Thomas Staal Interview
DRLA Executive Director Ky Luu interviews Thomas Staal, who is currently the mission director for USAID’s mission in Ethiopia.
Thomas Staal, USAID Mission Director in Ethiopia
As director for United States Agency for International Development (USAID's) mission in Ethiopia, Staal oversees a program totaling $800 million annually to help Ethiopians strengthen their democratic institutions, promote economic growth and improve education and health services, including the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Ethiopia is one of the largest USAID missions worldwide.
Staal has spent most of his career working overseas in international development. He has worked for USAID since 1988, beginning in Sudan as an emergency program officer. In the early 1990s, he worked in USAID's regional office in Kenya, managing food aid and doing project development throughout eastern and southern Africa. From 1996 to 2002, he worked in USAID's West Bank and Gaza program, providing assistance to the Palestinians, focusing on water supply projects, as well as local community development. He worked in Iraq from 2003-2004, serving as USAID's regional representative for Southern Iraq, overseeing all USAID projects in that part of the country. He also served a year as the deputy director of the Food For Peace Office in Washington, D.C., and spent a year studying at the National War College. Most recently, Staal was the director of the Iraq Reconstruction Office in Washington, D.C.
Before joining USAID, Staal worked for World Vision International as their representative in Sudan in the mid-1980s. He also worked for ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia in the late 1970's and the early 1980's in their government relations department.
Staal has a Master's Degree in Comparative Politics (Middle East focus) from Columbia University, and a M.Sc. in National Strategic Security Studies from the National Defense University. Born to missionary parents, Staal grew up in Iraq and Kuwait and attended boarding school in India.
Ky Luu's Interview Questions:
1. Currently the mission’s focus is strengthening their democratic institutions, promoting economic growth, and improving education health services, including the President’s Emergency Plan for Aid and Relief (PEPFAR). So, Tom, the first question I have would be that you have had a very distinguished career working for both government and nongovernmental organizations in very challenging countries, in complex programs, ranging from Sudan to West Bank Gaza to Iraq and, now, Ethiopia. What keeps you going? What’s your motivation to move from one program, from one country, from one challenge to the next? Hear Thomas Staal's response
2. Looking at the countries you’ve worked in, where, in some instances, there is progress. In others there are some real challenges that have yet been met. What lessons do you take from one experience to the next? And where and how are those lessons applied? Hear Thomas Staal's response
3. Again, looking at just the global landscape now, where we see projections here potentially with climate change and its impact perhaps on additional displacement, here where, upwards of perhaps, some are forecasting, 200 million people in the next decade. We see the shrinking of humanitarian space. We see programs like Darfur, as well as in the Congo, where humanitarian actors are being targeted. And that’s just to say that things, perhaps, are not necessarily getting better. And you as a leader, you who have worked in various capacity, what can you as an individual do, as a mission director, as perhaps a country director to be able to address the situation perhaps find a dialogue to promote and further progress within your respective program? Hear Thomas Staal's response
4. Tom, you currently, it was noted earlier, are overseeing one of the larger USAID programs, and Ethiopia has been a recipient of aid from the international community now for decades. What impact do you want to have during your tenure here as the mission director in Ethiopia? Hear Thomas Staal's response
5. Who are some of your heroes and why? Hear Thomas Staal's response
6. The last question really request here is what advice would you give other foreign service officers, other non-governmental staff member who look at you and want to follow in this career path in order to achieve their own success and make an impact. Hear Thomas Staal's response