USAID Administrator Power Announces the United States’ Launch of the U.S.-India Alliance for Women’s Economic Empowerment

Speeches Shim

Friday, October 1, 2021

Link to Virtual Event

MR. VERMA: Thank you Mukesh. Thank you Mukesh. Ambassador Power, it's wonderful to see you, and thank you for joining us. It's really great. And I know you have a significant announcement to make here, building on what Mukesh said as well. But I also just want to say to everyone what a privilege and honor it was to work with the USAID team in India when I was Ambassador. It's a storied Mission. It's an amazing group of people. And you had the pleasure when you were U.N. Ambassador to come out there in 2015, and I wonder if you can just -- I know we'll get to the announcement in a second -- but just say a little bit about why you came to India. And you made it such a priority. And you had a terrific visit.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, you're only succeeding in reminding me that I'm overdue to get there again, now as the actual USAID Administrator. Because we do have such an incredibly historic and important partnership. It's so gratifying in -- I'm imagining just how much even more gratifying it will be as USAID Administrator, because of just the number of individuals who I think have been touched by this partnership. You know, whether it's on fighting against gender-based violence, or sexual trafficking, or starting small businesses and supporting women entrepreneurs, which we'll talk about today, or, you know, in the climate space. There is so much going on in terms of transition to clean energy and renewables. But also, now increasingly we are having to look at adaptation programs because of the number of people who are just affected by the changing climate that is already upon us.

So, all of that was networked back in the day when you were there, Rich. But, you know, I'd be lying if I said that one of the factors for coming was not to see you because to watch our first Indian-American Ambassador on his virtual home turf, that was quite a thrill, as well. It sent an amazing signal, I think. And it's such a representation, really, of the number of Indian-Americans. How they've enriched our country, how so many of you have become such trailblazers here in this country. And so, that was a big part of it as well.

MR. VERMA: Oh, that's nice of you. It's nice of you to say that. I should tell people that we had the opportunity to work together, I think, starting almost 15 years ago, when you were working for a Senator from Illinois, at the time. And then we got to continue our work together through the Administration. And your team -- your current team, the USAID team in India -- took me around the country. They showed me all the projects they were working on. And we got particularly focused on a health project: ending tuberculosis once and for all in India. And it was, again, an amazing experience.

So, first of all, thank you for your service. Thank you for stepping up to the plate again, to lead this great agency. Tell us about the announcement and the initiative that we want to talk about today.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I will. And thanks to all of you for giving us such a great forum to bring this home. So, the Biden-Harris Administration is pursuing a comprehensive plan to promote women's economic empowerment, help end gender-based violence, and tackle other inequalities. And so, what I'm here to announce today is the launch of the U.S.-India Alliance for Women's Economic Empowerment, along with the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum and George Washington University. So, we are in this together. This is a new public-private partnership. It'll bring together U.S. and Indian businesses, philanthropies, academic institutions, and civil society. The goal is to support, again, women entrepreneurs, job access, career building, mentorship and so forth.

You know the statistics, Rich. You were one of the great champions of this agenda when you were Ambassador and before that. But McKinsey has found that closing the gender gap in the workforce would add $13 trillion to the global GDP by 2030. And of course, given how important India is to the global GDP, tackling this agenda in India is really important. In the agricultural workforce, the FAO found that if women farmers had the same access to resources as male farmers, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by 100 to 150 million.

So, this Alliance has been in the works for some time -- well before my time coming on board and joining the Biden Administration. And so, launching the Alliance is the first step, but happy to talk, you know, more about USAID's role in the Alliance, and how we see the private sector, which really is, I think, the lynch pin. Because this is such -- we know how systemic so many of these issues are. There are so many different structural dimensions of it. So, you know, we know that stating this broad ambition is necessary, but not at all sufficient. So, eager to talk with you, and eager to enlist people in the audience as well, to be part of this.

MR. VERMA: No, it's great. It's an incredible initiative. And, again, thank you for leading it at USAID. You know, it is the case study for a public-private partnership. And we talk a lot about public-private partnerships, and not often knowing what they're going to deliver or what they're working on. But USAID has the technical expertise. You have the science. You have the data and the corporates. And the partners at G.W. and at USISPF can all come together. Just tell us how we can best serve this initiative. You're talking to, kind of, America's biggest companies right now, and the representatives here. So, what can we do to really actually make this work?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, let me give you, if I could Rich, just a couple examples. Because you're right, I think the public-private partnership, umbrella, you know, can describe a lot of different things. And I actually think the folks in the audience will know best, you know, what they bring in their comparative advantages. So rather than speculating there, let me offer examples of the first couple initiatives that we're going to be moving out on. So, one is called Women at Work. And it's led by anAlliance member, Samhita.

