Education and the New Approach to U.S. Foreign AssistanceRandall L. Tobias, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance & USAID Administrator
Remarks at Meeting With the Basic Education Coalition
December 11, 2006
Thank you very much and let me begin by continuing where you left off in saying that Laura Wilson is an extraordinary young woman and I am delighted to have her among my staff and engaging in this interface.
You are right when you say that I have been traveling a lot, because I have been engaged in, among other things, trying to be sure I am communicating fully and adequately and listening to all the U.S. Government people in the field who have a very important role in what we are trying to do.
I have now spoken to 107 U.S. Ambassadors or Deputy Chiefs of Mission and 64 USAID Mission Directors face to face around the world. And, in some cases, in fact most cases, I've had at least a full day in sessions somewhat like this one on education to talk about what we are doing in reform. I think it is extremely important and useful.
Let me say just a word about my personal interest in education, which [Mr. Moseley] referenced. Ironically, the United States Government's ethics rules required me to resign from the board of the Randall L. Tobias Family Foundation, so my 39 year old daughter and my 37 year old son are now the board of the foundation and we put a number of things on hold.
But one of the things that we are particularly proud of is that we launched an initiative in Indiana several years ago where we hired a very talented woman who had a life long career in education and was selected as one of the Christa McAuliffe teacher award recipients.
We hired her to create a program called Literacy for Life, which was really predicated on our family's view that the basic foundation for everything in education is teaching children to read at a very young age.
This understanding led us to try to corral what best practices are in why kids do learn to read or why kids don't learn to read.
We then funded a 3-year program involving 15 elementary schools, where we took the principals, the pre-kindergarten teachers, the kindergarten teachers, the first grade and second grade teachers; put them all together in the summer, initially for two weeks and then for a week, and then we had 3 teachers who visited to these schools on a continuous basis during the course of the school year and do some coaching.
I was struck by something I saw on TV in the last week or so where some teacher, somewhere, is using the Fantasy Football leagues to teach math. He has kids in inner city schools, who hate math, just loving what he is doing. He has them fooled in that they don't know they are learning math because they are associating it with some practical, to them, pragmatic approach, which is really one of the kinds of principles that was and is part of our program.
At any rate, at some point in time I'm going to declare victory and go back to my other life. When I go back I suspect that education will be one of the places where I will be spending my time. So I'm grateful to be here and grateful for what all of you are spending all of your time doing because I think it's incredibly important.
About a week and a half ago, my good friend Secretary Margaret Spellings and I and other U.S. Government officials participated in a dialogue with our Pakistani counterparts. The Minister of Education, Minister Ashraf, was here. I had met with him in Pakistan earlier this year, but he was here to give us a detailed description of the programs that he is implementing to bring change to Pakistan. I don't know how much any of you have touched that, but it's quite impressive.
Here is a man who was a three star general in the Pakistani military, I think he was at one point the head of what would be the equivalent of our CIA, retired, and then has brought all of that experience to try to bring some management to what they are trying to do in education.
You might have thought I would have begun this conversation with him by describing our foreign assistance framework, but actually what I did was show him a photograph of my nine grandchildren-which had been taken a few days before this meeting when we had everybody together at one place at one time for Thanksgiving back home in Indiana.
Because I know he is a grandfather and as the conversation developed, I think we were all sharing the fact that just as the education of my children and grandchildren and his children and grandchildren are important to us individually; indeed around the world, I think it's a very legitimate aspiration of all parents and grandparents who ought to have the right to expect that there would be a better future the children in their families.
I believe that the foreign assistance policies and programs of the United States really can and must play a vital and catalytic role in the establishment of a clear understanding about appropriate roles and responsibilities for achieving that kind of future.
While the work of the organizations you represent here today spans across many sectors of foreign assistance, some of you I see in other forums focusing on other subjects, I do realize that you are here to better understand how programs in basic education will play a role in U.S. foreign assistance under the reforms that Secretary Rice and I are putting into place. I want to assure you that I understand the catalytic and cross-cutting benefits of a substantial investment in basic education.
