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As the Administrator for the United States Agency for International Development, Rajiv Shah oversees the government’s efforts in improving the lives of those in need in the developing world. Since taking on the job in 2009, Shah has expanded the agency’s focus and changed some of its strategies, like pursuing public-private partnerships and sourcing food-aid locally rather than relying on imports. These new efforts, he says, are critical in providing countries a path toward true economic development.

World ArkCan you explain the purpose of USAID Forward?

Rajiv Shah: Our ultimate objective is to create the conditions where aid is no longer needed. To get there, we need to deliver clear, compelling and measurable results—and that’s where USAID Forward comes in. Specifically, USAID Forward is our effort to strengthen the agency by embracing new partnerships, investing in innovation and demanding a relentless focus on results. These reforms help create a new model for development that has the potential to not only produce dramatic results but strengthen USAID for decades to come while advancing the security and prosperity of Americans at home. Over the past two years, our reforms have touched upon every part of our work and have set important, evidence-based targets for us to meet.

Building public-private partnerships is a priority for you. Why is that? 

We believe these partnerships are essential for sustained investment and stable development. Instead of trying to deliver results with our dollars alone, we’re working directly with multinational and local companies to harness the private sector as an engine for growth and development. Private sector investment in developing countries is increasing rapidly and has far surpassed direct foreign government investment. By partnering with the private sector, we can leverage their efforts to produce tremendous results for the people we are working to help and increase our own security at home. 

A great example is the New Alliance for Food Security, which President Obama talked about during his trip to Africa in July. By partnering with the private sector, the New Alliance has been able to leverage more than $3.7 billion in African agriculture that has the ability to lift 50 million people out of poverty in 10 years. Today, development is not about providing short-term assistance but instead providing the basis for economic growth and development. Public-private partnerships are essential to this new model.

I think most people are familiar with USAID’s role in disaster relief. Can you talk about some of your longer-term projects?

I’ll start with Power Africa: Currently 70 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity, which presents a serious challenge to sustainable development. Launched by President Obama during his recent trip to Africa, starting with a set of six partner countries in the first phase, Power Africa will add more than 10,000 megawatts of cleaner, more efficient electricity generation capacity.

It will increase electricity access by at least 20 million new households and commercial entities with on-grid, mini-grid and off-grid solutions. Power Africa will also leverage private sector investments, beginning with more than $9 billion in initial commitments from private sector partners to support the development of more than 8,000 megawatts of new electricity generation in sub-Saharan Africa.

Another one of our new initiatives is a five-year program targeting the education, promotion and training of a new generation of Afghan women. Called Promote, the program’s goal is to increase women’s contributions to Afghanistan’s development by strengthening women’s rights groups, boosting female participation in the economy, increasing the number of women in decision-making positions within the Afghan government and helping women gain business and management skills.

Enormous progress has been made in advancing opportunities for women and girls in Afghanistan over the past 11 years. While there are challenges ahead, Promote underscores our commitment to ensuring that women and girls play a major role in determining Afghanistan's political and economic future.

To read the rest of the interview, click over to World Ark magazine, or download the tablet edition for iPads, Android Tablets or the Kindle Fire. 


Austin Bailey

Austin Bailey is a writer and editor for Heifer's World Ark magazine.