American Universities Help Facilitate Private Sector-Driven Development

A conversation between USAID Assistant Administrator Brock Bierman and Oklahoma State University Dean Randy Kluver

Feb 11 · 5 min read
Azerbaijan business and government leaders visit an Oklahoma-based agri-businesses to learn about innovative tools and methods developed by Oklahoma State University and local businesses. / USAID

For nearly six decades now, USAID has helped shape a world where people from all walks of life can live with the dignity, self-determination, and self-reliance they desire and deserve. The impact has been transformative.

At the same time, we recognize that no one organization or government can solve the world’s most intractable development challenges. USAID builds partnerships that enable us to achieve more working together than we ever could working alone.

That includes partnering with higher education institutions. Last fall, Oklahoma State University (OSU) co-hosted the first ever Oklahoma-Azerbaijan Agricultural Forum to share some of the skills and tools developed here in the U.S. with our partners in Azerbaijan.

USAID sponsored the forum — along with the United States-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce and Oklahoma state government — because we believe in shared prosperity; using the best of what America can offer to help other countries grow and prosper.

I sat down with Randy Kluver, dean and associate provost for Global Partnerships at Oklahoma State University, to discuss how U.S. universities can help tackle challenges that hold other nations back, while at the same time strengthening their own mandate to educate their students and serve their communities.

OSU hosted the Azerbaijan delegation at several of its research facilities, including the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. / USAID

Tell us about OSU’s role in the forum. How does the university benefit from participating in this type of event?

We were delighted to host the delegates from Azerbaijan and to introduce them to the university, particularly the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. Oklahoma State University is a land-grant institution, with a focus on improving our state economy through practical and applied education, including agriculture. We were able to introduce the delegates to a number of labs and facilities that our faculty use to improve agricultural production and distribution.

As a research university, this type of international interaction is core to our mission. Not only does international collaboration help us to better learn about the needs and experiences of other nations, it allows us to share what we have learned with others, so that everyone benefits from our collaboration.

I understand OSU’s history as a partner to USAID goes back a long way. What motivates the university to engage global agricultural issues? How does this impact the student experience at OSU?

Yes, our relationship does go back to the very beginning. In fact, the first director of President Truman’s Point Four Program was the president of Oklahoma A&M College — OSU’s name in 1949. Dr. Henry G. Bennett set up the Point Four Program, established many of the critical international collaborations, and unfortunately, died in 1951 while on a Point Four trip to Iran. Point Four, of course, was a precursor of USAID, and so we like to think that OSU was present at the very beginning of USAID.

Left: OSU faculty member Hugh Rouk examines a coffee grinder in Ethiopia during Point Four Program. He was asked to identify why Ethiopian coffee was considered unsuitable as a global trade commodity. By studying coffee production and harvesting, he realized that although the coffee beans were fantastic, the harvest and post-harvest processes were destroying the quality of that harvested coffee. He worked with coffee producers, harvesters, and processors to improve those processes, and in many ways became responsible for the status of Ethiopian coffee in global markets today. Center: Ethiopia Emperor Haile Selassie and Rouk in front of the Jimma Agricultural Technical School, established with U.S. Government support. Right: Rouk (center) shows coffee seedlings to Herman Kleine, Point Four director of Ethiopia, and E.N. Holmgren of Washington. / Oklahoma State University

We often tell current OSU students these stories, both so that they understand the history of OSU’s international engagement, but also to remind them that international collaboration is a natural outgrowth of our land-grant role, to help disseminate advanced knowledge to contribute to development and economic growth. We challenge our students to use their own fields of study to contribute to issues like food security, environmental sustainability, and other critical issues for the benefit not just of the U.S., but of nations around the globe.

OSU signed a sister university agreement with Azerbaijan State Agrarian University, one of USAID’s key academic partners in Azerbaijan. What will this partnership entail and how do you think OSU will benefit from it?

We are hopeful that this new relationship with ASAU will be one that we can expand, both to enable our researchers, faculty, and students to explore new issues and problems, but also to benefit the people of Azerbaijan as well. We know that internationally collaborative research not only allows us to explore questions that we might not otherwise be able to explore, but it also has a greater impact. This impact takes two forms. First, the research outcomes are immediately relevant to at least two countries. Second, internationally collaborative research also tends to achieve greater academic impact.

Innovations developed by OSU are adopted by the American private sector, which, in turn, could help Azerbaijan’s farmers modernize their operations. / Elmira Aghayeva

USAID is working to expand our network of partners who work with us to design and deliver our programs around the world. In your view, what role can U.S. universities play in facilitating innovative and private-sector led solutions to the world’s development challenges?

We understand USAID’s mission to bring development and transformation to societies around the world, and I can speak for almost every U.S. university in saying that we fully embrace that vision. At Oklahoma State, for example, we are working toward aligning our research and teaching collaborations around the Sustainable Development Goals.

U.S. universities more broadly have a tremendous amount of intellectual and institutional capacity to contribute. Our students, staff, and faculty benefit from better understanding global issues that USAID seeks to address, and we in turn offer our skills, training, and educational curriculum to help meet those very needs. We look forward to further collaboration with USAID, as the world has needs that can only be addressed by building partnerships and collaborations between institutions, organizations, and nations.

About the Author

Brock Bierman is Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Europe and Eurasia Bureau. Follow his work @BBiermanUSAID.

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Stories of USAID’s Work from Around the World

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