USAID denies Raj Shah ambassadorship rumor

    Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, attends the FICCI-USAID Forum on Dec. 20, 2011, in New Delhi, India. Photo by: U.S. Embassy New Delhi / CC BY-ND

    The U.S. Agency for International Development has denied a rumor that Rajiv Shah may be among the potential picks to replace former U.S. Ambassador to India Nancy Powell, who resigned this week.

    "These are nothing but rumors," a USAID spokesperson told Devex.

    "The administrator remains just as committed today to USAID's important work and mission as he was five years ago when he began an ambitious reform agenda that is leading to better, faster, and more cost-effective solutions to end extreme global poverty," the spokesperson added.

    As part of that reform agenda, the agency, after four years of planning, is launching the Global Development Lab on Thursday, which is seen by many as a "legacy item" for Shah and which is meant to help catalyze and amplify partnerships for development science and innovation.

    The ambassadorship rumor, reported by The Times of India, which cited "sources in Washington," is nonetheless sure to reignite interest in the 41-year old administrator's long-term career plans. Shah, who has been the subject of speculation as a potential political candidate, among other roles, recently claimed that he had no plans to leave and USAID administrator would be his last post in public service, at least for a while.

    Asif Shaikh, senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, asked Shah directly what he planned to do next at the 2013 Council of International Development Companies Conference in December.

    Shaikh even suggested that an ambassadorship is one of the three options Shah might consider in his answer.

    He asked the administrator: "While very senior in your function, you are young brilliant and accomplished, respected on both sides of the aisle. So, let's say that after USAID you were faced with only three options: Senate, cabinet, ambassadorship. Which one would you take?"

    Shah answered: "No one really believes me. I am honored to serve in this role. I love coming in every day. Every day I meet someone new … who just blows my socks off. And I'm just really proud of this field. I really don't want a different job in this administration, and my wife really doesn't want me to have a different job in public service. So this is probably it."

    Shah is the highest-ranking Indian-American serving in the Obama administration. His wife, Shivam Mallick Shah, is currently senior advisor at America Achieves, an organization that works to improve educational systems in the United States, and formerly served at the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation & Improvement as director of special initiatives.

    U.S.-India relations have been rocky recently, especially after the high-profile arrest and strip-search of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade.

    Unlike the U.K. Department for International Development, which is cutting aid to India, USAID has chosen to maintain its 60-year relationship with India despite the country's emergence as a major economic power with the resources, many feel, to fund its own development.

    USAID's programs in India have scaled back and no longer focus on economic growth but instead on partnership and "frugal innovations" that can help Indians while also informing USAID operations in Africa and elsewhere.

    "The kind of program you do in India has to be different from the kind of programs you do in other countries because India is so different, so dynamic and so large, and it has quite a significant economy," Denise Rollins, USAID acting assistant administrator for Asia, told Devex last year. “And the Indians are insisting that we engage with them in a different way.”

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    See more:

    Rajiv Shah's career plans after USAID
    Indian innovation for African development

    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.