Administrator Samantha Power at the Swearing-in Ceremony for USAID/Colombia Mission Director Anupama Rajaraman Anupaman Rajaraman

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good morning, everyone! And thanks to everybody on the screen who has turned on their camera. It is great to see all of the faces here and out there.

Thank you, Chargé Palmieri, for your words, your leadership—I look forward to meeting you in a few days. Very excited to take what will actually be my first trip to Colombia if you can believe it—so, not my last as optimists ensured. And Ambassador, just thank you for being here, thank you for sharing your precious last days with us. But it really is worth reflecting on the impact that you have had in your time at Washington. From President Biden to declare Colombia a major non-NATO ally, for a very, very tough budget time, for Colombia now to have received from the U.S. Congress its highest budget in at least a decade, I believe—these are just two examples, but I just know personally that in calling you over this last year and a half that I have privileged to be in this role, you’re just a doer. You want to hustle and get things done, and we can’t wait to see what you do for your country when you head home, and we know that the impact it’s just going to be in a different form. So, thank you for being here and thank you for everything you’ve done for Colombia and for U.S.—Colombian relations, it’s really important.

I think the fact that we have both our leader of our Embassy and Team in Colombia and the Ambassador here signals not just the importance of the relationship between the U.S. and Colombia but, as I think and Ambassador Pinzon really spoke to, the importance of USAID’s presence and leadership on the ground and the caliber of the person stepping into the role to run our USAID Mission in Bogota: Anupaman Rajaraman.

We also are privileged to have Anu’s family with us here today—we know that without family, all of us would be nowhere and Anu’s is no exception—her Uncle Johnson, I need you to raise your hand—nice to meet you Uncle Johnson! Her husband Jerry who is a model public service in his own right, a foreign service officer with the State Department. One of the things that Barack Obama said to my husband when I was marrying Cas on the wedding day—name dropping, apologies,—but, Cas said “Uh, any advice?” and the President—no he was the nominee at that time, it was 2008—said yes, one piece of advice, very simple, it should last you for the rest of time: “Follow the bride.” So well done, in coming to Colombia and taking that advice—and not just any old bride. Your daughters, amazingly well-behaved, where were you invented? Why can’t I have one? Nine and eleven years old, just incredible little humans—Sarayu and Sophia. Anu’s father Raj—who is traveling with her to Colombia—and her brother Shiva are tuning in virtually, will you wave? And the rest of Anu’s family of course who are so thrilled for her, and I think, I hope are thrilled for us. Anu’s mother passed away just before the start of Anu’s career in the foreign service, but I am told that if she were here, she would be, not just cheering, but dancing.

One family member who simply cannot be bothered to tune in, however, is Pepe the cat. We are told that she is utterly unimpressed by the proceedings.

Well, we are impressed, Pepe, we are impressed.

Impressed with someone who has from the very beginnings of her life, defied convention, persevered in the face of obstacles and resistance, and always sought to help to look after the underdog.

And I mean that literally. Growing up in Galveston, Texas, Anu had a thing for taking in strays. Not just the cats or dogs who were passing by, either. I’m wondering if her daughters know this or recognize this in their mom. Anu would actually ride her bike around the neighborhood in search of stray animals and bring them back home, feeding them elaborate meals but also, I love this part—and imagining rich interior lives for them, replete with names and really intricate backstories. That is a great testament to the empathy that we see flourishing here at USAID.

In 6th grade, Anu won the country-wide SPCA writing contest, skillfully responding to the prompt “What a Pet Means to Me.” That would be impressive in its own right, but what makes it even more noteworthy is that Anu didn’t have any actual pets of her own! Instead, she wrote about her various strays. And at one point, we’re told, the cat count in her backyard grew to nine.

Anu somehow had time for other hobbies, too. From an early age, she began to take dance lessons in a neighborhood studio that sat above a karate dojo. It didn’t take long before she, on her own initiative, snuck downstairs and began taking karate lessons, too. Something similar happened in the school band. Although she started playing clarinet, which many girls were encouraged to do, she eventually switched to trumpet, which all the boys played, and she rocked that, as well.

She seemed determined to prove she could do anything she set her mind to. As the only girl who hung out with her brother and his friends, she would be teased rather mercilessly. But Anu saved her revenge for the football field, where, despite being younger, she beat the boys at their own game. She was an avid skateboarder—something she took back up during the pandemic. We gotta get a video of that! That would go viral in Colombia relatively quickly, I think!

What Anu wanted to do though, with all of this dexterity to pick up instruments and sports instinctively, what she most wanted to do was make a difference in this world. And though both her father and mother were making their difference as physicians, Anu’s calling was public service. She studied government in undergrad and received a Masters in Public Administration, and after stints at non-profits and, and this will come in handy given our climate work, the EPA, she eventually found herself at USAID as a Presidential Management Fellow before joining our Foreign Service.

In each of her various posts, Anu made her presence felt—including during a previous tour in Colombia, as the Deputy Director of our Democracy, Governance and Human Rights Office there. In that position, she sought to reintegrate communities that were living in lands previously held by insurgent forces. It was through that assignment that Anu gained a special appreciation for the Indigenous Wayuu people, as she worked to help extend to them the benefits and services of the state. As she prepares to return to Colombia, Anu brings with her an impressive collection of 20-plus hand-woven mochilas.

During her service in India as the person in charge of disaster relief, she helped negotiate emergency response efforts with the government ministry as disastrous floods threatened communities in the North, all while holding a newborn—balancing motherhood and Mission. Though she left the country in India, colleagues there—and I was just there last week—say that she is still the “go to” person when they need professional advice and just a morale boost! And that’s true of our FSOs who are scattered but also our incredible Indian Foreign Service Nationals.