And this basically seeks to bring together coalitions of business, philanthropic organizations, like I said before, but very specifically to address the needs of marginalized women who've been affected by the pandemic. So, again, we could have a pre-COVID initiative and our partners on the ground have been doing this kind of work with marginalized women, you know, for decades. But this is very specifically looking at the knock-on effects that the pandemic has had. And the idea is, through funding, and through mentorship, that we will try to give these women, again, we'll be identified by our partner in Samhita, which knows best kind of how to go about doing this. But identify women, and then help foster those women's access to tools to do everything from build their own digital business, invest in, and develop the care economy, and the support economy, which is incredibly important. And then assist where a lot of these women gravitate towards informal women-owned businesses and working to help those informal businesses register and join.

So, I think that's sort of comprises a little bit. Then the second initiative that we are pursuing as part of thisAlliance, is called the India Million Women Mentors Initiative. And this is led by a different Alliance member, known as Pod, which you may know, and I think, may be here today. And this is a corporate partner that specializes in social media mentorship platforms.

And then the goal here is to connect a million women and girls in smaller medium-sized cities in India, with mentors in the United States and India. And so, here, again, to give young women and girls career advice, advice about schooling and education. To plug them into our networks. And you know, as the needs arise, potentially, also to do some skill building as well.

And the goal over time is to give these young women the ability to launch and potentially scale companies. Or to build more meaningful careers, and to, you know, to encourage them from a very young age to pursue leadership roles and to kind of aim big. So, I think that's very creative. And, again, we can provide contact details for people involved in this, for those who think that they'd like to plug in and be mentors for that initiative, or to be involved in the other one.

MR. VERMA: Yeah, but both initiatives are really terrific. And I think you'll have a lot of interest and people will be working to get engaged. And could you spend just a little bit more time talking about the impact of COVID-19? And your first initiative really addresses that. But women, in particular women, women entrepreneurs, women in small businesses have been kind of unduly hit by the pandemic in a way and maybe just what you're seeing, as you travel. What you're seeing and what the Alliance can do in India to help alleviate some of the damage that's been done?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Yeah, I mean, there's a lot one can say about COVID. You know, people have referred to it as the great revealer. So, to some extent, you know, whatever those inequities were, you know, prior to early 2020, when the pandemic struck. And just as in this country, you see those inequities exacerbated.

You know, I think even in our own domestic context here, Vice President Harris has called the number of women who have dropped out of the U.S. labor force and national emergency. And as we know, even though you know, job returns are increasing here. There's a lag when it comes to women, and who are often the care providers at home. And so, women in India, I think, are no exception to this great revealer and great exacerbator phenomenon. The studies have shown you know, difficulty, greater difficulty accessing financial services. You know, in these lean economic times, an inability to take out loans. You know, when you're -- if you're a female-owned restaurant, and that restaurant has had to close because of COVID, an inability to cover that or get banks to treat you equitably. You know, as your male counterparts, then again, something we all identify with, but you know, the unpaid care and domestic work that women have been doing and with kids, again, at home, in many parts of India.

And just the knock-on effects of business closures and women, even if it's not formally women-headed household. Women bearing the lion's share of figuring out how to feed the family, and so forth. So, again, it's in knowing that there have been these disparate impacts everywhere and including in India. And where you had such, you know, such issues of marginalization and economic vulnerability that even predated this and had women making great strides, it has to be said. And made tremendous strides in so many sectors in India, showing tremendous leadership.

But, you know, this has just been a real blow to some of the progress that had been made. And so, part of what we're trying to do is you've indicated. You know, the first initiative, I mentioned, really speaks to this. You know, both address the hole that some women find themselves now and identify women who could really benefit from some support to bring them back to where they were. But also learn from this experience and see that, you know, in every crisis, these disparate effects are going to be felt. Unless and until we've created more durable platforms, you know, that women can access as equally as men.

And so, we feel like, you know, for all of the horrific disparate impacts that I've discussed, that people are so familiar with. COVID has also shined a spotlight on these disparate impacts. And it's, you know, what was -- Rahm Emanuel used to say, you know, don't let a crisis go to waste.

But with the kind of attention to the inequities, we feel like it's an opening. You know, for philanthropies, businesses, academic institutions to come together and support our non-governmental partners and those, you know, in the public sector that are really trying to address this problem systemically. So, it's to recover and build back better. I guess you might, you might say, to coin a phrase.

MR. VERMA: No, it's great. And that's, you know, I think of our own experience. You know, in the private sector and MasterCard, for example, we're partnering with the Development Finance Corporation, and with HDFC Bank in a new $100-million initiative to help small and medium businesses, but women-owned businesses, primarily. And to focus on imparting digital skills, and helping their businesses go digital.

