I am deeply encouraged and very pleased by President Obama’s decision to nominate Gayle Smith to serve as USAID Administrator for the remainder of his term. Gayle knows as well as anyone that defense and diplomacy aren’t enough in the globalized world we live in today. As we respond to terrible emergencies, such as that now occurring in Nepal, or work to address the root causes of complex challenges like violent extremism, epidemic disease, global hunger and climate change, the third pillar of our foreign policy – development – is more important than ever. It matters who plans and leads our actions on that front, and it matters that he or she gets it right. Gayle Smith has dedicated her life to advancing international development and promoting human dignity; she is the perfect choice to succeed Raj Shah at the helm of USAID.
For Gayle, these issues are personal. As a young woman, she spent several years living in the Horn of Africa, reporting for various news outlets about everything from conflicts to day-to-day life there. She saw firsthand the region’s trials and its triumphs – but most of all she saw its potential. And her ability to look beyond seemingly insurmountable obstacles and envision what people could achieve with the right partnership and support is what ultimately led her to enter public service.
It’s no secret that Gayle’s career – in the Clinton White House, at USAID, in the NGO community, and most recently on President Obama’s National Security Council – has been marked by enormous success. She has been instrumental in driving many key initiatives, from Power Africa to the President’s plan for global food security. She led the interagency effort to rethink how we work with other nations to pursue development and ensure we’re pursuing the same goals and charting our progress by the same metrics. She’s been honored with some of the most prestigious awards in U.S. public service, including the National Security Council’s Samuel Nelson Drew Award for Distinguished Contribution in Pursuit of Peace. But anyone who has worked with Gayle will tell you that none of her achievements have come by accident; they’re the direct result of Gayle’s tireless diligence, deep understanding of complicated issues, and exceptional ability to connect with people in a candid, direct, and productive way.
What’s inspired me most about Gayle over the years is her activist spirit – her dogged commitment to ensuring that when change is necessary, we find a way to make it happen. Her passion and creative thinking were on full display over the last year, when we worked closely together to try and bolster the global response to Ebola. And her refusal to simply accept the status quo extends to management and bureaucracy as well: Gayle once told me that, in foreign policy, we know a U.S. Special Envoy has succeeded when we no longer need a Special Envoy for the task at hand – a bit of wisdom that I have since passed along to every incoming Special Envoy I’ve encountered.
Raj Shah left behind an extraordinary legacy at USAID, but Gayle has the experience, the expertise, the judgment, and the drive to build on his progress and lead the agency to an even more productive future in the coming months and years. Over the course of her career, she has retained the combination of head and heart that personifies what USAID stands for, at its best. I couldn’t be more delighted at the prospect of working closely with her to advance our nation’s foreign policy and to bring about a better future – not only here at home, but in every corner of the globe.
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