Administrator Samantha Power on “The World is One Family” Keynote

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much for being here and I’m sorry we’re getting a slightly late start. I am thrilled to be here at IIT-Delhi.

I want to thank Dean Garg for that introduction, and for welcoming me to this legendary institution—an institution so legendary in fact, it must have been tough to choose which Bhatnagar Prize winner would kick us off today.

The list of successful companies founded by graduates from the Indian Institute of Technology—both in America and here in India—seems endless. The technical breakthroughs discovered here, from mathematics to quantum mechanics to computer science, are frankly too numerous for me to mention and certainly way too complex for me to try to describe. So let me start by acknowledging what should be obvious to all of you: There is absolutely no way that I ever could have gotten into IIT! No way.

I am especially pleased to be speaking here today because the partnership between this institution and the United States is making a profound difference in the world, it really is.

Last year, my Agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development, launched the SAMRIDH public health initiative, hosted by IIT Delhi—an initiative to bring $250 million dollars in public and private capital together so that marginalized and remote communities can access breakthroughs in medical care. Healthcare entrepreneurs and companies want to reach those most in need, but let’s face it they have often lacked the capital necessary. SAMRIDH has already helped rush oxygen concentrators and ventilators to COVID patients, expand fleets of ambulances to reach remote communities, and supply hand-cranked defibrillators that can work without electricity.

And this is just the latest iteration of what we can achieve when we come together. At the dawn of USAID’s founding, 61 years ago, we invested in the development of your sister school, IIT Kanpur. With expertise from nine of America’s best universities—including MIT, Caltech, Princeton—we worked together to establish IIT-Kanpur’s research laboratories and academic programs, and helped it, I think, become the first institute to offer computer science education in the entire country.

The spark that fueled India’s IT boom was one that we are incredibly proud to be associated with.

And what is true for USAID and IIT is true of the 75 year partnership between the United States and India. It is no exaggeration to say that the US-India collaboration has been transformational, strengthening both the United States and India and making the world safer and more prosperous as a result.

The United States has worked with the Indian people to eradicate polio, launch educational exchanges, and, most notably, tackle the problem of acute hunger and malnutrition. And across our history, some 51 percent of the nearly $17 billion USAID has invested in India actually went toward food programming, food security.

As India embarked upon its development journey decades ago, American support for Indian food security took two forms: emergency food assistance in times of crises, and longer term investments in India’s agricultural economy.

When it came to humanitarian food assistance, in 1951, four short years after India’s independence, the country was rocked by a series of earthquakes, floods, droughts, and even locusts. The United States responded by shipping 2 million tons of grain across the ocean, that was then packed onto dhows and floated down the Ganges throughout the country, sparing millions from the threat of famine.

Then in 1967, after a then-unprecedented two consecutive years of poor monsoon rains, India was again threatened by a food crisis. President Lyndon Johnson sent more than 600 ships to India, carrying more than forty million tons of grain—this was the largest maritime fleet to hit the world’s waters since D-Day, the D-Day landings in Normandy in World War II.

While these emergency relief efforts saved lives in their time, the far more enduring partnership between our countries was one dedicated to working with India on its road to becoming an agricultural powerhouse in its own right. From 1956 to 1970, USAID brought more than 2,000 Indian scientists to the United States, increasing the number of Indian PhD students in agriculture by 10-fold. We also helped India establish its own network of agricultural universities by partnering them with existing American Land Grant Institutions—six partnerships in total, for instance, Uttar Pradesh Agricultural University with the University of Illinois, Punjab Agricultural University with Ohio State University—and we sent more than 300 American professors and agronomists to advise India’s own growing agricultural corps.

Together, Indian and American agricultural scientists developed new strains of wheat and rice that could expand food production—India’s legendary Minister for Food and Agriculture at the time, Chidambaram Subramaniam, even dug up a cricket pitch next to his home in Delhi, and planted the grounds with new hybrid wheat strains in hopes it would help inspire farmers to do the same. Over one million farmers took up his challenge and within two decades, India’s wheat output grew by more than 230 percent.

This was the Green Revolution, and it helped India not only become economically self-sufficient in meeting its own food needs, but also supported it as it made itself the world’s largest exporter of rice by far, as well as a major exporter of now, dairy, and fruits and vegetables. India’s global agricultural productivity increased in 25 years by more, it is said, than it had in the previous 1,000 years.

