Living Up To Our MissionRandall L. Tobias, U.S. Director of Foreign Assistance and USAID Administrator
InterAction Annual Meeting Opening Plenary
April 10, 2006
Released by the U.S. Agency for International Development
In standing before you today as the nation's first Director of Foreign Assistance, and as the fourteenth Administrator of USAID, I'm grateful for the invitation to be here so early in my tenure.
One week ago today, at the first opportunity to do so, I addressed my new colleagues at USAID. At a town hall meeting, I delivered what was - if you will - my inaugural internal address. I reaffirmed my vow to do all that I could to support the agency's commitment to bringing hope to peoples around the world.
It is fitting then, that my first public appearance in this new role should be before an organization that shares that commitment.
As I told the Senate during my confirmation hearings, the reservoir of experience and expertise that exists at USAID and among our many partners is crucial to meeting the unprecedented development challenges of this century - a time which sees the world at once ripe with democratic promise and menaced by global terrorism.
I believe that meeting those challenges, however, requires us - all of us - to periodically reexamine what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how we are doing it.
In preparing to address you today, I read InterAction's mission statement, which sums up your commitment this way: "We work to overcome poverty, exclusion and suffering by advancing social justice and basic dignity for all."
But what is it that drives you and your organizations to help people half a world away?
And, more importantly, how? What is your vision for achieving your goals?
Whether in the public, private or non-profit sector, as Americans, the first question is fairly easy to answer.
First, moral obligation binds us, to be sure.
We cannot turn our backs on the millions of children who succumb to starvation and disease each day, when the ability to address it is in our hands.
We cannot turn our backs on citizens who toil under oppressive poverty, seeking their families' daily survival, but with little opportunity to secure their future.
As the President has said, we do it because we are Americans and it is the right thing to do.
But the second reason that our nation must be engaged in the developing world is that our future as Americans is inextricably linked with those we seek to assist.
America today is threatened less by conquering states than by failing and ungoverned states.
The locus of national security threats has shifted to the developing world, where poverty, oppression, injustice and state indifference are exploited by our enemies to provide haven for criminals and the planning of criminal acts.
To counter these new threats, development assistance is now a foundational pillar of our new national security architecture.
Governments that rule justly, encourage economic freedom and opportunity, and invest in their people - the hallmarks of democracies - are much less likely to produce or tolerate terrorists.
All of us working in foreign assistance, on some level, believe that peaceful societies, where healthy and well educated people are free to provide for themselves and their families, are the aspiration of human beings regardless of ethnicity, religion, or geographic location.
In fact, where some have expressed concern about development goals being overridden by foreign policy objectives, I see U.S. foreign policy recognizing, incorporating, and elevating what has long been accepted as good development practice. As the Nobel prize-winning development economist, Amartya Sen, has noted, there has never been a famine in a true democracy.
We also believe that the people of the United States can, and should, play a role in helping people around the world strive for and achieve those aspirations - both because it is the right thing to do, and because it is in our interest as a nation to do.
This core belief in human potential IS the mission that draws us together.
But empowering human potential requires more than short-term charity.
How do we truly extinguish poverty?
America's approach to international development requires a paradigm that is also focused on sustainability-and with that, a paradigm focused ultimately on local ownership.
While well-intended, some of what has been done historically by the donor community - including the United States - under the rubric of international development, has, too often, left few lasting traces beyond the immediate impact of short-term programs.
The sad fact is that one cannot visit the developing world without seeing - often in a literal sense - the debris of past development assistance that did not also bring about lasting change - that did not put much emphasis on the "development" part of development assistance.
To be sure, charity has its place, especially when it is charity in response to urgent emergencies.
Yet it's important to distinguish between charitable humanitarian assistance, and support for a nation's true development and transformation.
Development must engender lasting economic, social, and political progress, through a transformation of institutions, economic structures, and human capacity, so that nations can evolve to sustaining further progress on their own.
To be sure, the ultimate responsibility for achieving this transformation rests with the leadership and citizens of the developing nations themselves.
But the assistance and policies of the United States can and must play a vital and catalytic role.
To really make a difference, these resources must be focused on transformational initiatives that are owned over time by the developing nations themselves.
Over the past two and a half years, during my tenure as the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, I learned the importance of host-country led approaches first-hand from people like Dr. Peter Mugyenyi, the leader of the Joint Clinical Research Center in Uganda.
He's one of the most inspiring, creative and effective leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS on the African continent.
At a meeting in Ethiopia, Dr. Mugyenyi made a comment that really struck me.
To paraphrase, he said that it is neither practical nor moral for the people of Africa to expect that the rest of the world will take care of their problems forever.
He explained that it is not practical because it means their own destiny will be at the mercy of changing political priorities in nations far beyond their control.
And it is not moral, because the people of his continent have many of the tools they need to meet their own needs, and those they do not have they can and must develop.
There was a murmur of agreement among the African leadership in the audience. They understand that too.
Dr. Mugyenyi has made incredible progress through his own organization in making drug treatment available in Uganda.
In one largely rural district, his organization has now succeeded in providing access to antiretroviral therapy to 100% of those who need it, with a locally-designed strategy they can sustain in the future.
To be clear, for now Dr. Mugyenyi is working in close partnership with the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, utilizing the extensive financial support we are providing.
