Good morning, everyone. Thank you all for being here on an important day for Jim and his family––and for USAID.
Our Mission Directors enthusiastically apply for demanding jobs and I know personally that the demands fall on family as well, so I’m glad I was able to meet Jim’s family who is here with us this morning.
July 26th is a significant day for Liberians and the Liberian Diaspora Community here in the U.S., as they commemorate Liberia’s independence.
The close relationship and rich history our countries share reflect the progress that is possible when we partner with countries to strengthen democratic institutions and confront challenges together.
After spending the earliest days of his professional career in Liberia, we’re grateful that Jim has decided to return and bring his decades of experience to bear for the Liberian people.
Jim, I am told that you are known for your patience, your quiet, sly sense of humor, and for capping off long days with a wry smile, a nod, and a “very good.”
“An unflappable, even stoic commitment to USAID’s mission” is how one colleague described Jim’s leadership.
This was evident on Easter Sunday just this past year when unexpected torrential rain in Timor-Leste led to severe flash flooding and landslides. Ten Embassy residences housing 18 people experienced flood waters carrying mud, sewage, and debris through the streets and their homes.
Waters 2.5 feet deep rushed through drainage canals and knocked down walls in a matter of minutes. Some families were woken up by the water climbing onto their beds.
Despite waking up with inches of mud and muck evenly distributed throughout their home, shifting shoes from the bedroom to the kitchen, Jim calmly listened when mission staff informed him about the damage other houses were taking and the need for evacuations.
As the weather conditions interfered with cell service, he then proceeded to advise on how best to support the staff and children that were in danger, asking the right questions––but not too many––and offering clear guidance.
It was only when he was on the phone later, updating Washington, DC staff on the situation, assuring folks here that mission staff were OK, when he realized that he should probably evacuate too.
From Timor-Leste to Afghanistan; Mali, Nigeria, and Ghana all the way to Kosovo, Jim has empowered his colleagues and fostered work environments that give people the confidence they need to succeed in these situations.
Jim’s commitment to put others first is an important throughline in all of USAID’s work. When USAID staff––especially our dedicated foreign service nationals––are given confidence and made an integral part of a mission’s efforts, that translates to our partners on the ground and to the communities we serve.
Jim is taking this post at a moment of great opportunity for Liberia’s future. Despite unrest in the region, Liberia is experiencing relative calm and political stability. Yet, the country’s economy remains extremely fragile, and a lack of jobs coupled with a population growth rate among the highest in the world has hindered its progress.
COVID-19 has also shifted attention and set back efforts to curb Liberia’s existing food insecurity and malnutrition challenges.
In 2014, as the Ebola virus tore through communities in West Africa, I was able to witness firsthand the ability of the Liberian government and people, in partnership with USAID, the U.S. military, and other countries to mobilize the health care sector in response to a formidable disease.
Armed with the knowledge of how to stop the spread of the virus, many Liberian communities led grassroots prevention efforts that safely separated infected individuals into buffered zones and helped the country bend the curve of the virus, save lives, and offer tangible signs that the virus can and would be beaten.
The United States’ long standing partnership with the Liberian people was a critical part of our global efforts to contain the spread of the Ebola virus and it serves as a clear example of the potency of our development efforts, both in defeating COVID-19 and in reinforcing the gains we’ve made in public health and governance.
Close collaboration between our Mission and the Liberian government has helped lay a strong foundation for the country’s response to the pandemic through more than $4 billion in assistance over the past 20 years, and $2.3 million to provide critical aid to all 15 Liberian counties since the outbreak began.
Looking ahead, the United States and USAID are committed to deepening this important relationship, beginning with a partnership between the University of Liberia College of Health Sciences, Yale University, and Vanderbilt University to create the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Innovation in Liberia––a $15 million project establishing a public-private academic hub for research utilization in the Liberian health sector.
This is a critical moment in Liberia’s history and there are big challenges ahead. I know that the Liberian people are up to the challenge, and I am grateful and excited to see what we can accomplish together with an experienced, unflappable, and caring Mission Director like Jim Wright taking charge.
Very good, indeed.
With that, it is my pleasure to invite Jim and his dad up as I administer the oath of office.