Look, our forefathers died for the "pursuit of happiness," okay? Not for the "sit around and wait of happiness." Now if you want, we can go to the same bar, drink the same beer, talk to the same people every day or you can lick the Liberty Bell. You can grab life by the crack and lick the crap out of it.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Language training continues. Reached the mid-point of my training and everyone had their first progress test. I'm doing well and on-track to finish in early February. The test was similar to the final assessment in that there was a large speaking component and exercises in discussing at length various topics. However, they also used a written test as well for the progress test, whereas in the final exam, there will only be speaking and reading components.
In December, I'm hoping to take a day off from training in order to attend the Controller/Contracting Officer Conference. In this conference, Finance Officers and Contracting Officers will gather to attend sessions on the further execution of Procurement Reform and other pertinent topics related to our field. I hope to gain some insight into the execution of direct government transfers as well as learn more about successfully awarding directly to small, local NGOs in the field. Also, the conference should be a good opportunity to get to meet Officers from all over the world, particularly my future supervisors and colleagues with whom I'll be working with once I go to post.
Aside from the above, I've also been reading a lot of blogs on development work. A lot of blogs on this area tends to be cynical of their work and its effects. It has also made me consider my role in USAID as well as how development work is done. I feel that, as an FSO, it's best to concentrate on the two main objectives of USAID being that, first and foremost, the work we do is to further the US's foreign policy, and second, to fulfill the humanitarian goals of the American people. Foreign assistance will always have political undertones that mean to benefit the donor country, we just need to work hard to ensure it will always benefit the receiving country as well. Thus by helping other countries, the US is also helping itself.
I also now tend to believe that real change really only comes through governmental reform. Despite the efforts of for-profit development companies, international NGO's, or local NGO's, governmental change is the real key to creating sustainable, beneficial change for the citizens thereof. I mean, in cases of societal dissatisfaction and bringing about change, the main objective is usually to bring about some governmental reform (either in governance/leadership, regulation, policy, etc).
This leads me to believe that the priority of change agents for countries are (from greatest to least):
<< internal government reform - local NGO's - international NGO's - for-profit development companies >>
This priority listing can even be thought of the priority sourcing list the US government uses in the FAR for supplies and services being to first review internal agency capabilities, then other agencies, and so on until lastly, looking outside at commercial sources. So really, in so many cases, are contractors the only source for the work they do (caveat, this hyperlink article is definitely written by a lobbyist) or is that just the nature of how government work is now so much contracted out?
So I think, that where possible, by providing direct investment into partner governments to bolster, say, education, this would have to greatest affect in improving that target area since the partner government will gain the ability and skill to manage these programs. FSO's can then work directly with the receiving partner government to implement that program.
This model just sounds so much better than the continuous contracting to an expat organization to send so many people to that country to do some work, maybe hold a seminar or two and call that capacity building, and leave with no real sustainable change and half of the assistance funds going to those companies and not the societies USAID wants to impact. It reminds me of the trickle-down theory whereas by giving money to the wealthy, it'll eventually reach the intended target. It'll be interesting to get to the field and really start to see and understand how things work to then be able to begin pondering better ways that things can be done.
And yes, I hyper-linked an excessive amount in this posting on the development stuff but there was just a lot of interesting discussion out there on this subject.
Friday, November 4, 2011
Today marks the 50th anniversary since the official establishment of USAID on November 3, 1961 by Pres. Kennedy. However, the roots of USAID and the U.S.'s foreign assistance goes back to the Marshall Plan following World War II.
The organization has gone through many changes and evolutions and still is in a continual improvement process (Kaizen anyone?) to become better equipped to be more effective in foreign assistance. Despite the challenges, I greatly believe in the mission of the organization to 1. Support US foreign policy in expanding democracy and free markets, and 2. Improve the lives of citizens in the developing world. And these assistance programs, which have considerable influence around the world, amount to less than .05% of the US federal budget.
It's a great privilege to be able to have the opportunity to travel, learn new cultures and languages, meet interesting people, support the US, and be able to directly work on improving the lives of people around the world. USAID is one of the best representations of the American people and their values to the world abroad. It is really an amazing place to be able to work.