USAID Mission Director John Pennell: “The United States and Georgia share the same objective of a more secure, prosperous, and democratic Georgia that is firmly integrated with the West”

USAID first opened our doors in Georgia in 1992, shortly after the United States and Georgia established formal diplomatic relations. In total, USAID has invested approximately $1.9 billion in programs to help Georgia to build effective and accountable public institutions; improved education, healthcare, and other public services; an economy that creates jobs and prosperity for workers, families, and communities across the country; and democratic processes that put citizens at the center.

USAID currently invests in 40 development programs that support Georgia in a number of key areas – economic growth, energy security, education, democratic governance, and many others – all of which are aligned with Georgia’s domestic priorities to strengthen its security, prosperity, and democracy and to continue advancing toward Europe.

USAID Mission Director John Pennell discusses how USAID has deepened its partnership with Georgia to benefit all Georgians and help the country take advantage of its unique opportunity to become a candidate for European Union membership.

Could you provide insights into the remarkable 30-year partnership between the United States and Georgia? What are the main highlights of this partnership?

USAID first opened our doors in Georgia in 1992, shortly after the United States and Georgia established formal diplomatic relations. We have stood side-by-side with Georgia and the Georgian people ever since, working with government institutions, businesses, communities, civic organizations, and citizens to support Georgia’s own efforts to become a more secure, prosperous, and democratic member of the Euro-Atlantic community.

In total, USAID has invested approximately $1.9 billion in programs to help Georgia to build effective and accountable public institutions; improved education, healthcare, and other public services; an economy that creates jobs and prosperity for workers, families, and communities across the country; and democratic processes that put citizens at the center. For example, we have supported, and continue to support, all of Georgia’s more than 2,000 public schools. We have trained more than 30,000 teachers on international quality teaching methods. We helped Georgia strengthen its health system to reduce infant and child mortality, and achieve a child immunization rate of 85% by 2012 – by supporting immunization of children for Diphtheria, Polio, Measles, and Tuberculosis.

These are just some examples of many. Our assistance helps Georgians build stronger communities, including in areas near the Administrative Boundary Lines, so that citizens can be confident that their own lives will improve and that their children will have more opportunities in the future.

Why does Georgia hold a special place as a partner in USAID's mission? How does this partnership contribute to broader goals and objectives?

The United States and Georgia share the same objective of a more secure, prosperous, and democratic Georgia that is firmly integrated with the West. USAID is here to strengthen the strategic partnership between the United States and Georgia, supporting Georgia to continue developing domestically and be a source of stability and prosperity in the South Caucasus region. USAID’s partnership with Georgia also includes work to advance climate smart energy security, increase regional connectivity, protect human rights and basic freedoms, and advance the social and economic inclusion of all people including women, youth, persons with disabilities, and ethnic and religious minorities. I’m heartened to know that the partnership between the United States and Georgia is built on a shared commitment to these values.

Could you shed light on the specific sectors in which USAID engages with projects in Georgia? What factors guide the selection of these sectors, and how does this relate to the evolving needs and context in Georgia?

USAID currently invests in 40 development programs that support Georgia in a number of key areas – economic growth, energy security, education,democratic governance, and many others – all of which are aligned with Georgia’s domestic priorities to strengthen its security, prosperity, and democracy and to continue advancing toward Europe. In fact, We have a bilateral assistance agreement with the Government of Georgia, which provides the framework for all 40 USAID programs. As for how we implement these programs: we work with the Government of Georgia at the national and local levels, the private sector, civil society, academia, communities, and citizens, to identify and understand Georgia’s development challenges, and how USAID can partner with Georgia to overcome those challenges. Based on this input, we oversee programs to directly benefit Georgians from all walks of life – youth, members of underrepresented communities, people living in big cities, rural areas, ethnic minority communities, and near the Administrative Boundary Lines.

What are the current core priorities of USAID in Georgia? What key objectives and initiatives are being pursued to address the pressing challenges and opportunities?

USAID is always adapting and updating our programs to meet Georgia’s evolving needs as the country continues to develop. We have deepened our partnership to help Georgia take advantage of its unique opportunity to become a candidate for European Union membership. USAID works with the Government of Georgia and with civil society on key areas of democratic reform, including judicial reform and media freedom. We also support Georgia to conduct free and fair elections. We have increased our investment in Georgia’s energy security – helping modernize infrastructure, develop domestic sources of renewable energy, and improve the regulatory environment so Georgia can integrate with the European energy market. In terms of new USAID programs, we are focusing on helping Georgian workers and students get good jobs so they don’t have to leave home to earn a living or raise their families; improving national and local governance so that citizens can access good public services – schools, hospitals, roads, public spaces – wherever they live; countering harmful disinformation; and helping schools prepare their students to contribute to Georgia’s democracy as active and responsible citizens.

