USAID Urban Champion: Jeffrey Szuchman

jeffrey-szuchmanJeffrey Szuchman is a Senior Policy Analyst in USAID’s Policy Office in the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning (PPL), where he leads a team that works to ensure that development perspectives and USAID equities are incorporated into a number of inter-agency and other external policy discussions. The Policy Office has played a central role in drafting the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), the National Security Strategy, and in supporting the negotiation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As the lead urban policy advisor in PPL, he coordinated USAID’s participation in the recent UN Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, and represents Agency policy positions on urbanization both within USAID and with external stakeholders.

Why is urbanization important to your work?

Urbanization is such a broad and cross-cutting issue, that it touches nearly every aspect of what USAID does. That’s why former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that achieving the SDGs “will depend, in large part, on whether we can make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”  I suspect that many in USAID would agree with this notion, though they may struggle to identify the right resources and tools adequate to address the urban challenges that are linked to their daily work.  I see my role as helping to bring attention and coherence to the way we approach urbanization as an Agency. The specific challenges and issues within each country will vary. But we all need to be speaking the same language, applying the same toolkit and approaches, based on the most current evidence. With the Urban Team now established in E3/Land and Urban Office, that job becomes considerably easier.

What is the significance of USAID’s Urban Policy?

“Urban Policy” is convenient shorthand for what is really a mouthful of a title, “Sustainable Service Delivery in an Increasingly Urbanized World.” But the policy itself is fundamentally a starting point for helping USAID staff think differently about the implications of urbanization for development broadly, and for our ability to achieve the core objectives of the Agency. That starts with understanding why we need to work more deliberately to forestall the inevitable challenges of rapid urbanization, and to better leverage the development opportunities that can accompany urbanization. The policy encourages us to consider how poverty in cities is different than poverty in rural areas, how development challenges coalesce in cities, and how the ways that cities manage growth can reverberate to impact rural development—whether positively or negatively. In that respect, the policy is a powerful statement that USAID understands and takes this global megatrend seriously.

The policy also describes the core principles that should underlie urban programming: sustainability, inclusiveness, transparency and accountability, resilience, partnership. The principles themselves are hardly revolutionary, but they do require special consideration in urban contexts. It is up to Missions and Washington Operating Units to decide to what extent these issues merit immediate attention, and to design appropriate strategies and programs to meet urban challenges.

What do you see as important trends shaping the future of urbanization? What will USAID’s role be moving forward?

Discussions of urbanization can conjure up images of vast, skyscraper-lined megacities of over 10 million inhabitants. The continued growth of these giant cites is one important trend. By 2030, the population of megacities will double, including in cities of developing countries. Dhaka, Karachi, Lagos, Kinshasa, Manila, Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg, and Luanda will all be among the largest cities of the world by 2030. The growth of megacities is important, because megacities today dominate world trade and investment today.

But the second important—and related—trend is the explosion of medium-sized and smaller cities. McKinsey estimates that today’s 23 megacities will contribute about 10 percent of global growth between 2007 and 2025. By contrast, 407 smaller emerging market cities will contribute nearly 40 percent of global growth during the same period, more than the all of the megacities in the developed world and developing regions put together. And those smaller cities are growing at a staggering rate. By 2030, more than one billion people will live in cities of 1-5 million people. This has tremendous implications for the potential of medium-sized cities to catalyze inclusive growth, but much depends on the ability of cities to manage rapidly growing populations. Lacking adequate financing, infrastructure, governance and resources, these countries will face difficulties generating growth that is inclusive. Unless we work to help build governance and institutional capacity, the number of people living in informal settlements that lack basic services, including water, sanitation, energy, health and education is certain to rise.

How does USAID’s work on urbanization fit into the broader global development agenda?

We happen to be in the middle of a very significant moment for global attention to sustainable urbanization. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development reflects an agreement among the global community that making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable should be a priority for every country. We have set specific targets to ensure that we are achieving that goal, and indicators to help us measure progress and to hold governments, donors, and citizens accountable. Last October, countries went even further by adopting the New Urban Agenda, in which they agreed that “by readdressing the way cities and human settlements are planned, designed, financed, developed, governed and managed, we can help end poverty and hunger in all its forms and dimensions; reduce inequalities; promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth; achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in order to fully harness their vital contribution to sustainable development; improve human health and well being; foster resilience; and protect the environment.” That’s an ambitious claim, but one which will be borne out by USAID and our partners as we work to build local capacities to finance and manage urbanization and to deliver effective and equitable services

USAID’s Land and Urban Office is looking to feature Urban Champions throughout the Agency who recognize the impact urbanization has on global development today and into the future.

You can nominate anyone (or yourself!) who:

  • Has a project with an urban focus in their portfolio
  • Has worked on project design that includes interventions in urban areas
  • Has an academic or research background in urbanization
  • Is passionate about the challenges urbanization presents.

To nominate someone, email and let us briefly know why your nominee deserves to be featured.


  1. Neal Peirce says:

    Congratulations to USAID in its serious focus on cities central role in human development now and over the coming decades!
    Please do keep Citiscope informed as these initiatives unfold.
    Neal Peirce

  2. Peter Kimm says:

    This looks like it could be a very important development from the point of view of IHC Global and Th
    USAID in the future. Well written statement.

    Peter Kimm

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