Our greatest quest yet

5 reasons we’re hopeful for the future on USAID’s 55th anniversary

By Gayle Smith

Photo by Aaron Rossi, USAID
Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal. — John F. Kennedy

1961. Many people remember it as the year that President John F. Kennedy pledged to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. But it also marked the start of another giant leap for mankind — a quest to advance human dignity and prosperity around the world, on behalf of the American people.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was created by President Kennedy to take up this mission. Leaders at the time understood that fostering social and economic development abroad was critical to advancing the safety and prosperity of Americans at home. They also knew it was the right thing to do.

In the 55 years that followed, USAID has represented core American values like equality, freedom, optimism and progress all across the globe, and worked to realize a world where every man, woman and child can live with dignity and reach their full potential.

Since then, we’ve come a long way. Imagine this: when the Agency was first established, only 22 percent of people expected to reach their 60th birthday. Today, more than 84 percent of people will live past this age. Innovations in science, medicine and technology over the past half-century have made it possible to live longer and better. USAID and our global partners have helped expand the reach of such tools, ensuring they can benefit even the most vulnerable people. And we have been at the forefront of global progress in health, food security, energy, water, education and more.

That’s why today, on USAID’s 55th Anniversary, I’m more hopeful than ever for the future, despite the long list of challenges we face. Here are 5 of the many reasons you should be, too.

Reason #1: 100 million childhoods

USAID’s work promoting vaccinations has led to the near elimination of diseases like smallpox and polio. From 1990 to 2013, child deaths decreased by 53 percent, giving 100 million children the opportunity to go to school, find a job and support their families. Malnutrition and maternal deaths are also on the decline because of greater access to health services. And, across 25 priority countries, USAID has helped cut under-5 mortality by 25 percent since 2008.

Reason #2: 9 million partners building food security

According to the World Food Program, about 1 in 9 people around the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy life. But the evidence shows that widespread hunger and preventable child death can be nearly eliminated in the next two decades. Since mid-century, approximately 3 billion people in 150 countries have benefited directly from American food assistance. And with President Obama’s leadership, the U.S. Government created the Feed the Future initiative to foster economic opportunities that could contribute to long-term food security. In 2015, Feed the Future equipped more than 9 million food producers with technologies and new practices that increased their sales by at least $800 million. By partnering with farmers, other agencies in the U.S. Government, and many other food security stakeholders, USAID has contributed to reduced rates of childhood stunting and poverty of up to 40 percent in numerous target countries where Feed the Future operates.

Reason #3: 200 institutions collaborating to predict risk and avert crises

USAID and NASA’s SERVIR program uses satellite-data to provide early warning to communities so that they can better prepare for flooding, disaster and other climate risk. With activities in more than 30 countries and counting, SERVIR has collaborated with more than 200 institutions to develop 40 custom tools that are helping local decisionmakers view and analyze the most up-to-date information available. Parallel initiatives like the Global Resilience Partnership bring multiple stakeholders to the table to help local communities meet some of the toughest challenges. We’ve introduced 50,000 agro-pastoralists to the financial market using mobile banking in the Sahel, and strengthened the voices of people with disabilities in disaster preparation efforts in Southeast Asia.

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Reason #4: 37,000 women rebuilding their lives in Pakistan

In addition to supporting girls in the classroom through initiatives like Let Girls Learn, the U.S. Government supports opportunities for women to lead and be treated with dignity in their communities. In Pakistan, through its Gender Equity Program, USAID has provided shelter, and legal, health and economic support to more than 37,000 victims of gender-based violence to help them rebuild their lives. And in Nepal, USAID-supported civic education activities reach women in a third of the country’s 75 districts.

Reason #5: 1 democratic election in Burma

Whether by promoting free and fair elections in Ukraine, Nigeria or Northern Ireland, or strengthening human rights in Egypt and Jordan, USAID works to help all people make their voices heard. After nearly half a century of military rule, Burma held its first free and fair elections for a new civilian government in November 2015 — and USAID was proud not only to support the elections, but also to unlock economic opportunities and strengthen human rights for the Burmese people. The elections marked a milestone on the country’s path towards greater freedom and dignity. USAID’s Human Rights Grants Program also promotes efforts to protect and secure human rights in 25 other countries that are fighting for democratic change.

Join us in commemorating 55 years! You can participate in 2 ways:

  1. Share the success you have experienced in working with USAID using #USAID55. Have we partnered on a project? Joined forces for a common cause? Share your photos, videos and content!
  2. Tell us why you’re hopeful for our shared future. Add your note in our comments section below.