Statement by USAID Deputy Administrator Donald K. Steinberg to the 2011 InterAction Forum

Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Delivering Effective Development Assistance in a Changing Global Landscape

Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great honor to address this forum on the challenge of delivering effective development assistance in a changing global landscape. I've had the pleasure to partner with InterAction members for more than three decades, from the mid-70's when I was a first-tour development and rural health officer in the Central African Republic all the way to a few weeks ago in the Dolo Ado refugee camp on the Somali border.

I've learned much from this experience: most of all, I've learned that no government agency, international organization, or private group has a monopoly on good ideas, ground truth, financial resources, or moral authority. I've admired the professionalism and dedication of your relief and development work and, equally important, I've always believed that in the darkest corners of the world, your groups serve as the eyes, the ears and the conscience of the global community.

Hard Questions in a New Development Landscape

We come together at a defining moment of change in the development agenda. As a community, we are asking some hard questions about the global landscape in advance of the High-Level Development Forum in Busan at the end of the year. For example:

  • What constitutes official development assistance, and how important is it in a world of fast-moving trade and capital flows?
  • Who's a donor, who's a recipient, and are these labels still relevant in a world where emerging economies, NGOs and foundations are increasingly important suppliers of aid?
  • What do we mean by aid effectiveness, and who gets to decide the criteria against which results are measured?
  • Will we ever come to grips with the relief-recovery-development continuum, and can we learn to help build resilient societies out of failed and fragile states?
  • Perhaps most important: will development assistance as we know it survive the current economic and financial crises?

Tough challenges, all, and in addressing them, we should reflect on how far we've come even in the past few years. Let me start with the sector I know best: our government's efforts.


Changing to Deliver Effective Assistance

Every five years, the OECD Development Assistance Committee conducts a review of U.S. development efforts, as it does with all its members. My colleagues who participated in our last review in 2006 tell me it resembled an "intervention": our best friends came together to tell us that we were on the wrong track and needed to clean up our act.

They cited low levels of assistance, lack of strategic planning, the seemingly purposeful evisceration of our lead development agency, failure to apply basic effectiveness principles, and unclear leadership among a jumble of government actors working sometimes at cross-purposes.

As I went to hear the latest verdict this June, I felt we had a stronger story to tell. In the interim, President Obama has announced clear priorities for our efforts in the first-ever Presidential Policy Document, complemented by the QDDR and USAID Forward reform agenda.

We've applied tough standards of selectivity, focusing our effort with depth and scale on food security under the Feed the Future Initiative, the Global Health Initiative, Global Climate Change Initiative, democracy and governance promotion, economic growth, and humanitarian response.

As a nation and with a tip of the hat to the final years of the Bush Administration, we've met our aid commitments, reaching more than $30 billion in ODA last year, doubling aid to Africa in line with the Gleneagles summit, and increasing aid to the poorest countries nearly ten-fold over the past decade.

We've moved forward on aid effectiveness principles, including accountability, transparency and sustainability by focusing on procurement reform, country ownership, on-budget programs, and monitoring and evaluation.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation and PEPFAR have proven innovative models, with new focus on accountability, results, and multi-year compacts.

And we've broadened our efforts in inclusive development, integrating gender, disabilities, and LGBT issues as cross-cutting priorities.

In truth, the 2011 review was a combination of a pat on the back for bipartisan efforts over the past five years, an urging to keep up the good work, and a gentle but firm reminder of areas for improvement. The report called the U.S. "a global leader with an ambitious agenda," specifically citing our leadership in gender equality, public-private partnerships, anti-corruption, transparency, and humanitarian assistance.

Alarm Bells on the Road to Busan

This time, the alarm bells sounded by the DAC were of a different nature, and have significance for our collective development community. They warned that there is diminishing support for foreign assistance in the U.S. Congress in light of severe fiscal constraints and pressing domestic needs. They questioned whether the U.S. will maintain current assistance levels; much less ever achieve the 0.7 percent of GDP level.

They again highlighted the confusion of 27 separate U.S. government agencies in the development arena, threatening policy coherence and risking redundancy. They warned that humanitarian and development priorities are increasingly influenced by national security concerns, especially counter-insurgency and stabilization operations.

And they called on the U.S. to re-emerge as a thought leader, building on AID's progress in re-establishing its policy bureau; conducting evidence summits and grand challenges; incorporating science, technology and innovation in our work; and launching new strategies in education, climate change, countering violent extremism, gender and the youth bulge.

These are indeed the right issues and they apply not only to our government, but to all of us involved in promoting development.

Busan Agenda: Results, Inclusion, Partnerships, and Fragile States

Together, we have an opportunity and an obligation to address them in the context of Busan development forum, and we have been pleased to initiate a dialogue with Interaction members on our mutual agenda. As we see it, this conference will need to address four principal issues.