In 2010, USAID shifted its work in India to other domains, focused on engaging the country’s vibrant private sector, improving health outcomes, and empowering women to supercharge its growing economy.

Instrumental to these partnerships over the last seven decades were the more than 2,500 Indian nationals who were directly part of American efforts here. They were USAID’s superpower and some of you are in the audience and I thank you eternally. Our foreign service nationals, our Indian nationals brought wisdom, experience, connections, and a deepest understanding of the local context of this diverse and vibrant country. Many have given decades of their lives to working at USAID, and they helped change their country for the better.

This is how development partnerships should function. We should work together as partners, exchanging knowledge and contributing necessary resources to expand economic progress, and unlock the indigenous potential and, equally as important, the independence of emerging economies.

In my remarks today, that is, in fact, what I want to speak about—a new model of development partnership, rooted in the idea that all people deserve dignity and respect, anchored in technological progress and novel solutions that can help us leapfrog established development paths, and undergirded by democratic values that can help transform our shared planet for the better. A model through which India can have a profound impact, not just in its own neighborhood, but around the world.

When it comes to India’s role in international development, many, as you heard, are quick to label it as an “emerging donor.”

But this characterization is false. Even before independence, India supported the creation of the Afro-Asian conference, a meeting that laid the groundwork for cooperation between India and various Southern countries. Soon thereafter, Prime Minister Nehru argued that the economic development of all countries was an obligation of the international community. This was a philosophy rooted in perhaps the most treasured and important value of Indian society, one engraved on the entrance to India’s parliament: Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. If I’ve said it incorrectly, forgive me.

As the verse in the Maha Upanishad goes: “‘One is a relative, the other a stranger,’ say the small minded. The world is one family.”

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. The world is one family. And that family, Nehru believed, should be free to live without fear and without despair. That is why, even amidst its own challenges, India established cultural fellowships and trainings beginning in 1949, offering scholarships to dozens of African and Asian students to study on the subcontinent. It’s why in 1951, India joined other nations to launch the Colombo Plan, to invest in the infrastructure, education, and development of South and Southeast Asia and share policy making and good governance expertise—an effort that continues to this day; and why India established its first Aid Mission, in Nepal, in 1954, followed quickly by direct assistance to other neighbors, including Bhutan and Afghanistan.

For seven decades now, India’s legacy of support and cooperation has grown and strengthened into a commitment this past year of $2.3 billion in bilateral development assistance, stretching from East Asia all the way to Latin America. And while the majority of its focus has been on supporting neighboring states, India has never looked away from its partners in Africa. In 1991, when the African Capacity Building Foundation was established to help African nations build up their human capital and their cadre of public servants, India was the first Asian country to join, providing financing and technical assistance. Since the turn of the century, the Government of India has provided more than $11 billion in concessional credit for development projects on the continent. It has offered 50,000 scholarships for African students to study at institutions just like this one. In 2003, when India’s GDP was almost one-fifth of what it is today, the Government wrote off the debts of Heavily Indebted Poor Countries—$24 million wiped off the ledgers of Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.

And in medical emergencies, India has quickly raced assistance to hot spots, contributing $12 million for example to the UN’s response fund during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa back in 2014—something I witnessed firsthand when I was UN Ambassador.

But perhaps nowhere is India’s commitment to those in peril more on display actually than right now in Sri Lanka.

The economic catastrophe faced by the Sri Lankan people has many sources—economic mismanagement and corruption, unwise agricultural policies, self-inflicted debt burdens, and a tourism sector crushed by COVID. All of this, compounded by food and fuel price pressures that all countries are facing, has led the Government to default on its debt, has led the price of vegetables to double, the cost of basic food staples like rice and fish to skyrocket, and brought about a stunning lack of fuel at any price. Drivers report waiting in long queues for days sometimes just to fill up their tanks—that is, in the fortunate circumstances, if they can find fuel at all.

Before I get to India’s really, really important response to this devastating turn of events, let me just say on behalf of President Biden and the American people that our hearts go out to the people of Sri Lanka during this time of great trial.

