Reflections on the White House Summit on Global Development

President and CEO William Warshauer shares his thoughts on the global development summit convened by President Obama on July 20.

I was honored to be invited to take part in the White House Summit on Global Development last week. The Summit celebrated the tremendous progress the United States has helped to make across the world. It celebrated not only rising incomes for the poor and the fact that over a billion people have come out of extreme poverty over the last 25 years, but also advances in public health, electrification and other areas.

The Summit attracted many senior government officials including the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack; the National Security Advisor, Ambassador Susan Rice; the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power; and the U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator, Gayle Smith. This high-level participation reflected the importance that the Obama administration has placed on international development.

The highlight of the day was a visit from President Obama, who spoke to us for over 30 minutes. The President came from the Oval Office, where he told us he had just signed the Global Food Security Act into law. This important legislation institutionalizes the Feed the Future initiative and commits $7 billion of funding for food security activities in the coming years. This is a major win for the smallholder farmers and agribusinesses that TechnoServe supports.

I was struck by how TechnoServe is actively engaged in so many of the areas that the President mentioned in his speech. He spoke about the importance of reaching young people and of helping them access economic opportunities, and I reflected on our STRYDE project and other work with youth. He spoke about the importance of working with women and providing them with educational and economic opportunities, and I thought about our own gender policy and targets and the many amazing women farmers and entrepreneurs – and TechnoServe staff – that I have met in my travels. The President spoke about how we now bring private sector partners to the table and crowd in private sector investment, and I felt proud that TechnoServe has been a leader in exactly this area for so long. The President spoke of the need to rigorously evaluate the impact of development interventions, and I again felt proud of TechnoServe’s hard work and leadership in this area.

The President spoke pragmatically about how investments in international development actually foster U.S. national security, but he also spoke movingly about the human imperative for the work we do:

And so today, we reaffirm our belief that in the 21st century, no child should go to bed hungry, and no child should die from a mosquito bite, and no one should be denied opportunity because of where they’re born or what gender or religion they are, or the color of their skin or who they love. All of us are born equal and we’re all connected. And if a schoolhouse door is closed to a young girl, then we’re all diminished. And when a mother can’t buy medicine for her sick child, or a family flees violence whether in Syria or El Salvador, in a sense that makes us all poorer and all less secure. That’s what we believe, and that’s what brings us here together.

The President talked about the many challenges that lie ahead and he said that “whenever the task seems too great, I’m reminded… of all the people that I’ve met these past eight years, the odds they’ve faced that pale in comparison to the challenges that we face, the promise they hold.”

I too find myself regularly energized and inspired by the entrepreneurial men and women I meet on my TechnoServe travels. For example, Isaya Lokolong Latiyo in South Sudan, who is successfully selling his coffee to Nespresso and realizing a better life for himself and his family. His pride was obvious as I walked his farm with him – he is planting more coffee trees and has used some of his additional income to build a brick kiln, giving him and his family another source of revenue and resilience. I thought also of Sebastian Msola in Tanzania who started a tiny food processing business in Dodoma, which grown to include two processing facilities and 57 employees, while working with TechnoServe. I thought of Marie-Carme Fils-Aime in Haiti who runs a producer business group and helps her fellow farmers increase their earnings by selling their mangos for export to the U.S. I could go on and on, as I meet so many inspiring people whenever I travel to see TechnoServe work!

I am proud that TechnoServe is actively engaged in so many critical areas of development and poverty reduction, and I feel proud of my government that we have elevated development to be, as the President put it, “a fundamental pillar of American foreign policy and a key part of our work to lift up lives not just overseas, but here in the United States.”