Remarks at the Swearing-In Ceremony of Elizabeth Littlefield, President and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation
Secretary of State
But it is an auspicious occasion, because Elizabeth is the 10th president and chief executive officer of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. And I know Elizabeth and her work for years back and also some of her colleagues over the years who have worked with her. And I’m well aware that she comes to this job extraordinarily prepared. And I especially want to welcome Elizabeth’s family: Matthew Arnold, her husband – and we know that he’s a prominent environmentalist, which we are very impressed by – and, of course, her stepsons Devoe and Jasper. And thank you, Dr. Littlefield, a pioneering geneticist.
Now, are your brothers John and Peter here?
MS. LITTLEFIELD: Yes.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Where are – they’re – welcome, welcome John and Peter, and your sister-in-law Susan Littlefield, so – and to all the members of the family.
Now, when President Obama chose Elizabeth to head OPIC, he sent a clear message about how this administration is changing its approach to development with a sharper focus on private sector involvement. He sent another message as well that OPIC has a unique role in promoting America’s foreign policy goals by backing private investment in projects that advance economic development and broaden prosperity. And in these economic times, it matters that they do all this without costing the taxpayers a dime.
Elizabeth is a born innovator, from J.P. Morgan, to the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor at the World Bank, and now to OPIC. The trajectory of her career follows the creative thinking she has done about development finance. Elizabeth has thought hard not just about what should be done, but how. And it’s really the “how” that we are focused on, because, at least in this Administration, we have broad-based agreement that we should be doing it, but we want to do it better and we want to make more of an impact: how to make microfinance commercially successful and therefore sustainable; how to expand financial access to the poorest; how to measure performance, including the performance of donors; how to bring private sector resources to developing countries to support economic growth and opportunity and equip people with the tools they need to improve their own lives. Now, getting these “hows” right is one of the central challenges for the United States as we adopt and implement a new development strategy that is country-led, ground-up, and results-oriented.
We share with Elizabeth the understanding that commerce and private sector investment has to play a leading role. Governments cannot, in fact, should not, try to do it alone, but we can help to create conditions that will attract investors, back innovative ideas, and make sure that the projects we support actually deliver for the poor and the middle class.
At CGAP, Elizabeth helped build microfinance from a niche development tool into an entire financial industry. At OPIC, I believe she will also expand the role of the institution by mobilizing private sector investment. And Elizabeth not only knows how to think outside the box, she has lived outside the box. (Laughter.) At JP Morgan, she headed the emerging markets division and helped 18 developing countries gain access to international capital markets for the first time. Every year, she used her three weeks of vacation time to volunteer for microfinance institutions in West Africa.
Now, eventually, she persuaded her bosses to give her a leave of absence. And in 1989, off she went to Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Rwanda, and Pakistan to set up microfinance institutions from scratch. Now, in Gambia, she lived for months in a remote village. She so captivated a village chief, Matt – (laughter) – that he proposed marriage to her according to the local custom. He sent bushes of kola nuts to her uncle. (Laughter.) Now, the uncle was working at the time at the Bank of Virginia, and thanks to alert officials at U.S. Customs, the kola nuts never reached their final destination. (Laughter.)
So Elizabeth went on trying to figure out how to make microfinance institutions serve the needs of the poor, particularly women. And she noticed that these institutions had a tendency to falter when governments took them over. But when women were allowed to run them without government interference, things went a lot better. (Laughter and applause.)
So when Elizabeth became the head of CGAP, she worked to create flexible financial services run by and for the people who need them. And she’s also done some unusual thinking about efficiency. At CGAP, she used her own money to buy a fleet of Razor scooters, and soon prominent development and financial experts were zooming up and down the hallways, saving time and creating a rather distinct working environment. (Laughter.)
Now, coming from the fast-paced world of investment banking, she also noticed that public sector officials seem to spend a great deal of time in meetings. So she designed and had built a custom clock. You program in the annual salary of every person in the meeting and you push the go button. And the clock calculates and displays in real time what that meeting is costing. (Laughter.) Now, I’m actually sorry to hear that this Littlefield clock has not been patented or mass produced, because I would order a whole bunch of them. (Laughter.) But I know that Elizabeth will bring her experience, her expertise, her spirit of innovation, her insistence on doing development right, and her passion for creating possibilities where others only see obstacles to OPIC. And I am so looking forward to seeing the results.
