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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.
--Barney (HIMYM)

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Values Based Foreign Policy

Official Photo   Official Photo
This week, the USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah hosted an All-Hands with Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg to showcase various initiatives and innovations going on in the Agency and address any employee concerns or questions.

The event began with the Shah giving an opening address where he said that the U.S. is a nation of values and USAID must serve as the face of America abroad.
That USAID's core is a "values based" foreign policy.  I thought this was an interesting perspective of the role of the US's humanitarian assistance and development assistance strategy.

This got me thinking to two things: one, what are the US's values, and two, how do US values relate to the efforts of USAID?

U.S. foreign assistance has always had the twofold purpose of furthering America's interests while improving lives in the developing world. USAID carries out U.S. foreign policy by promoting broad-scale human progress at the same time it expands stable, free societies, creates markets and trade partners for the United States, and fosters good will abroad." (USAID - Who We Are)
Late last year, Thomas Nides, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, wrote an opinion piece in Politico titled "Pursuing U.S. values and self-interest".  In this piece, he mentions various examples of the U.S. exercising a value based diplomacy with examples in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.  In Tunisia and Egypt, he explains how we work to support open governments that respect the rights and voices of its people as well as stability and conditions that may become economic and national security opportunities for the U.S.  And in Libya, he talks about how we provide support to local institutions and civil society groups in advocating for less corruption and free political speech. 

We don’t spend money on diplomacy and development just to feel good about ourselves. We fight hunger, stop oppression, prevent global pandemics and respond to crises abroad, because that is the most cost-effective way to enhance U.S. national security – to protect America and the American people – and to create jobs here at home. It has the additional benefit of also being the right thing to do. (Thomas Nides, Pursuing U.S. values and self-interest)
So an interesting exercise is to then try to understand what American values are and how those are conveyed in the programs that we do.  Really, foreign assistance is a very interesting strategy for implementing foreign policy.  It's not just helping others abroad, but providing real benefits to the U.S. while showcasing values of America.  Foreign assistance is such a useful instrument in foreign policy that traditional recipients of assistance are now moving to becoming donors to take advantage, as indicated by India working to setup its own foreign assistance agency.  Nides ends the piece stating that with foreign assistance, "Our national values, moral compass and self-interest are all perfectly aligned."

Besides just thoughts on the opening remarks at the All-Hands, presentations were given from various Bureaus on new alliances and initiatives they were working on.  Notably, there were several newer people to USAID that shared their experiences of being with the Agency so far and the importance of being proactive in taking on responsibilities and ownership in work, and not to be afraid to suggest new ways to do things or implement our programs.  It was a common theme to push through bureaucracy to bring about better ways of doing things as that will be the best way of bringing the Agency forward

One interesting question that Shah and Steinberg addressed was "when was the Agency going to stop adding additional initiatives so that the work could be actually done?"  They addressed the question saying that they don't see these as new initiatives or work, but rather see them as better or different ways of doing work and bringing a focus to specific programs versus being too spread out and diverse.

In terms of the Agency's current efforts to seek new ways of doing programs and to take every effort to ensure sustainability and capacity building, I really agree with Shah.  If we are truly influencing and changing conditions in the places we operate, it must be sustainable, and if the status-quo isn't working, let's find a different way.  And in terms of initiatives like Feed-the-Future or early child-care health, it's really just outlining the focus areas for where U.S. foreign policy is hoping to make an impact.  All programs can bring about meaningful benefits, but to really make a measurable contribution, we need to focus our efforts on specific objectives. 

I met with the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia a few weeks ago to discuss Indonesia and he mentioned how the Mission will soon be working to setup its strategy for the country.  He said to consider a way to think about the objectives in terms of leaving a legacy and what impact the U.S. would want to be able to take credit for and where we could make the most difference.  I think that's how we might really need to approach all of high-level strategic planning, when feasible.

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