On July 12, 2013 David J. Barth, USAID Mission Director to Bosnia and Herzegovina held lecture at AUBIH premises.
A group of students from Northeastern University, Boston and AUBIH Peace and Conflict Studies Program attended the lecture with great interest. Mr. Barth referred to current issues in B&H society and challenges that USAID as well as international community faces. Firstly, working with top leaders and individuls is seen as a demanding task in a society where attitudes and perceptions cannot be easily changed. Thus, the change on individual level shall firstly occur before societal changes take place. Although USAID mission is very broad, sections of their interest become narrower due to stalemate in society. The change shall be cross- sectoral and encompass more than one sector.
As speaker stated, USAID team sucessfully promoted development of local ownership by emphasizing the importance of local organizations, their building capacities and the use of resources. The private sector is also recognized as important, due to compliance with Copenhagen criteria and EU standards as requirement for EU accession. Moreover, sectors such as tourism and agriculture are seen as great B&H potential. Despite dysfunctional government, Mr. Barth pointed out the independence of banking system that remained stable and functional for long period. Some investment obstacles in BIH are: organized crime, corruption and unpredictability so proper estimations on risk assessment cannot be made by investors. These influnces, for instance corrpution are penetrated not only into judiciary sector, as it may be expected, but also to health sector, education sector and other sectors.
Due to all challenges and untapped potential, Mr. Barth views this system as the most complex one in his career. Students were interested in unemployment rate, Croatia's entering EU and its impact on BIH society, as well as the USAID mission fulfillment in such demanding environment. Regarding the unemployment rate and lack of product testing laboratories to meet EU standards, Mr. Barth views insufficient political will as crucial factor. Furthermore, Mr. Barth considers EU accession as less advantageous for B&H politicans due to rigourous standards that would be imposed and their inability to continue state obstruction.
One of main goals in USAID Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina is to deliver services in a way consistent to U.S foreign policy and by promoting U.S fundamental values. Regarding the mission itself, USAID tends to shift their engagement to municipal level and working with mayors in order to avoid burdensome administration on state level. Thus, individuals and local levels or ' entry points' are seen as significant for any upcoming change. After he was asked on last protests on JMBG crisis, Mr. Barth supported protests but also noted lack of organization and insufficient number of protesters as greatest weaknesses.
Lastly, Mr. Barth emphasized B&H rich history, culture, people and great untapped potential, but also expressed regret for slow development process. In the end of his inspiring speech, he thanked to students for attending the lecture, and advised them to use their potential to the greatest extent regardless of the surrounding environment.