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Outgoing USAID Cambodia director reflects on achievements

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Rebbeca Black says while Cambodia has come a long way, the country still has many challenges to overcome. Photo supplied

Outgoing USAID Cambodia director reflects on achievements

It goes against the purpose of many, but for Rebecca Black, former mission director for USAID Cambodia, eventually working herself out of the job would mark a measure of success.

Black, who officially finished her assignment tenure in Cambodia at the end of June after three-and-a-half years, has also served as the mission director in Mali and in Afghanistan.

Reflecting on her time in Cambodia, she said it has been a fantastic place to work in.

Black, who holds a Master’s Degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says one of her proudest accomplishments during her time as mission director for Cambodia would be expanding the network of USAID and forming important relationships.

“We’ve always had a good relationship with the ministry of health but now in some of the other ministries, like agriculture, environment and education, we really have a collaborative partnership with the government in those areas,” she said.

The organisation is also increasing its engagement with the private sector.

“The other component is as Cambodia develops and gets more mature, [we’re] shifting away from service delivery towards building institutions. So, for example in a sector like health where we’ve been involved in for a long time, [USAID was] initially directly providing services through NGOS. Now, we are working with the government and private medical sector to build the strength of that system so that the institutions and systems themselves are stronger.”

“The US government will be a partner to Cambodia I hope forever, but AID’s business is to move and help the country get to a point where it’s fully able and responsible for taking care of its own future and that’s where we are heading,” she noted, reiterating that “eventually our goal is to work ourselves out of a job to exit Cambodia.”

In addition, Black said the organisation had built a new relationship with the Cambodian Development Council.

“They did not [initially] know so much what USAID was doing and I think that was largely because we had so many different projects going on that it was hard to explain it coherently. But now we have a much stronger collaboration and that is very positive,” she said.

“The shift from our projects into working with other people, partners, public donors and government has been so important.”

With the shift towards looking at aid on a long-term sustainable level as opposed to “being worried about getting x medication to so many people today”, Black says the national conversation should also shift.

“It’s time to start talking about it, and I think the Cambodian government is quite clear that they don’t want to be dependent on aid forever,” she said.

USAID Cambodia has made significant contributions to Cambodia’s development in the form of reducing the rates of infectious diseases and HIV/AIDS, improving health care facilities, increasing awareness around nutrition and working to reduce poverty.

USAID has committed $70 to $80 million to Cambodia each year over the past five years.

Black said the Kingdom has made notable strides across a number of key indicators.

“Twenty years ago, there wasn’t a whole lot to collaborate with,” she said.

“Now things are a lot better, poverty is down and a lot of the rampant infectious diseases are now down.”

As Black prepares to leave her post, she said many challenges still remain for Cambodia.

“Not atypical of many countries, there’s a human capital need,” she said. “It is still a major limitation for private sector investment and I think the government and others are taking steps to improve that, but it’s a barrier.”

With 2016 being a critical year for the US as the presidential election looms, Black said USAID’s commitment to Cambodia will remain unwavered regardless of November’s result.

“AID has been around since 1961, through multiple changes in party administrations, different approaches and different attitudes, and as long as we are continuing to serve peace, stability and prosperity in the world there will be development assistance from us,” she said.

Black, while content with the progress USAID has made during her time as Cambodia’s mission director, says she would especially like to see greater progress in forest conservation and human capital, and hopes for a more competitive political system in the future.

“Cambodia’s been a very interesting and challenging place to work, but as in all places, what matters are relationships which have been of great value, and I’ve been really pleased to be able to expand that network for USAID,” Black said.

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