First, we must put results at the center of our development agenda. The U.S. will promote common monitoring and evaluation mechanisms among donors and partners to ensure comparability and accountability. We also seek international standards for transparency, building on the elements in the U.S. Foreign Assistance Dashboard.

We need development goals and results measurements that go beyond partner governments and reflect a broad consultation with civil society. We will be promoting space for NGOs to operate in the face of growing restrictions on them in many developing countries, a point that has been pressed with us by our Interaction colleagues and one that we fully embrace.

And even as we redouble efforts to meet the MDGs, we will discuss what comes next, stressing again the need for inclusive development that improves the lot of marginalized groups, including women, people with disabilities, the LGBT community, and IDPs. These groups must be planners, implementers and beneficiaries of our development efforts under the watch-phrase: "Nothing about them without them."

Our second priority for Busan is to move beyond a focus on Official Development Assistance (ODA) to a broader concern with "development effectiveness." While working to keep ODA at reasonable levels, we will continue to broaden the dialogue to include civil society actors, private sector, foundations, and multilateral institutions. As Sam Worthington frequently reminds me, American private charitable giving to international relief and development exceeds our ODA by some 20 percent, and remittances, foreign investment and trade flows are much greater.

A coherent package of aid, trade and investment promotion must include working with partner countries to reduce barriers to investment, ease trade restrictions, promote local taxation capacities, encourage entrepreneurship, improve infrastructure, and more. This is the driving concept behind the U.S. Partnership for Growth program, which is going beyond aid to identify constraints to growth in El Salvador, Philippines, Tanzania and Ghana, and addressing these directly.

We need as well to take a new look at public-private partnerships, and develop rigorous standards for results, accountability and evaluation. We cannot legitimately slap a "public-private partnership" label on any government interaction with a non-government actor and thus consider it immune to stringent standards of effectiveness. As a community, we must review best practices in existing programs and projects, including 1200 partnerships in which the U.S. government has engaged.

Third, we need to build on the Monrovia principles to highlight the unique requirements and challenges of working in fragile states, recognizing that not a single fragile state has yet reached an MDG target. The results we seek and can expect to achieve depend greatly on operating environment: we can still apply effectiveness principles to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Haiti and South Sudan, but we need to accept differing standards and expectations for inherently risky and difficult operating contexts.

We also need to prioritize disaster risk reduction, including preparatory actions, creation of safety nets, and long-term mitigation. Developments in the Horn of Africa are instructive: our ability to anticipate this disaster through FEWS-Net and other mechanisms allowed us to pre-position food and other relief, initiate programs to build community resiliency to keep some 8 million Ethiopians off relief rolls, and focus on long-term food security and rural development through Feed the Future model.

Still, the deaths of scores of children each day in Somalia and the tragedy of famine in the region is a constant reminder that we still have a long way to go. As Joel Charny asked the other day, notwithstanding all our preparations, why do we always seem to be scrambling to address these crises once the pictures hit the front pages?

And fourth, in the current global budget environment, we must also ensure that there are realistic expectations for the Busan forum. Busan is a milepost on road to development effectiveness, not the end-point nor the launch of broad new commitments.

In an era of restructuring, refocus and likely retrenchment, we cannot allow countries, regions or development sectors to become "aid orphans." Our emerging dialogue on division of labor among donors must begin to engage partner countries and our NGO colleagues in a realistic and transparent manner.

This is an ambitious agenda, especially at a time of budget and fiscal stringency. I described earlier the OECD judgment of our development efforts, but obviously the ultimate jury for us is the American people and their elected representatives. They need to feel ownership over our efforts and confidence that we are properly investing their tax dollars and charitable contributions, that we are making tough choices needed to be good stewards of their resources, and that we can produce measurable and meaningful results.

Building Public Support for Global Development

If so, I am persuaded that we will collectively get the support we need. Because ultimately, I think the American people get it.

They know that prosperity and human security abroad is in our national interest. It is in our national security interest, because stable countries are less likely to traffic in arms, drugs, and people; they do not send off large numbers of refugees across borders and even oceans; they do not serve as hosts for pirates, terrorists and pandemic diseases, and they do not require foreign troops on the ground.

Development is in our economic interest as well: growth in developing countries will be the primary market for American exports and American jobs over the next decades. Most of the fastest growing export markets for the United States are in former aid recipient countries.

Equally important, the American people want us to project our values abroad. They want to live in a world that's peaceful, prosperous, democratic, respectful of human rights and human dignity, and free from unnecessary suffering from natural and man-made disasters.

In a changing global landscape, the generosity and humanitarian spirit of the American people is one thing that has not changed.

Thank you.

2011 InterAction Forum, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC

Last updated: April 06, 2017

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