Since the crisis intensified in May, the United States has provided nearly $32 million of development and humanitarian assistance for Sri Lanka to support basic food security, address the immediate needs of communities impacted by the crisis, support a safety net program in the country’s schools, equip some 30,000 farmers with seeds and fertilizer, and provide nutritious food to both new and expectant mothers. This brings our total emergency response to Sri Lanka’s challenges this year to almost $180 million, and that’s in addition to our $30-to-40 million annual development portfolio to assist the country and the people more broadly so that these kinds of shocks don’t keep happening.

And India has reacted really swiftly with an absolutely critical set of measures. The Government of India has already supplied $16 million in humanitarian aid to Sri Lanka, it has exported 100,000 tons of organic fertilizer to try to help farmers stave off future food shortages, and it has supplied $3.5 billion in lines of credits to the Government of Sri Lanka as it attempts to steer its economy out of default and further collapse.

Contrast this with the People’s Republic of China, which has been an increasingly eager creditor of Sri Lankan governments since the mid-2000s. Indeed, over the past two decades, China became one of Sri Lanka’s biggest creditors, offering often opaque loan deals at higher interest rates than other lenders, and financing a raft of headline-grabbing infrastructure projects with often questionable practical use for Sri Lankans—including a massive port that generated little income and was barely used by ships, an equally massive airport dubbed the emptiest in the world because it attracted so few passengers and the country’s tallest tower that was built as a tourist attraction yet has never unfortunately opened to the public. Now that economic conditions have soured, Beijing has promised lines of credit and emergency loans—this is critical since Beijing is estimated to hold at least 15 percent of Sri Lanka’s foreign debt. But calls to provide more significant relief have so far gone unanswered, and the biggest question of all is whether Beijing will restructure debt to the same extent as other bilateral creditors.

I’ve had many conversations here in India and with other partners; this challenge is not unique to Sri Lanka. Many debt distressed countries in Africa and Asia are hoping that their calls will be answered. It is really essential that Beijing participate in debt relief transparently and on equitable terms with all other creditors.

If ever there were a time to choose cooperation, that time is now. The world’s low- and middle-income countries have been devastated by COVID-19, their fiscal space largely spent trying to help their citizens weather a public health emergency. Indeed some 60 percent of low-income countries are facing or already experiencing debt distress.

At the same time, climate shocks, as you all know, are walloping wealthy and poor countries at the same time. Each day we bear witness to a new temperature record never seen before, as occurred last week in the United Kingdom. Each planting season, we steel ourselves for a weaker harvest, as happened this year in India when the March heatwave brought the highest average temperatures recorded in 122 years, reducing this country’s wheat crop. Each year countries all around the world prepare for a previously inconceivable drought. To illustrate just how intense these climate swings have been, New Delhi, as you all know, in the last six months, has seen its hottest week on record, its coldest week on record, and its wettest week on record.

Before coming to India, I traveled to Somalia and to Kenya, countries that inhabit a region that is suffering an unprecedented four straight seasons of drought, four straight failed rainy seasons, and they are bracing themselves for what is likely to be a fifth failed rainy season. With nearly 19 million people now in the region in need of emergency food assistance, and 7 million livestock already dead in this drought, killed in this drought, the Horn is the epicenter of a global food crisis the scale of which has not been seen in recent memory. It is a crisis that threatens the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.

The effects of the drought in the Horn of Africa, along with climate stresses in the Sahel, and in Southern Africa, would be cause for widespread alarm on their own, but the suffering that they have wrought has been compounded by the war in Ukraine.

Like India, Ukraine is a global breadbasket, exporting nearly 50 million tons of wheat each year. Therefore, it was no surprise that the invasion and the blockade on 20 million tons of food trapped still in Ukraine’s ports, coincided with the highest prices ever seen on the UN’s Global Food Price Index.

The United States, with our partners around the world, have coordinated a massive global response to the food crisis, in hopes of preventing another famine from emerging in Africa, and in the hopes of limiting the secondary effects of Putin’s war. At a time when the world is in need of more humanitarian aid than ever before, the United States is on track to provide more than $11 billion to respond to global needs. This is a staggering amount that I am immensely grateful to the U.S. Congress for coming together to agree upon, and it is an amount that continues to climb. That amount of effectively emergency humanitarian assistance is $3.5 billion more than we were able to provide last year. And last year’s was already 40 percent more than the year before that. These are other records that are being shattered. We recognize that now is a time for unprecedented action.

