By Kiana Wilburg
The U. S. Government has a long history of partnership with Guyana, including with the private sector. In fact, The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Guyana are celebrating more than 50 years supporting national development here through an enduring bilateral development agreement and ongoing regional programs and activities.
This is according to Mission Director at the USAID, Christopher Cushing, who made these and other statements during the Annual Awards and Gala Dinner of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) held at the Marriott Hotel on Wednesday night.
Cushing noted that the USAID’s history of cooperation and collaboration not only with the Government, but with businesses, in key areas, has contributed to growth countrywide.
He said that in recent years, the USAID’s programs in Guyana have focused on health, economic growth, the environment, and democracy and governance. He said that the USAID, with Government’s cooperation, had been able to empower youth and women; close the gap in health disparities; and promote regional security.
Cushing said that despite collective efforts, development challenges remain.
“As recent events with your Caribbean neighbours have shown, one storm or prolonged weather event can wipe out years of progress, almost in a heartbeat. As just one example, with Guyana’s reliance on agriculture as a major foreign currency earner, the climate disruptions to agriculture can exacerbate economic challenges.”
He continued, “In response, USAID is building the ability of Guyana and nine other Caribbean nations to mitigate future weather-related impacts through our environmental resilience project. Specifically, USAID is enabling Guyana to better predict weather patterns and respond to disasters by placing twenty-one early warning hydro-meteorological stations throughout the country.”
Cushing added, “USAID is also striving to address problems such as HIV/AIDS and mosquito-borne diseases like Zika, Chikungunya, and Dengue. Over the past year, almost eight-thousand Guyanese received HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment services. And over 100 Guyanese health providers were sensitized to HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination.”
The Mission Director said that in working with the various departments of the Ministry of Health, USAID has been able to establish transparent, modern day, supply chain systems to accurately deliver drugs and supplies. In this regard, he highlighted that one result was USAID’s recommendation that the Ministry build collaborative relationships with the private sector to outsource distribution and other transportation solutions based on optimal routings and location analysis.
Cushing said that these efforts, which can be further enhanced by the private sector, will reduce costs and increase efficiencies in drug and medical supply chains, ensuring the correct drugs are in the right place, at the right time, for the people who need them.
The official stated under the USAID’s governance work, it was pleased to partner with the Guyana National Youth Council, community representatives, and residents to support voter education, which included the popular Vote Like A Boss campaign, leading many first-time voters to actively participate in Guyana’s March 2016 local government elections, the first in twenty-two years.
Cushing also stated that the USAID is aware that public security is closely related to citizens’ well-being and economic growth. He emphasized that working together to address Guyana’s crime and violence, particularly among youth, remains a critical area for Guyana as well as the US Government and USAID.
Cushing said, “Under our previous strategy, the Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment (or SKYE) project provided at-risk youth with counseling, mentorship, and training as well as educational and employment opportunities to support their full participation in their communities and society as a whole. These opportunities included vocational and entrepreneurial training, and increased their understanding of the world of work. While some graduates went on to additional education, many applied successfully for jobs in the business sector, some of them with the companies and businesses you represent.”
The Mission Director continued, “To highlight an area where we saw much success, a number of the graduates were able to get work as carpenters, masons, electricians and other positions in the construction sector. One SKYE graduate is now the primary gardener at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence. Others started their own businesses in agriculture, food service, and merchandising. While these may not seem like high level positions, these jobs are helping at-risk youth support their families and avoid criminal activities.”
The USAID officer noted that the private sector, including many GCCI members, participated in consultations and influenced USAID’s youth development and citizen security projects by helping to articulate how youth training could focus on workplace skills.
Under USAID’s SKYE project, Cushing said that over 3000 Guyanese youth received workforce-related training, where businesses such as Howard Construction Co., Timehri Handling Services, Mercy Hospital, Giftland, Stain Masters Guyana Ltd., Global Seafood Distributors and others, partnered with USAID to provide employment for over one thousand youths.
He noted that Guyanese businesses such as Bounty Farms opened their doors to young, aspiring business owners to experience some of the challenges faced in running a business.
The Mission Director also stated that the private sector provided opportunities for real business partnerships. In this regard, he noted that approximately 170 Guyanese youth received USAID support to start a business and benefitted from the guidance and mentorship of successful business owners.
Cushing is of the view that working collaboratively with the business community will lead to at-risk youth having higher chances of finding full-time employment and being able to make meaningful contributions to their communities and country.
The Mission Director also noted that Guyana, like many of its Caribbean counterparts, has graduated to middle-income status, which limits its eligibility for access to donor financing. For Guyana, and similarly rated countries, Cushing said that this situation places increased responsibility on governments and its private sector to mobilize domestic resources to support key development programs.
In Guyana, the USAID officer said, the mining and transportation sectors, among others, have been particularly involved in the health sector to help their workers in the prevention of malaria, Zika, and HIV.
“Following on this, I would like to talk a bit about corporate social responsibility. Research shows that corporate social responsibility is good for business, but I often hear that there is no history or culture of corporate social responsibility here.
“I, for one, reject that characterization. As the examples I have cited in my remarks clearly show, corporate social responsibility is alive and well in Guyana. Is there more that can be done? Certainly. But the private sector plays an important role in sustaining development work through both financial and in-kind support from the children infected with HIV who received in-kind assistance, to those who hired participants from our various programs, to hands-on mentoring and counselling, to name just a few.”
Furthermore, Cushing stated that in emphasizing sustainability and replicating successful solutions, USAID recently started a program in Guyana and nine other Caribbean countries that build the managerial, institutional, and organizational capacity of local organizations.
During this time of competing demands for government funding, Cushing said that the private sector can also support NGOs by conducting training and apprenticeships in financial management and effective operations, among other topics. He said that this would assist in strengthening NGOs’ institutional capacity to sustain high quality operations, attract more funding, and implement more effective Programs.
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