Remarks by Secretary of State Clinton at Feed the Future: Partnering with Civil Society

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–September 27, 2012. 

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to this event about Feed the Future and the work we are doing together. I am delighted to be here with someone whom I admire so much and am very enthusiastic about, and that is President Joyce Banda from Malawi. Thank you so much, my friend. (Applause.)

And I want to thank Nick Kristof, who will moderate the discussion this morning, but I’m not thanking him for that. I want to thank him for covering all of those incredibly important issues, whether it’s Feed the Future and increasing agricultural productivity – but as a former farm boy, he understands and appreciates that – or emphasizing human trafficking, as he did again in reporting on the President’s historic speech at the Clinton Global Initiative. Nick had a column about Feed the Future, and I can’t remember the exact title, but it was something like, “the most boring program you’ve never heard of that’s making a difference.” (Laughter.) So Nick, thank you for staying the course with us and being – swimming against the tide. There are headlines and there are trend lines, and sometimes we confuse the two, and oftentimes we neglect the trend lines for the headlines. And Nick hasn’t done that, and we’re very grateful to you.

I also want to thank our partners from Burkina Faso who are here, including the Foreign Minister. Thank you, sir, for being here. I also want to thank the Minister of External Affairs from Sri Lanka. Thank you for being with us. And the Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources from Burkina Faso.

I want to acknowledge Dr. Raj Shah, the USAID Administrator, who has been hands-on and pushing forward on so many of the changes that we are bringing about. I want to thank my Chief of Staff and Counselor Cheryl Mills, who’s been one of the driving forces behind what the United States has done. And I want to thank the Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, who is also here. Thank you.

Now, you will get to hear more from a lot of these people. And a person that you just heard that you may not have known you were listening to, who narrated the video, Matt Damon. And I want thank Matt for once again lending his talent to helping us highlight this important issue.

Now, this is the fourth time that we have gathered on the margins of the UN General Assembly to focus the world’s attention on food security. In 2009, we reaffirmed the principles reflected in the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative, the international community’s $22 billion pledge to support agricultural development worldwide, including the President Obama’s pledge of $3.5 billion through what we were beginning to call our Feed the Future Initiative for global hunger and food security.

In 2010, I launched the 1,000 Days partnership with Ireland, the United Nations, and other international partners to improve nutrition from pregnancy through a child’s second birthday, which is critical for lifelong health and development.

And then last year, we focused on supporting women in agriculture, because women often do the work at every link of the agricultural chain: They grow the food, they store it, they sell it, and prepare it. So we must ensure that women get the support they need if we are serious about improving food security.

As a result of all the work of so many people over the last four years, food security is now at the top of our national and foreign policy agendas, as well as that of so many other nations in the world, because we understand it is a humanitarian and moral imperative, but it also directly relates to global security and stability. I’ve seen in my travels how increased investments in agriculture and nutrition are paying off in rising prosperity, healthier children, better markets, and stronger communities.

So we meet here today knowing that progress is possible, is taking place. But I want to say a few words about our civil society partners, because along with the private sector, which already is giving unprecedented support to agricultural development in Africa, and now through our New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, are really increasing their investment and their collaboration.

But civil society organizations are crucial to our success in both the public and the private sector. They have longstanding relationships in communities and valuable technical expertise, and they work every single day on their commitment to try to make the world a better place for all of us.

So today, I am pleased to announce a new commitment by civil society groups: InterAction, an alliance of 198 U.S.-based organizations – and Sam Worthington, its president, is here today – is pledging more than $1 billion of private, nongovernmental funds over the next three years to improve food security and nutrition worldwide. (Applause.)

Of this $1 billion, five U.S.-based organizations together have pledged to invest more than $900 million in this effort. They are World Vision, Heifer International, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, and ChildFund International. Let’s give all five of these great organizations a round of applause. (Applause.)

And just as these organizations hold governments accountable, they have agreed to be held accountable themselves. Starting in 2013, InterAction will make annual reports here at the UN General Assembly on its commitments and disbursements worldwide. And I am so grateful to InterAction and its members for their outstanding support and generosity.

