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 You are in: Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance > Office of the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance: Releases > Office of the Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance: Remarks (2006)

Cultivating Leadership

Ambassador Randall L. Tobias, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and USAID Administrator
Remarks to American Legion and the Legion's Auxiliary Boys and Girls Nation
Washington, DC
July 26, 2006

Thank you Rudy [Padilla, a Boys Nation participant], for your introduction.

It is a tremendous personal pleasure to be with you this afternoon. When I agreed to speak to your group, one of my senior advisorsherself a Girls Nation alumnapointed out that when she was in high school, titles such as "Director" or "Administrator" didn’t really mean much. When she sat where you’re sitting, she was more interested in hearing from people she could relate toin receiving information she could actually use.

Well, the fact you’re here, in Washington, D.C. tells me you and I have a lot in common. We both have an interest in leadership and service. Unlike many of the folks you’ve met this week, however, I haven’t been in Washington very long. In fact, after nearly four decades in the corporate world, I had made a happy transition to spending less of my time on airplanes and in hotels around the world, and a great deal more time mostly in my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana which some of you may know is also home to the American Legion enjoying my children and grandchildren, serving on a number of corporate boards around the country, and working on behalf of issues and institutions that are important to me.

And then the White House called!

As a result, over the past 3 years, there have been a number of occasions when I have awakened in some unfamiliar hotel in some remote corner of Asia, or Latin America, or Africa, and thought to myself, "This is not quite what I had planned for this stage in my life."

But the truth is, I feel enormously privileged that the President of the United States asked me to come to Washington 3 years ago to lead the creation, development, and implementation of his extraordinary $15-billion Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and then asked me to stay on in my current expanded role.

Prior to the launch of the Emergency Plan, there were only 50,000 people in all of sub-Saharan Africa receiving antiretroviral drugs. Today, still in the early stages of the Emergency Plan’s implementation, the U.S. is already supporting nearly half a million people on life-saving HIV/AIDS drug treatment.

I believe that one of the important reasons the Emergency Plan has achieved such extraordinary early success is because our approach to the delivery of HIV/AIDS assistance around the world represents a much needed paradigm shift in the delivery of U.S. foreign aid. And I believe it represents what is possible through a broader transformation of the way this country, and indeed the world, should approach the issue of foreign assistance.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the terminologyas I was not 3 years agointernational development assistance, sometimes called foreign aid, is the money the United States Government provides to the world’s developing nations. This money promotes such things as economic growth; health; education; famine relief and food security; democracy; good governance, and disaster assistance.

The United States spent about $27.5 billion in 2005 on such assistance--a number that has risen significantly under this Administration. Why do we spend this money?

The first reason is our sense of moral obligation, 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 the future.

The second reason, however, is that our futures are inextricably linked to those we seek to assist. Promoting freedom, democracy, and development are primary elements identified in the President's national security strategy. It's part of our strategy for addressing the root causes of terrorism. Governments that rule justly, encourage economic freedom and opportunity, and invest in their peoplethe hallmarks of democraciesdo not produce or tolerate terrorists. By supporting countries to live up to these principles, the United States will strengthen and expand the community of nations united in building global peace and prosperity. People who see a hopeful future for themselves and their families are not as willing to bind bombs to their bodies.

Interestingly, this second reason is tied to the first. No true democracy has ever experienced a famine. The accountability of government to citizens, the free press that flourishes under democracies, doesn't allow for such failures of government. While well-intended, some of what has been done historically by the donor community, including the United States, has too often left few lasting traces beyond the immediate impact of short-term programs.

To be sure, charity has its place, especially when it is charity in response to urgent emergencies. For example, in response to the current crisis in the Middle East, we in the U.S. Government have been working closely with international organizations like the United Nations and with other donor governments to provide humanitarian relief to the hundreds of thousands of civilians affected by the conflict. The U.S. has led in this effort, providing $30 million in immediate humanitarian assistance to victims of the conflict in Lebanon. To meet the most urgent needs, we dispatched two large-scale medical deliveries that arrived in Lebanon yesterday. Each of these deliveries contains enough medicine and supplies to meet the basic medical needs of 10,000 people for a three month period. We have also started delivering other direct U.S. assistance to Lebanon, including plastic sheeting and blankets.

Yet it's important to distinguish between charitable humanitarian assistance, and support for a nation's long-term development and transformation. As President Bush has said, true development requires far-reaching, fundamental changes in governance and institutions, human capacity and economic structure, so that countries can sustain further economic and social progress without permanently depending on foreign aid.

The primary responsibility for achieving this transformation rests with the leadership and citizens of the developing nations themselves. The assistance and policies of the United States can and must play a vital and catalytic role. But to really make a difference, these resources must be focused on transformational initiatives that are owned over time by the developing nations themselves.

What does all of this mean? It means that when it comes to foreign assistance, the United States must be in the business of cultivating leadership. As young American leaders, you have an opportunity to lead by example and contribute to that mission. I suspect a number of you are probably U2 fans. Others of you might be sports fans. You may have heard of the ONE campaign championed by Bono, or seen Olympic speed skating champion Joey Cheek on TV talking about the plight of the people in Sudan.

But the fact is, you don’t have to be a famous rock star or athlete and you certainly don’t have to wait until you’re a government official with a long title to do something. I learned that lesson about a year and a half ago on one of my trips home to Indiana. That’s when I met a remarkable 9 year old named Delaney Burgess. When she couldn't join her family on a church mission to Africa, Delaney organized a drive in her third-grade class at Geist Elementary to collect toys and other items for children impacted by HIV/AIDS in Swaziland. Among those other items were seeds. Delaney had learned that many of the people in Swaziland did not have enough to eat. But she already understood that the solution to hunger was not simply sending a care package of food that enabled them to eat for a day.The solution is providing the tools for them to feed themselves and their families in the days, weeks, and months to come. Meeting Delaney, it occurred to me that the prerequisites to leadership have nothing to do with age.

During my life, I have gathered a list of about a dozen qualities that make good leaders. They are all described in a book I wrote a few years ago. Delaney exhibited every one of them, and so can you:

  • Leaders inspire confidence, trust, and behave ethically.
  • They communicate effectively, internally and externally.
  • They consistently achieve superior results and produce results through others.
  • They always seek to learn.
  • Leaders produce other leaders.
  • They gather knowledge about many subjects and they are versatile.
  • They embrace change and constantly seek innovative ideasparticularly in unlikely places.
  • They build internal and external alliances to further goals.
  • Leaders balance the short term with the long term by focusing on both.
  • They embrace ambiguity and practice and encourage thoughtful risk taking.
  • Most importantly, leaders leave indelible "footprints."

As the next generation of American leaders, you will have the opportunity to work for the causes that are near to your heart, whether they are in your own neighborhoods, or as in Delaney’s case, half a world away. As you do, you will set an example not only for your friends and classmates here, but in this increasingly connected world, for young people around the world.  That is a big responsibility.  After all it is your generation that will reap the harvest of the seeds we are planting with sustainable U.S. foreign assistance.

Thank you very much.

Released on July 27, 2006

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