Its an honor to be invited to speak at the White House . Its especially exciting to see an administration that understands the power of youth and works to pull in our voices.
The White House was pulling together 20 “awesome” youth leaders to discuss the future of international foreign aid. The conversation was between us, the head of USAID (United States Agency for International Development) Raj Shah, and the internet. It was broadcast live on the White House website, with a realtime conversation happening on Facebook and on Twitter, hashtag #USAIDyouth.
For instance, in the Middle East, almost 65 percent of the regions’ people are youth. In many places, they’re stuck under oppressive regimes and increasingly frustrated by the lack of positive prospects for their future. In Egypt and Tunisia, this came to a head. Politicians around the world took notice. The US government is starting to realize that despite its large foreign aid packages, youth were not involved in the decision-making nor in the reception of this aid, despite being a majority of those affected by it.
A 48 starred flag, painting of George Washington, an eagle, and the golden chandelier lent the air of authenticity to remind me that this building has stood for hundreds of years and that this conversation can, at its best, change the course of history. 20 eager youth, experts in the fields of environment, health, security, and technology all sat with intense looks in their eyes. The groups varied from Truman National Security Project, National Center for Global Engagement, 350.org, Americans for Informed Democracy, Bamyan Media, The Millennium Campus Network, and others. We were ready to take up the challenge.
Many of the ideas bouncing around the room seemed to agree that there was a need to fund the best and most innovative groups, not the ones that were just the best at writing applications and getting funded. The tension is how to do that successfully while doing large-scale support and making sure that they money trail is transparent and trackable.
There’s also an interesting tension in the perception of this aid to the American people from which its coming. Recent debates about cutting the US economy have targeted wings of the government such as this foreign aid. It’s not surprising why, when the average American sees it as consisting of 20% of their taxes. The reality is that it accounts for less than 1%. There’s not much room for innovation when under fire.
It’s important to be able to see how investments in science, technology, education and math (STEM), as well as green technology, are going to have a positive impact on our own economic prosperity in addition to those people working their way out of poverty around the world. But for the innovative and impactful ideas, it’s the youth who are closest to the new solutions and can help usher them in with the right support.
We all went to the White House, and were excited and honored to have been invited, but not for the photo op, but rather to make some changes. I’m encouraged by the dialogue but hope that we’re able to.