Q: What were your impressions about today’s event in Colombia and what’s USAID’s role in the country if peace is achieved?
A: I think hearing from the people who got title to their land for the first time in almost two decades was just extraordinary. Women described being forced off their farms 16 years or 19 years ago because of the conflict – essentially given no choice, threatened and forced to leave. Today, getting their land title back, allows them to return to their community and they’re planning on clearing the land and planting and growing food and restarting their agricultural livelihood and that’s really the basis of growth for so many people in this country and it’s going to be so important to the peace process itself…We look forward to helping this country rebuild after what we hope is the successful conclusion of that process. We can help rural development and agriculture improve so that people have economic livelihoods. We are hoping to reintegrate tens of thousands of former fighters in Colombian society in a manner that gives them hope and opportunity.
Q: Since taking the helm of USAID you have spent a lot of time talking about the role of innovation in development.
A: For the first time in the State of the Union this past February President Obama laid out a goal for the international community, which is to eradicate extreme poverty within two decades…The way we believe you do that is actually not through massive new public investment but by leveraging technological innovation and partnership to achieve those results...We’ve invested in developing innovation labs across the United States and other continents. Those laboratories are creating new technology that, for example, can diagnose malaria without requiring laboratory visits for patients or a blood sample. That way we can dramatically reduce the cost structure of treating the disease and help us eradicate malaria…We are investing in creating new energy technology that can provide clean off-gird energy to rural communities that will not be connected to the standard grid, and we think that can help bring light and illumination to 700 million to 800 million people over time.
Q: What do you hope your leadership is remembered for?
A: USAID is the world’s premier development organization, bringing science, technology and innovation to the task of ending extreme poverty. And if you measure the impacts of American tax payers dollars against that vision: Reaching 7 million foreign households around the world and helping them escape poverty through increased production, or helping 12 million children escape hunger and malnutrition, or saving 22,000 kids under the age of five from malaria every year. That would be something to be very proud of and we are starting to put forward those types of results.
Questions and answers were edited for clarity and brevity.