But, just as we learned in our work in India long ago, what countries need to unlock their true potential is not merely aid that can help at the outset, that can help in an emergency, but what countries seek and what they need are investments that put communities in the position to trade. Trade not aid. The U.S. has just increased our annual $1 billion dollar investment in global food security programming—longer term programming—by an additional $760 million for this year. This, we will use with our partners out in the world to help farmers get access to financing, to help them get drought-tolerant seeds that some have, but too few have given that there aren’t available, fertilizer methods to prevent food loss and waste and to target fertilizer in a more precise way, and market access.

As the scale of this crisis is beyond any one nation’s ability to solve, we have also engaged in concerted diplomacy at the UN and bilaterally to mount a global response. We have drafted a roadmap for action encouraging countries to provide humanitarian assistance, invest critically in this long-term agricultural productivity, and limit harmful export restrictions that have the tendency to leave both the countries that issue them, and the world’s poor, worse off.

Faced with such an extraordinary global food crisis, every country must examine its budgets and policies so that, even as we each address domestic needs and contingencies – and we know how significant those needs are in many parts of the world including here—we work together to stave off a much wider catastrophe. Sri Lanka’s government was the first to fall—there have already been protests related to food and fuel prices in at least 17 countries—because of inflationary pressures. If history is any guide, we know that Sri Lanka’s government will likely not be the last to fall.

Across these past 75 years, India has always shown itself to be a friend to the world’s poor. Now, when the stakes have rarely been higher, India stands able to be an incredibly impactful development leader.

Because the truth is, as much as the United States has tried to do through the decades, to promote economic development, to support marginalized communities around the world, we know how much India has to offer in places where we have not yet made the headway that we would have all wished to have seen—or in places where development strides were taken but they have now been rolled back by COVID, conflict, and climate change. I cannot think of a moment in history where we have more needed India’s know-how on how to lift people out of poverty, India’s technological entrepreneurship and prowess, or India’s core belief that countries and people of those countries, should be the ones to benefit from their own economic development.

As the world develops new vaccines against coronaviruses, malaria, dengue fever, and hopefully, HIV/AIDS, it can supplement the kind of vaccine distribution we saw in the U.S., which is anchored by pharmacies and clinics, with mobile and decentralized vaccination campaigns that are able to reach people in remote locations. Here in India, USAID partnered with the government to equip mobile vaccination vans, repurposed military vehicles, and even camels that were able to reach half-a-million people with COVID vaccines in less than two months. I can’t tell you how many countries would like to emulate that track record. To counter COVID, the Government also embarked on a massive health outreach program, remotely training more than 100,000 workers from around the world, a model they now hope to share with other bilateral partners and which we certainly stand to learn from.

Take election administration. Populous, decentralized countries can follow the lead of the world’s largest democracy, harnessing technology and employing poll workers who traverse farmlands, deserts, and jungles to collect votes over weeks.

And countries seeking to develop their own agriculture can leapfrog the resource-intensive, mechanized farming that is so familiar in Western countries, and instead take advantage of new, climate-smart sustainable techniques like drip irrigation, off-grid powered cold storage, precision fertilizer application, and satellite and drone monitoring—techniques that many Indian farmers are embracing today.

One specific area of innovation that we committed to is agroforestry—agriculture that incorporates tree planting to mitigate emissions, provides extra revenue to farmers, and enriches soils. Today, I’m pleased to say that we will soon launch a new partnership with the Government of India alongside India’s farmers, private companies, and research institutions to invest $25 million in a new tree planting initiative to boost the practice of agroforestry—an effort that can fight climate change and boost farmer income today, while accruing critical knowledge that can be brought to bear throughout the world.

In fact, so many of the partnerships that USAID has recently engaged in with India, whether the regional integration of electricity grids to facilitate the transfer of clean energy between Nepal and India, or a partnership to export Indian-derived maternal and child health solutions to Nigeria and Bangladesh, come from the understanding that the future of development in the Global South entails applying lessons and insights from the inspiring growth that has already occurred in the Global South. This means, practically speaking, that one of the most effective things that the United States can do to advance economic opportunity and dignity around the world is partner with India in its efforts to share its expertise with third countries.

