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Visiting USAID deputy says Israeli tech will be key for developing nations

Bonnie Glick notes that Israeli know-how will be needed as leading US development agency implements digital approach, plans 5G roll-out for combating food insecurity, other issues

Luke Tress is a video journalist and tech reporter for the Times of Israel

Deputy administrator of USAID Bonnie Glick during a briefing on the Women's Global Development and Prosperity initiative, August 11, 2020, at the US State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Deputy administrator of USAID Bonnie Glick during a briefing on the Women's Global Development and Prosperity initiative, August 11, 2020, at the US State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The deputy administrator for the US Agency for International Development said on Wednesday that Israel has a key role to play in the organization’s efforts to combat food insecurity and poverty in developing nations.

Israeli cybersecurity technology, and its private sector, will help the aid agency with its planned implementation of 5G technology in the developing world, Bonnie Glick told The Times of Israel while on a visit to the Jewish state.

Jerusalem’s normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will also open avenues for the countries to collaborate on aid projects, she said.

Glick said that USAID, the US government’s development agency, is focused on a digital approach to aid in developing nations.

“It’s very different from the old school approach to foreign aid, where people may have considered things like USAID delivering sacks of grain or digging wells. We don’t do that any more,” said Glick.

The agency now focuses on providing tools to local groups and individuals, such as smart agricultural tools for farmers, or financial tools, to help developing areas achieve self-sufficiency.

“A country the US is supporting, the ultimate goal is for that country to be along the journey to self reliance,” Glick said. “It really needs to be empowered digitally. Its citizens need to have digital tools to participate fully in the nation’s economy, as well as in the global economy.”

USAID plans to make use of 5G telecommunications technology when it is widely available to benefit emerging economies, for education, finance, medical communications, and other purposes.

“When countries are at that point of being ready to roll out 5G solutions, Israel will be right there with USAID for digital security, protection of data, with critical components for the roll-out,” Glick said, adding that India is another major partner in USAID’s digital plans. “No conversation, I believe, around 5G would be complete if you didn’t have two of the most important technology-driven economies and technology-driven private sectors.”

Glick spoke to The Times of Israel while in Israel to meet with government officials, partly to discuss the Abraham Accords with the UAE and Bahrain, as part of a broader trip that included stops in Kosovo, Serbia, Algeria and Morocco.

She also on Wednesday held a virtual event on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly with Israel-born Oracle CEO Safra Catz as part of the 2020 Concordia Summit. Catz also has ties to the Trump administration.

Safra Catz, co-chief executive officer of Oracle, arrives at Trump Tower in New York City on December 14, 2016 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

US-based Oracle, one of the world’s leading software firms, partners with USAID, and works with Israeli startup AgroScout, in an example of the role Israeli technology can play in the developing world.

AgroScout uses drones and an “auto-scouting app” to collect images and data on agricultural fields, then uses AI to analyze the information and detect pests and crop diseases. The app then navigates users to the site of the problem. The system gives farmers the ability to detect problems earlier, and use chemicals more selectively, saving money and increasing yields.

AgroScout relies on Oracle’s cloud platform to analyze its drone images with machine learning technology.

“In Israel where you have these cutting edge technologies, these are technologies that can then be scaled and rolled out to developing countries around the world, and that’s something that gets us very excited,” Glick said. “If you look at developed countries, like the United States or Israel, and compare them to a country like Kenya, unless Kenya has access to those 5G types of solutions, they won’t be able to develop as rapidly.”

Over 800 million people suffer from food insecurity, according to USAID, and the pandemic is likely to add another 100 million people to those ranks.

USAID also aims to partner with private sector firms and local merchants in developing countries.

Israel and the UAE, also considered a Middle East technology leader, can now openly collaborate on aid projects in developing countries.

Both countries are interested in providing aid to African nations in need of assistance, Glick said: “This seems to me, as well as to the Israeli government, as well as to the UAE government, as a really amazing way for us to put to a test the strength of this new peace, to show a true partnership.”

In 2019, USAID invested $20.6 billion in 134 countries.

The organization has come under fire in the Middle East in recent years following the Trump administration’s cuts to aid for the Palestinians, forcing the closure of nonprofits serving Palestinian communities.

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