I realize than an essential step toward achieving the Secretary's goal of transforming nations to be more responsible contributors to the international system and better caretakers of their own citizens is to ensure that our resources are helping host governments improve basic levels of literacy, numeracy and critical thinking skills among their populations. And I understand that education comprises an essential element of all of the objectives identified under the reform.
Citizens with a basic education are less likely to become infected with the HIV/AIDS virus. An 80% literacy rate and near universal primary education are prerequisites for sustained economic growth. An additional 1 to 3 years of a mother's schooling is associated with a 20% decline in the risk of childhood death. An educated citizenry is more capable of contributing to the essential components of democracy. I think all of us here at the table could provide many more examples of how basic education contributes to all areas of development.
I participated in the Literacy Summit that the First Lady led in New York at the time of the opening of the United Nations-some of you may well have been involved-and the stories that people were telling, from various countries asked to participate to cite examples of the importance of basic education in various aspects of life and literacy, were really quite compelling. But I think maybe more valuable to share with you today is how my understanding of the critical importance of basic education translates into funding decisions and the direction of the reform we are putting in place.
As much as some, perhaps all of you, would like to hear me give you the answer that more resources for basic education are at the top of the list-I do not want to mislead you into believing that in formulating the FY 2008 budget, which we are in the final hours of putting in place, I hope, we took the approach of choosing sectors and allocating an appropriately prioritized resource level. Instead, as many of you know, we took a country-based approach and allocated resources according to investments that would move the country along a development trajectory.
Given the resource-constrained environment in which we find ourselves, we attempted to put resources where they would have the greatest impact. And I should define, I think, what I mean by a resource-constrained environment. At the beginning of this administration, Official Development Assistance was about $10.5 billion. For 2005, one of the most recent years where we have all the data collected from the Treasury Department, it has gone from $10.5 billion to $28.5 billion. So in that sense, we are not resource-constrained in that the resources have had dramatic increases. But they are not likely to have a continuing increase and therefore in that sense we are operating under constraints.
This means putting resources into areas where there is a development gap in key program areas-gaps that are inhibiting the ability of countries to move up a trajectory to the point of where we can eventually graduate them from receiving foreign assistance. Just as an example, if the indicator for rule of law for Angola, which is categorized as a developing country in our foreign assistance framework, showed that it performed lower than the average for all transforming countries, which is the next higher category of countries in the framework, then USAID and State sectoral and country experts deciding what to recommend to the Secretary in the allocation of funding for Angola might well have recommended investing resources in programs to improve the rule of law in order to close the gaps in that area and to create the kind of underpinning that would enable other things to happen.
These country teams also considered absorptive capacity, current governance structures, and several other country conditions when determining whether investments in one particular sector or another would maximize the impact of those resources. We chose this country-based approach intentionally, and I would like to take a moment to explain our thinking behind it.
In late 2005, not long after the President and the Secretary first talked with me about taking on this role, one of the things I asked to see was the data on where we were then spending United States foreign assistance resources. I've always been a believer that one's actions, in the end, speak so loudly that it doesn't really matter what you're saying or writing.
Therefore, it would be interesting to read the policy papers and the statements in the President's speeches on our foreign assistance strategy; but what is really important, with all due respect, is not that-but where are we spending the money and what are we spending it for, because that, in actuality, is our foreign assistance strategy.
As it turns out that most of our foreign assistance has been focused on the achievement of five objectives:
• Sustaining critical security partnerships in the Middle East;
• Supporting traditional Eastern European partnerships;
• Countering narcotics in the Andean region of Latin America;
• Fighting HIV/AIDS in a number of critical countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa; and
• Responding to humanitarian crises as they occur.
Now that's almost 80% of our expenditures on foreign assistance, so that's our foreign assistance strategy.
