Obama: Addresses “Do-gooders” & Encourages Young People as Partners in Development at White House Summit on Global Development

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“Just a lot of Do-gooders in one room, own it!” President Obama says while addressing the attendees at the recently held July 20th White House Summit on Global Development he hosted. The Summit brought together development leaders, public and private sector partners, civil society, diplomats, entrepreneurs and several young people to discuss the progress achieved by the Administration’s approach to development and find ways to synergize further efforts in development that will be measured in terms of real world results in six key areas of energy, food security, global health, governance, partnership, and youth. There were a series of panel discussions throughout the day that highlighted President Obama’s global development initiatives.

An immaculate view of the “Do-gooders” during their lunch break at the summit

“We’ve saved over 60 million lives from measles, malaria, and tuberculosis. We’ve slashed HIV/AIDS infections and deaths. Across the developing world, incomes have gone up.  Tens of millions of boys and girls are in school.  Millions have gained access to clean energy, helping to mitigate the threat of climate change.  In just the past 25 years, more than 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty ― 1 billion.”- President Obama reflects on shared progress his administration has confronted over the last eight years, some of the most daunting development and humanitarian challenges in modern history.

Linking the U.S national security to development, Obama said that development should not be seen as charity but rather as an investment in the security and prosperity of all. Tough argument to make here in the States he said, even with the big needs and kids going hungry or the lack of good enough schools in this country amongst many other challenges the U.S faces,  he continues that sometimes people feel like why is the U.S making investments any place else? Obama said, few people question the billions of dollars in investment that goes into the military and while he is proud to be the commander-in-chief of the best military in human history, spending a fraction of that money in investment in clean water, education or health care in development of other countries does not mean that they are not mindful of the needs at home but rather means “we’re also going to be in a better position to protect our country and improve our country. This is why as President, I’ve elevated development as a key pillar of American foreign policy”, Obama said.

The new Global Development Policy and transformation of the way the U.S now treats development, Obama said is rooted in the deepening partnerships with multilateral organizations, civil society, the private sector, faith communities and, most importantly, people on the ground including the youth. The government is not just sending solely foreign aid, but now leveraging new sources of funding ― committing and mobilizing more than $100 billion from the private sector and other partners to promote development and save lives. In the fight against poverty, governments are treated as partners rather than charity cases, he stated- and with a higher standard of accountability against waste, fraud, corruption.

“People tell me around the world when I travel, developing nations, they do not just want aid, they want trade” – Obama said, as he reinstates his notion that with the African Growth and Opportunity Act being renewed and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) still going, trade and globalization must be sure to deliver progress not just for those at the top, but also for the many. We’ll continue to partner with countries that embrace reforms and attract investment he said, announcing that the second U.S.Africa Business Forum aimed to keep promoting growth, innovation and investment across the continent is being hosted in September, NewYork.  

The president in his remarks, touched on the core six themes of development his administration has been particularly championing since the past eight years:

On Energy: The president highlighted the progress the Power Africa Initiative has made, which includes securing over 100 private sector partners and mobilizing of governments, supporting 4,300 megawatts worth of projects that are expected to generate over five million new connections to cleaner electricity which means students can study at night, businesses can stay open, and farmers can use mechanized tools; and also stating these projects are expected to generate 30,000 megawatts of electricity which by 2030, is expected to light over 60 million African homes and businesses. This will be transformative for the entire continent, he said.

On Food Security: Obama stated the need for an alliance with private sector and governments, the need to empower farmers with new seeds, new technologies and new techniques that are scaled appropriately and sustainable. With his Feed the Future Initiative, a subsidiary of his Global Food Security Initiative- over 9 million farmers across the globe have been helped, adopting innovations to improve productivity, helping boost incomes by more than $800 million- cutting  poverty up to a quarter and reducing stunting as much as a third with nearly 18 million children getting better nutrition.

“Right before coming here, in the Oval Office, I signed into law the Global Food Security Act, which is a bipartisan bill,” Obama said. With that the attendees gave a loud applause- “you’re not surprised I signed it, right?” Obama said. “ I mean, you guys are all excited about it.  We’ve been working on this for a while.  We got it passed, so it’s my job to sign it”, the president jokingly remarked. The Global Food Security Act is seen as an accomplishment for the Obama administration because it is a bipartisan bill that authorizes more than $7 billion so that initiatives like Feed the Future endure well into the future. “Let’s sustain this progress. Let’s make hunger history!” The president chanted.

On Global Health: Obama remarked- Over 6 million lives have been saved from malaria, commitment to infant and maternal health saved over 4.5million children and 200,000 mothers; the vision, Obama said is to have the first AIDS-free generation and with over 50 countries united with the U.S Global Health Security Agenda- outbreaks like the EBOLA can be prevented and be responded to adequately.

On Governance, Partnership & Youth:

“Most of all, together, let’s keep empowering our young people whose energy, enthusiasm and optimism can lift up countries, no matter how tough the circumstances”, Obama said. The president appraised young people for their ability to continue to inspire him because of young people’s readiness to work, the only problem, as he stated, is that they need the right support and skills. Nearly half a million young people through our Young Leaders Initiatives, from Africa (YALI), Southeast Asia (YSEALI) , Europe (YTILI) and the Americas (YLAI)  have been brought together Obama said, stating that the goal is to  keep helping them connect, exchange ideas, expertise and best practices, and to keep giving them the tools to be the next great entrepreneurs, doctors, scientists; the next civil society leaders, maybe even future presidents and prime ministers.

Journalist Adedayo Fashanu with some YALI members at the summit- The 2016 Mandela Washington Fellows-Howard University
ADEDAYO FASHANUJournalist Adedayo Fashanu with some YALI members at the summit- The 2016 Mandela Washington Fellows-Howard University

Touching on the impact young people can make, Obama mentioned the necessity to include all for equality purposes especially women, which he says, one of the best measures of a nation’s success is how it treats its women. The Let Girls Learn initiative is one that the Obama women  ― Michelle and Sasha and Malia traveled to push in Liberia and Morocco earlier this month of July, he said.

Still on the focus of young people, bringing in the need for youth in the themes of governance and partnership, the president mentioned stories of young people who are doing things of substance to develop their communities such as the story of the young farmer in Senegal, who started with one hectare of land and grew that to sixteen, boosted her income, bought a tractor and suddenly was an employer and small business person, or the story of the young entrepreneur in Peru who is teaching rural women digital skills, and suddenly they’re employable and they’ve got a whole new set of possibilities in front of them.

Obama in his closing remarks encouraged young people to continue to serve in the role of governance and partnership by holding their governments accountable, becoming innovators building platforms to enhance transparency. He said, this coming together across sectors despite differences of religion, background or race is because we are united as one human race and that gives him hope.

With all these areas of achievements highlighted, and appraised progress celebrated by the president and all the do-gooder attendees at the summit, including the young attendees from his Young Leader Initiative, the Mandela Washington Fellows attendees, the young leaders in the panel discussion titled “Engaging Generation Now”-the question at hand is “what is the real role of young people in development?”

As the goals of 2030 is in motion, it is clear that these six themes in development lay the opportunities for young people to explore, seek to build their organizations around solving these challenges and becoming part of the multilateral and private sector partners the U.S governments and international governments are seeking to involve with. As what Obama said, development today has been reformed from governments being treated as charity and given foreign aid; they do not even want aid but rather, trade and investments. In the words of the President – “They want capacity-building. As we’ve seen from South Korea to Chile to Botswana, the developing nation of today can end up being the engine of global growth tomorrow.”

The next generation of leaders will ultimately be responsible for their countries’ success.

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