USAID Releases 2011 Annual Letter

Last week the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, released its first-ever annual letter. In the introduction, USAID Administration Rajiv Shah looks back on the Marshall Plan and President Kennedy’s argument that advancing opportunity and freedom is central to America’s security, prosperity and national conscience. Shah frames the letter as an opportunity to show Americans that “by doing good, we do well,” and to demonstrate how he is leading an effort to revitalize and reform the agency to make U.S. development assistance more effective and sustainable.

The letter then runs through three sections that make the case for reform and explain how USAID fits into the broad range of U.S. development efforts. The first section, “The Modern Development Enterprise”, begins with Shah writing about his experience in Haiti. He notes, “Crises often bring clarity—a sense of urgency that leaves no room for hesitation or red tape…As USAID staff launched the largest humanitarian relief and search-and-rescue efforts in history, the speed, skill and dedication they showed was awe-inspiring. They responded quickly, overcame bureaucratic hurdles, worked inclusively with a broad range of partners and made smart, calculated choices to get better outcomes.”

Shah moves on to talk about the launch of USAID Forward and the reform ties to the global development policy President Obama announced in September 2010. In his speech before the United Nations, President Obama said he would “rebuild the United States Agency for International Development into the world’s premier development agency.” Shah also connects USAID Forward reforms to the first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR)—described as a blueprint for strengthening civilian power.

The next section focuses on making the case for U.S. development as Shah argues this 1 percent of the budget goes a long way in keeping our country safe, preventing conflict overseas, and stimulating economic growth here and abroad. Shah cites specific examples of where U.S. assistance has improved lives in the short-term in places like Kandahar and Southern Sudan and over the long-term in South Korea.

Lastly, Shah describes the presidential initiatives—Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative—that build on the past Administration’s focus on results and exercise the new reform principles embraced by the Obama Administration. He writes, “Rather than achieve incremental gains by following status-quo approaches, we must bend the curve of progress, devising new ways to deliver better results more quickly and more cheaply.”

Overall, the letter is full of snapshot photos and simple info-graphics that showcase USAID’s work over the last year in a digestible, reader-friendly way. For those readers outside the beltway (who are not as intimately involved in these issues), this letter can be a great educational tool.

What do you think of USAID’s first annual letter? Let us know in comments below.

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