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How Rajiv Shah can buck the system: 5 tips from the frontlines of conflict and development

February 21, 2011

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Jeremy Konyndyk and Michael Bowers

The Huffington Post
February, 2011

With fragile states increasingly constituting first-tier US foreign policy priorities and global development funding being targeted by budget hawks in Congress, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is making the case for his agency's relevance in the 21st century. Quoting Defense Secretary Gates' observation that "development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers", Administrator Shah argued that USAID's work serves to stabilize countries in crisis while also helping to prevent conflict from arising in the first place. He insists, however, that his agency must improve its ability to "increase short-term stability, while easing the transition between conflict, fragile peace and long-term development."

Mercy Corps has long worked fragile and transitional states -- places like Afghanistan, Sudan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Iraq. We have seen firsthand that when development aid is done right, it can be a highly effective tool for bringing peace and prosperity to deeply troubled societies: fostering economic growth, assisting the return of refugees, restoring infrastructure and basic services, supporting civil society, rebuilding local government capacity, and mitigating sources of conflict. But getting it right is not easy. If Administrator Shah wants USAID to be heavy hitter on fixing fragile states, he should consider a few critical steps: