U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green's Remarks at a USAID Youth as Partners in Innovation and Development Event
Thursday, April 19, 2018
Office of Press Relations
April 19, 2018
MS. BATEYUNGA: So, my first question will be, looking at what the USAID youth policy does -- that's the USAID Youth in Development Policy. So, the paper makes reference to both the potential and the challenge of the current youth demographic transition. So, what's your take on this dichotomy?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, we're living in interesting times. We have the largest youth population in history. So, it depends on how you talk. We say it's the glass half full or the glass half empty. There are pessimists out there who look around the world, and they talk about all the challenge that we have, the conflict that we have, and it's real. But they look at the number of young people and they see that as a challenge, as a problem to be managed.
Others of us, at USAID, we see the opposite. We see, with the largest youth community in history, the greatest opportunity in history, because with each young person, we have an open mind. With each young person, we have new ideas and new energy. And so, what we hope to do with USAID is play a small role. We're modest. It's all you. We do a small role, but we hope we can unlock. We can hope that we can, in some small way, amplify opportunities for young people.
And please understand, it's not for young people through people like me. It's selfish. With all the challenges that are out there, we need you desperately. We need your ideas and your innovation. So, people like me look selfishly and think, "My God, we have challenges. We need our young people." It's the only way we're going to advance.
MS. BATEYUNGA: So, what does promoting youth innovation look like?
ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: You know, it is no one thing. It is many things. Obviously, I'm a big fan, as you know, of Tanzania Bora Initiative, and what I've seen around here, technology. I think our young people sometimes can't fully appreciate how far the world has come in a short period of time. I had a chance to talk to some of my Kenyan friends earlier. I started off my career in development 30 years ago. Many of you were not born 30 years ago, I know. Thirty years ago, I was a teacher in Kenya, Western Kenya. And we had in my village one wind-up telephone. You literally walked to this phone and you would turn the crank. You'd pick it up, and you'd say, "Operator, give me Kisumu." You'd put it down, and you'd go sit under the mango tree, and eventually, the phone would ring, and they'd say your call was through. Twelve years later, I visited the same school, and I went to track down one of my former students. And I saw a young man, and I said, "Do you know Niva?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Can you go and get him for me?" Pulled out his mobile phone and called him.
A dozen years later, I'm an ambassador in Tanzania. And my team, my staff, are doing transactions, they're processing malaria tests -- all of this by smartphone. And so, the progress that we have seen in my adult lifetime is staggering. But that's just scratching the surface. So, innovation for us is using some of these remarkable technology tools to bring freedom, opportunity, collaboration, to what we used to think of as remote corners of the world.
But there's a second piece to it. For us, it is helping to connect young people to solve some of the challenges that we see in the world and to overcome some of the biases we see in the world. There are many places in the world where there is conflict. There are many places in the world where we see hardened attitudes. I remember a few years ago, I was an election observer in Georgia in Europe, Eurasia. And the parties during the elections were very harsh. There was lots of arguing, and it was very contentious. And I was very worried about how this would get solved.
That same day, I went to visit some young people, IRI partners. And they were college-age, recent college graduates. And they represented all of the parties. I asked them to meet with me. And when I came in, they were all best friends. They were meeting all the time. They were talking all the time. They were talking about challenges. And I realized, as difficult as that election was, when I met those young people, it's going to be okay. That we have young people who are willing to talk, to talk across lines, to talk across sectors, religious backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds. And that, to me, is the great hope. So, for us, innovation, technology for certain, but it is tapping into young people with ideas, but also who are open and trying to leverage that. That, to us, is the real hope and the innovation. So, technology is fantastic, but if all of you left this room and the technology remained, it's nothing.