Amidst anti-American sentiment within one of the world’s most volatile, unstable and strategically important regions, Amy Meyer of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is charged with leading the United States’ effort to bring economic growth to Pakistan. The job is daunting, but Meyer is rising to the challenge.
“This great responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of a 35-year-old woman in her first Foreign Service assignment, and truthfully, it couldn’t be in better hands now,” said Dr. Joseph Ryan, one of USAID’s associate directors in Pakistan. “She is the most outstanding officer I have worked with in my 27-year-long career with USAID.”
Meyer has run USAID’s economic growth program in Pakistan, which was very small until she arrived in 2006. With a single Pakistani staff member, Meyer began to develop a strategy to slowly but surely tackle the nation’s seemingly endless challenges—challenges that ranged from a crippling energy crisis to the increasing influence of the Taliban and other extremist groups.
Fluent in Urdu, Pakistan’s predominant language, Meyer has persistently worked to drive change from within the battered country, enlisting the help of the Pakistani people from rural dairy farmers to high-level government officials. Partly in recognition of the energy and credibility Meyer brought to the economic development office, USAID increased its annual budget from $7 million to $200 million.
As the leader of a diverse suite of programs—dealing with issues ranging from horticulture and livestock to energy and entrepreneurship—Meyer has derived special fulfillment from projects with a particular focus on women.
Within Meyer’s “Empower Pakistan: Agriculture” program, one million women will join dairy cooperatives. The milk they collect will be stored in a shared chiller and then sold in markets. The women will receive the income from these transactions.
Meyer often holds focus groups for women in her home, where she spends hours conversing in Urdu while sitting cross-legged on the floor, listening and learning from the stories of “those trying to make sense of what is happening to their country; those with a larger stake in their own destiny.”
She even leads a yoga program on Pakistani television that airs from Karachi to Islamabad, literally bringing a healing touch to thousands of women.
Meyer cites this “people factor” as essential to her progress thus far, which she admits has been markedly sluggish and difficult to achieve at times.
“The greatest challenge for me is remaining hopeful and optimistic when the changes that you see are so small and they come so slowly,” Meyer said. “It is a slow and incremental process, and it can be discouraging, but you must stay connected to your personal vision even if its realization may take long periods of time.”
Meyer’s vision is one that she must constantly weigh against concerns for her personal safety in a dangerous and insecure environment, which has already claimed the life of one of her American colleagues in Peshawar.
“Many in her position would have asked for a transfer by now,” said Maliha Hussein, a Pakistani economic consultant. “Amy has continued in her assignment and I have never met anyone at USAID with such clarity and sense of purpose.”
Hussein and other colleagues praise Meyer for her wholehearted commitment and interactive approach. She creates and nurtures partnerships with the Pakistani people to develop solutions for improvement.
“Sometimes I wonder which part of my work is going to produce a greater impact—what we can do with $600 million as an institution or what I can do as an individual who is part of a multifaceted, ongoing community where I am directly facilitating and working with people on a daily basis,” pondered Meyer. “I suspect and hope it will be a combination of the two that brings real change to the lives of these people who so desperately need it.”
This medalist was the recipient of the National Security and International Affairs Medal, which was combined with the Safety and Law Enforcement Medal in 2020.