Soon after President Barack Obama was re-elected, there was a strong buzz that Dr Raj Shah could become the first in the community’s immigrant experience to be appointed to a Cabinet position.
This interview is excerpted from an earlier conversation
with Aziz Haniffa.
‘It is less about being
Indian American; it’s more
You were the closest Indian American in our immigrant
experience to have come close to a Cabinet-level position.
Do you believe it’s time for an Indian American to serve in
the Cabinet of the next administration?
I don’t know. (But) What is interesting is that one of the
things that I’ve gotten to do in this job is that I have learned
Senate and House, meeting people
who have been elected officials.
I’ll tell you, it is less about being
Indian American; it’s more about
What people value is: Do you take
the job seriously?
Are you committed to the
President and the Secretary’s agenda, which in this space is tremendous?
They have really elevated the role
of development in foreign policy,
which is why we play such a big role
from Afghanistan to Egypt, from
malaria to the fight to end
HIV/AIDS, to moving tens of millions of people out of poverty and
And it’s about recognizing the
expertise that exists in these organizations, and working very, very hard
to change the rules so that their
expertise can generate results more
effectively and efficiently.
We haven’t talked as much about
this, but USAID Forward reforms
are not always the sexiest things to talk about, but we’ve
reformed our procurement systems, which I know is a boring topic, but that alone will mean that billions of dollars a
year will go directly to local institutions, local entrepreneurs and the real change agents that are out there,
whether they are in a slum in a particular community in
India or a young entrepreneur in Nairobi or a small business in Haiti.
By doing that, we will essentially create the conditions
that will enable our own exit over time.
We’ve brought in hundreds of new people into the agency,
including a lot of new scientists, engineers, PhDs — people
that have come in on these fellowship programs.
It’s a pool of talent that you’d be amazed by in terms of
what they are capable of doing and as a result of some of the
more innovative things they are doing.
There are kids designing programs on their iPhones that
can diagnose malaria based on a photograph of the sample,
blood smear, electronically.
about delivering results’
Raj Shah visited the Anti-Retroviral Therapy Center at the Safdarjung Hospital in
New Delhi, December 2011. In India, USAID seeks partnership and engagement.
It’s just amazing.
We’ve really worked hard to reinstate a results-oriented
approach, where we now measure and make public the
evaluation date on all our major programs within three
months of completion of that program.
Just this alone, we have been posting more than 200
third-party validated evaluations online.
So, at the end of the day, to me, it’s about delivering those
I always joke that I always want someone to write about
— that no one wants to write about — on procurement and
evaluation and human resources and managing the building for success.
At the end of the day, that’s how you leave lasting institutions that can do great things like ushering in a new Green
Revolution or eliminating child deaths under the age of five
or spreading democracy through access to elections and
transparency and open government — all of which are happening and all of which we’re a part of.
What drives this commitment of
yours, which seems to be prevalent in
the second generation of Indian
Americans running both for office, as
well as pursuing public service opportunities in other areas?
I can’t speak for others, but for me,
getting a chance to work for a transformational President, who has a
unique and deep commitment to
these issues internationally, is very
Getting a chance to work with
Secretary Clinton, who brings amazing leadership and instincts and
commitment, is also very unique.
To me, the biggest difference,
between this kind of role and being in
the private sector, is that if you are
successful, you get to have impact at a
scale that’s tremendous.
When Dr (Jill) Biden (wife of Vice
President Joe Biden) and I went
together with (former US Senator
from Tennessee and a physician) Bill
They would hold their children and they would walk from
South Central Somalia — from famine-affected areas.
They would leave their homes and communities when
they had run out of food and their livestock had died, when
they had nowhere else to turn.
They would walk on this dangerous track where many of
them were abused, robbed, attacked.
We met a woman who had started off on a journey with
two children and literally couldn’t carry both physically and
had to make a tragic decision to leave one child behind and
take the other one to safety, just to save one of her kids.
It’s very hard to express the amount of commitment and
passion that people who do this work in these camps have for
this work, when you get a chance to meet someone like that.
COURTES Y: FLICKR. COM/PHOTOS/USEMBASSYNEWDELHI/
SPONSORED B Y