Remarks at the 2014 Frontiers in Development Forum

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Ronald Reagan Building
Washington, DC
September 19, 2014

SECRETARY KERRY: (Applause.) Thank you very much. Eliot, thank you very, very much. I accept the nomination. (Laughter.) It’s wonderful to be here. I give you a lot of credit, Eliot. As someone who represents New York’s 16th District, as someone from the Bronx, thank you very much for not mentioning that the Boston Red Sox are 26 games out of first place. (Laughter.)

As I had the privilege of serving in Congress for almost 30 years and, as Eliot mentioned, had the privilege of chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the counterpart to the House. And just yesterday, instead of being on the dais as chairman, I was reminded of my beginnings and of sitting on the other side of the witness table now as Secretary in front of Eliot’s committee for hours of a healthy back-and-forth. And I particularly respect the way Eliot, as ranking member, joins in leading that committee in partnership with Ed Royce. He’s thoughtful, it’s a serious approach, it’s deliberative in the very best sense of the word, and the Congress and American foreign policy, frankly, are very lucky to have Eliot Engel leading those debates on issues that affect the security of our country. So Eliot, I thank you very much, as does everybody here. Appreciate it. (Applause.)

I also want to thank Raj Shah. It’s impossible to overstate or even overestimate what it means to have a real innovator leading USAID, and Raj launched USAID’s Development Lab, and now our world-class universities are helping to create development solutions. Raj has led USAID’s efforts on Feed the Future, and it is a testament – I was just chatting with him about it as we walked in here – it’s a testament to the success of these public-private partnerships in addressing global hunger that a bipartisan group of leaders in Congress introduced a bill yesterday to double down on this transformative approach.

This conference is called Frontiers in Development, and the people of USAID are pioneers. You’re working on the front lines of some of the world’s toughest challenges. Extreme poverty has plagued us for a long period of time. It is not only a challenge to our values and our sense of humanity, but as Eliot mentioned in his introduction, it presents us with dangers. It is a challenge to our security. And the sooner we get people to connect that, the sooner we will find greater commitment to some of the solutions that we need. So Raj, I thank you and your entire team for the USAID contribution to this. (Applause.)

I was greeted as I came in by President Kikwete, and I know he is going to speak today about the partnerships that we need in order to end poverty. And for President Kikwete, those are not just words. This is a leader who is making these things happen, who is implementing these things, and I want to thank him for bringing partners together here in order to confront climate change. I want to thank him for promoting peace in the Great Lakes, and I want to thank him for asking tough questions in order to reform Tanzania’s government.

And I know that Foreign Minister Tedros is here also. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia twice as Secretary, and the privilege of working with Minister Tedros on many critical issues in past months – from South Sudan to food security. And in the partnerships that are spurring Ethiopia’s development, helping to make it one of the fastest growing economies in the world, we have a sense of the enormous possibilities of this moment.

Now I’ll tell you that the foreign minister and I went out to dinner when I had a free moment – rare – when I was in Addis Ababa. And we were talking about poverty. I asked him about the Muslim population of his country and what was happening and what kind of challenges this presented, and particularly the challenge of extremists who grab young minds, pay the money, then don’t have to because they have the mind, and then use them as recruits and build on a long-term strategy not to build the country, not to provide jobs, but to take over, destroy, and to set one way of life, one pattern, one edict, one law, one rule, and none of it modern or willing to accept modernity. So that’s a conversation I remember very, very well. And I appreciate enormously his and Ethiopia’s leadership.

There’s one more leader I want to mention here, someone who has been way ahead of the game in terms of understanding the borderless future that we look at and has seen always the opportunities as well as the challenges and been able to marry a notion of leadership with those possibilities. And that is this special person, Mary Robinson, the UN Special Envoy for Climate Change. Mary has proven her leadership, her moral authority, her ability to help communities understand shared future and shared responsibilities, and that leadership is more vital than ever, and she is bringing that to bear in the struggle against climate change. It could not be more important now. I’ve had the privilege of working with her and knowing her for many, many years. Mary, thank you so much for your wonderful leadership. We appreciate it. Thank you. (Applause.)