Let’s keep in mind the principles that guide us. This week at the UN General Assembly, developing and developed countries together are emphasizing what we know to be true: Country ownership is critical to successful development. When developing countries themselves are in the lead, when programs are designed for their specific strengths and needs, when we work together to build capacity at the local level that can carry progress forward independently, and when new resources are brought to the table in a transparent, collaborative manner, that is the best strategy for achieving concrete, sustainable results. These commitments by civil society reflect this approach, and we all need to rededicate ourselves to it, not only in global food security, but more broadly as we work to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and look beyond those deadlines to our long-term development work. I think we are on the right track, so we just have to keep pushing forward.

Now this will be my last time chairing this meeting. A year from now I will be a private citizen again. But I want to take this opportunity to say to all of you how personally gratifying this work has been for me, as Secretary of State and as an old NGO activist myself, going back more years than I care to remember. I so believe in it and I am so grateful to all of you who have devoted your time and energy and resources to this shared mission.

Now let me recognize and introduce someone who I have a great admiration for and someone who’s been an inspirational leader to all those who work on food security worldwide. She started her own civil society organizations in Malawi, and I was so pleased to be able to visit her a short time ago and see the progress she’s making, hear more about her plans, go out and visit some women in a dairy cooperative, deliver a big bull to them, which had all kinds of double meanings – (laughter) – but nevertheless, it seemed to be the right thing to do. And I am delighted that we’re going to have a conversation with Nick, and so Nick Kristof, please kick it off.

MR. KRISTOF: Thanks very much. And let me just say that there’s also, I think, a larger significance to this than just the content of the discussion. It really is, it seems to me, kind of remarkable that during the busiest diplomatic week of the annual calendar that we should be having this conversation not about those issues in the headlines, as you said, but about the trend lines, about some of the – about how to address the needs in some of the world’s most vulnerable people. And thanks to both of you for hosting this event in that sense.

President Banda, let me ask you a question for starters: We’re focusing today in part on power of civil society. You very much emerged from the civil society; that was where your career came from. And since you became President, I’ve heard little scattered bits and pieces about your career origins and I think it had something to do at some point with going to a USAID office. In journalism we have an expression that some stories are too good check – (laughter) – and so I’m a little nervous to ask you. Maybe it will be more banal than that. But can you tell us a little bit about how you did come to emerge as a civil society player before you became President?

PRESIDENT BANDA: Thank you very much distinguished ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to share this podium with a very good old friend and a friend of Africa. I start my story from being married early, spending ten years in an abusive marriage, and then later on going shopping again and finding a better husband. (Laughter.)

It was very clear in my mind at that point that I think what had gone wrong is that I was not prepared for marriage and I was not economically empowered. So having corrected that bit of my own life, with great risk – it almost killed my mom – I began to look back and wondered what was happening to most of those women who are locked up in abusive situations but didn’t have the courage to walk out. Because socially, as an African woman, you need to – you want to remain married, because that’s the right thing to do. You don’t walk away from an abusive relationship. It doesn’t make sense. So you stick there, but I walked out.

What was happening to the rest of the women who wished to walk out but couldn’t? As I was being bothered by these thoughts, at that point I was economically empowered myself, running one of the largest industrial garment manufacturing industries owned by a woman in that country, employing hundreds of people. I started to worry about my fellow women. And that’s when USAID came on the scene.

So I remember attending an event organized by UNDP looking at why Malawi’s private sector wasn’t growing and why wasn’t it being regarded as the engine for growth. And I remember standing up at a meeting – at that meeting, I was one of only two women – and saying, “Well, as long as women are sidelined, there’s no way this country is going to move from where it is. Women have to get to the table.” And it was during the dictatorship, so you – freedom of speech didn’t exist at that time, so I remember at break time, a tall American guy walked over to me and said, “Are you not worried about making such statements in public? Don’t you know what can happen to you?” Because those day you went to jail for nothing.

And I said, “Well, it doesn’t matter. Somebody has to say it. Somebody has to do it.” And they pulled out their card and told me that if in the future you ever want support, here is my card. I looked at the card. It said USAID project, RED Project, Rural Enterprise Development. And three women who were in business were looking for ways of coming to the U.S. for a study tour. And USAID supported me, sponsored the three of us. And we got here and were hosted by African-American Institute.

It was during that trip, while I was still worried about what is it that I can do back home, and was provided with an opportunity by USAID to interact with women’s groups in this country that it became very clear in my mind that I needed to get back home and organize a group of women and act as a pressure group to press for equal opportunities for women in business. At that moment, I thought I was just forming a club. It was going to be 100 women here and there.

