Who should succeed outgoing USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, pictured above? Photo by: USAID / CC BY-NC

As Rajiv Shah prepares to vacate his post at the helm of the world’s largest bilateral donor, buzz is growing in Washington and beyond about his legacy and possible successor at the U.S. Agency for International Development. (Watch out for more Devex coverage next week on that!)

Many insiders predict that Deputy Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt, who will likely be named acting administrator once Shah departs, will continue in that role through the remaining years of the Obama administration..

But in case the White House does choose to nominate another candidate for Senate confirmation, who would it be? Last week, we compiled several names who may be in the running. Our readers responded with their own picks, and their choices boiled down to two of the biggest names in the aid industry.

“If Bill Gates would accept the position, I bet that USAID would become the most successful and efficient international aid organization,” said Peter Tal. “Time to look for a true professional rather than a politician as the next USAID administrator!”

Beforehand, Tal noted the need to reform USAID and for it to be “rebuilt by and with professionals with private sector experience, imposing accountability for repeated projects failure, waste of money, poor judgment and eliminating inside political compromise promotions.”

For “current USAID employee” Abey, Muhammad Yunus would be perfect for the job. Apart from being a Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Grameen Bank founder has a lifelong commitment to helping the poor and solving development issues in “the most practical and innovative of ways.” The reader cited Yunus’ collaboration with Danone to develop nutrient-rich yogurt for malnourished children in Bangladesh.

Several readers pointed out that Yunus should not be in the conversation, primarily because he is not a U.S. citizen, a basic qualification to head a U.S. government agency like USAID. In response, Abey recommended looking at the roster of people who have won U.N. awards for leadership and humanitarian service for possible nominees.

“If the organization's mission is to end poverty, one simply finds the people who are already doing it best now,” Abey said.

Another suggestion: Why not a current or recent USAID mission director with a strong performance record?

“USAID needs [someone] who understands the high cost of 6-monthly portfolio reviews based on Washington-conceived policy changes,” said Peter Cross. “We need someone who will start a long process of rebuilding USAID from the inside, a process that can be started in 2 years, but not completed.”

What kind of profile should the next USAID administrator have? Share your views by leaving a comment below.

Read more international development news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive the latest from the world’s leading donors and decision-makers — emailed to you FREE every business day.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability, and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.