His first assignment was to lead a relief initiative for Haiti in the aftermath of its 2010 earthquake. His actions, along with those of supporting American organizations, were part of a humanitarian effort in which about 50 percent of American families donated to the cause.
Dr. Rajiv Shah, who has worked as administrator of the United States Agency for International Development for five years and is retiring this month, answered questions at UCLA Monday from an audience including students and faculty during the “Q&A; with Dr. Rajiv Shah.” The UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations put on the event along with other campus partners.
According to the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, Shah leads the Feed the Future initiative, which provides training for rural families in countries such as Mali, Ghana and Ethiopia to help them grow more nutritious foods. He is also in charge of the Power Africa initiative, which aims to help countries in sub-Saharan Africa achieve sustainable, long-term energy security.
During the Q&A; session, Shah talked about his work with the USAID and especially its efforts to end the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
“When we started the Ebola initiative in Liberia, there were between 100 and 160 new cases daily,” Shah said. “(With USAID efforts) we were able to get the number of new cases down significantly; yesterday, there were only three new cases in Liberia,” Shah said.
Shah also shared advice for students who want to make changes around the world.
“Stay committed, and be confident in your own ability to make a difference. Engage with the USAID on challenges you want to tackle,” he said.
Joan Hanawi, a third-year international development studies and geography/environmental studies student, said she attended the Q&A; session because she is passionate about international development and hoped to learn more about it from Shah.
“I was really inspired by what he said,” Hanawi said. “He spoke about keeping the right attitude and being confident in yourself.”
As part of a separate Q&A; session with students, Shah spoke about some of the difficulties of working in a politically charged environment.
“You can’t be friends with everyone (in Washington) and still get big things done,” he said. “A lot of times, certain people are initially against an idea you propose, but they’re suddenly huge fans of the idea as soon as they see that it is actually successful.”
Despite what he said are the successes of USAID, Shah said he has had mixed results over the years with various USAID initiatives, as some have been less successful than others. For example, he said some of his efforts to deliver food to Somalia during a famine failed because of militant groups’ presence in the region.
“You are always going to have wins and losses, and you have to accept that,” Shah said.