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Amy Meyer: Leading Efforts to Spur the Economy in a Volatile Region

Amy Meyer
Amy Meyer (USAID)

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From the Partnership for Public Service
Monday, September 21, 2009; 5:12 AM

Amy Meyer of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is charged with leading the nation's effort to spur economic development in Pakistan, a daunting job in one of the world's most volatile regions.

"This great responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of a 35-year-old woman in her first Foreign Service assignment, and truthfully, it couldn't be in better hands now," said Joseph Ryan, USAID's chief economist in Pakistan. "She is the most outstanding officer I have worked with in my 27-year-long career with USAID."

Meyer has led USAID's economic growth office in Pakistan since 2006. First working with one Pakistani staff member, she developed a strategy to help address some of Pakistan's most pressing economic problems.

Partly in recognition of the energy and credibility Meyer has brought to the economic growth office, USAID has increased its annual budget for Pakistan assistance programs from $12 million to $200 million since 2006. Meyer has used the funds to create a diverse suite of programs dealing with horticulture, livestock, small business development and projects with a particular focus on women.

Within Meyer's "Empower Pakistan: Agriculture" program, as many as one million women could join dairy cooperatives. The milk they collect will be stored in a shared chiller and then sold in markets. The women will receive the income from these transactions.

Fluent in Urdu, Pakistan's predominant language, Meyer has enlisted the help of the Pakistani people from rural dairy farmers to high-level government officials.

Meyer often holds focus groups for women in her home, where she spends hours conversing in Urdu while sitting cross-legged on the floor, listening and learning from the stories of "those trying to make sense of what is happening to their country," she said.

She even leads a yoga program on Pakistani television that airs from Karachi to Islamabad, and reaches thousands of women.

Meyer cites this "people factor" as essential to her progress thus far, which she admits has been markedly sluggish and difficult to achieve at times.

"The greatest challenge for me is remaining hopeful and optimistic when the changes that you see are so small and they come so slowly," Meyer said. "It is a slow and incremental process, and it can be discouraging, but you must stay connected to your personal vision even if its realization may take long periods of time."

Meyer's vision is one that she often weighs against concerns for her personal safety in a dangerous environment, which has already claimed the life of one of her American colleagues in Peshawar.

Maliha Hussein, a Pakistani economic consultant, and other colleagues praise Meyer for her wholehearted commitment and her willingness to nurture partnerships with the Pakistani people.

"Many in her position would have asked for a transfer by now," said Hussein. "Amy has continued in her assignment and I have never met anyone at USAID with such clarity and sense of purpose."

Meyer said she sometimes wonders which part of her work is going to produce a greater impact -- the spending of the tens of millions of U.S. aid dollars or her interactions with individuals.

"I suspect and hope it will be a combination of the two that brings real change to the lives of these people who so desperately need it," she said.

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and Visit for more about the organization's work.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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