Getting a Better Return on America's Investment in PeopleAmbassador Randall Tobias, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and USAID Administrator
Remarks at The Initiative for Global Development 2006 National Summit
June 15, 2006
Thank you, Bill (Ruckelshaus) for that kind introduction. I am very pleased to be with you this morning and to see the great turnout here today. Those of you who know me from my previous life in the private sector may know that I frankly never expected to find myself here, serving as the first Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and Administrator of USAID. But after nearly three years serving as the first U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, I realize that the issues related to foreign assistance are so important, and opportunities for impact so great, that I consider it an enormous privilege to have been asked to lead this new and significant foreign assistance reform effort. When I first heard the title of this session
Thank you, Bill (Ruckelshaus) for that kind introduction. I am very pleased to be with you this morning and to see the great turnout here today.
Those of you who know me from my previous life in the private sector may know that I frankly never expected to find myself here, serving as the first Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and Administrator of USAID. But after nearly three years serving as the first U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, I realize that the issues related to foreign assistance are so important, and opportunities for impact so great, that I consider it an enormous privilege to have been asked to lead this new and significant foreign assistance reform effort.
When I first heard the title of this session– "Investing in People" – I, of course, immediately thought of what that phrase means in technical terms.
In the world of global development, as many of you well know, "investing in people" is a term often used to describe programs related to child survival, health, education, and other activities meant to help improve people’s ability to meet their families’ daily needs.
Our foreign assistance is supporting incredible work in this area through programs that build capacity.
In education, for instance, since 2002, Centers of Excellence for Teacher Training in Latin America and the Caribbean have trained over 12,500 teachers in literacy instruction, helping more than 400,000 children learn to read. The private sector has partnered with us in this effort – with companies like Scholastic, Sesame Workshop, and DHL providing books in places where they had previously been out of children’s reach.
We, as Americans – both in the public and private sectors – invest in people because it is the right thing to do. We also invest in people because our future is inextricably linked to those we seek to assist – because hope is the antithesis of fear and hatred.
But how do we truly create hope? In other words, how do we get the best return on our investment?
The short answer to that question in the world of foreign assistance – as I learned through my experience leading the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – is remarkably similar to what it might be in the corporate world.
For starters, you take a strategic approach. In the private sector, to get a return on investment, you focus on performance, results, accountability. In foreign assistance, that means ultimately defining success as the ability of a nation to graduate from aid and become a full partner in international peace and prosperity.
Under Secretary Rice's leadership, the United States is now reforming its organization, planning and implementation of foreign assistance in order to achieve this objective. We are doing this, in part, by better leveraging the strengths and the contributions of our foreign assistance institutions toward the accomplishment of shared goals.
To do so, we have developed a new strategic framework to focus foreign assistance policy, planning and oversight at the State Department and USAID – which are responsible for 75-80% of all U.S. foreign assistance – on the Secretary’s overarching transformational diplomacy goal: "helping to build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system."
I’ve heard some raise concerns that the words "poverty alleviation" do not appear in the goal. I’ve heard others say that the goal itself sounds too political, in that it focuses directly on state governance. For some, the goal as stated feeds the fear that "development assistance" is now being overtaken by foreign policy concerns—that short-term goals will overtake our long-term development objectives.
I strongly disagree.
In many ways, our foreign policy is now recognizing what has been best practice in the development arena for at least a decade. Empowering human potential and achieving transformational development requires more than short-term charity—or even the long-term provision of services. Citizens must understand that their governments are responsible for their health and safety, for educating a critical mass, and for creating the conditions needed for economic growth. We must support citizens to make demands of their governments, and reject excuses for failure.
The fact is the assistance and policies of the United States can and must play a vital and catalytic role. That’s why our strategic framework focuses on achieving a well-functioning and accountable state that responds to the needs of its people. In other words, when it comes to investing in people, the majority shareholders in the future of any nation must be its own leaders. Our framework explicitly identifies end goals for U.S foreign assistance that focus on graduating from assistance. It also focuses assistance on sustainability.
While we may be achieving great progress in some areas—like HIV/AIDS—without a coordinated, comprehensive, mutually supportive foreign assistance program we will not be able to sustain the gains of our investments in the long term.
The framework explicitly identifies a comprehensive approach. It recognizes that nations cannot progress without peace, security, and stability. They cannot progress without just and democratic governance. They cannot progress without investments in the human capacity of their citizens. And they cannot progress without economic growth. These now are the objectives of U.S. foreign assistance.
Along with this new strategic approach, we have implemented a leadership and management model that will help us achieve what this strategy intends. We all know that a strategy is merely words on paper if we cannot mobilize employees to implement it effectively.
As the Director of Foreign Assistance, it is my responsibility to help ensure that USG agencies delivering foreign assistance are not working at cross purposes, that in fact we are taking advantage of agencies’ comparative strengths to create a U.S. Government program that is effective and makes the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.
The process we are now implementing seeks to integrate our foreign assistance planning, budgeting, programming, and results reporting at every level. It focuses Washington and the field on their respective strengths and responsibilities.
Washington will set integrated, coherent strategic direction and priorities across agencies.
The field will focus on developing integrated, coherent tactical plans for the achievement of results based on strategic direction from Washington — recognizing that those in the field are best placed to understand the specific country circumstances, best partners, and best avenues for change. We also want to support the field in focusing on implementation—as opposed to responding to constant and sometimes conflicting requests from Washington.
Remarkably, the United States has never before had an integrated foreign assistance strategy. We have not had a consistent and comprehensive story to tell to our various stakeholders, including Congress and the American public.
Now, with common indicators to assess performance, we will be able to compare country progress, partner performance, and programs in a way that we have never before accomplished. Not only will this new strategic approach help us tell the story of what we are trying to accomplish, and provide the basis for evaluating our progress – it will allow those in the private sector looking for the best way to partner with us to gauge where their resources are likely to have the greatest impact.
As a distinguished group of people who know and understand the value of investing in people, I hope – as we move forward on reform – that we will be able to count on your support. Together, we can get the return on investment that the American people expect and all human beings deserve.
Thank you very much.
Released on June 15, 2006