So I went back home. But so many things happened, and I would spend the whole day explaining, but when I – I remember going back home and phoning Carol Peasley, who was the country director of USAID, and said, “Well, you started it. You sponsored me to go the U.S. and I’m back. Now I want to organize women and how can you support me?” And she said, “Well, what is the matter with women? What’s going on?” And then three sentences into my presentation, she folded her pad and put her pen away, and I knew that I had succeeded in making a total fool of myself. (Laughter.)

And so I had to start all over again. So I went back to her and I realized that I didn’t have my figures right, I didn’t done the proper checking, no data had been collected, needs assessment (inaudible). So that whole process I went back to Carol and that is what USAID did for us. I formed the National Association of Businesswomen, and of course there was some times that I was confronted with near arrest, and I remember once or twice running back to USAID to hide in the USAID quarters.

So last time when I came, I said, “Well, I’m a product of USAID,” and somebody said, “How come?” But there’s so much that we can talk about, and I thought that I’d start by expressing that gratitude, that all along the way, the first office that we opened in Malawi, the first group of women that were mobilized, the first cars that we had, institutional development grant, everything was provided by USAID.

MR. KRISTOF: Wow. Raj, you’ve got to find that person and give her a raise. (Applause.)

Secretary Clinton, now the traditional approach of foreign assistance largely involved writing big checks from a distance. And now we’re evolving to something that’s much more based on public-private partnerships, on working with civil society, on bringing a larger community together. Why that change?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think we just heard a description of why that change. Empowering local people by giving them the tools to start their own organizations, find their own voices, run their own programs – which is what the President has done – is a much more effective, sustainable kind of development assistance. Moving from aid to trade so that we really help people develop businesses, which then in turn can employ local people and open markets, is a much more effective form of development assistance. Putting the country and the community in charge of setting the priorities, so it’s not our priorities sitting in Washington or New York or anywhere else, other than on-the-ground, in the places that are going to make the decisions, whether or not what is being provided has staying power.

And I think, Nick, that it – the United States has been, both through our government and particularly through philanthropy, NGOs, our faith communities, has been extraordinarily generous, and has helped so many people over so many years with immediate humanitarian crises that had to be addressed in the here and now. But over the last several years, and as someone who’s been doing this for a very long time, it became clearer and clearer that what we really wanted to do was work ourselves out of the business of development, but for those crises that overwhelmed any country – the earthquake in Haiti – something that was just impossible for any country to respond to.

And so we have consciously, in this Administration and certainly working in collaboration with AID and with the private and not-for-profit sectors, we’ve been very focused on that. I went to Busan, South Korea and made a speech about how we had to put country ownership in the lead. It was and remains controversial in some areas, because it really calls upon those of us who are writing the checks and doling out the support to be a little more humble and a little more receptive to hearing, not just talking, about what we’re trying to accomplish together.

So Feed the Future, of course, is backed with enormous amounts of investment from governments, private sectors, and not-for-profit, and then with this excellent announcement today about interaction in our five organizations. We are still very much in the lead in providing funding. But everything we’re trying to do now is to build capacity.

So the final thing I would say is one of the great programs the United States ran was PEPFAR, something that has made such a difference in providing AIDS drugs and treatment. But we realized in this Administration we had to also help build health systems, because if all we were was a drug dispensary, then when the drugs stopped, maybe the countries would not be able to continue providing what their patient populations needed. So we’re working with countries like South Africa others to help them make the transition, and we’re going to do more to help them have systematic foundational support.

So I think it’s something that’s very exciting in development, especially for some of us who have been doing this for a while to see leaders like the President step forward and say, “Look, I was in civil society. I’m now in government. I think we know what our priorities should be, so align what you’re giving us with what our priorities are for the long term.”

MR. KRISTOF: But Secretary Clinton, I’m sure there’s NGOs out there and they’re thinking about their field offices, where the photocopier doesn’t work and the car is leaking oil. And they’re thinking you represent this incredible government with these astounding resources that seems to do anything, and what extra benefit do those NGOs or does civil society bring you? Why – in a sense, why do you need them, given their photocopiers don’t work and their cars don’t work and everything else?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, because we believe in collaboration. And the kind of partnership that we want with governments and NGOs and others is indispensible to our overall goals. There are civil society groups and organizations, some of them just very small on the ground without the photocopier working, and then there are multimillion dollar enterprises with very new cars and lots of photocopiers. And at all levels, what we’re looking for is what’s the value added.