Those five goals, I think anyone would say, are of critical individual importance. But if one poses the question, "what are we trying to achieve with the expenditure of U.S. foreign assistance dollars?" we don't have a story to tell because our strategy has been whatever it adds up to be, not something where we really have a strategic intent to accomplish certain goals and therefore this is where we are spending the money.
While we may have been achieving great progress in a number individual program areas; I felt and the Secretary and the President felt, that a more coordinated, comprehensive, strategically integrated foreign assistance program was really more likely to enable us to sustain the gains of our investments in the long term.
There are just too many examples of where we have spent money on really important things and accomplished important things but once we stop spending the money, we have not done enough of those things that were necessary to ensure that we have created either in those individual programs, or in a broader context, an environment that would allow us to sustain the benefits of the investments that we made.
I believe, and the Secretary believes, as articulated by the transformational diplomacy goal, that our investments should be working to transform countries so that they can eventually graduate from traditional foreign assistance. Now there are some countries where we are going to have strategic relationships of one kind or another, where even though the need is not there for traditional development assistance, we are going to have a foreign assistance relationship. I think we all would be naive, particularly in the context of this city, to believe that's not going to happen. But with respect to our traditional foreign assistance, we need to get countries to understand that they should not and must not view it as a permanent entitlement, that it's a permanent revenue line on their countries financial statement; but rather it is money that is being expended for specific purposes to move countries along this trajectory where we can eventually graduate them.
In some cases, that may be a year or two, in some cases that may be 20 to 30 years, but nonetheless, we need to be heading in that direction. Many of you in this room have devoted your lives and made noble personal sacrifices for these same goals. I know you envision a day in a world where foreign assistance is no longer necessary; where we have more partners joining the team of donors to eliminate poverty; and where we have donors from other segments of society.
I think the advent of people with enormous wealth like Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet and others, who are bringing their resources to bear on many of these kinds of issues, is a very positive development. In realizing this goal, I certainly concur with what I know to be your conviction that basic education must play a significant role.
I see the partnership between the U.S. Government and PVOs benefiting this goal in a variety of ways, including through the sharing of ideas and best practices. I am committed to developing a U.S. Government foreign assistance system that maximizes the comparative advantages of the executive branch, legislative branch and partners, including those of you around this table but also including other donors and other donor countries, in contributing in a coordinated and coherent way toward the transformation of nations we seek to assist.
Your ideas have helped us develop various elements of the reform process, and I thank this group for helping with the work Laura and others have been doing in refining, in particular, some of our indicators of how can we best measure the effectiveness of the money we are investing. We look forward to working together as the reform moves forward. We are working to set up a more systematic way for the PVO community to contribute your ideas to the processes.
The monthly meetings hosted by InterAction with the Office of the Director of Foreign Assistance and USAID senior staff and the quarterly meetings that the USAID Education Office will host with your group are two examples of this effort, and I am very open to consider other ways in which we might proceed.
While we're implementing all of this change, I do think its important pause occasionally and be sure that we are not letting anyone be misled into somehow thinking that everything that came before this reform was ineffective and ought to be thrown out or ignored, because clearly that is not the case. I know, and the world needs to know, that United States foreign assistance has indeed had a tremendous impact over the years in a whole variety of areas. In education, for instance-as many of you may know-more boys and girls are in school. In 1950, there were about 100 million. Today, there are about 1 billion. This surely must mean that literacy and numeracy are no longer reserved for the elite.
In other areas as well-from nutrition and health to economic growth and prosperity to democracy and governance-our assistance has indeed played a major role. So despite the enormous challenges faced today by so many people in the developing world, as we are all so vividly reminded of by traveling to the developing world, we should not forget that much has already been accomplished, thanks in large part to the dedicated work of the men and women of the United States Government and the courageous partners-including individuals and professionals from your organizations-who work with us on the ground all around the world.
As we move forward, I seek your continued partnership in securing the successes for the future. I very much appreciate the opportunity to spend a few minutes with you this morning and I will be happy to take a few questions.