Thayer leads USAID team bringing food assistance to Syrian refugees

As team leader for USAID's Syrian food assistance program, Rob Thayer has been instrumental to helping to bring life-saving help to the region, with the U.S. pr...

Listen to Rob Thayer’s interview on In Depth with Francis Rose.

The Syrian civil war has resulted in the deaths of more than 220,000 people and displaced another 7.6 million individuals from their homes. As refugees flowed into Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, a huge humanitarian crisis unfolded.

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) was one of the many international  groups working with the United Nationals World Food Programme to come to the aid.

As team leader for USAID’s Syrian food assistance program, Rob Thayer has been instrumental to helping to bring life-saving help to the region, with the U.S. providing $1.1 billion in food assistance so far.

“Rob has been the go-to guy on Syria since the beginning,” said Dina Esposito, director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace. “When I think about Rob and his team, I think about the life-saving assistance that has been provided to some four million people.”

For his work helping to provide food assistance to millions of refugees,  the Partnership for Public Service recently named Thayer a finalist for the 2015 National Security and International Affairs Medal. The award recognizes federal employees who have made important contributions in the area of national security and international affairs. This includes defense, diplomacy, military affairs, foreign assistance and trade.

Getting to know Rob Thayer

Federal News Radio asked each of the Sammies finalists questions about themselves. Here are Thayer’s responses:

What three words best describe your leadership philosophy?

Leadership through action.  What you say matters but what you do matters more.  And leadership is manifested by people at every level of an organization whatever their role may be.

What’s the best piece of advice (or words of wisdom) you’ve ever received and who gave it to you?

I learned from my late wife that we are happiest when we focus on others and not on ourselves.  She didn’t preach this so much as lived it and it has stayed with me.  I don’t always succeed, but when I act on behalf of USAID and our Office of Food for Peace, I ask myself what I can do to contribute to our collective success and to our mission, which is to alleviate hunger and promote food security.

Who is your greatest role model and why?

I can think of several but one is Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) , a true American hero.  He achieved greatness not because he sought it, but because he lived an unselfish life.  He grew up dirt poor in rural Alabama in the 1940s, endured physical suffering in the early days of the civil rights movement, was a national leader by age 22, and in 1986 was elected to Congress where he still serves.  His biography, “Walking with the Wind”, is an inspiring read.  I actually plan to see him this Sunday at a bookstore in Washington where he will discuss his new book.

What’s the last thing you read and what’s next on your reading list?

I just finished reading “Listening is an Act of Love”, which consists entirely of interviews of ordinary Americans by the StoryCorps Project.  These amazing interviews remind us that greatness is everywhere in the lives of ordinary people, most of whose stories will never be publicly known or acknowledged.  I’m browsing bookstores now for my next one.

Who would you most like to have lunch with and why?

Winston Churchill because I like his opinionated and tough-minded nature and it would definitely be entertaining.

The National Security and International Affairs Medal is just one of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (Sammies) presented annually by the Partnership for Public Service. View a photo gallery of all the Sammies nominees.

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