So we’re at the MENAICT conference, and by we at this point I mean my good friends Khaled El-Ahmad, Oula Farawati, and my Sleepless Self with Ms. Lorraine Hariton, Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs, U.S. Department of State. We were lucky to get an exclusive interview to talk about what’s coming up in Jordan and what we hope is a fruitful near future in the ICT section. So here’s how it went.

Left to Right: Lara Abdulhadi (Sleepless in Amman), Ms. Lorraine Hariton Special Representative for Commercial & Business Affairs, and Mr. Khaled El Ahmad

How do you think ICT and entrepreneurship is going to make a difference in Jordan? Some people used to say schools don’t need computers they need to fixed! HM King Abdullah answered them saying ‘ by giving them tools, we are giving people better chances to a better life’. What do you think?

LH: I think the ICT has many opportunities to actually help improve people’s lives, even in ways that we don’t even understand yet. It amazes me to see some of the innovations of how we can apply that to make people’s life better. So if you look for example at Medical Care, to use technology to improve not just medical records but also diagnosis of diseases, or being able to research to give better care, and to have doctors to speak all over the world and compare information, it all comes together to making a better experience for the patient. Another example could be energy, to be able to link scientists and researchers together and to link ideas and the results of these researchers to everyone in the world, we don’t even understand the impact of these opportunities, they are beyond us, and we probably can’t even grasp the potential and future of where such technology is taking us.

We are embracing any kind of technology that can help people, no matter where it comes from and, much of it is being done here. There are is a lot of research that is being done in Jordan on new technologies to be applied to energy such as water saving. We are hoping to do more and to focus on this area for the next few years, to find the kind of technologies out there that we can adapt here in Jordan to improve water saving, for the agriculture field in particular.

The needs of Jordan can be overwhelming, how can you identify the fields that are the most in need and need attention?

LH: We don’t work in every area that needs a need, because there are a lot of people out there who are already doing a lot. What we do is that we work closely with the government to say ‘What do we have in advantages as a western Government that can impact a change?’ and then we look at these areas, look at what other donors are doing, and see where we can have the best place to do an intervention. Our first focus is education, second after that comes water – whether it’s looking at water-saving agriculture, or working with the government to have better treatment plants and water systems. Recently we awarded 20 Million to look at water systems for schools across the country and for homes, so people have water security here. We are continuing to look carefully water. We are also looking at economic growth potential, and ways to improve tourism in particular.

In regards to education, we are working with the higher population council to study the demographics of the country to see what the needs are going to be in the future. Because too often we look at what the problems are now, and as a result we don’t see the problems that might be emerging or coming up. Jordan and the world as a whole should see where is the population growth, where is it growing, and where is it going to be, because we need to know where the schools  need to be, and where the hospitals and water delivery need to be. If you know in one region in the country the population will be growing, and there aren’t any plans to that area, were going to have a problem. So we need to anticipate things now, and to have them ready for when that happens. So working with the higher population council is brilliant. ICT also applies in this area because you’re looking at ICT trends and were using the statistical models to figure out where you need to be able to plan as a government where these services are going to be needed the most.

What are the parameters you are using to feel satisfied about your accomplishment in a certain area? Are you satisfied with your work with water and education?

LH: There are a lot of different measurements that we use. This is an incredible question, because we’re actually talking about this right now in the office, of how we do a better job at measuring and what measurements are we actually looking for. So for the time being I’m very satisfied actually, and it’s not just a USAID doing the program, it’s us in collaboration with the government and the people. It is everyone working together to get those results. So for example: the fact that 98% of the people in this country can turn the faucet and have clean water coming out is phenomenal. USAID has been working with the government for over 50 years and counting to make such accomplishments happen. It’s a partnership! I’ve been working in development for 25 years and that number is simply amazing. Literacy is also phenomenal – so I think those can speak for themselves. We are also looking at the softer numbers in terms of people’s feelings. I mean how people feel about the quality of their life. You can measure lots of things, but if people are not happy with where they are going, if they don’t feel that they are part of their country or the world, then were concerned about them too, because we like to feel that we are a productive part of this society. It’s hard to measure but it’s equally important.

We noticed a shift in the way you advertise, for the first time we stating hearing and seeing ads on buses and in the paper ‘USAID From the American People’ – and we’ve noticed that the message has been stressed a lot lately in advertisements. What made you choose to enforce the new slogan and make it more vivid?

LH: First of all, the foreign aid program is about a people connection. Not only do we want the people of Jordan to know that, we also want the people in the United States to feel a sense of ownership for it also, because it is their money. So what we’re trying to emphasize more and more is that ‘people to people connection’ and we can see more of that coming over the next few years. We are trying to let the American people know what their assistance gets them because there is frustration in the United States because people say we send money but they want to know that it has meaning and made a difference somewhere. If they are going to pay harder tax money to provide assistance, they want to know and be ensured that it was meaningful, so that’s what it’s about.