US State Department shakeup, AU-EU Summit, and GES 2017: This week in development

U.S Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo by: U.S. State Department

U.S Secretary of State Rex Tillerson looks to be forced out as India’s tech capital hosts the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, and new DFID Chief Penny Mourdant gives her first public address. This week in development.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will likely be forced out of the job within weeks, the New York Times reported Thursday, a day after Tillerson called criticisms of his “redesign” effort at the State Department misinformed and said that reports that the department is hemorrhaging foreign affairs expertise are misleading. “There is no hollowing out. These numbers that people are throwing around are just false. They’re wrong,” Tillerson said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on Tuesday. That message arrived the day after the person leading Tillerson’s redesign effort — about which very few details have been revealed — resigned after three months on the job. U.S. lawmakers have complained about the lack of information they have received about Tillerson’s intentions — including those for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Last month a U.S. senator wrote to USAID Administrator Mark Green with concerns about foreign service hiring cancellations — first reported by Devex — that have resulted from Tillerson’s downsizing and efficiency efforts.

The 5th AU-EU Summit takes place this week in Abidjan under the theme of investing in youth. However, the focus of the 80 European and African heads of state quickly turned to aspects impacting youth including quality work, skills development for entrepreneurship, and equal opportunities. This summit marks the first time the African Union has collectively met with all representing members alongside the EU. Though the official event began on Wednesday, high-level officials descended on Abidjan over the weekend for side events that took place earlier this week. The EU hosted the EU-Africa Business Forum on Monday, which highlighted the need to attract more youth to agribusiness and increase access to finance for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises. Strengthening the skills of entrepreneurs was also a common thread through many discussions. Parliamentarians from both Unions also met to discuss how they could influence greater intercontinental cooperation.

Innovations such as the India Stack platform are in the spotlight as government stakeholders and startups from around the world gather in Hyderabad this week to discuss entrepreneurship and innovation at the eighth annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit. In India’s tech capital, the event is focused on lessons learned on broadening the entrepreneurial ecosystem to embrace everyone — particularly women. But side conversations also extend to game changers such as digitization of cross-border remittances and the growth of blockchain technology. The event has also served as a platform for new announcements, including India’s largest incubator’s foray into acceleration; the launch of India’s first blockchain-enabled wallet; and USAID’s maternal and newborn health development impact bond, which aims to reduce maternal and newborn deaths in Rajasthan, India.

A security breach of a popular digital payment system used by NGOs has raised big questions about data security and the potential risk posed to beneficiaries. The group that operates the software, RedRose, has denied that such risks exist and chalked the incident up to corporate sabotage by a competitor. That competitor — an “emerging” digital payments company called Mautinoa Technologies — told Devex that it had found security weaknesses in an active RedRose deployment managed by Catholic Relief Services in West Africa. Those weaknesses, the group said, allowed them to access a wide range of sensitive personal information about people enrolled in the group’s digital payments database. A CRS employee told Devex they have been working with RedRose since being notified of the security concerns and their analysis shows, “no risk to beneficiary distributions and vendor payments.” The incident has highlighted concerns experts have raised for years about data security in the aid and NGO sector — particularly for groups that maintain information about people living in dangerous or politically-sensitive contexts.

Members of the Ugandan Parliament descended on London this week to lobby Department for International Development officials to continue funding a well-rated, joint-DFID and Irish Aid program called “Expanding Social Protection,” a pension scheme providing cash support to Ugandans over 65 years old and technical assistance to the Ugandan government with the aim of their long-term implementation of the scheme. Previous DFID leadership expressed skepticism about extending the program, already extended once in 2014, due to its less-apparent linkages to DFID’s broader poverty-reduction mandate. Now in the hands of the new DFID Secretary of State Penny Mourdant, who has expressed interest in growing DFID’s work on disability, the program’s fate could be a larger test for the new DFID chief as she seeks to distinguish herself from her predecessors. Mourdant will make her first public address in the role on Thursday, where she will announce a greater policy focus on disability, announcing the launch of a Global Disability Summit to be hosted by DFID in early 2018, as an international forum to discuss a more coherent strategy for international development institutions to tackle the barriers faced by those with disabilities.

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About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.