A Year of Seeing the Team in Action
Administrator Green shares 5 stories of USAID’s work around the world
One year ago today, Administrator Mark Green was sworn in as USAID’s 18th administrator.
As the new head of the world’s leading development agency, Administrator Green wanted to see USAID’s work firsthand. He wanted to see how U.S. development assistance is helping partner countries on their journey to self-reliance.
So, he has made it a priority to travel to see USAID staff in action. Each trip has opened his eyes to something he didn’t know before, and has given him a new appreciation for the ways USAID has transformed the lives of people around the world. Last week, I sat down with Administrator Green to reflect on some of the trips he took this past year.
Here are five stories he shared with me:
Food security is a major issue in Ethiopia. Administrator Green visited a food distribution site there to see the impact of USAID’s work and the importance of building resilience.
“I had an opportunity to walk through an area in which we were doing a food distribution, the World Food Program providing sacks of grain to those who have been displaced by drought and by food scarcity.
But we came across a woman who, unprompted, asked if she could ask me a question. The question was: ‘Thanks for the food, but what can you do to help get us irrigation, so we don’t have to do this again, so we don’t have to ask for food?’
That just sort of crystalized for me that which I always believed: I believe in human dignity. I believe people want to lead themselves. I always saw that, but that trip really reinforced that for me.”
2. NEW YORK
Last September, Administrator Green was at the United Nations General Assembly in New York when an earthquake hit Mexico. Between meetings, he rapidly coordinated a response with the Department of Defense.
“During United Nations week, I remember, very, very well walking down the street in Manhattan between consecutive dinners with two different telephones — one from the White House and one with my Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance team — trying to navigate how we mobilize emergency recovery teams to Mexico City in the face of their earthquake.
It was so devastating. They asked for very specialized search-and-rescue teams — because of our talented team here and connections with first responders — as well as [assistance from] the Department of Defense and others. From that crazy set of phone calls, we mobilized a heavy search-and-rescue team that got to Mexico City before breakfast the next morning to get to work. And that’s extraordinary.”
Administrator Green met with students and civil society leaders to address the growing humanitarian crisis facing the Rohingya, and next steps toward strengthening democracy.
“It was a chance for me to reconnect with some [students I met in previous trips to Burma], to meet with them and congratulate them on the role that they played [in the revolution], but also to remind them that their democratic journey is a long way from being realized.
If you’re going to have a representative democracy, you need to listen to every voice. And they are not listening to every voice. Civil society must once again stand up. Be a voice for the voiceless, be strength for the powerless. And help to bring communities who have been marginalized not just a seat at the table but the right to realize their future.”
Administrator Green went to Iraq on behalf of Vice President Pence to meet with religious minority leaders and communities that survived genocide by ISIS.
“I was impressed with their strength and their interest in rebuilding and, I also thought, the modesty of their requests.
They weren’t asking for hundreds of millions of dollars. They weren’t asking for crazy things they never had.
They were looking for help to restore water, to have some electricity.
I remember one religious leader asking me about locating a health center closer to the Nineveh Plains, so that pregnant women and young mothers didn’t have to go hours for fairly basic healthcare. That’s a reasonable request.
So I came away believing that a) we have a role to play, b) we can make a difference.”
Last month, Administrator Green traveled to Colombia following Vice President Pence’s trip to Latin America to promote a hemisphere of freedom. There, he visited the Simon Bolivar bridge, one of the main border crossings for Venezuelans who are fleeing their country due to a man-made crisis.
“I guess I had in my head that I would see sort of an unruly mass of people jumping fences and crossing rivers. And, no, what I saw was a river of Venezuelans coming over the border to Colombia.
I saw a number of civil society groups and Colombian community leaders attempting to accommodate and compassionately trying to provide some semblance of human services, and I saw some Venezuelans going back.
So I learned it is a complex situation, and we have a role to play in providing humanitarian support.”
About the Author
Lauren Azmon is an intern with USAID’s Legislative and Public Affairs Bureau working on the strategic communications team.