About the Author: Maria Otero serves as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.
Last week, I was honored to lead the U.S. delegation to the seventh annual U.S.-India Global Issues Forum in New Delhi. Though I have visited India many times in the past, this was my first trip as Under Secretary of State. The Global Issues Forum presented an important opportunity for our two countries to forge a stronger relationship, committed to addressing the challenges of the 21st century, such as disaster management, polio eradication, food security, water and resource management, and human rights.
The issue of climate change, pervasive in my conversations with all world leaders, was central to our discussions at the forum. This includes challenges of adaptation and mitigation, water management, natural resource management, energy policy and wildlife protection. We recognize the need for both of our countries to implement sustainable development initiatives that also preserve the environment for future generations. I hope to see and help India assume a leading role as we tackle the world’s environmental challenges, especially during next month’s summit on climate change in Copenhagen.
My past trips to India have focused on empowerment of the poor through the delivery of financial services. During this trip, I visited Salaam Balaak Trust, a USAID-funded project that delivers essential medical care, education and food to street children in and around Delhi's main train station. The program provides training in life-skills and trade to more than 3,000 children, many of whom are as young as six years old. In an austere room dotted with computer terminals, I met several young men who told me, in English, that they want to be a fashion photographer, graphic designer, and web designer, respectively. Not only are these young men learning English through the Trust—they are also becoming self-reliant (and creative) individuals! It is a model of successful intervention that leads to changed lives and better futures.
I was also able to meet with a variety of other civil society leaders whose valuable work and expertise contribute to sustainable solutions in India. A common theme throughout these discussions was the importance of public-private partnerships to confront economic and social problems. During a meeting with environmental NGO activists, I learned of the crucial role that India's vibrant NGO sector plays in conservation efforts, improving air quality, and protecting biodiversity. This visit reinforced my admiration for India’s nonprofit sector as one of the most active and diverse in the world today.