Gayle Smith is special assistant to the president and senior director of the National Security Council. Photo by: Laura Elizabeth Pohl / Bread for the World / CC BY-NC 

Last week, U.S. President Barack Obama finally named his pick for Rajiv Shah’s successor at the U.S. Agency for International Development. The announcement did not come as a surprise to many observers.

Gayle Smith is a White House insider, serving as special assistant to the president and senior director of the National Security Council. Her name was one of those being floated earlier on to be the next USAID chief. Indeed, she was also rumored to have been in contention for that position during the early days of the Obama administration.

If confirmed, how will Smith lead USAID? Senior Global Development Reporter Michael Igoe spoke with industry experts to get their take.

“You don’t mess around with her … When she says she’s going to do something, it gets done,” Ritu Sharma, co-founder and former president of Women Thrive Worldwide, told Igoe, noting that the position of USAID administrator is one that Smith has “wanted for a long time.”

Some Devex readers shared their wish list on what they want to see happen at USAID under new leadership.

If Smith cares about country ownership, her first and most important move should be one that increases autonomy for people to respond to local conditions, according to Devex reader Peter Cross.

Cross cited the situation in Nepal, where the central bank has issued a circular indicating that all funds going to bank accounts opened to collect donations to help the victims of the recent earthquake be earmarked and transferred to the prime minister’s relief fund.

“This is not ‘country ownership.’ It is not even ‘government ownership.’ It is ‘prime minister ownership,’” Cross said.

And this “expropriation of funds” would be a good place for Smith to take a stand, he added.

For Eugene Nzeribe, there is a great window of opportunity for Smith to think outside the box and create a huge legacy in ending extreme poverty.

“She is coming in at the right time where most of the foundation international development support systems are all, almost in place but poverty levels continue to be high, especially in Africa,” Nzeribe wrote. “She is coming at a time when we now know that we can make the most impact in poverty reduction by empowering the hundreds of millions of individuals who already have some economic earning skills but are under-performing.”

Nzeribe suggested that Smith use USAID’s resources to leverage the potential of impoverished but enterprising breadwinners, or those men and women who are responsible for earning money to sustain their families who are living on less than $2 per day. This, he said, will “rapidly result in dynamically reportable dramatic drops in poverty numbers across the most impoverished regions of the world” and would “cost a fraction of what our currently outdated traditional aid programs costs.”

What would you like Gayle Smith to focus on at USAID? Have your say 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.