Can "Vanity" Lead to Global "Fair"ness?

June 25, 2007
The July edition of Vanity Fair guest edited by Bono puts Africa and global development back on newsstands around the country. Americans can choose from one of twenty different covers featuring prominent people--from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Oprah Winfrey, George W. Bush, Queen Rania of Jordan and others--having conversations about Africa. The hope, one assumes, is that we, the arguably less glamorous Americans, start doing the same.Senator Lugar (R-IN) prompted such a conversation at a June 12th Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on "Foreign Assistance Reform: Successes, Failures and Next Steps." Following testimony from acting director of foreign assistance and acting administrator for USAID Henrietta Hoslman Fore, Senator Lugar asked a private panel comprising CGD's Steve Radelet, Brooking's Lael Brainard, and InterAction's Sam Worthington: how do we build in this country a constituency for development in other countries?Not so long ago, panelists would have struggled to answer this question. In 2007 the witnesses had no difficultly identifying a growing American constituency for international development. Lael Brainard referred to the missives Americans get from Bono, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, polling that shows growing support for global development for moral reasons, and an explosion of volunteering overseas. Sam Worthington acknowledged the ONE Campaign, an InterAction member organization, and their launch of ONE Vote '08 designed to mobilize their 2.4 million members and make global health and extreme poverty foreign policy priorities in the 2008 presidential election. And CGD's Steve Radelet emphasized that with growing support for global development--including from the Americans reading about foreign assistance in Vanity Fair--comes a need to know that the money is spent well and is having the impact desired.This is where hope for a better world meets Washington policy. Reform of our foreign aid organizations and legislation are not just of interest to a handful of congressional staffers and policy wonks, but critical to fulfilling Americans' hopes for reducing poverty, helping countries grow and improving lives.Support for global development may be the right thing to do, but getting it right also matters. Among Steve Radelet's recommendations for getting it right are:
  1. Develop a National Foreign Assistance Strategic Framework. Such a document would outline our principal foreign assistance priorities and how the full range of executive branch agencies (State, USAID, Treasury, Agriculture, MCC, Defense and others) plans to deal with them as part of our broader policies for engaging with the world.
  2. Rewrite the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA). The FAA of 1961 is badly out of date, nearly 2,000 pages long and includes a complex web of rules, regulations, multiple objectives and directives. A new FAA is central to clarifying the central objectives and methods of foreign assistance to meet U.S. foreign policy goals in the 21st century.
  3. Create a new Department for International Development under the direction of one cabinet official for all U.S. foreign aid programs. This step would streamline the bureaucracy, reduce duplication, and strengthen our ability to align major programs with our key objectives. The United Kingdom took this step several years ago, and its foreign aid programs are now considered among the best of the bilateral donors.
  4. Strengthen Monitoring and Evaluation. Monitoring and evaluation of U.S. foreign aid programs generally focuses on ensuring that funds are spent according to plan, rather than on their contribution to development or to achieving other objectives. The U.S. needs a strong monitoring and evaluation processes that measures impact of programs.
BonoFixing our arcane foreign policy organization and legislation in the U.S. requires interest and support from the American people and the politicians who represent them. Bono learned this long ago when he traded his MacPhisto image to become the "dean of the global poverati" and who now asks the 2008 U.S. presidential candidates what they would do for Africa if they were elected.Perhaps like Bono, the next time we look at ourselves in the mirror we should pause to ask ourselves whether the image staring back is the one we'd like reflected in the rest of the world. Are we doing what we can to ensure that U.S. development policy represents our values of freedom, hope and opportunity? Are we being smart about how we use our power to help prevent 10 million children dying each year of preventable diseases; help 77 million children not in school become providers for their families and perhaps even future leaders; and bring clean water to the more than one billion people currently without it? Are we helping countries grow their economies, draw private sector investment and provide jobs for people looking to earn their way out of poverty? Does it show our own $200 billion dreams for ending global poverty? Does it recognize, as Bill Gates' mother did, that "from those to whom much is given, much is expected?"My guess is that many of us will conclude that we don't look as good as we might. And for this, we need to start the conversations with each other and the politicians who represent us about our hopes for a better world and the need for real foreign aid reform in the U.S. to get us there.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.