The United States Agency for International Development has sworn in a new administrator, Dr. Rajiv Shah at a ceremony Thursday in Washington D.C. In an exclusive interview with Voice of America, Shah talked about the Obama administration's plans to deepen its partnerships overseas and listen more to the countries the agency serves.
A 36-year-old medical doctor by training, Shah comes to USAID with expertise in agriculture. He previously served as the director of agricultural development with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and later in a top post at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But, he says, the mission of USAID is his passion.
As a son of Indian immigrants, Shah says that he started visiting India and other parts of the world at a young age and saw first hand the kind of extreme conditions of poverty and human suffering that exist across the globe. "The opportunity to join an agency that has as its core mission working on that problem, working in a way that it's respectful of the people who live in those environments and learns from them is a great great honor," he said.
As head of USAID, Shah says he plans to hire several hundred new development experts and individuals with technical expertise to expand the agency's work capacity.
He says that some changes will be necessary and that he will seek to establish deeper relationships with the countries the agency serves. He says Washington will listen more and make sure that the countries it works with have the political commitment to move forward with development plans, programs and activities. "Really, the long-term sustainable large-scale transformation of a society that represents the success of global development, can only happen, if those countries are completely committed to and vested in that vision of success," he said.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plan to devote more funding to development, which they see as an integral part of U.S. foreign policy.
During the Bush administration, USAID's staff shrunk and the agency was integrated into the State Department.
Shah says the U.S. government now wants to give foreign countries more control over how American aid is spent. But, he also says measures will be in place to make sure that money is used wisely. "As we, and if we, give up control to some extent in order to support country leadership, we should have high standards and we should have strong ability to track outcomes to monitor resources and how they flow and to ensure that we're generating real results in a sustainable way for American taxpayers," he said.
USAID currently provides $20 billion in annual aid to development projects around the world. The Obama administration plans to expand that to $50 billion a year by 2012 for health care, education and agriculture.
Shah says while USAID will be helping countries around the world, its immediate priorities include regions of extremism such as Afghanistan and Yemen.