While in DC, Anu switched gears and served as an internal reform ninja, and I know this from my trip to Guatemala where I was cornered and told of all the reforms that had to be expeditiously made back at headquarters.

But under Anu’s leadership, two separate initiatives under past Administrators were spearheaded, one focused on modernizing USAID, and the other focused on helping countries graduate from needing foreign assistance, which of course, is what all of us want.

But there is no doubt that Anu’s time as our Mission Director in Guatemala has been among the most impactful of her career. At a time, and I can’t even imagine this as a Mission Director, when foreign assistance to the country was suspended—outright suspended—imagine being Mission Director and getting that news, Anu hustled to support a nation rocked by disasters, amidst a fragile economy and a worrying democratic picture. She also apparently welcomed in a number of those stray cats—we will not tell the RSO about that lingering habit!

After a volcanic eruption in 2018, one of her colleagues recalled a visit Anu made to Southern Guatemala where local teachers were struggling to keep learning alive after schools were shut down due because of the disaster. Anu spoke about her own belief in the power of education, and there, in the shipping containers erected to serve as temporary classrooms, she spoke about the need to channel personal resilience to weather disaster. Her colleague said, “I witnessed Anu’s leadership that day—a solid confidence coupled with a sincere desire to repair the world.”

As the Government of Guatemala unfortunately became a less reliable partner over time, with attacks on anticorruption bodies and independent prosecutors, Anu looked to engage the private sector, always hustling, helping the Mission form new partnerships with investors, social impact funds, and global businesses to benefit women, youth, and Indigenous entrepreneurs. A small contribution from USAID, less than $8 million, led 16 private partners including Starbucks and Target to invest more than $59 million in Guatemala’s fast growing small and medium-sized businesses—critical capital in a country where 150,000 people enter the workforce each year, but only 30,000 jobs are available to them.

Now, I happened to help with Michael Camilleri, the great head of our Northern Triangle Task Force—I happened to help launch that initiative with Michael and Anu while I was in Guatemala last June, but all one does when one does that launch is really stand in for the tremendous work that Anu and her team at the Mission did to support Guatemala’s overlooked communities. A colleague said Anu embodies this classic quote from President Truman that some of you know: “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you let somebody else take the credit.” And that certainly is the humility with which Anu carries herself and her work in the world.

Anu has always been a champion of local voices, including our own Foreign Service Nationals. Under her leadership at the Guatemala Mission two senior positions were created for local staff, she established a dedicated mentorship initiative, and she created a new Foreign Service National Policy Advisory Group staffed to guide leadership decisions. By looking out for her team, Anu inspired a rare sense of loyalty. As one colleague put it, “No one can say ‘no’ to Anu. She inspires trust in her teams, motivating them to do their best work, knowing that she has their backs.”

And then there are her emails. Her legendary emails. As the Guatemala Mission transitioned to telework back when the pandemic started in March of 2020, Anu began sending weekly emails each Friday to keep staff informed and aware of any developments. These emails quickly transformed from the standard bureaucratic pronouncements to a USAID family newsletter, replete with stories of staff milestones and achievements along with photos, memes, professional development tips, and Anu’s favorite puns.

And now, 112 of those emails later, Anu is headed back to Colombia, at a time of significant change for the country.

Later this week, I’m excited to be traveling to Colombia for President-elect Petro’s inauguration. He was recently elected of course, on a platform to advance social equity and inclusive economic growth, while protecting human rights and the environment. President-elect Petro will be joined by Francia Marquez as his Vice President, the first Afro-Colombian Vice President, who rose from the nation’s long-neglected Pacific Coastal region to national recognition as a staunch defender of the environment and an advocate for marginalized communities that have been disproportionately impacted by many decades of armed conflict and other challenges that the Ambassador spoke to.

As we have done under previous administrations, including that of outgoing President Ivan Duque, we will seek to strengthen the deep ties between our two countries and our two peoples. Across decades, USAID has partnered with Colombia to advance our shared agenda of building peace, deepening democracy, managing climate change, and strengthening inclusion of Afro Colombian and Indigenous communities.

Together with successive Colombian governments, we have invested intensely in rural economic development, helping provide tens of thousands of small landowners with legal alternatives to cocoa production. And we’ve helped Colombia to dramatically expand land titles in rural and remote communities, recognizing the rights and assets these communities have long held and helping them gain access to public services.

All of this occurred against a backdrop of negotiations, and eventually, a historic peace accord, between the Government and the FARC. USAID has supported the Colombian people throughout every step of the Peace Accord, from the formulation to the negotiations to its enactment in 2016 and now of course, its ongoing implementation.

As Anu travels to Colombia to oversee our strongest partnership in the region, she will continue to support the inclusive development of marginalized and Indigenous communities, help tackle climate change and foster environmental protections, support Venezuelan refugees that have been generously welcomed into Colombia, and work with the Colombian people to consolidate the peace they so desire.

Anu, I can only imagine what this day must mean to your family, having left India in the 1970s in the hopes that they might provide opportunities for you and your brother that might not have been otherwise been available. Throughout your whole life, you seem to have been paying it forward. You’ll arrive in Colombia, not just with a stellar record of results, but a lifelong commitment to extend opportunities to those who are often overlooked—and we are so lucky to have you serve in this role. It’s such an important country, at such a critical time. Congratulations to you and huge thanks to your family for supporting you on this journey with such good cheer and giving you the most meaningful people on Earth to come home to every night and thank you again for answering the call. Thank you so much Anu. Congratulations.

Last updated: August 02, 2022

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