A/AID Green Remarks at the U.S. Global Leadership 2018 Tribute Dinner

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    Ven Suresh

    December 5, 2018
    ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Thank you. I will treasure this award and I will treasure this moment always. David and Michael, thank you, my friends, Karl Hofmann and Michelle Nunn, my congressman, Mike Gallagher, and, of course, the irreplaceable, irrepressible Liz.

    So, thanks. Thanks for those very kind words. I think it was President Eisenhower who once said that praise is like sweet perfume. It’s fine as long as you don’t have to swallow all of it — but tonight, my saving grace just might be who I get to be with. My parents always said you are judged by the company you keep. Well, I get to share the spotlight this evening with my friend, Senator Chris Van Holland, son of a Foreign Service officer, and it shows. Chris is absolutely passionate about America’s need to engage and lead in this world. And my friend Ed Royce, a fellow Africa hand, who I think it is safe to say, has an unshakeable belief in the power of private enterprise to lift lives and build communities all around the world.
    And tonight, of course, we’re also all sharing this evening with the memory of our 41st president, George H.W. Bush. This is a personal glimpse. Four years ago, I had the great honor of representing the International Republican Institute up at Kennebunkport, Maine to present to him his Freedom Award. Typical of him, he responded by saying, “I feel bad. You’ve given me this wonderful award and all I’ve given you is lunch.”

    But I remember walking around his home in Kennebunkport and seeing the photos depicting the history that that great leader shaped. You know, ironically, it was once suggested that George Bush lacked the vision thing. I think today, looking back, we realize his life was the vision thing. Patriotism, leadership, public service at every turn. Now, I’m sometimes asked what brought me into this work. A kid from Green Bay, a conservative Republican, a recovering attorney — in all honesty, I can say that it goes back to that village that you saw some glimpses of. The village where my great wife Sue and I taught some 30 years ago. In fact, it might even boil down to a single moment. Our little school survived on school fees and community donations. So, we didn’t have a lot. As was pointed out, in some classes, we had one textbook for every dozen kids. Our students were barefoot. The chalkboard was thick, black paint on the wall. For some of our kids, the corn and bean soup that was served at lunch would be the only meal that they would get that day.

    Every few weeks or so, the headmaster of our school would come around, and he’d read off a list of names of students whose families had not kept up with school fees. If your name was called, you were expected to leave and not come back until you could bring some money. I will never forget the first time it happened in one of my classes. We were getting ready for an exam. The headmaster came in and he read those names, and about a third of my students got up and left. What could I do? So, I went back to that board, and I picked up writing notes. But after a few moments, I heard some noises. And so, I looked carefully over my shoulder, only to see some of my students sneaking back into the class.
    I’m an American. My daughter’s a teacher. The concept of kids sneaking into school.

    Everything I know about development can be traced back to that village and the hunger, the desperation, and hope that I saw in the eyes of those kids. It forms the heart of what the Trump Administration calls the journey to self-reliance. Our mission to harness the innate drive in every human being, every community, every country, to want to lead their own brighter future. Tonight, I salute each and every one of you for the role that you play in that noble mission, and it is noble.

    Let’s be clear. There are two very different competing models of development and relief in the world. One approach, the authoritarian approach, is really predatory lending dressed up as assistance. It lures borrowers with promises of easy money but then straddles them with unsustainable debt. It ties up strategic assets. It ties up resources for years to come. Some have called it debt diplomacy. Others have called it loan-to-own assistance.

    Our approach, the American approach, on the other hand, moves countries from being recipients to partners to fellow donors. It’s based upon the notion of a hand-up not a hand-out, and it helps position countries to grasp their own future. The authoritarian approach treats assistance as it does all else, a state secret, so they have ribbon cuttings that are very public for those buildings and roads, but all that glitters is not gold. Ask about the fine print, or meeting engineering codes, or impact on habitat, and they’ll simply turn the other way. Of the 45 nations assessed by the AID Transparency Index, China finishes dead last. Our approach is built on transparency. MCC releases its score cards. USAID releases our self-reliance road maps, and nearly all USG assistance can be seen on foreignassistance.gov.

    The authoritarian approach, most of it is guided by non-interference in the affairs of others, but when China provides Maduro with surveillance technology inspired by Tiananmen Square, well, that’s the very definition of interference on behalf of the dictator and against the oppressed.

    Our approach is to build inclusive development, and we craft tools and programs to make sure that nobody is left behind or left out. The authoritarian approach deploys state-owned or state-controlled businesses like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. When they enter markets and partnerships, they’re often on the prowl for innovations and technology to harvest.
    But our approach, you and I, we use enterprise, private enterprise, as a means of sharing in innovations, not stealing them. We partner with all of you, with business, to make technology available for farmers, small businesses, communities seeking to boost outcomes and to stimulate job growth.

    The authoritarian approach treats assistance as tools to feed military ambitions. When it’s time to collect on those unsustainable debits, control of ports, shipping lanes, and key minerals are often the target. Our approach seeks partners and allies, not dominions, but tonight let’s also be honest about this. The approach that we offer, you and I, it’s more difficult. It’s more complicated than theirs. We don’t just hand out money, and we won’t just prop up the powerful. We insist upon rule of law. We firmly oppose corruption, and we ask partners to put their own skin in the game. We frustrate some with our focus on human dignity as well as our call for the freedoms of faith, and, speech and, association. We have an annoying habit of empowering women in marginalized communities, and we assert that wildlife and resources are the birthright of the people. The journey to self-reliance requires tough choices, difficult reforms, and it sometimes involves difficult, frank conversations.

    But my friends, it offers countries what the authoritarians cannot, their own version of the American Dream. Thirty years after Sue and I left that village in Africa as teachers, I returned there as Administrator of USAID, and I remember traveling to the Somali region of Ethiopia, an area going into its fourth consecutive year of drought, and the program for that day was to attend a food distribution with one of our partners, and I was walking along the area where sacks of grain were being handed out. And a wonderful Ethiopian lady came up to me, and she said, “I have a question. First off, I want you to know I really appreciate this food, and we need it, but the question I have is, can you help me with irrigation, so I never have to ask you for food again?”

    That lady, those students, that’s why I’m so passionate about this work. It is why I salute all of you for making this work come alive, why I’m so grateful to President Trump for the honor of being a member of his foreign policy team, so tonight I accept this award on behalf of those students, on behalf of that lady, on behalf of the talented, dedicated men and woman of USAID not just here in Washington, but the thousands all around the world who day in and day out are advancing American leadership. Thank you for this honor. Most importantly, thank you for what you do on this great, shared, noble vision. Thank you.

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