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Building Bridges of Understanding

Henrietta H. Fore, Acting Director of Foreign Assistance and Acting USAID Administrator
Keynote Address to the Meridian House Inaugural Conference
Washington, DC
October 16, 2007

[As prepared]

Thank you, Stuart, Kathy. It is always a pleasure to visit Meridian House. Let me congratulate you on this event, Bridges of Understanding's inaugural conference. This is a very welcome initiative to promote development and peace, both within the Middle East and between the people of that region and the United States.

Millions of Muslims around the world celebrated Eid this past weekend. President Bush has marked this occasion by stating that: "America treasures the relationship we have with our many Muslim friends, and we respect the vibrant faith of Islam, which inspires countless individuals to lead lives of honesty, integrity, and morality. By working together to advance mutual understanding, we point the way to a brighter future for all" -- a perfect message of partnership as we move into the future.

It is a message that, I know, resonates with each of you. Many of us participated in Iftaar dinners this past month -- and it was a moving, educational, mind and heart opening event as Muslims and people of other religions sat down together to break bread. Bridges of Understanding is an initiative built on the concept of forming close partnerships through mutual respect and understanding, in order to build a shared future of peace and prosperity.

In the world of international development today, such partnerships are critical to the realization of sustained, long-term success across all sectors. This is why they are at the heart of Secretary Rice's Transformational Diplomacy goal and the defining principle around which we have been restructuring our nation's foreign assistance programs.

In the words of Secretary Rice: "Transformational diplomacy is rooted in partnership; not paternalism. In doing things with people, not for them, we seek to use America's diplomatic power to help foreign citizens better their own lives, build their own nations, and transform their own futures."

In addition to defining what we do, partnerships also define how we do it. Traditionally USAID has worked very closely and effectively through partnerships with non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, and foundations to implement much of our programs.

While we continue to do so, we recognize the growing influence, skill, and opportunity other actors bring to our work, including philanthropies, diaspora groups, and the private sector.

It is particularly with the private sector that we are concentrating a great deal of our current (and future) efforts. In the last 30 years, resource flows from the United States to the developing world have shifted, with 85% of resources now coming from non-government sources such as fixed capital investment, remittances, and various forms of private giving. Some 15% of resource flows from the United States to the developing world come from Official Development Assistance. In the 1970s, the breakdown was almost the opposite, with the U.S. Government then the largest source of development resources.

This constitutes a profound and promising change in the way international development is both financed and conducted. It is a change USAID has embraced. In the community of national and international development agencies, USAID is the world leader in engaging the private sector - mobilizing its ideas, resources, skills, and technologies.

Through our Global Development Alliance initiative, we have expanded our network in the for-profit world through more than 500 public-private alliances with over 1,800 partners.

We are using $1.4 billion of the taxpayers' money to leverage $4.8 billion in private money -- and in the process, leveraging the imagination and energy of thousands of people who have not traditionally been engaged in critical development issues.

For example, in the Middle East and North Africa -- a region of great interest to all of you -- the population between the ages of 12 and 24 has reached 100 million.

That is also the number of new jobs that will need to be created in the region by 2020 in order to assure economic stability. Low labor force participation rates among females are a persistent problem, even among younger women with higher educational attainment. The World Bank and ILO estimate that Arab female unemployment rates are twice that of male unemployment rates in the region.

The 2007 World Development Report entitled "Development of the Next Generation" points out that investing in education, health care, and job training for youth produces economic growth and sharply reduces poverty.

A new national poll of youth in Lebanon by Catholic Relief Services echoes that point. More than 61% of youth see a role for themselves in Lebanon's future.

This is a statement of hope. Yet roughly, the same percentage -- 65% -- say that a lack of opportunities hinders them from being leaders. While this poll is of Lebanese youth, it reflects the voices of youth from across the Middle East and North Africa.

To address these issues and create opportunities and hope for youth, our foreign assistance focuses on four areas:

  • Creation of employment opportunities;
  • Development of critical workforce skills;
  • Civic education; and
  • Leadership training.

I'm pleased to be able to highlight the important work we are doing to address these issues in partnership with some of our private sector participants in today's conference.

In his remarks earlier today, I hope Craig Barrett mentioned Intel's $1 billion World Ahead Program, which will bring technology to large underserved populations. Bringing information technology into the classroom will enhance workforce training programs and improve the quality of basic and secondary education.

USAID and Intel are working closely together to develop successful projects in USAID-assisted countries like Egypt, where we are installing new technology for wireless connectivity. We look forward to expanding this collaboration under the agreement we signed last December.