That is a significant reason we have fully supported the government’s leadership in the founding of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, a Coalition I have the privilege of co-chairing. We have made a multi-year investment in CDRI’s secretariat, embedding key technical specialists in its leadership, and together spearheading new research endeavors that will help other countries safeguard their infrastructure amidst a changing climate. Through this coalition, we will provide technical support for renewable energy projects in the Caribbean that can keep the lights on and power healthcare facilities even when storms hit. New rural schools in Malawi that won’t flatten in the event of an earthquake, and cold storage systems in Bangladesh to preserve the 30 percent of agricultural harvests still lost each year due to inadequate infrastructure.

There is no question that India, with all of its ingenuity, all of its talent, all of its resources, all of its technological expertise in everything from pharmaceutical development to digital finance, can contribute massively to the development trajectory of many, many countries around the world.

But ultimately, what has positioned India as a future development leader has not been its assets, but its values. It has been India’s multiethnic, multiparty democracy that has allowed it to withstand the challenges it has faced and come out ahead stronger and more resilient. It has been its support for free expression over decades that has allowed injustices to come to light. It has been its tolerance for diversity and dissent that has allowed reforms to take hold, and institutions to progress. India’s trajectory has been so strong because—not in spite of—its democracy.

Yet the headwinds against democratic rule are strong the world over. Within the United States and India, there are forces who seek to sow division; who seek to pit ethnicities and religions against each other; who wish to bend laws, abuse institutions, and wield violence against those who stand in their way. We saw this of course, on January 6 in the United States, back in 2021, just last year. How the United States and India rise to meet these injustices—how fiercely we protect our hard-won pluralism, how insistently we defend our democracy and individual rights—will determine not just our own trajectory but that of the world that we inhabit.

When my family emigrated from Ireland to America, we eventually landed in Atlanta, Georgia, where I attended high school. It was in Atlanta that Martin Luther King, Jr., our country’s most prominent civil rights leader was born, in a two-story home where his parents, grandparents, and two siblings also lived. Just blocks away from King’s birthplace is the site where he is laid to rest, alongside his wife Coretta Scott King, a notable activist in her own right. Steps from their marble gravestone, surrounded by the circular waters of a reflecting pool, stands a small museum. Within it, as some of you know, are the artifacts and accolades of Dr. King and his wife, and those of one other man: Mahatma Gandhi.

There, among Dr. King’s Nobel Peace Prize and Coretta King’s various book awards, sit the sandals, walking stick, and cotton dhoti of Gandhi, the man who inspired America’s greatest civil rights icon and his own campaign of civil disobedience and nonviolence.

In 1959, King himself visited India, intent on learning from Gandhi’s own campaign of nonviolent resistance. He wrote later, “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk.”

It was Gandhi’s willingness to risk his own life, his own freedom, to embrace fully the struggles of his people, that gave Dr. King the courage to do the same in America. King drew inspiration not from America’s own Founding Fathers it turned out, but from India’s, and we are a more perfect union, striving to improve, because of that quest for peaceful struggle, because of the insistence of common humanity that was fostered here, in this country, by Mahatma Gandhi.

Across 75 years of shared history, that is the legacy of our two nations—to support each other, to inspire each other, and even to question each other on how fully we live up to our stated values. To be clear: now and in the years ahead, the United States sees India not just as a leader in the Indo-Pacific, but a leader throughout the world.

Together, we can offer the emerging countries, the emerging economies of the future a new development model—one rooted not in debt traps and dependence, but in economic trade and integration—one that supports and celebrates individual and national agency, and one that aspires to see all countries move beyond the need for assistance. A model predicated on engaging with a country’s citizens and civil society just as willingly as it does with its government. A model that treats others as equals, and collaborates on solutions without preconceptions or stereotypes. A model that recognizes that democracy, inclusivity, and pluralism offer the surest path to sustainable progress; where dignity is not reserved for the few, but endowed to us all. A model that is rooted in cooperation, not small minded but big hearted.

A model that at its core believes that we are all one family.

Thank you so much.