This is a complicated world we’re living in right now. It’s always been complicated, but now those complications are sort of stripped of any sense of being hidden in the crevasses or tampened down by dictators. It’s all breaking out in lots of different ways. For some people it’s scary and there are real challenges, as we see in what we are facing with ISIL right now. On the other hand, there’s also this enormous moment of opportunity that we’re looking at, that if we make the right choices and bring countries together to unite around the right policies, it can also be transformative. We’re living in a time of remarkable inter-connection, every one of us. Already in the moments that I’ve been here, I saw a bunch of you holding up your smart phones and ready to Tweet or Instagram or let people know where you are and what you’re doing, and that happens all over the world. Every one of us has a Facebook and most people engage in either Instagram activities or Twitter, whatever. Everybody shares everything with everybody all of the time. And that changes politics.

There are people who, using the social media, have tweeted pictures of leaders in a certain country who they had pictures of at one time wearing very expensive watches, and then when accountability time came, the watches disappeared. But they showed them with their tan line from the watches – (laughter) – and they were caught anyway and held accountable. It changes things. There’s a new level of capacity for accountability, whether it’s Tahrir Square or what happened early on in Syria which then transformed into this different kind of conflict. But this inter-connectedness changes business. It changes life. It changes politics. It changes the course – crosscurrents of decision making. It is indeed one of the things that even makes it harder to build consensus as a political leader and to get people to make decisions, and it changes, obviously, the amount of information that every individual in the world has to affect their life.

So because of that, for all of us it also has to change our approach to development. Networks of power are challenging old hierarchies of power. Entirely new centers of global economic power are emerging, and the new networked world creates this remarkable opportunity that I’m talking about. It also presents some new challenges. Some of them are profound. The scourge of Ebola in West Africa reminds us how quickly a health crisis can spread, threatening thousands of lives and putting growth and stability at risk. But these tragic events also show us something else: that despite all the changes in the new hyper-connected world, there remains no substitute for leadership. President Obama understands that and I hope I understand that, and that’s what we believe we are showing, and that’s what President Obama showed this week when he outlined an ambitious and comprehensive strategy in order to combat Ebola. We’re using all of the tools of American power – our military, our diplomats, our health agencies, our universities, as well as know-how from our private sector, bringing them together in partnership in order to help the people of West Africa to tackle this moment of crisis. But I also want to be very clear about something: Even as we focus on crises and flashpoints that dominate the headlines and demand an immediate response, demand crisis leadership, we will always act with long-term opportunities and imperatives foremost in our mind.

And that’s why we remain so encouraged by the opportunities in Africa, for instance. The continent is home to many of the world’s fastest-growing economies and to 700 million people under the age of 30 – a staggering youth bulge unknown at any other time on the face of this planet or in time of history. I’ve met with some of these young people from across the continent, both on the visit to Sub-Saharan Africa this year as part of our Young African Leaders Initiative here in Washington. These men and women are increasingly aware of opportunities available to their peers across the world. It’s exciting to meet with them and listen to the things they are doing, and also just to look at the resume of many of these young folks which would dazzle anybody in the New York financial market or anywhere else in the world.

I’ve seen firsthand the ambition that they have and the talent to do something with that ambition. They’re already reinventing their continent. And no matter where they live, young men and women are motivated by exactly the same things. They want a good job, they want a decent education, they want dignity, respect, a future. They want to be able to have a family, raise their family, live well, do better, access to healthcare, institutions they can trust, gender equality, freedom from discrimination, and a healthy planet that has a future. These are their aspirations. It’s the aspirations of most people in most parts of the world.

But on the other side – and there is another side, and that is what we face today in the Middle East, in parts of Africa, in South Central Asia and other parts of the world; we saw it with arrests made yesterday in Australia, even in places you would least expect it – there are extremists who want to prey on young people’s frustrations, who want to seduce people to follow them to a very calculated way into a dead end.

I’ve just returned from working with our partners in the Middle East and Europe to confront these extremists, to forge a global coalition against ISIL. This is the last thing that we wanted to have to do. The energies of the world ought to be spent providing that education and delivering the healthcare and opening up economic opportunity, creating new energy opportunities, all of these things – not having to continue to fight each other because someone thinks they can tell everybody else how to live and what to do.

