The United States Agency for International Development, with the help from the American people, aims to empower communities and ensure that their investment lasts, US Ambassador to PNG, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu ERIN McKEE writes:
As one of the few United States ambassadors who rose through the ranks of America’s primary development agency, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), I’m in a unique position to talk about how our development programmes – USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps, and others – positively impact the countries where we work.
But first of all, I want to begin by saying that the loss of life and destruction of property in Honiara is tragic and should not have happened.
Those who wish to appeal to their government must do so in a peaceful manner.
My sympathies go out to everyone who suffered in the Nov 24-26 unrest in the Solomon Islands.
We share a deep bond with the people of Solomon Islands dating back to World War II and that bond has only intensified as the government of Solomon Islands appealed to the White House and requested development assistance to help rebuild after the terrible civil unrest in Guadalcanal and Malaita in 1998 and 1999.
We responded with a survey team that resulted in the launch of a number of development programmes in the areas most affected by the conflict.
Who receives the funding that we talk about in our press releases?
And who benefits?
Quite simply, our development assistance is an investment in people, from the American people.
It is an investment that lasts a lifetime and endures through generations.
We don’t build roads; we give governments the power to build a road and build their capacity and self-sufficiency to maintain it on their own without outside help.
We give communities the power to keep children healthy so that the nation grows strong.
We give knowledge that enables individuals to acquire the skills needed to generate wealth and stand strong on their own two feet.
I’ll explain how it works because I’ve been there.
I’ve seen development in action. And I’ve seen how everyone benefits from a fair and just development system.
On Nov 3, 1961, USAID was born and with it a spirit of progress and innovation.
We develop people, we provide skills and we build communities that can care for themselves.
Our objective is to support our partners to become self-reliant and capable of leading their own development journeys.
We make progress toward this by reducing the reach of conflict, preventing the spread of pandemic disease and counteracting the drivers of violence, instability, transnational crime, and other security threats.
We promote American prosperity through investments that expand markets for US exports; create a level playing field for US businesses; and, support more stable, resilient and democratic societies.
We stand with people when disaster strikes, or crisis emerges as the world leader in humanitarian assistance.
Our deliveries of Coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccines to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are proof of that.
USAID has more than 10 distinct activities in PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, promoting health, securing energy, protecting the environment, and providing disaster relief and humanitarian assistance.
The majority of USAID funds are awarded competitively and transparently through contracts, grants or cooperative agreements.
The funding we provide primarily goes toward partnerships with Solomon Islanders that are sustainable and long-lasting.
We fund technical experts who arrive at the request of national leaders.
Their first task? To listen.
Experts from multiple US government agencies meet with host country government, business and civil society stakeholders, listen to the challenges they face and then create a mutually agreed upon action plan that takes everyone into account.
Then, our experts begin the task of building partnerships and providing the skills needed for individuals and communities to help themselves.
In time, families are identifying their own health needs. Towns are developing their own action plans, building their own roads and creating their own destiny.
Countries are working with their constituents and private businesses to create policies that help expand everyone’s opportunities.
And most important, everyone has a say.
Every member of the community is vested.
Everyone takes part and everyone receives the benefit.
That’s what American development looks like.
Let me give you a few examples of development projects in our three partner nations here in the Coral Sea.
PNG has the highest burden of HIV among the Pacific Island countries.
While people living with HIV can enjoy full, healthy lives, they must receive routine health services, which can at times be discriminatory, difficult to access and generally not meet their needs.
To remedy this, USAID supports health service providers and clinics through a process called community-led monitoring.
This allows communities themselves to design and carry out routine, ongoing monitoring of the quality and accessibility of HIV treatment and prevention services.
The patients themselves can then pinpoint persistent problems and design the solutions.
This activity is led by the community, for the community and empowers those affected by HIV to be the custodians of their own care.
This model of community-led design and implementation is at the very heart of USAID’s mission in PNG.
Our goal – not only in HIV and AIDS support, and not only in health, but in everything that we do – is to empower communities to be the drivers of their own development and the owners of their own future.
In one component of our work in the Solomon Islands, USAID and our partners work with the government to implement the Strengthening Competitiveness, Agriculture, Livelihoods and Environment (SCALE) project.
We launched this project after an exchange of letters between Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and US Vice-President Mike Pence.
The SCALE project seeks to make business permits more effective tools for sustainability, enhances agribusiness productivity, emboldens female entrepreneurs and addresses the underlying causes of forest degradation.
In many cases, it is the communities, including women and youth, who take the lead on these projects.
They then have the skills to continue these development steps themselves in the future.
Another separate development agency is the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
MCC is an innovative and independent US foreign assistance agency that is helping lead the fight against global poverty.
Created by the US congress in 2004, MCC has changed the conversation on how best to deliver smart US foreign assistance by focusing on good policies, country ownership and results.
MCC forms partnerships with developing countries who are committed to good governance, economic freedom and investing in their citizens.
MCC’s compacts and threshold programmes are promoting growth opportunities, raising standards of living and creating a more prosperous future for some of the world’s poorest people.
Another way that America partners to invest in people is the Peace Corps, which will return to Vanuatu as soon as it is safe to do so.
Peace Corps volunteers are private American citizens who serve where their skills are needed the most.
They partner communities in the areas of education, agriculture, community economic development, environment, youth in development and health. But they also build lifetime friendships.
Every year, citizens of PNG, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu travel to the US to study and learn through programmes such as Fulbright, Humphrey, the Global Undergraduate Exchange Programme, Community Solutions, Young Pacific Leaders, the US South Pacific Scholarship Programme and many others.
Students and professionals apply to these programmes, which are all free of charge and travel to the US with no strings attached save one – that you return to your home country to use the skills you learned to make your country better.
America is a country built on fundamental democratic values such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom from unjust persecution.
Our exchange programmes allow you to see democracy in action for yourself and then return with new knowledge to enrich your home country.
So, I ask you to decide for yourself what type of development and future you want for you and your families.
Do you want aid that benefits one person, one party and one bank account?
Or do you want assistance that empowers entire families, strengthens entire communities, and enriches entire nations?
As democratic and independent states, you have a choice of who to partner with.
And I believe that the choice is obvious.