Indeed, at this point, our support is indispensable.
But he is already developing capabilities and resources so that a time will come when he will no longer depend on us.
We didn't tell him to do that; he totally understands what's required for the long-term sustainability of his very important work.
Another crucial element of the overall equation - one too often overlooked - is the role of host governments.
It is no secret that many governments in developing nations have demonstrated an inability - or worse, an unwillingness - to respond to the needs of their citizens.
The international system, including donors such as the United States, have thus stepped in to deliver those services, often by creating parallel systems of service delivery through international mechanisms.
Now that is an understandable response, and for a tsunami or an earthquake, it is essential.
Clearly, within these donor led responses, the international system has an important role to play.
But the dominance and the permanence of such donor-led responses has had the effect of shifting the focus of responsibility from host governments to donors.
Outsiders cannot, with sustainability, secure citizens' health and safety, educate a critical mass, or create the conditions needed for economic growth-all of which are necessary for development.
And "sustainability" has to be the operative word.
If true progress is to be made, the people of these nations, and their governments, must increasingly become equipped to do these things for themselves.
Citizens must understand that they and their governments must take responsibility.
Once citizens understand this, they can and will make demands of their governments, and reject government excuses for failure.
This understanding is a prerequisite-and exists-for true democracies.
And thankfully, an approach to foreign assistance focused on sustainability can help strengthen democracies.
That is something I learned from Dr. Agnes Binagwaho.
She is the head of Rwanda's National Commission to Fight AIDS, and an example of inspiring leadership within the government sector of a nation.
So you might expect her to urge more U.S. financial support for the Government of Rwanda.
What Agnes has told me, however, is that the Emergency Plan's support for grassroots organizations is supporting the development of democracy in Rwanda.
By fostering the growth of civil society, of indigenous capacity, she believes that we are strengthening Rwanda's fragile democracy.
She recognizes that democracy is not just about having an elected government - it's about teaching people to participate, and how.
It's about supporting people to identify their own solutions, and teaching them how to advocate for and support their adoption and implementation.
In other words, it's not about us, it's about them.
It's about empowering them, supporting their ideas, and providing the right tools-and appropriate incentives-to support their leadership and responsibility to sustain further progress on their own.
This, I believe, is what United States foreign assistance must be all about.
From the highest levels, this Administration has made an enormous commitment to development and transformation.
President Bush has made - and is keeping - that commitment.
In fact, the total official development assistance (ODA) provided by the United States for 2005 came to $27.5 billion - a near tripling of ODA since 2001.
It is a commitment that is shared - and its importance understood - at the highest levels of the U.S. Government.
The creation of the new role I've been asked to take on is but one example.
Foreign assistance is now a mainstream commitment of the United States Government, elevated to a national priority as a core part of our national security strategy.
These vastly increased resources have also come with new responsibilities-to focus on performance, results, accountability-and ultimately, to define success as the ability of a nation to graduate from aid and become a full partner in international peace and prosperity.
But performance, results, and accountability suffer unless we have a coherent, coordinated approach to foreign assistance.
As Secretary Rice said in announcing my new leadership role for foreign assistance: "The current structure of America's foreign assistance risks incoherent policies and ineffective programs and perhaps even wasted resources. We can do better and we must do better."
Under the Secretary's leadership, the United States seeks now to reform its organization, planning and implementation of foreign assistance in order to achieve our development objectives.
We will do this, in part, by better leveraging the strengths and the contributions of our foreign assistance institutions toward the accomplishment of shared goals.
A fundamental purpose of this reform is, in the end, to better ensure that we are providing both the necessary tools and the right incentives for host governments to secure the conditions necessary for their citizens to achieve their full human potential.
Since USAID and State administer 80% of our foreign assistance, the new structure will begin by more closely aligning the two agencies, with one person concurrently holding two closely related roles: Director of Foreign Assistance at the Department of State with the rank of Deputy Secretary, and Administrator of USAID.
Aligning our foreign assistance to address the multifaceted challenges we face as a nation requires a single overriding objective not only in Washington, but in the field.
If we are to succeed, our objective must be especially clear on the ground - where without a coherent, unified strategy and clear expectations for results, recipients of aid are able to divide and conquer among the myriad development agencies and get out from under the responsibility to perform.
The goals of the United States to promote democracy and good governance are not distinct from the moral obligations that we strongly embrace.
Rather, this new leadership structure recognizes those links and will build on them to realize a hopeful, prosperous and peaceful future for all citizens of the global community.
I know InterAction understands the need for coherence.
In fact, you even speak to it in your mission statement, saying: "InterAction is greater than the sum of its parts, a force multiplier that gives each member the collective power of all members to speak and act on issues of common concern."
Foreign assistance is now an issue of common concern across the U.S. Government, the goal of which is to help create a world of democratic, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system.
Doing so will require changes.
But those changes will also be a force multiplier that will help all of us - government and non-governmental organizations alike - pool our collective power toward a common mission: unleashing human potential to overcome poverty, exclusion, and suffering.
Today I ask for your commitment, understanding, and know-how - and your support - as together we attempt to manage change and endeavor to achieve that mission.
Thank you for the opportunity to be with you here today.
I very much look forward to working with you in the years ahead.
Thank you very much.