But the way these people are marching through Syria and into Iraq and trying to spread their evil elsewhere, their grotesque acts of violence and brutality, they’ve provided stark reminders of what is at stake. And mind you, it is not just in Iraq and Syria. That’s why later this morning, I am leaving for New York to lead a session of the UN Security Council, where we will focus on how we can come together and confront this toxic ideology. And whether it’s ISIL or Boko Haram or al-Shabaab, their ideology does not include a plan to build a nation, which is what we’re here to talk about. They don’t have a plan to create jobs or deliver opportunity. They don’t have any of those things that people most want. But they do have a strategy to capitalize on the grievances of those who feel underrepresented and left behind, to march into places of extreme poverty and turn them into their direction, to capitalize on a failure of governance and a failure of vision and a failure of leadership and a failure of accountability, to capitalize on impunity that comes with corruption in too many places.

So when extremists measure their success by what they destroy, we are compelled to measure ours by what we’re building. (Applause.) When extremists succeed from stoking old hatreds, we succeed by imagining new solutions and delivering opportunity. That’s why President Obama described development as a critical pillar of American power. That’s why what’s happening here is important. And that’s why, from the very beginning of his presidency, he made a clear connection between our development efforts and our economic strength, between our development efforts and our national security.

And that’s why, as Secretary of State, I established a clear set of ambitious development priorities. First, we have to work together to eliminate extreme poverty through inclusive economic growth – inclusive economic growth – because we know that no society can thrive when entire segments of the population are excluded from opportunity. Investing in the foundations of economic growth – health, education, food security – is absolutely critical.

Second, we need to work to achieve full gender equality, because societies where women and girls are safe, where women are empowered to exercise their rights and move their communities forward – these societies are more prosperous and they’re more stable, not occasionally but always. (Applause.)

Finally – and finally, because none of our development gains can endure without global action on climate change and solutions for the most vulnerable, we have to confront these challenges today – not five years from now or in ten years or somewhere down in the future, but now, today, because they are that compelling. And we know this. We actually know this. Doesn’t mean we’ll respond, but we know it.

Climate change means the heatwaves we’re already seeing, the extraordinary level of fires because of drought that is beyond the hundred-year mark. It’s the 500-year mark. Water shortages also way beyond hundred-year marks. All of this means conflicts over resources and serious implications for feeding the world’s growing population. Development is the only possible way, and it’s only possible if we grow more sustainably, if we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if we transition to a low-carbon economy.

One of the privileges of traveling as I do or Mary Robinson does or Raj does is we see this. We see it now happening. There are people killing each other over water in certain parts of the world. There are people who are refugees because of the lack of food and the changes and the absence of adequate agricultural policies in parts of the world. So this is a critical moment. This is not conjecture. This is not pie in the sky. This is not some time down the road; it’s now, and we are compelled to respond.

The timing of this conference is no accident. We are here to reinforce the commitments that we made at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit where we focused on driving development through trade, investment, and partnership. And we’re here because the year 2015 presents a unique convergence of events and international agreements that will test the commitment of world leaders to come together and address our shared challenges.

Can we arrive at a new set of development goals in September 2015 that are focused, strategic, ambitious goals that can mobilize governments, business, and citizens to work in common cause? Can we bring partners together in support of a strong financing for development agreement in Ethiopia in July next year? Will a climate agreement, which is possible next year in Paris in December, move us far beyond business as usual in reducing carbon emissions?

These are the questions; these are our challenges. And for all of us in the room here today and at the UN General Assembly in New York in the next few days, these are our responsibilities. At the State Department, at USAID, and across government agencies, we are not waiting until 2015 to set targets of our own. To achieve our ambitious goals on global hunger, on cutting carbon emissions, or with respect to extreme poverty, we have to be just as ambitious in modernizing our approach to development as we are in the vision that we express.

In too many ways, our development tools have simply not kept up with this changing world. We’ve seen how barriers to trade and technology come crumbling down, but when it comes to development, too many barriers don’t come crumbling down. They still exist between governments and NGOs, between the public and the private sector, between nations who are actually committed to the same goals.

