USAID at 50

USAID at 50

In 1961, John F. Kennedy called for the creation of a new agency aimed at overcoming global poverty, hunger, illness, and injustice. Last year, the agency that sprang from his call—the United States Agency for International Development—celebrated its 50th anniversary. We asked SPH alumni affiliated with USAID to reflect on their work (and please feel free to share your thoughts at the comments section below):

“What I love about USAID is that you can influence change on a macro level. It’s an amazing experience to see national governments implement a protocol that you developed.”
Joshua Karnes, M.P.H. ’06 Deputy Team Leader, Health Office, USAID/Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (2006–present)

“USAID gave me a broader appreciation for the limits of how you can provoke change. You can start off with some wonderful ideas that are completely logical and will make big improvements, but you’ve got to take into account the local situation, and the local situation will always be primary. That’s the thing I learned—the importance of bringing the local stakeholders into the process, as opposed to making them the objects of the actvitity.”
Edward L. Kadunc, M.P.H. ’74, President, Pan American Health and Education Foundation; USAID positions: Health and Population Officer, Bolivia (1977–1979); Country Director, Colombia, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Bosnia Herzegovina, Mexico (2003–2007)

“I think I take the most pride in the capacity-building I did, particularly in the research area, with both individuals and institutions. They are still going strong today.”
Carol Carpenter-Yaman, M.P.H. ’73, PhD ‘79, USAID Bureau for Global Health, Washington, D.C. (2004–present); Previous USAID positions: Foreign Service Officer, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt, Philippines, U.S. (1980–2002)

“Once you’ve seen firsthand at the village level the need for improved family planning and maternal and child health services and programs, you don’t look back.”
Barbara J. Spaid, M.H.S.A. ’79 Family Planning/Reproductive
Health Consultant; USAID positions: Health/Population Officer, Nepal; Washington, D.C.; Pakistan; Indonesia (1980–1998); Country Director, EngenderHealth, India (2001–2004)

“When I was doing family-planning work, I had the opportunity to visit some of the community centers and groups that we were supporting in really remote locations like Uganda, Kenya, Turkey. To see that the programs you manage in Washington, D.C., are actually having an impact in these far-flung areas is very powerful.”
Craig Carlson, M.P.H. ’85 Senior Public Health Advisor, Global Health Bureau, USAID, Washington, D.C. (2009–present); Previous USAID positions: Office of Health; Office of Population and Reproductive Health (1988–1997)

African Solutions to African Problems

Although in her own words she stands “about five feet on my tall days,” 62-year-old Hope Sukin, M.P.H. ’74, is a towering presence within USAID. During her 35 years with the agency, she worked in Asia, Latin America, and above all, Africa, where she was deeply involved in efforts to combat hunger, drought, malaria, and HIV/AIDS, and to build sustainable, community-based “African solutions to African problems”—as she calls them. From 1990 until her retirement last year, Sukin served as health team leader for USAID’s Africa Bureau. On the occasion of her retirement, Warren Buckingham, director of the Office of Global Health and HIV, U.S. Peace Corps, said, “Operating out of USAID’s Bureau for Africa, but more rightly as a citizen of all of Africa, Hope Sukin embodies in her tiny self the great heart of the American people and a boundless capacity for service.” Sukin spoke to Findings about her work:

Looking back on your 21-year career with USAID’s Africa Bureau, what’s most gratifying?
We’ve seen tremendous progress in the reduction of under-five mortality. We’ve seen tremendous strides with community-based malaria programming. AIDS is another incredible story—we’ve gone from a few hundred thousand people getting treatment in Africa to probably over three million. In countries like Liberia and Rwanda, we’ve worked with the local leadership to repair what was a seriously bankrupt system and to expand health care. Much of the credit for these achievements goes to something I’ve been pushing— community-based health care.

What’s USAID’s most important contribution?
We have really tried to work shoulder-to-shoulder with colleagues from other countries at the national, regional, and local levels to support their efforts for sustainable development. That can seem trite, but I believe that USAID has brought a real development mentality. That doesn’t mean a quick fix today, but really helping countries determine where the best investments are—not cookie-cutter approaches, but working with each country to support approaches that are African approaches, Asian approaches.

What kind of person does it take to do this sort of work?
A creative person, a problem-solver. Someone who really does understand and appreciate cultural and social norms and differences and can work in that type of environment and support people who know what they’re doing. Adventuresome—you need to enjoy that type of adventure. I really think it’s all about problem-solving and being able to create good personal relationships.