Power of Communication at USAID

Before buzzwords like “the cloud” and “start-up” saturated the streets of San Francisco, hippies and Hendrix cried “peace” and “love” for the world from Haight-Ashbury rooftops in the 1960’s. Consequently, the love bug made its way across the country to Washington, D.C. and with the flick of a pen an executive order wrote the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, into existence. USAID defines themselves an organization that “leads international development and humanitarian efforts, reduces poverty, strengthens democratic governance and helps people progress beyond assistance”[1] since 1961.

In March of 2018 – nearly sixty years after the start of President John F. Kennedy’s passion project – a mix of undergraduate and graduate students from USC Annenberg traveled halfway around the world to set foot in a USAID office in Bangkok, Thailand to learn how the agency spreads democracy via economic assistance today. Of the nearly 4,000 employed by USAID, Ashley Marcus, the Director of Program Development and her colleague Dalina Prasertsri spoke with students of the organization’s grass-roots beginnings before telling them how the Bangkok office’s purpose was to ensure food security, humanitarian assistance, and put boots on the ground for conflict prevention efforts within the Asian region.


Post-presentation, the students learned about what it means to “graduate” a country; or, in other words, provide a means for a formerly impoverished state to stand on its own as a budding democratic nation. However, democracy and its inherent ideals do not come without its fair share of resistance and resistors. Students found out not all aid recipients view USAID as a positive, given the organization’s economic assistance is idealistically democracy-laden. In short, the politics of help is hard, which is why USAID has a conflict prevention communication team that is prepared to ensure stability for an economically developing region in a peaceful way.

When all was said and done, the USC Annenberg students walked out of the office with two very important lessons: the first was that while change is extremely difficult; it does not mean it is impossible. Moreover, the conflict prevention team is inspirational proof that there are still those who believe words and impeccable communication is a great line of defense.




Steven Villescas

is a Graduate Student studying Communication Management. Academically, he focuses on influential communication; professionally, an ideal job for Steven after obtaining his degree would be to work as a communication consultant at a communication firm in the Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles area.