USAID's new chief is confirmed, Ivanka Trump steps back, and blockchain's promise: This week in development

Former Congressman and Ambassador Mark Green (left) meets with Tanzania's ministers and staff. Photo by: Staff Sgt. Carolyn Erfe / U.S. Air Force

On a billionaire’s private island blockchain takes center stage, the U.S. Agency for International Development hits refresh on its mission statement, and Ivanka Trump takes a hands-off approach with the World Bank’s new fund. This week in development.

The U.S. Senate voted unanimously to confirm Mark Green as the new administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development on Thursday. Green, a former ambassador to Tanzania and Wisconsin congressman, enjoyed broad bipartisan support throughout the confirmation process. In a rare move, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Green’s friend and fellow-Wisconsin representative, personally vouched for the Trump nominee in his hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Green takes over leadership of USAID at a moment of uncertainty for the agency. The administration Green serves has proposed deep cuts to U.S. foreign assistance, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is overseeing a dramatic and controversial reorganization of U.S. foreign affairs programs. The U.S. development community has welcomed Green’s nomination and confirmation — viewing him as a well-known development leader at a time of disruption and uncertainty.

Ivanka Trump will not have an official role within the World Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative, known by many as the “Ivanka Fund.” The U.S. first daughter helped to conceive the financing facility, and she has raised funds for it from donors including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But she will not be a member of the fund’s board, Molly Anders reported Thursday for Devex. The World Bank has spoken of President Donald Trump’s daughter and senior White House advisor as a “figurehead” for the new women’s entrepreneurship initiative — which the bank will officially launch at its annual meetings in October — but people involved in discussions about the fund told Devex there had been some consideration of a board position for Ms. Trump. World Bank officials said that will now not be the case. The finance initiative — now dubbed We-Fi — aims to leverage $325 million raised from donors into more than $1 billion in financing for women-led small and medium-sized enterprises in World Bank Group recipient countries. Some critics have questioned the fund’s transparency, and wondered whether the bank has traded rigor and analysis for a chance to win favor with the new U.S. administration.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has suspended applications for a venture capital program designed to scale innovative solutions to fight poverty. The head of Development Innovation Ventures emailed DIV grant recipients last week announcing that USAID will “temporarily suspend the DIV application window due to shifting resource constraints.” The suspension went into effect on Friday. DIV is housed inside USAID’s Global Development Lab, an Obama administration initiative. Since 2010 the program has supported 170 innovations that have reached 13 million people in poverty. Devex spoke to several organizations that were already preparing for a new round of DIV funding opportunities. USAID told Devex the agency will do what it can “to limit disruption to existing awardees of a DIV grant and to those high-potential applicants already being reviewed for a potential award.”  

USAID is also undergoing a rewrite of the agency’s mission statement — for the second time in less than four years. The agency’s transition leadership team has circulated a draft mission statement for feedback from staff. It is significantly longer than the current version, and Devex spoke to some development experts who remarked on the emphasis the new language places on transitioning countries off of U.S. assistance. The rewrite is part of a broader reorganization process underway at the State Department and USAID.

On Necker Island, Sir Richard Branson’s private Caribbean bolthole, leading thinkers on blockchain technology focused on how the “distributed ledger technology” — which offers a transparent, open system for recordkeeping — could be used to solve social challenges. One initiative launched at the conference, the World Identity Network, aims to help the 2 billion people currently living without legally recognized identification. Blockchain allows data to be stored, seen and verified without the use of intermediaries — and its applications extend well beyond digital currencies like Bitcoin. The World Food Programme is currently using blockchain technology in a pilot program in Jordan to make assistance disbursements faster, cheaper, more traceable and more secure. It could also be instrumental in helping people access and demonstrate personal information to gain access to financial services, for example. “This technology, if implemented correctly, would allow [people] to assert who they are and access proof of their digital identity, anytime and anywhere,”  Mariana Dahan, a former World Bank official and driving force behind the Identification for Development agenda who will lead the World Identity Network initiative, told Devex.

Join the Devex community and access more in-depth analysis, breaking news and business advice — and a host of other services — on international development, humanitarian aid and global health.

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.