Feinstein director describes priorities for USAID Administrator nominee

U.S. President Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID), Samantha Power appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 23, 2021. It appears she will be shortly confirmed. As Samantha Power prepares to lead USAID, the Feinstein International Center sent her a letter to share thoughts on some of the most crucial issues facing the humanitarian and development sectors that we hope she will address as the USAID Administrator.

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April 6, 2021

Ambassador Samantha Power

USAID Administrator (nominee)

Washington, DC

Dear Ambassador Power:

Congratulations on your nomination and, we are confident, your quick confirmation as USAID Administrator.  Your diplomatic and national security experience, along with your understanding of humanitarian and development issues, will enable you to provide USAID with the type of knowledgeable leadership that allows the organization to thrive.

The Feinstein International Center is a research institute that promotes the use of evidence and learning in operational and policy responses to protect and strengthen the lives, livelihoods, and dignity of people affected by or at risk of humanitarian crises.  Our work aims to influence practitioners at the field level and decision-makers at the policy level. Much of our work on livelihoods, conflict, food security, nutrition, gender, pastoralism has given us insights into many of the issues currently facing the humanitarian community. We would like to share our thoughts on some of the most crucial issues we hope you will address as you begin your tenure at USAID.

Restoring USAID’s Humanitarian Voice:  In the past four years USAID’s voice in humanitarian affairs has been greatly diminished. The Agency was not at the global table with senior policy makers. With the seeming decline of the UK as a program and policy advocate, along with changes in the European Union, there is a need and opportunity for USAID to again become the leading donor voice on major humanitarian issues. We urge you to take on that roll to help the international community to continue to meet current needs and think creatively about the future.

New OCHA Leadership: There is an opportunity to bring change to this organization as Mark Lowcock, the current U/S General, soon steps down. We urge you to support an open search for the best person to bring reform and rejuvenation to this office rather than continue with leadership coming from just the United Kingdom. OCHA has struggled to reform itself and to provide a strong, unflinching humanitarian voice. The staff at OCHA, the humanitarian community and, most importantly those OCHA aims to serve, deserve new leadership.

Commit to No Famines:  The return of famine in the 21st Century is a tragedy.  Feinstein Center research in five famine-risk contexts has shown repeatedly that famine is a result of human choices and human actions. A strong statement from USAID, reminiscent of Andrew Natsios’ “no famine on my watch” would help to begin to address the acute risk. However, much work remains to be done to address the causes of famine, particularly violent conflict and violations of IHL, and also the restrictions on humanitarian access that make prevention and response so difficult.

Opening Humanitarian Access: There is a direct link between counter-terrorism legislation and sanctions and humanitarian access. While the circumstances of conflicts also account for access issues, the United States and other donors need to reconsider the balance between national security and human security. We urge you in your role at the NSC to advocate for adjusting counter terrorism rules to ensure agile and effective humanitarian responses, in which partners do not refuse USG funds or diminish operations from fear of legal prosecution.

Addressing Persistent Global Acute Malnutrition: The UN family acknowledges that childhood wasting is an unsolved and increasing global public health problem and advocates for radical new approaches. Technical advances are necessary, but on their own are insufficient to address this complex problem. Addressing malnutrition and saving children’s lives requires a deeper understanding of the drivers of acute malnutrition and the development of new strategies that strengthen systems and institutions. We hope that you will urge USAID to play a leadership role in supporting the concerted effort by governments, UN agencies, and regional bodies to address this problem.

Peacebuilding and pastoralism:  The links between conflict and peoples’ livelihoods have implications for peacebuilding and livelihood programs. The drivers of conflict are associated with livelihoods, while peoples’ livelihoods have borne the brunt of the impact of conflict. However, peace agreements tend not to take adequate account of livelihood systems, especially pastoralism.  Similarly, local peacebuilding efforts are rarely framed within the context of wider peace agreements.  Recognizing and addressing these gaps in knowledge, evidence and practice will strengthen peacebuilding processes, conflict sensitivity and the wider program impacts on peoples’ lives and livelihoods.

 Focusing on Women’s Rights in post-conflict situations: Too often as conflicts come to an end, women’s needs are forgotten or ignored. Current events in Afghanistan remind us that peace there will unlikely mean better lives for women. The new administration has indicated its strong support for women’s rights. In particular, we urge you to shape USAID’s peacebuilding efforts to secure women’s rights, to include women in economic recovery programs, and provide for transitional justice for SGBV survivors.  Placing women at the forefront of peace is the surest way to secure their rights and better futures.

We wish you the best in your new position.  It is a job that provides perhaps the most significant global platform to advocate on behalf of those affected by conflict, inequity, and poverty.



Gregory C. Gottlieb

Director, Feinstein International Center, Tufts University

Irwin H. Rosenberg Professor of Nutrition and Human Security