‘Success is helping people transition
from aid to self-sufficiency’
Raj Shah tells Aziz Haniffa about the rewards and challenges of his dream job.
USAID Administrator Dr Rajiv Shah, the high- est-ranking Indian American in the Obama Administration, is one of those few officials in Washington, DC who enjoy support from both sides of the aisle.
Both Democrats and Republicans — even though subjecting him to tough questioning during the numerous
times he has appeared before Congressional committees —
always praise his integrity, credibility and character of purpose and shower kudos for his turning around an agency
that had hitherto been mired in bureaucracy and inefficiency to one of efficiency, effectiveness and one striving to
make the best use of taxpayer dollars.
Three-and-a-half years into his job, Shah, who hit the
ground running to deal with the devastating earthquake in
Haiti and the floods in Pakistan, maintains that grueling
pace and the same zeal he started out with.
Unlike several senior Indian-American officials who
resigned in the first couple of years of the Obama
Administration, you not only stuck it out for the entire term,
you are on the go continuously.
Don’t you feel a sense of burn out, which many of the others complained of?
I love what I have the opportunity to do and I love this
opportunity to serve.
The President laid out in the most recent State of the
Union address the goals that we’ve established for ourselves
— ending extreme poverty within a decade, which would be
an amazing accomplishment that has never before been
achieved in human history.
Also, ending preventable child death and turning the tide
on HIV AIDS.
So, the problems that humanity has struggled with for
centuries are now solvable problems that with creativity,
partnership, innovation, good management and strong execution on the ground can actually be achieved.
I’ve never been more motivated to stick it out and to see
I just think that we have a unique historic opportunity,
and I have the ability and opportunity to serve an amazing
There was a lot of euphoria in the community when
President Obama was re-elected that you could be appointed a Cabinet secretary.
But you continue as USAID Administrator.
Is this your dream job?
This absolutely is.
I believe as President Obama believes and (former)
Secretary (of State, Hillary) Clinton and now Secretary (of
OFFICIAL WHI TE HOUSE PHOTO BY PETE SOUZA/RELEASED
President Barack Obama holds a conference call from the Situation Room of the White House concerning the earthquake in Chile, February
2010, with, from left, then deputy national security advisor Tom Donilon, Raj Shah, and then White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Obama
once said about Shah: ‘Every time I meet him, I realize that I was an underachiever in my 30s.’
State, John F) Kerry believe that for America to maintain
its role as a superpower in an increasingly multi-polar
world, we have to project our power through our values and
our global aspirations.
There is no other position in government better suited to
that task than the leadership of our development portfolio.
President Obama has been committed to elevating development as part of our foreign policy and national security
and it is an honor to get to see that through.
Does that mean you are going to stick it out for the full second term of the administration?
I am committed to seeing this through. We’ll see what
What are the priorities you will be focusing on in this second term?
Our overarching core priority is to end extreme poverty as
we know it.
There is still more than a billion people that live on what
is equivalent of a dollar and a quarter a day, and that is 20
percent of humanity that is living on… living in absolute
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