Remarks at USAID Conference on Transforming Development through Science, Technology and Innovation
Secretary of State
ADMINISTRATOR SHAH: Well, Madam Secretary, I think you can see why we’ve all been just so excited and grateful for the opportunity to spend time with each other, be inspired by each other’s ideas, and try to work together to craft what I believe would be a very transformative agenda not just for any single agency or even for any single government, but changing how a community of people that care about eradicating extreme poverty, who care about improving the condition of the world can do that in a way that is – that you can get your arms around as solvable and fundamentally inspires us to do more. And with that, I have the honor of introducing the person who has inspired so many people around the world.
I always find it very difficult, Madam Secretary, to introduce you, -- (laughter) -- because of course, you need no introduction. But in addition to just being a source of inspiration and being a leader that we all admire and follow and the person who pushed us to think this way about rethinking development as fundamentally a problem of innovation and thinking and acting differently, I will just share that probably when I started with the Gates Foundation and was out in Senegal sometime in the early 2000, 2001, or 2002, I walked into a little hut that was the office of a small microfinance program run by an NGO called Tostan and by a woman named Molly Melching. And I went in and saw on the wall a photograph of Secretary Clinton, who had visited the program and supported Tostan.
And then a number of years later, we had the chance to meet in your Senate office, because a colleague had suggested that you might be interested in our work in microfinance. And so I met with – I had studied for days, weeks -- (laughter) -- as you would to go meet Senator Clinton and talk about microfinance. And I thought, well, here I am, technocrat, student, ready to go. And I went in and shared what we were doing. And Secretary Clinton asked probably 15 minutes into the conversation, “Well, have you seen the study that Brookings just did on microfinance and how they’re thinking about that?” And I just couldn’t believe that there was a study out there that she knew about that I hadn’t read -- (laughter) -- or studied or been able to reference. But it gives you a sense of her tremendous commitment to development and her insistence that we actually elevate development as a fundamental part of our foreign policy. And it’s what gives us the opportunity to think this way about thinking differently and acting differently. So, Secretary Clinton. (Applause.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, good evening. Well, I am truly the only thing standing between you and the rest of dinner. (Laughter.) So I want to start by saying, I am a friend of science and -- (applause) -- I am delighted to be here with all of you, especially in a room named for Ben Franklin, our first public scientist, and to hear the enthusiasm from the speakers and a few others of you whom I have seen about how this gathering has already motivated you. And for that, I am excited and grateful.
I really want to thank Raj, because I am thrilled that he is leading USAID at this moment in history, bringing to the work of development his experience and his intellect and his passion and bringing all of you together, because I am well aware of the fact that he has, through his own personal intervention and the help of his extraordinary team, convinced you to come. And I hope we can convince you to stay involved and also, perhaps, to agree to a semi-regular, once-a-year-or-so meeting to catch up, to hold ourselves accountable. Because it’s going to be, unfortunately, a short period of time where we’re going to be judged on whether or not this effort is producing results. Because one thing I know for sure about Washington is if you think change is hard anywhere else in the world, join the bureaucracy. (Laughter.) And find out for yourselves how difficult it truly is. And therefore, this meeting, which we would have loved to have had even earlier, is so timely.
And I want to thank the co-chairs, Dr. Holdren, who couldn’t be here. But Rick Klausner, thank you so much for being willing to give of yourself in this effort. Alex, thank you for your commitment. Harold, welcome back to Washington. You are a glutton for punishment. (Laughter.) But we’re happy to have you back, my friend. I enjoyed working with you in a prior life in the 1990s and am happy to see you here. I also want to thank the members of Congress who are here, because this has to be a partnership. In order to do what we hope can be done with development, it has to be a partnership on many levels. And one of our most important partners is the Congress, and particularly Congressman Brad Miller and Congressman Rush Holt and Congressman Brian Baird. We really appreciate your willingness to work with us and to help us make the case that we need more investment in science and technology in development, that we have to make quantum leaps in what we are doing in order to have the results we seek.
And it is important no matter what the global challenge you decide to pursue; scarcity of food, or water, or climate change and lack of energy and electrification, or health and disease, whatever it might be. We need to create these partnerships and get as many people in both the public and the private sector working together. I was so pleased when Raj said yes to our offer when I asked him if he would consider being the administrator for USAID because I knew that he would bring that sense of adventure to the work -- (laughter) -- of USAID. (Applause.)