So that's the kind of thing I think, companies like ours can do. But there's so many other examples of what we can get done together. I wanted to maybe just shift your attention a little bit towards India itself as a development partner. And, you know, a lot of activity over the last week. We had the visit of Prime Minister Modi and then we had the quad meeting the very next day. How do you think about India as a partner in the development challenges that we face, not only for our collective populations, but around the world? What's possible?

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: I mean, you know, I think that I've talked to Minister Jaishankar about this. I talked to him about it, I guess back when he was not Foreign Secretary, when I was visiting there with you. But it's striking just in the what would it be probably five years that have elapsed since my visit. I think to see you in India five or six years, but just even now, the greater possibilities and the greater realities of what our trilateral cooperation in other parts of the world can look like. And COVID, you know, which of course has been, you know, such a searing crisis for the people of India where USAID and all of you have really tried to step up and support India.

But you know, what is clear now, that the export ban on vaccine manufacturing is going to be lifted. That India is going to play one of the most important roles on planet earth in bringing this pandemic to an end. Because of its innovation, because of the investments that have been made over a long period of time in expanding vaccine manufacturing capacity. And so while there's been, you know, right now we're in a really difficult period because there are significant vaccine shortages as you know. And shortages of vaccine supply India is very soon going to be back online.As the, you know, a critical engine in meeting the targets that the world's leaders just rallied behind at the COVID summit, which is mainly to get 70 percent of each of the world's country's populations vaccinated by the U.N. General Assembly next year. And as you know, in sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of Asia, where some parts of Asia, we're not that close to that. And that gives you some sense, not only what the United States is going to bring online with more Pfizer donations and so forth, but what we know India has to contribute.

And I think it's also, India as an inspiration. You know, we -- and I'll stay on COVID, just because it's certainly the topic of our time, along with climate. But in both domains, in fact. You know, as India innovates in its transition to renewables, on the climate front, as it extends its vaccine manufacturing capacity. Not only for COVID vaccines but now to make itself again a hub for vaccinations that there -- for vaccines for other diseases that, you know, have been concentrated in the developed world. That manufacturing capacity, that's giving a lot of countries ideas. You know, we're talking of Rwanda, Senegal, we just, through the Development Finance Corporation, made a big investment in South Africa. And, you know, I think what's -- you know, once India is in a position, you know, to move past COVID in a way that, of course, is in the interests of the Indian people to do. And we're seeking to support them to do. For it to bring its expertise to bear on how a country like South Africa can extend already what it is doing in the manufacturing space.

We want to -- we really do want to build that better after this pandemic, so that there's much more decentralized manufacturing capacity. So, I think COVID's a great example, but it extends so far beyond that. I think there's so much in the agricultural space, so much in the -- in the micro enterprise space, where India's been a trailblazer. And we as -- at USAID, we take the lessons, we learn from our USAID Mission at the -- and the programs we're fortunate enough to have visibility into. To see the dynamism of the microlending, you know, world in India. And taking those lessons on the road, we've always done that. We've always learned from our partners in India and tried to inject that learning into what USAID does. But now the exciting thing is, we get to do it alongside, you know, Indian development experts who are willing to bring that expertise to bear in other parts of the developing world.To see if we can replicate some of the successes and that dynamism elsewhere. So, it's -- it really feels -- and the quad which, you know, is just one example, I think, of this outward facing exciting set of possibilities. You know, for India and the United States to be in lockstep. But trying to help others deal with the toughest problems of our time.

MR. VERMA: Yeah, it's a really, really great point, and I think it creates a lot of excitement. You know, I've heard President Biden and Prime Minister Modi both say that it's too limiting to think about what the U.S. and India should do for each other. It's really the impact we can have on the greater global good and for people who need the assistance. And that's exactly what you were talking about. Unfortunately, our time has run, and I just want to, again, thank you for your incredible leadership. Thank you for leading this Alliance effort again, of which USISPF is proud to be a member, along with our other partners. And we look forward to working closely with you and your team in the months and years ahead. And we'll certainly be a close partner as we go forward.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, Rich, thanks for doing this. Thanks for your leadership and let me just close by saying that it is a tremendous audience that you've assembled here today. This U.S.-India Women’s Economic Empowerment Alliance, I think, creates a space for all of you. So, we will make sure that you have information about how to follow up. And once you get more visibility again into the specific initiatives that are part of this alliance, I think you'll be able to find your slice of it. But we really think the success of this, given the scale of the ambitions, is going to turn on our partnership with you all. So, thank you so much.

MR. VERMA: Thank you, appreciate it.

Issuing Country 

Last updated: August 02, 2022

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