Can you highlight some of the standout projects that USAID has implemented in Georgia? What makes these projects particularly meaningful? Within the various sectors of engagement, are there any specific areas where USAID has achieved significant impact and success? Please share some insights into these achievements and their importance.

The Georgian and American people have achieved a lot together. We should all be proud. Some of the things I’m proudest of, going back 30 years:

  • USAID invested in upgrading energy infrastructure following the 2008 War. We supported Georgia to upgrade electricity transmission lines and gas pipelines, including the construction of a 11- kilometer gas pipeline connecting east and west Georgia and renovation of the Senaki I and II electricity transmission lines. This resulted in a stable energy supply to about 700,000 people at a critical time for the country. We have also facilitated private sector investment in more than 1,500 MegaWatts of clean and renewable energy generation. This translates into reliable power supplies for homes, hospitals, schools, and businesses, and makes Georgia more energy secure. We also supported the Government of Georgia’s effort to electrify more than 250 remote mountainous villages that had been without electricity for decades.
  • In education, we have been partnering with Georgia’s Ministry of Education and Science to deliver better outcomes for students in all of Georgia’s 2,085 public schools, directly benefiting more than 300,000 school students each year.

  • In health, USAID supported Georgia to build the medical system needed to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis, strengthen maternal and child care services, increase life-saving immunizations, and ensure access to affordable health services. Our joint efforts saved thousands of lives, reduced infant mortality, supported Georgia to reach a child immunization rate of 85% by 2012, and allowed people living with HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis to live more full lives.
  • In the mid-2000s, we supported Georgia to reform its tax and customs systems, allowing the Government of Georgia to collect the tax revenue necessary to fund important public services like roads, hospitals, schools, and public safety.
  • Following the 2008 War, USAID provided $250 million for social payments to internally-displaced persons, pensioners, and others in need following the war.

More recently:

  • Since 2018, USAID has supported more than 328 agribusinesses to modernize their companies, creating more than 6,000 agricultural jobs and generating more than $148 million in sales, of which more than $57 million were generated by exports.
  • In 2022 alone, USAID supported more than 25,000 Georgian small farmers and businesses, helping them expand and create about 5,300 full-time jobs and generate $269 million in sales that bolsters the national economy.
  • Since 2021, we have partnered with the Government of Georgia, the private sector, and educational institutions to launch nearly 100 professional skills training programs to help Georgian workers gain the skills to succeed in the modern economy. In late November, we launched a new partnership with Georgian Railways and the Railway Transport College to establish professional training centers for railway workers in Samtredia and Tetritskaro.
  • One year ago, we launched the USAID Resilient Communities Program, which supports economic growth, job creation, and improved public services in 94 communities near the Administrative Boundary Line. In the first year, we invested more than $1.6 million in direct support to businesses while leveraging more than $2.4 million in private sector investment. Over the next four years, we project that the program will create 1,700 new jobs and help local businesses attract $6.5 million in investments.
  • In October of this year, we launched the USAID Educating the Future Program, a five-year, $14 million USAID partnership with Georgia’s Ministry of Education and Science and Arizona State University – which is continuously voted the #1 university for innovation in the United States – the University of Georgia, and One World Network of Schools to strengthen Georgia’s schools.

From your perspective, which areas in Georgia still require substantial development assistance and support? What role does USAID envision playing in addressing these areas?

It is remarkable to look at Georgia’s history since it regained independence, and consider the incredible progress made in this country in a relatively short period of time. Throughout that entire period, USAID is proud to have partnered closely with Georgia’s government and citizens, and strengthened the strategic partnership between our countries.

Following the European Commission’s November 8 recommendation that Georgia receive candidate status, we will continue to support all Georgians in their Euro-Atlantic aspirations. We will continue helping Georgia build a modern and secure energy system that is integrated with Europe. We will help Georgian businesses expand and export their products to Europe and other lucrative markets, so that Georgians in cities and in rural areas earn higher incomes for their families. We will continue creating opportunities for young people to become successful entrepreneurs and professionals and participate in civic activities to shape their own futures, and the future of their country.

All of this advances the mutual goal, shared by USAID, the Government of Georgia, and the Georgian people, to build a more prosperous, secure, and democratic European society where all citizens have opportunities to build better lives for themselves and their families.

Levan Dolidze - Instead of focusing on the steps that should bring us further progress, we are creating new barriers on the path to the EU