Similarly, Toni Verstandig may have mentioned a new initiative we are undertaking with the Aspen Institute in the West Bank. Our joint overarching goal is to provide visible U.S. private sector support for Palestinians, to stimulate the economy and to provide civil society leadership initiatives for youth.

Let me mention too, other leaders with whom we are collaborating. Barbara Barrett has been an inspiration on the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council. She has provided leadership and vision in spearheading education and training opportunities for girls and women in post-Taliban Afghanistan. And Dina Powell, our friend and colleague, who we miss at the Department of State -- Dina created, organized, and led many of our private sector initiatives as well as our education and visitors programs.

I understand that a number of Bridges of Understanding's leaders were in Jordan earlier this year to focus on women's issues. During your visit, you heard about the Jordanian government's Education Reform for a Knowledge Economy initiative. This is one of our most ambitious education reform efforts in the Middle East and we are proud that the American people, through USAID, have contributed nearly $100 million to this effort. USAID also implements a program that helps prepare youth for Jordan's knowledge economy by enhancing the secondary school curriculum, developing e-learning modules, training teachers, and facilitating discussions on standards. By working with schools and the private sector, USAID aims to make education more relevant to the needs of youth and businesses.

In terms of public-private partnerships, they have become essential to USAID's programs for youth in Jordan. For example, the Jordan Education Initiative, under the patronage of the World Economic Forum, is being implemented in close consultation with the Ministry of Education and the private sector. It aims to provide Jordan with a model for developing e-learning resources and information technology deployment to support educational reform. The initiative receives support from companies including Intel, Microsoft, France Telecom, and Cisco. I applaud this initiative for fostering creative problem solving skills among Jordan's young people.

In an article on entrepreneurism, this month in Egypt's "Business Today," regional business, education, and other leaders resoundingly endorse these types of investments. As these leaders note, encouraging creative thinking and other practical and entrepreneurial skills in youth are the critical complement to economic reform and foreign investment.

Over the long-term, these youth are the "oil of the 21st century," to quote Sherif Kamel, Director of the Institute of Management at the American University of Cairo. They provide the home-grown fuel for vibrant economies.

In Morocco and Jordan, a USAID partnership with CISCO, UNIFEM, and the Governments of Morocco and Jordan has introduced CISCO Certified Network Associate and job-readiness training to eleven Moroccan institutions, 49% of the students in Morocco are women, and to over 600 students, are all women, in Jordan. Fifty percent of the first student cohort who completed the program found jobs within six months after graduation.

Fadiya Ali Shakdih was one of those students who benefited greatly from completing four semesters of a CISCO training program by securing a position in a leading IT solutions provider company in the Middle East. She said that the training distinguishes her from her many colleagues because she has the opportunity to gain practical experience to match her knowledge.

One of our most exciting regional alliances is the Middle East Youth Media Initiative. This initiative is a partnership with an Egyptian media company and a regional satellite broadcaster to develop, produce, and broadcast via satellite "edutainment" TV programs for youth ages 6 to 24 across the Middle East and North Africa. Initial research for the series included polling and focus groups in seven countries to explore the issues, influences, and attitudes of Arab youth. The programs will go into production early next year and are designed to promote positive values and critical thinking, and to address social issues of importance to youth in the region.

Let me conclude by saying that private enterprise is a critical driver of world economic growth and social development. Governments should support, not dominate, that process. Recently, I spoke at the 50th anniversary conference of an umbrella organization for aid groups, the Society for International Development. I told them that today we are at the threshold of a new era -- and in this new era we are just beginning to create what we could describe as a Global Development Commons. A Global Development Commons would be a community of continuous and real-time exchange, collaboration, partnership, and action between public and private donors, agencies, private enterprises, NGOs, host governments, and civil society. It is a time of great excitement and momentum, with an explosion of ideas, actors, and solutions.

As your organization's new entry into the field demonstrates, the number of players and the complexity of the issues in international development continue to grow. This growth demands that we build a more comprehensive and efficient network of resources, skills, and information exchange. Rather than command and control, we must communicate, collaborate, and act -- together.

Your focus on fundamentals such as economic common sense, health, education, and cultural and inter-religious understanding gives me hope for the future. Your direct access to international leaders will provide you with insights to share with U.S. leaders. With the greatest of patience, your vision and your efforts can begin a process leading to restoration of peace and prosperity in the world's cradle of commerce and culture. I offer you a warm welcome to the international development community.

Thank you.

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