Innovation, science, technology must again become fundamental components of how we conduct development work and the only way we can do that is with your help. We want your ideas, we want your guidance, and we want every so often a prod if we’re not producing what you think we’re capable of producing. I’ve said many times that while talent may be distributed universally, opportunity is not. And the reality of the world we live in today is that technology and innovation are the great equalizers and can be used to create opportunity where there is very little of that commodity.
Over the last 17 years and particularly in the last year and a half, I’ve seen that happening. I’ve seen it happening in Kenya where farmers have had their incomes grow by as much as 30 percent since they started using mobile banking technology. In Bangladesh where more than 300,000 people, which is just unimaginable – but 300,000 people, Paul, had signed up to learn English on their mobile phones. In Sub-Saharan Africa, women entrepreneurs are using the internet to get microcredit loans. And in many countries, text-based tip lines are providing unprecedented access to expert advice on everything from agriculture to healthcare. And we need to replicate that progress and take it to scale in the lives of the billion people at the bottom of the world’s economic ladder.
Innovation and technology can do for human development today what the Green Revolution did for agriculture. And we can generate significant yields from very modest inputs. One recent World Bank study showed that in a typical developing country, a 10 percent increase in the penetration rate of mobile phones led to an almost 1 percent increase in per capita GDP. And that’s something, as Megan’s story reminds us, children get right away. They know that there’s opportunity waiting with that mobile phone.
We’ve had so many of you here as you’ve been talking who are doing really extraordinary work. And we need to recognize that although we won’t have all the answers, we need to act on the best answers we can come up with. We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We also need to nurture organic and locally produced solutions.
And here in the government, we are studying the most successful models of mobile banking and working with NGOs, financial institutions, and governments to explore new applications. We’re pushing to expand internet access across the world. In January, I spoke about the freedom to connect when I laid out our internet freedom agenda. And we are committed to standing behind that agenda.
We also see innovation as a tool for building civil society not only to help organize people, but to hold governments accountable. The more we can move toward E-government, the more we can reduce corruption. Because if someone can sign up for that business license by going online, that is far fewer hands that money has to pass through. So it not only brings the actual positive outputs we’re seeking, but it does hold out the potential of changing the process by which people see themselves as citizens and consumers. We’re exploring new mechanisms for promoting innovation, such as prizes and competitions that encourage more people to put their own intellectual capital to work. And we’re strengthening our bilateral partnerships through science diplomacy. It’s one of President Obama’s goals which is to have science envoys, and some of you either have been, or I hope will be, among our science envoys to break down political boundaries.
So all of this work is important and it’s a great start. And I’ve heard the word “transformation” used a couple of times in just the past hour, but it’s not enough. We have to have more accountability. And this is not only a goal that we have, but it permeates everything we are trying to do in the State Department and USAID. We really want to know if what we’re doing works, because if it doesn’t, let’s try something else. Let’s not just keep doing the same thing over and over again because it’s what we’ve always done. That is a matter of literal life and death in our development work.
So what we hope is that we can develop accountability measures, and I love the idea of using mobile technology to report data back. So it’s not just giving out information; it is a means for acquiring information and doing the analysis that flows from that. We did it before. The Green Revolution is the most cited example for a good reason, because it was USAID-funded discoveries in agriculture that really turned the tide on hunger in so many places and provided support for local farmers. It is also true that as we look at the challenges in development today, we have to constantly be assessing the consequences of what we consider to be development.
Just a very quick story. All those 5 billion cell phones, well, there are, literally, people in villages in Africa and Asia who have cell phones but don’t have the money to send their own children to school. So now, clearly, they’re willing to pay for the cell phone, but they’re not going to pay the school fees that a society and a government demand. So we have to try to figure how we have a matrix of development needs that are recognized as intersecting and interacting, so that we cannot have more unintended consequences than we should expect to have. And I think that’s the constant question that those of us who are looking at this from a big scale of where we are and where we need to go have to ask ourselves.
Raj and I spend a lot of time worrying – or he worries and then tells me, and then I worry, too – (laughter) – about the markets we need to create in a country like Haiti. Too much direct food delivery destroys the market that existed. So, yeah, we’re feeding people, and then all of a sudden, within a year or two, the systems that existed before an earthquake or a conflict have been paralyzed, if not destroyed. We did what we thought we needed to do at the time, but the consequences are ones we have to cope with.
So every step along the way, we have to ask ourselves a lot of hard questions. But that’s why we want you all to be involved because we need your ideas, we need your experiences, we need your encouragement, we need your constructive criticism, because we want to maintain the excitement that has come from the last 24 hours and translate it into the positive work that development in the 21st century requires.
So thank you. Thank you very much for being part of this grand adventure to meet the grand challenges of our time. (Applause.)
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