November 30th, 2011
06:40 PM ET

Shah: In defense of smart foreign assistance

Editor's Note: Dr. Rajiv Shah is the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.

By Rajiv Shah - Special to CNN

This week more than 2,000 government, civil society and private sector leaders have gathered in Busan, South Korea with one goal: to improve the quality and effectiveness of development aid.

The setting is especially significant; 50 years ago, South Korea was largely a country of peasant farmers. It was poorer than two-thirds of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa and its people barely lived past the age of 54.

Today, South Korea is a high-tech hub, a net donor and its people have some of the longest life expectancies in the world. South Korea also happens to be the seventh largest market for American goods; we sell more to the South Koreans than we do to the French. The free trade agreement President Obama recently signed with South Korea means we’ll be selling even more to Seoul in the future, leading to high-paying American jobs.

South Korea’s economic miracle - from one of the poorest countries in the world to one of the wealthiest - serves as a powerful example of how effective foreign assistance can be, if delivered well and used wisely to catalyze growth. With a focus on transparency, mutual accountability, strong private sector engagement and meaningful results, development assistance can help developing countries thrive.

President Obama, Secretary Clinton and I have worked hard to reform the way America delivers assistance abroad. As part of our nation’s first ever Presidential policy on development, we’ve made our assistance more transparent, accountable and effective.

We created foreignassistance.gov - an online dashboard that anyone can use to track American foreign assistance investments. We launched a major effort to deliver our aid directly to the people we intend to help, rather than routing it through middlemen and contractors. And we launched the Open Government Partnership, a new multilateral initiative through which governments - including the U.S. - make concrete commitments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and use new technologies to strengthen governance.

But America will do even more to ensure our development assistance is delivered transparently and accountably. Yesterday in Busan, Secretary Clinton announced a major step forward for development transparency: the United States - the world’s largest donor of foreign assistance - will join the International Aid Transparency Initiative.  This international standard of data reporting demands that we provide our taxpayers and our partners data about our investments in a clear, accurate and timely manner.

From keeping the development pledges we made at the Gleneagles donor summit, to delivering major reforms to our aid through an effort called USAID Forward, to launching a global food security initiative called Feed the Future that will lift 18 million people out of hunger and poverty, the United States has shown its commitment to be a modern, global leader in international development.

But delivering effective aid is a two-way street – it also requires leadership from our partners. That’s why we will also strengthen our partnerships with foreign governments that show commitments to economic reform and democratic governance.

President Obama also launched an effort called Partnerships for Growth emphasizing that American engagement - if matched by mutual commitments by partner governments - could help catalyze growth in countries best positioned for economic success. We’ve worked in close partnership with the governments of El Salvador, the Philippines, Tanzania and Ghana to conduct joint analyses of their constraints to growth and develop joint action plans to help break them down.

Finally, we will expand our partnership with the private sector, as part of our continuing and sustained efforts to make American taxpayer dollars go further. A cornerstone of this effort is forming new, high impact public-private partnerships - working and investing together to build new markets, unlock opportunity and deliver meaningful results. We must support the work of markets that can deliver profits, create jobs and deliver economic opportunity for women, minorities and the poor.

But ultimately, we are in Busan to listen and learn.  The U.S. continues to reform our development work to strengthen our impact and bring real and tangible benefits to the poorest around the world. But we also look to our development partners to help us improve our ability to deliver results. South Korea’s experience has taught us much about effective foreign aid. But we have just as much to learn from the rest of the world.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Rajiv Shah.

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Topics: Aid • Foreign Policy • Global • United States

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soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. toomuchinfo

    AID is a duplification of services and should be part of the Department of State. Their officers and local employees are over paid and many of their projects could be managed by NGO's. And they cram projects down the throats of receiving governments. Most countries do not want our money or to be associated witht the US and they don't need our money or assistance. Other countries are laughing at us. Wakeup America!

    November 30, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      I do agree that excessive adminstration costs sometimes eat up the budget available for foreign aid, which is a soft-power diplomacy, that buys good-will.

      December 1, 2011 at 5:32 am | Reply
  2. Kyle H. Davis

    Wow.... after living with the propaganda from a Communist nation for nearly a decade, it is amazing how quickly I can sniff out propaganda at home.

    Where is the "openness and transparency" to the people of the US? Call a spade a spade – this is nothing more than a leftover program of the Cold War, used to push and promote democracy in other nations. It has less to do with actual developmental aid or helping the people, than it does with manipulation and hopes for governmental change.

    I could point out Iran, Venezuela, North Korea and Cuba as examples, but then people might bring up the fact that those nations actually need real development assistance, just as much as sub-Saharan Africa. But when you toss in the fact that we are still dumping hundreds of millions into China, it just gets downright silly.

    November 30, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Reply
  3. pmcdonald

    The mendacity is astonishing

    "the United States – the world’s largest donor of foreign assistance".

    1. Per capita the US is one of the most selfish givers of assistance. It gives less than almost all other developed nations per capita and per unit of GDP. Worse most US assistance is military assistance to prop up regimes that will support US foreign policy....a continuation of cold war realpolitik.
    2. In contrast, the development assistance provided by European nations is overwhelmingly channeled to economic development and in particular to lifting the standard of living of the very poor.
    3. China is the single largest provider of overseas economic development assistance not the USA.

    December 1, 2011 at 3:52 am | Reply
    • amato

      US democracy: u disagree with me? ok no problem, we send you big mother aid >>>>> drone santa.

      December 1, 2011 at 10:38 am | Reply
  4. Onesmallvoice

    It's funny just how liberal the Obama administration along with Congress can be when it comes to all these foreign aid givaways. These thugs can't do anything about our sagging economy but yet have billions upon billions to give away to other countries, mostly to bribe them into taking our orders! How disgusting Indeed!!!

    December 1, 2011 at 10:14 am | Reply
  5. jal

    Week of Wednesday Nov 30: AMR is bankrupt, S&P futher downgrades many US banks, the Euro is in major crisis and yesterday the DOW was up 5%. So much for fundamentals. The US stockmarket is bogus.

    December 1, 2011 at 11:24 am | Reply
  6. susan

    The US government has a way of ignoring dictators when it suits their purpose. North Africa is a perfect example. This small country should beware of Greeks bearing gifts in the form of Hillary Clinton.

    December 2, 2011 at 11:54 am | Reply
  7. Patrick

    Please keep an eye on the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the coming days, and observe the reaction of the White House as well as the rest of the superpowers.

    December 4, 2011 at 6:28 am | Reply
  8. Patrick

    The international community knows that Hypolite Kanambe AKA Joseph Kabila served in the military of Rwanda's president Paul Kagame where is originally from. The United States, France, and Belgium must assume their responsibilities for allowing the genocide in Rwanda and the ones committed by the Rwanda's army and militias of Paul Kagame. To the super powers: Stop supporting Rwanda!!!

    December 4, 2011 at 6:31 am | Reply
  9. Patrick

    President Etienne Tshisekedi is the democratically elected President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

    December 4, 2011 at 6:35 am | Reply
  10. Patrick

    The United States in particular President Obama has been very quiet about it.

    December 4, 2011 at 6:39 am | Reply
  11. Patrick

    If the US is really on the side of the people and democracy

    December 4, 2011 at 6:41 am | Reply
  12. Patrick

    To the super powers: Stop supporting Rwanda!!!

    December 4, 2011 at 6:42 am | Reply

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