USAID’s John Barsa on the U.S. global humanitarian response to COVID-19

On June 232020, Meridian hosted USAID Acting Administrator John  Barsa for a virtual Insights@Meridian to discuss the  Agency’s important role in leading the U.S. global humanitarian response to COVID-1and its commitment towards combating this unprecedented global crisis. Moderated by President and CEO of Meridian Ambassador Stuart Hollidaythe conversation allowed for foreign ambassadors and private sector leaders to hear about the Agency’s coordination efforts taking place across sectors as well as ongoing development priorities.  

Below are the key takeaways from the conversation:  

1.COMMITTED AT HOME AND ABROAD.Collectively, USAID and the State Department have committed more than $1.3 billion in assistance aimed at fighting the pandemic abroad, to improve public health education, protect public health workers, strengthen laboratory systems, and increase rapid response capabilities in more than 120 countries.

2.A PUSH FOR INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS.Across the world, USAID is tapping into the innovation of private businesses to implement creative market-based solutions to combat the virus. To make it easier for innovators to contribute,USAID has partnered with the Global Innovation Exchange to develop a COVID-19 website to provide a clearinghouse for innovation.

3.IT’S TIME FOR A MORE INCLUSIVE SOCIETY. As countries plan for economic recovery, Barsa recognized the importance of ensuring the inclusion of women in all plans. “If any country thinks they can get their economy going again without the full inclusion of approximately half of their workforce, it's folly.” The push for full economic integration of women helps governance systems ensure stability.

4.USAID: A TOOL OF DIPLOMACY.“If you look back at the roots of USAID, created in 1961 by an act of Congress, signed by President Kennedy, at the time of the height of the Cold War, USAID is the soft power component of the national security structure.” The Agency does not operate on its own and regularly engages with the State Department. Barsa believes USAID serves as a tool of diplomacy, as it has the ability to build bridges for strategic long-term relationships between the people of the United States and the people of the countries in which it operates.

5.THE IMPORTANCE OF STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS.Barsa acknowledged the significance in partnering with private businesses, nonprofits, charities, faith-based organizations, and individuals to combat COVID-19. These partnerships allow the Agency to extend its reach and accomplish more abroad. For example, USAID recently partnered with the Thai Red Cross to create an app that enables users to report locations of those infected and in need of assistance. In Nigeria, USAID launched a partnership with the telecommunications company Airtel to reach one million citizens a day via voice and text messages. This provided these individuals with critical information on preventive measures to contain the spread of the virus. 

Insights@Meridianis designed to provide ambassadors and other senior diplomats with an intimate opportunity to hear directly from Administration leaders, members of Congress, policymakers and business visionaries on vital policy issues of the day. 

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