THE BLOG

The Right Choice For USAID

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The selection of Dr. Rajiv Shah to lead the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is a tremendous choice and one that underscores the Obama Administration's commitment to the vital role development plays in foreign policy and to the rebuilding of USAID as the strong agency the country and world need it to be. I say this because I know Raj Shah, his leadership skills, his intellect, and his unbridled passion to help others.

Dr. Shah's work ethic, leadership by example and focus on doing what is in the best interest of others may mean that some do not know all that he has done. As someone who has not only seen Raj's work, but has also worked with him, I feel it is important to make his record of accomplishment common knowledge. It is safe to say that Raj has already worked to better the lives of millions of people. Many know Raj from his time at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where he helped launch the Global Development program, and held numerous leadership roles in the financial, health, and agriculture sectors. What you may not know is that Raj has also led and worked on many of the international development initiatives that world looks to for best practices. These include the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), the Global Fund for AIDS, TB, and Malaria and The Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA)-an organization he helped create.

As co-chair, with Catherine Bertini, former head of the World Food Program, of the Chicago Council's Global Agricultural Development Leaders Group, I was, in essence, one of Raj's grantees working together to turn attention to the renewed need for U.S. leadership in long-term global agricultural development. Collaborating with the Gates Foundation, and Raj, on this project was a tremendous experience. It is not often that people understand the overarching policy issues of a subject, are acutely attune to the human impact of it, and also know the most granular details of it. Raj knows all three. He understands the policy debates around foreign assistance and development, but does also knows that to impact the lives of others you must know what they need and what they want-that we cannot drive development from thousands of miles away, but must do so on the ground in-country. And once in-country, he can point to a type of soil and tell you the seed that will maximize production.

As a former Secretary of Agriculture, I am well aware of the significance of USDA's research operations and leadership. When Raj became Undersecretary for Research, Education and Extension and Chief Scientist, his knowledge of the importance of the land grant system allowed him to engage the colleges in a meaningful way-a way that is cognizant of the needs of others and the power of extension to help others-both at home and abroad in a lasting and meaningful way.

The Obama Administration has already taken steps to show its commitment to doing development differently-and in a manner that empowers others and helps grow economies. The Food Security Initiative is perfect paradigm of this approach. It seeks to turn the tide on the trend of short-term aid and one-off project based work and create agriculture-led economic growth along the entire supply chain. I can think of no one better to help guide this effort than Raj. He believes that foreign assistance means empowering others to create sustainable development and working to maximize the impact of humanitarian aid. This is the kind of leader USAID needs.

America is working to rebuild its international image and has committed to dealing proactively with the problems associated with modernizing agricultural systems, creating sustainable global health networks, and fragile states. The crucial role and mission of USAID have been made clear by both President Obama and Secretary Clinton. The next Administrator will play a vital role in restoring in tackling some of the critical issues we face as a global society. Dr. Shah has the experience, the knowledge, the vision, the passion, and the drive to rebuild and strengthen international development programs. He is the best man to fulfill this Administration's vision for development around the world.