Criteria for Engagement

Obama, Kerry, SOTU
UNITED STATES, Washington : President Barack Obama is greeted before his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Feb. 12, 2013.
AFP PHOTO / Pool / Charles Dharapak

Over the course of OTI’s twenty years, the world changed in unpredictable ways. From post-Cold War and the rise of nascent democracies, to post-9/11 and the threat of non-state actors, to post-Arab Spring and the emergence of the tech-savvy protestor, the world evolved and foreign policy shifted with it. The US Government balances the challenges of non-permissive environments after Benghazi with the need to provide effective programming in these same spaces. Old problems require new solutions, from empowering disenchanted youth to countering violent extremism.  OTI has stepped forward to tackle these challenges. The office has adapted to meet these evolving needs in the context of USG policy, and expand the citizen-centric foreign policy lens espoused in the 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. OTI has evolved to fully reflect the current realities of the world in which it works. 

To determine where to devote its resources, OTI has developed four key criteria for engagement:

1. Is the opportunity or threat an important US foreign policy interest?

While humanitarian aid is distributed on the basis of need alone, transition assistance is allocated with an eye to advancing U.S. foreign policy objectives and priorities. Stable, democratic countries are better able to meet the needs of their own people, are more reliable trading partners, are less likely to engage in aggression against their neighbors, and are less inclined to provide support for terrorists. In consultation with the State Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Council, and with the consent of Congress, OTI seeks to focus its resources where they will have the greatest impact on U.S diplomatic and security interests. 

2. Is there a window of opportunity: a decisive shift in the political landscape that creates an opening to support viable local political will?

Even the best-intentioned assistance can be ineffective if the situation is not ripe for change. OTI cannot create a transition or impose democracy, but it can identify and support key individuals and groups who are committed to peaceful, participatory reform. In short, it acts as a catalyst for change where there is sufficient indigenous political will. In most cases, a key event occurs - an election, a peace accord, or the rise of a nonviolent protest movement - that signals a fundamental realignment of power or direction. Before initiating a new country program, OTI analyzes the extent to which the ingredients for success are in place.

3. Can OTI’s model bring a comparative advantage to support positive political momentum during the crucial period?

Because of its flexibility, OTI receives many more requests for assistance than it is able to fulfill. OTI ensures that its programs neither duplicate nor substitute for other U.S. government efforts, reserving its resources for those situations in which it has a unique contribution to make. Before engaging, OTI explores whether U.S. government assistance is desired by local partners, whether OTI is the most appropriate U.S. government office to provide this type of assistance, and whether OTI's available resources and expertise are sufficient to achieve the desired outcomes.

4. Does the operating environment allow for OTI’s systems and processes to be optimized?

OTI is not a centralized grant-making program. It is an operational office with staff working on the ground at the community level. While part of OTI's comparative advantage lies in its experience working in some of the world's most sensitive and dangerous places, there must be enough stability to enable staff to travel outside of the capital to implement and monitor OTI-funded activities.

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Last updated: May 02, 2016

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