Last Thursday, Representatives Ander Crenshaw (R-FL-04) and Adam Smith (D-WA-09) launched the Congressional Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance in an overflow room on Capitol Hill. At the event, USAID Administrator Raj Shah delivered remarks prior to a roundtable discussion on “The Importance of Effective Foreign Assistance” featuring development community voices including: Mark Green, Senior Director United States Global Leadership Coalition, member of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Board of Directors, and former Member of Congress and former Ambassador to Tanzania; MFAN Principal Ray Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America; MFAN Co-Chair David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World; MFAN Principal Asif Shaikh, President and CEO International Resources Group; and Dr. Jonathan Quick, President and CEO of Management Sciences for Health.
The stated goal of the caucus is “to examine the way the United States currently delivers foreign assistance, explore success stories found in the efficient delivery of assistance, and further the overall effectiveness of foreign assistance and educating other Members on this subject.”
During opening remarks, Rep. Crenshaw tied reform to the budget debate saying in today’s economic climate, it is even more important that government use every dollar effectively, adding that our foreign assistance programs are no exception. Rep. Smith focused his remarks on the connection between national security and development, arguing instability and the lack of development create problems that later require U.S. troops. Smith also made the case for country ownership saying development needs to be bottom up not top down and the U.S. needs to do a better job of helping to build local capacity.
Administrator Shah talked about how the purpose for development and how we conduct it has shifted dramatically over the past several decades. For example, effective development now encompasses a range of actors including the private sector, philanthropies, university scientists, and the faith community who collectively leverage capital and push innovation. After citing USAID Forward reforms underway at the agency, Shah cited three areas of focus for the coming year:
- Seeking a way to make development policy more coherent and placing greater emphasis on economic growth and transparent government
- Bringing science, technology, and innovation along to solve problems and take risks
- Creating a platform that brings together expertise across a range of public and private actors
When pressed to elaborate on the notion of a strategic platform, Shah said while USAID does need to be empowered and lead on development issues, the agency wants to be inclusive and draw expertise and resources from across the U.S. government.
During the roundtable discussion, which David Beckmann moderated, each panelist presented a different case for why foreign assistance matters. Mark Green focused his remarks on the legislative outlook for foreign assistance saying it is vitally important that our international affairs budget is well funded and well tooled. Green also said the Caucus is an important first step for the following three reasons: it recognizes the importance of development and diplomacy, it helps to build the next generation of champions on the Hill, and it will help to make these reforms sustainable.
Ray Offenheiser delivered an eloquent defense of country ownership and the need to ensure that our development programs match local priorities and are locally-led. He said we as Americans don’t do development to people; development is most successful when people do it themselves. Offenheiser also made a point about accountability, arguing we must reform programs so that country governments are accountable to their citizens and not to Washington.
Asif Shaikh talked about interdependent prosperity, citing a slew of statistics proving how our economic viability cannot be delinked from the prosperity of developing countries including: half of U.S. exports go to developing countries and 80 percent go to the poorest developed among them; 90 percent of these U.S. exports come from small and medium businesses across America; and our exports to those countries are growing three times faster than exports to mature countries. He closed saying sustained economic growth can lift people out of poverty by creating sustainable market growth, building a middle class, securing trading partners, and being a source of U.S. jobs here at home.
Lastly, Jonathan Quick talked extensively about his experience at MSH and how, as a practitioner, his goal is to always put himself out of business. He also noted that effective development depends on inspired leadership, and that MSH sees GHI as providing that leadership through its focus on women and girls, health systems strengthening, innovation, and increased collaboration with the private sector.
For more on what was said at the event, see a recap of our Twitter feed @modernizeaid.