International Affairs

Five key principles for US foreign assistance success

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As Congress awaits the administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal and government reorganization plan, many of us outside the government are holding our breath. President Trump’s first budget has the potential to either undercut or advance U.S. foreign assistance structures and programs, as well as American foreign policy, national security and economic interests. Either way, the president’s budget will have an enormous impact on our nation’s standing in the global community and its ability to uphold American humanitarian values.

As leaders of our respective organizations, we have dedicated our lives and careers to the humanitarian and moral values that U.S. foreign assistance represents and to ensuring that U.S. assistance has the greatest-possible impact, especially on the lives of those most in need.

For the past 10 years, our organizations have worked together as members of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) — a nonpartisan aid reform coalition, comprised of international development and foreign policy experts, practitioners, and advocates. Today, we join our MFAN colleagues in urging Congress to use its leadership and budget authority to ensure that the following core principles are reflected in the national budget and any proposed reforms of U.S. foreign assistance: 

  • Foreign assistance structures must uphold diplomacy and development as distinct and equal disciplines.
  • Foreign assistance must help create the conditions under which it is no longer necessary.
  • Foreign assistance should focus on countries where the need is greatest or where it can have the most impact.
  • Foreign assistance must be transparent and accountable to American taxpayers, as well as local citizens in developing countries.
  • Foreign assistance must utilize broadly-accepted best practices such as strengthening local institutions and identifying and working with local stakeholders to address development constraints.

Our continued moral and political leadership in the world, as well as U.S. security and prosperity, requires a wise use of all the tools at our disposal, including defense, diplomacy, and development. Strengthening the development pillar is particularly critical, including by elevating USAID as a wholly independent lead aid agency with strong policy, planning, and budget authority. And of course these tools must have sufficient resources — not just financial — but also technical and geographic expertise will be essential.

Not only is U.S. foreign assistance the best face of American power and American values around the world, it is also one of the best long-term investments our country can make. Take for example the devastating famine underway in East Africa. A recent World Bank study estimates that disaster risk reduction in places like Ethiopia and Kenya saves $4 to $7 for every $1 invested. Investing in development today is the right thing to do from a fiscal perspective as well as a humanitarian one.

By building capacity within developing countries to meet the needs of their people — from food and water to accountable institutions and democracy — the U.S. paves the way to greater global stability and opens up new economic frontiers for investment. American prosperity expands when global poverty declines and new markets open to U.S. goods. Our country is safer when our foreign assistance contains global pandemics and combats violent extremism. International aid represents less than 1 percent of the federal budget. In return, we reap enormous national security and economic gains while dramatically reducing human suffering for some of the most vulnerable and marginalized people on earth.

In the coming weeks, MFAN will lay out a coherent and principled approach to effective foreign aid based on the principles above. This series will be a robust discussion providing perspectives from a diverse group of nonpartisan, respected voices — experts in the field, reformers, and those dedicated to results-driven accountability. With our MFAN colleagues, we look forward joining the vigorous debate and exchange of ideas on these issues in the weeks and months ahead.


Carolyn Miles is the president and CEO of Save the Children. Reverend David Beckmann is the president of Bread for the World. Both are former co-chairs of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Budget Carolyn Miles Congress David Beckmann spending
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