And as Joyce was just talking about, an AID representative in Malawi could be providing all kinds of ideas for her as she began searching for a way to organize. And then maybe there’s an NGO, an American or international NGO, that has done this work. And so they’re down the road and they can provide some additional value. But if all of us have the mindset shift that we are now going to be guided by what the Joyce Bandas of the world want, not the Hillary Clintons or the Raj Shahs, we then will facilitate, catalyze, leverage, support people like Joyce and governments like hers in achieving the progress that they’re seeking.

So there’s a – this is a big playing field. There’s room for so many different individuals and groups. But what we’re trying to do is knit together an overall shift in attitude among the aid givers to be very respectful of those who are on the receiving end so that they are feeling empowered to build on the progress that is being made.

PRESIDENT BANDA: In addition, I would like to add to what Secretary Clinton just said, that at the point when I started the National Association of Businesswomen, USAID had established in Malawi what they called the shared project. And through the shared project, the civil society could go and seek support, financial support, institutional capacity support, program support, and I think we went from maybe 10 NGOs to 400 NGOs because of that opportunity. The National Association of Businesswomen in a period of seven months – I mean, seven years reached out 50,000 women. Now all the organizations that I have founded, it is now a total of 1.1 million beneficiaries. Now, when you look back, if it hadn’t been for the intervention or the support provided by USAID in the first place some of us would not have done as much as we have been able to do.

MR. KRISTOF: And President Banda, I think one of the lessons learned from the past 50 years, one of the mistakes that we in the West have made, is that we often have a bunch of really smart Americans sitting around a conference room and come up with great ideas but haven’t listened enough to civil society like that. And I think there’s often a frustration from those groups about that fact. So you have the microphone. What do we Americans need to learn from African civil society? What message do we need to get better?



PRESIDENT BANDA: Listen. (Laughter and applause.) I’ve always said that we know exactly what we want to do. We know how to move from Point A to Point B. I knew from a very young age, as I’ve said, what I needed to do to empower fellow women. What we’re looking for is partnership and that is what we are finding. Just this week we signed a MOU with the Clinton Development Initiative. Why? Because I’m satisfied it’s going to be a partnership. The organizations that come into Africa and recognize that there’s leadership in Africa, and respect us and know that we want to achieve what we’re going to achieve with dignity, so they don’t come and impose themselves upon us.

It really does break my heart when large NGOs, civil society organizations, come to Africa, believe that they can do it alone. Then they waste so much money. Twenty years later, they leave and they say you know, Africans – we’ve been trying, they can’t be assisted. But it’s because they did it wrong; they didn’t listen to us. There are so many Joyce Bandas where I come from.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Nick, could I just add on to what Joyce has said? Because this is really the heart of what we’ve tried to do over the last four years, and it comes from our own recognition that we’ve done a lot of very good things, but I think the impact and the lasting sustainability of a lot of what we’ve done could certainly have been enhanced if what we were doing had been embedded more in civil society, more in government ministries. And yes, that’s a risk. Not doing it is a risk. And I’d rather take the risk on that side.

I remember being in a refugee camp, and I was wandering around as you do when you make these visits, and was talking to some of the people. And some of the women were telling me that they were still afraid to go out and collect firewood. Some of their babies had diarrhea. And this was in a camp run by a very good consortium of international NGOs and government-funded development agencies. And one woman said to me, “Who can I get to listen to me about what we need?” And it’s just – when you’re focused on what you think of as the emergency, you get really busy, and it’s easy to shut your ears because you just don’t have time to stop and listen. And yet what I was being told in a short visit, because people were coming to me almost out of desperation, was something that wasn’t new, but it just hadn’t been heard.

So – and I think that’s a really important point of Joyce’s. Those of us who are – who do this work, in whatever capacity, you’ve got – you always have to be asking yourself, “Is this really serving the way that I wish to serve to help people or not?” And listen, listen, listen. If nothing else is taken away from this morning, I think President Banda’s admonition is really important.

MR. KRISTOF: Well, we’re going to adhere to that admonition, okay, because in a moment we’re going to have another panel precisely listening to civil society. But we’re out of time for this panel, so please join me in thanking President Banda and Secretary Clinton for their participation and for hosting this event. (Applause.)