this short quote, Administrator Shah encapsulates two important ideas – and these ideas are the backdrop for my remarks today – our relationship with institutions of higher education is long-standing, special and has been, and will continue to be, critical to global development. But also, times are changing, the challenges are enormous, and the ever-expanding constellation of actors mandates that we approach our partnership differently.
I speak today to honor the important role that social workers can fulfill. In many countries including my own, social workers are recognized for the invaluable work they do with vulnerable children and people who are poor, disabled, or suffer disadvantages. They work in our schools, our hospitals, our prisons, and our government. The International Federation of Social Workers describes social work as an effort to “address the barriers, inequities and injustices that exist in society.” What is more vital and laudable than that? Celebrating Social Work day is one way of recognizing the contributions of social workers around the world.
Social work as a profession in Vietnam is relatively new. You know the need to quickly increase the number of trained social workers. According to recent figures from MOLISA there are 6 million people with disabilities, nearly 3 million poor families and about 1.5 million children orphaned, abandoned, or who are victims of violence, abuse, or neglect. Within Vietnamese communities there are victims of family violence, drug and alcohol abuse, HIV/AIDS and homelessness. Their care and social and economic inclusion would be made easier through the attention of social work services.
We belong to an Agency that was founded on the simple and extraordinary premise that American prosperity and security can be achieved through human progress. That by ending poverty abroad, we could brighten the future of Americans at home. In the fifty years since USAID was founded, we have seen how human ingenuity and partnership has solved some of our greatest challenges.
According to the World Bank, in 1980, roughly half the population in the developing world lived in extreme poverty; that number is 1 in 5 today. The MDG target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half was met five years ahead of the 2015 deadline. Maternal mortality rates have been nearly halved since 1990. The number of children who die before the age of five is half of what it was in 1990. And we are in reach of meeting the MDG target of cutting world hunger in half by 2015.
There has also been a revolution underway in the development world, with a burst of new creative partnerships, bringing government, NGOs and the private sector together in ways that bring new ideas, new technologies, new investment, and greater scale to help solve stubborn problems.
At USAID we have been seized with the challenge of transforming the agency into a modern development enterprise. Under the leadership of USAID Administrator Raj Shah, we have put partnership, technology and innovation at the heart of how we do business. We are renovating systems and increasing our ability to gather evidence and understand results.
The goal of USAID’s support to technology in Cambodia is to bring tangible benefits to citizens and effect positive change through improved communications and access to information. I hope that as you participate in the BarCamp, you will consider how you can combine your skills, what you learn here, and emerging technologies to contribute to a brighter future for Cambodia. This is a chance for Cambodia to become, in the words of USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, “a country that believes that dedication and innovation are the only things needed to bridge the gap between the inconceivable and the achievable.”
Our experience both here in Vietnam and globally is that a vibrant civil society sector is essential to connecting individuals facing the greatest HIV risks to lifesaving services. Thanks to the critical efforts of many of the civil society organizations represented here today, thousands of people in Vietnam are living happier, healthier, and more productive lives.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your contributions, and to say how proud USAID is of its history of support to building the organizational, technical, and advocacy capacity of civil society in Vietnam. With donor support, civil society organizations in Vietnam are increasingly at the forefront of delivering relevant, high-quality, and low-cost HIV services to those who need them most.
This morning, I was reflecting on President Obama’s recent visit to South Africa—a visit that so many here were a part of: chance to visit Robben Island, a chance to speak at a state dinner in Pretoria and to meet with so many amazing leaders from South Africa and across the continent. President Obama told us all multiple times that his own personal commitment to a life of service and the fight for justice was born initially out of his efforts to organize students to fight against apartheid and on behalf of President Mandela while he was in school.
In his toast at a state dinner, President Obama described the concept that’s so familiar to all of you of “Ubuntu,” noting that this is a word that does not translate easily into English but defines the sense that all of humanity is bound together in ways unseen. We don’t often have moments of coming together and respecting Ubuntu as we do in this very special moment here today.
I am honored to deliver a lecture named for one of our nation’s greatest public servants. With the heart of a teacher and the experience of a soldier, President Sanford challenged his students to transform the world around them.
Through the generations, Duke University has answered that call. From unlocking the secrets of the human genome to uncovering new leads in the search for an AIDS vaccine, Duke researchers and scholars have set their sights on some of the most pressing challenges of our time.
This thirst for translating knowledge into opportunity has shaped our nation’s economy—the most technologically advanced, the most innovative, and—still today—the most dynamic in history.
Before talking about closing space, I actually want to begin by talking about opening space; I believe these phenomena are inter-related. And we need to understand that relationship, that dynamic as we think about what we do concerning the backlash. They say that when you join government as a political appointee, you spend down your intellectual capital. Not so in the 21st century. Over nearly three and half years of serving in the Administration, I have been witness to, exposed to and learning about a revolution, and I don’t mean the Arab Spring. I mean a revolution in how citizens are using technology to hold government accountable.
Last updated: February 11, 2016