WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a press release issued just last March, the U.S. Agency for International Aid (USAID) announced its nomination of Alfonso Lenhardt as deputy administrator. Once confirmed, Lenhardt will take over for the outgoing Donald Steinberg. During his tenure, Steinberg oversaw the organization’s ambitious new development model — known as USAID Forward — that has helped redirect efforts towards achieving sustainable solutions.
Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator of USAID, has faith that Lenhardt can fill Steinberg’s large shoes, stating in the press release that Lenhardt is “a proven leader whose experience and knowledge will be a tremendous asset.”
Without a doubt, Shah remembers back to years prior when Lenhardt’s leadership faced its finest test.
Sink or Swim
It was September 18, 2001. The events of 9/11 had shocked the world just a week before, and tragedy had now struck again: letters filled with lethal anthrax were sent to news outlets and two U.S. Senators. Five were killed, and 13 others were infected.
Just two weeks prior, Alfonso Lenhardt was sworn in as Sergeant-at-Arms of the United States Senate. Tasked with overseeing Senate security, Lenhardt was allowed no time to ease into his new role. But he was up for the job.
Lenhardt immediately evacuated the Senate, calmly leading his staff of 800 in escorting senators and government workers out of the building. He then made a call to John Eisold, the attending physician to Congress, and with his help began anthrax contamination trials.
Not one person on Capitol Hill was hurt by the anthrax attack; an outcome, no doubt, of Lenhardt’s leadership. But the retired two-star-general merely brushed off any praise that came his way with a matter-of-fact appeal to his 31 years of military experience. As a Vietnam war veteran and former Army police head, Lenhardt knew the drill. Only this time, the battleground was a government building.
Some New Tricks for Al & McGruff
After leaving his successful term as Sergeant-at-Arms, Lenhardt worked at the Shaw Group, a firm involved in building environmental infrastructure. After a short stint there, he then became CEO and president of the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), a nonprofit organization best known for its informative mascot, McGruff the Crime Dog. McGruff, like NCPC, addresses issues of crime in the U.S. and informs teenagers and adults alike on how to remain safe.
As Lenhardt entered his new role, the nature of crime in the U.S. started to shift. The tech boom of 2000 started to bleed into culture: cases of identity theft proliferated, and the new phenomenon of cyberbullying became increasingly prevalent.
So Al and McGruff got to work.
PSAs were broadcast throughout the U.S. to inform the public of the growing threat of identity theft and how Americans could protect themselves from it.
As for cyberbullying, the NCPC hoped to give the struggles of many teenagers credibility and support. The organization conducted surveys to define cyberbullying and evaluate perceptions of it. With this information, Lenhardt and his colleagues established protocols of prevention and suggested responses for victims.
McGruff relayed their findings by way of radio, Web banners and viral videos were released in hopes of targeting the teenagers most affected by cyberbullying so that they could — to use the Crime Dog’s most famous slogan — “Take a Bite out of Crime.”
From D.C. to Dar Es Salaam
McGruff and Al inevitably parted ways, as fate led Lenhardt from Washington D.C. to Dar Es Salaam, where he would serve as U.S. ambassador to Tanzania. He occupied this position for four years, during which he helped attract considerable USAID support for the fledgling East African country.
Lenhardt’s initiative and passion for his new home encouraged President Obama to focus his poverty-reducing program, Feed the Future, on East African countries like Tanzania. The program has not only allowed the country to receive much-needed development aid — as 68 percent of Tanzanians live on less than $1.25 a day — but has also publicized the struggles of some less “popular” low-income countries.
Power Africa, another USAID program that Lenhardt supported during his time as ambassador, uses low-cost and innovative solutions to increase access to electricity for millions of Sub-Saharan Africans.
Lenhardt left his post just last year in October.
– Shehrose Mian