Today, developing nations are a destination for close to $1.5 trillion in private sector investment. These nations have 5.9 trillion in their domestic budgets. So that alone tells you how the game has changed in the level of investment and the level of available expenditure and revenue to some of these governments and resources that they have and demand for those resources. All of that requires us to see the opportunities that it creates. The United States is blessed to sit in the center of global networks. We have a unique ability to mobilize resources from diverse sources, from partner governments, Fortune 500 companies, multilateral banks, philanthropists, and individual citizens. The United States is, in fact, in the best position to advance an approach that brings partners together and sets high standards for accountability and transparency.

We’re already setting a new standard with some of this approach. Look at how Feed the Future and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition are leveraging public funding to mobilize billions in private investment. Today, because of Feed the Future’s innovative approach, seven million more farmers have the support that they need to improve the yields of their crops and to connect with global food markets.

Last year alone, targeted support for female farmers delivered better nutrition to 12.5 million children across 19 different countries. We could actually do more. We’re helping fishermen sustain wild fisheries, helping them to feed their families, and reducing poverty in coastal communities. But these gains cannot be sustained unless we confront new threats from extreme weather and climate volatility.

That’s why the United States is helping to launch a Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture next week in New York, and that’s why I hosted a conference this spring in the State Department to tackle threats to our oceans, threats that have a severe effect on the food supply for some of the poorest countries. But these efforts should not and they cannot stand alone. We need to focus on climate resilience and sustainability across every single thing that we do.

More than 1 billion people now live in low-lying coastal regions, many in the direct path of rising seas. I was just in the Solomon Islands where they showed me graphically the difference that is already making in their lives, where they have extraordinary storm surges, hundreds of millions more face extreme droughts or flooding. And at this moment, we have the expertise to help these communities, we have the capacity, we have the ability to build better and smarter. So this isn’t a question of know-how, this isn’t a question of undiscovered solutions. This is a question of leadership and a question of willpower, and we have to make sure we apply both.

I’ve seen firsthand the differences in investments in climate resilience make. Last December I was in the Philippines. I saw up close and personal the total devastation, the total – that Typhoon Haiyan left in its wake. And on Samar Island there was one major highway that outlasted the storm. It survived because MCC, Millennium Challenge Corporation, planned for more severe storms when they financed the road. It cost a little more, but not when you measure in what it would have cost to rebuild it if they’d lost it. In the access road provided to aid workers, in the countless lives and millions of dollars that it helped to save, we’ve already seen a benefit way beyond that cost.

So investing in climate resilience actually makes simple economic sense. It saves lives, it helps create more stable and prosperous communities, and that’s why we have joined the Rockefeller Foundation in August to create a $100 million Global Resilience Partnership. And today, I’m proud to announce that the Swedish International Development Corporation has decided to join the partnership, providing an additional $50 million. Our first investment will be the Global Resilience Challenge where we’re offering competitive grants to support locally driven solutions in the Sahel, in the Horn of Africa, and South Asia. And this is one more way that we are demonstrating our commitment to do our part and to tackle climate change, to lead by example. But we’re not going to be able to do this alone. When the consequences of a changing climate are truly global, they have to be met with global cooperative action.

Make no mistake, my friends, there are plenty of challenges to overcome in the run-up to the UN climate negotiations next year, but let’s also remember that we’ve come together before to confront a borderless, generational crisis, one which I am proud to say that we are now winning. So if anyone suggests that we are impotent to be able to combat climate change, remind them of what we have done to turn back the armies of indifference and denial in the fight against AIDS.

Last World AIDS Day, I was honored to stand with President Obama as he announced that PEPFAR had not only met but exceeded its goal – more than 6.7 million people who are now receiving treatment supported by PEPFAR. It’s an astounding number; a four-fold increase since the beginning of the Administration – this Administration. And we know this: Investments in health drive stability, they drive economic growth, they advance gender quality – and that’s exactly what PEPFAR is doing.