So now, Elizabeth, if you are ready, we are ready to swear you in. So if you and your family will come right up here, and why don’t you stand right there Elizabeth and we’ll put our young men right here and they’ll hold the Bible for you.
Okay, all right. Here you go. Wait, no. Wait, honey, don’t go too far. (Laughter.) All right. Put your left hand – raise your right hand and repeat after me.
(The Oath of Office was administered.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Congratulations. (Applause and cheers.)
MS. LITTLEFIELD: Thank you. I think – actually – this is a sign of age. Thank you very much, Secretary Clinton, for your kind and -- I have to say -- somewhat surprising words. (Laughter.) You have been an inspiration to me, actually, ever since I heard your breathtaking speech in Beijing so many years ago. I was actually a young investment banker at the time moonlighting in development, and I really never dreamed that I would actually have the privilege of standing before you officially as I do today. So thank you.
I want to thank President Obama for giving me the opportunity and the honor of leading the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the U.S. Government’s development finance institution. I’d like to thank my family, especially my wise and wonderful father; my brothers and my sister-in-law; my stepsons, Jasper and Devoe, who gamely engage in debates about climate and poverty every night over dinner; their mother, Sarah Slusser, in the audience; and of course, my husband, Matt, who has been and will continue to be an incredible support to me.
I also want to thank my dear, feisty, and driven colleagues at CGAP. (Applause.) I am so grateful to you all and all that you have -- I have learned from you, and I am so proud of what we’ve built over the last decade, so proud of what microfinance has become. So thank you to you all.
I want to thank my extraordinary colleagues at OPIC. You have created the agency that is often referred to as the best-kept secret in government for its talent, its agility, and its impact. You’ve welcomed me warmly and been teaching me patiently already. So I am honored to be on your team now and I look forward to all that we can achieve together.
So this is an exciting time to be joining the Administration’s foreign policy team. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have both articulated a powerful vision for elevating development alongside defense and diplomacy as a tool for building peace and prosperity. Our well-structured support and our targeted investments in other nations can and will advance opportunity, hope, and security. OPIC can help build that future. Its purpose is to spur investment in sustainable development using its loans, guarantees, equity funds, and insurance. Because OPIC works with U.S. companies, especially smaller ones, we can help open up new markets so that American businesses can expand and create jobs at home while at the same time – and here’s the magic – being part of the solution to some of the world’s most pressing problems.
OPIC punches above its weight, well above its weight. When it invests in solar power plants in India and affordable housing in Haiti or low-flow irrigation in Morocco, or fertilizer plants in Tanzania, it mobilizes many, many times the amount of capital it puts at risk. And it’s efficient as the Secretary says; it generates revenues for the U.S. Government every single year and operates at zero cost to the American taxpayer. And at the same time, it generates goodwill and partnerships abroad.
In the next few years, among its broad portfolio of financial products and services, OPIC will focus particularly on renewable resources – energy, water, fiber, and food, all the goods and services that nature provides. Future hopeful generations in developing countries will not be able to build their prosperity as we built ours; that is, through the industrialization and the depletion of natural resources at a pace we can no longer sustain. We urgently need to develop new technologies that produce more with less.
So this is the hour that the United States needs a nimble and catalytic development tool like OPIC. We need OPIC to step up and provide risk capital in emerging markets where private lenders are not yet ready to go. We need OPIC to help open up new markets for U.S. companies to boost our economy and jobs. We need OPIC to finance promising technologies that are still in their infancy today, such as those that hold the promise of a better stewardship of nature’s resources. We need OPIC, together with partner agencies like the Department of State, USAID, and MCC to build sustainable solutions for people and planet both together to survive and prosper for generations to come.
So under your leadership, Secretary Clinton, if together we all do our jobs well, if we harness our energy, our resources, and our creativity, and we propel it with our sense of urgency, we can not only do good, but we can do something really great. We have the chance to extend the promise and practice of American enterprise to the developing world, not unilaterally but as partners, not as preachers but as doers, not as promoters of self-interest but as citizens of a country that knows that our future depends in no small way on the success of our international partners.
Thank you, Secretary Clinton.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, Elizabeth. (Applause.)