Every one of the millions that PEPFAR has treated has a name, every one of those people – a child with a unique contribution to make. And their lives remind us of what we can achieve through good development policies. More importantly, they remind us of the steadfast commitment that we need to achieve an AIDS-free generation, and we’re on the brink of achieving that because of these efforts. Reaching that remarkable goal reminds us to meet the goals that we set in Durban this year: to ensure that PEPFAR is defined by greater transparency, greater impact, and a commitment to mutual accountability with our partner nations.

Already, we have brought all PEPFAR and U.S. Government agencies together to share data and best practices, so we’re working at this. We’ve been able to deliver data-driven investments in areas where AIDS remains a persistent challenge, including in places where it affects women and girls at five times the rate of men. Now we’re sharing PEPFAR’s data with the world and making it easy to use so that innovators and local partners can make the best and the most of their resources.

And today, I’m pleased to announce a $63.5 million investment to help our partners mobilize domestic resources for public health. We’re supporting efforts in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Nigeria, Vietnam, so that their investments can actually go further and save more lives. We’re leveraging exponentially. And by making more resources available for countries to invest in prevention, in care, and also in treatment, we anticipate a $1 billion benefit over three years. And with what PEPFAR is doing with the Feed the Future efforts, we have proven examples of exactly how we can find ways to work with new partners and to use data more effectively. So when we’ve seen these practices deliver results in the private sector, there is absolutely no reason that we can’t adopt them across all of our development efforts.

We’re also doing more to mobilize private capital to advance our development goals. Last year alone, OPIC mobilized $4 billion in private investment overseas. OPIC helped a California startup cultivate acai berries in Brazil. They helped a Nevada-based company provide geothermal power in Kenya. And as part of the U.S.-Africa finance initiative, OPIC is helping deliver energy beyond the grid, reaching millions in rural areas without access to power.

So I am really proud of our plans to expand OPIC’s operations in Africa at a time when private sector investment has become far and away the driving force behind global development, and it’s absolutely vital that OPIC has the tools and the financing that it needs. But OPIC is not our only tool, and we need to have all of our gears of growth working together. We need Congress to reauthorize the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a tool that – (applause) – a tool that – Eliot, you’re going to take that applause back to all those congressmen, all right? (Laughter.) Because this is a tool that really has helped expand trade with African countries for 14 years of a track record now.

We also need to give the Millennium Challenge Corporation the flexibility to use its proven model in order to bolster economic growth in regions and cities. And after significant delays, we need Congress to pass IMF reform so that an institution that has been a foundation for American leadership can continue to drive prosperity, transparency, accountability, reform, and progress.

Now, this is a time where we have to show leadership – all of us – in shaping the development agenda in doing our part to end extreme poverty. It’s not a mission-impossible; it’s not an impossible dream. It’s a reality. All of the things I’ve talked about change X number of lives, but there’s still a lot of the rest of the alphabet of lives to reach. We need to reach all of those people, and in the doing so, we will make ourselves safer.

Every nation must play a part here, but the United States can uniquely demonstrate the courage to tackle some of the most difficult challenges. With the ambitious commitments we make, we can give others the confidence to join our efforts. And with the innovations that we deliver, we can give people across the world the tools and the data to shape their own future and challenge the status quo.

This work is part, I am proud to say without arrogance – even with humility – I say it is part of who we are as Americans. De Tocqueville wrote about it when he visited America and wrote his historic treaties – the special quality of charity that is in America and how private people give back to community and help build community. It wasn’t by accepting the status quo that the United States rebuilt a broken world after World War II, led the fight against diseases like polio or galvanized a global effort to confront the AIDS epidemic. To continue this kind of exceptional work in the world, we must have the courage to take smart risks, to embrace new partnerships, and to apply new thinking to how we bring people together.

The world watches us, but I am telling you this: The world will not wait for us. In this time of change, this moment of opportunity and challenge, we need to commit to reaching out across disciplines and across the world as Americans did before us, so that we can do the exceptional things that America has always done.

You often hear politicians nowadays talking about how exceptional America is. Well, I’ll accept we are. But we’re not exceptional because we say we are. We are exceptional because we do and have done exceptional things. Our responsibility as citizens of the United States means we’re also citizens of the world. We’ve always looked at it that way. And that’s how we keep the United States on the frontier of global development, and that’s how we will make a difference.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)