Telling the Story of America's New Approach to U.S. Foreign AssistanceAmbassador Randall Tobias, Director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and USAID Administrator
Remarks at Worldwide Public Affairs Officers Conference
January 8, 2007
Karen, thank you very much. It's a real pleasure to be with you today. As many of you know, a little less than a year ago, in outlining her vision of transformational diplomacy, Secretary Rice announced the largest restructuring of U.S. foreign assistance in decades. Since then, we have worked hard to implement an aggressive reform agenda. One that not only will focus on what we are doing in this administration but one that will really put in place a platform of mechanisms that will serve the country going well into the future. But before I update you on where we are with foreign assistance reform and the key role that you
Karen, thank you very much. It's a real pleasure to be with you today. As many of you know, a little less than a year ago, in outlining her vision of transformational diplomacy, Secretary Rice announced the largest restructuring of U.S. foreign assistance in decades.
Since then, we have worked hard to implement an aggressive reform agenda. One that not only will focus on what we are doing in this administration but one that will really put in place a platform of mechanisms that will serve the country going well into the future.
But before I update you on where we are with foreign assistance reform and the key role that you—as our U.S. Government spokespersons—play in the success of that reform, I'd like to take a few minutes to tell you why I was so pleased to receive Karen's invitation to be here today.
While I feel extremely privileged to be leading a vital effort in the public sector, as I suspect many of you know, most of my background is not in U.S. Government. It was during nearly 4 decades in the private sector that I learned the value of strong and clear communications.Former Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca may have said it as well as anyone when he said, "You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't get you anywhere."
As many of you know, the last job I held in the private sector before my first attempt to retire—a task with which, nearly 4 years into government service, my wife believes I will never be very successful at—I spent several years Chairman and CEO of Eli Lilly.
Even in an era when new technologies were contributing to an increase in media coverage, in the years preceding my arrival at the company, Lilly's communications policy reflected its very traditional, "buttoned down" and quite formal culture-it had largely been one of "No comment," concerning products, employees, and many other issues of interest to the media and public.
Added to that, my arrival at the company came under somewhat less than ideal circumstances. After years of extraordinary success, the company, over a period of a year and a half or so, had not been doing well on a number of fronts. The board had terminated the prior CEO, and the employees were very apprehensive about the "new guy."
I immediately realized that one of my top responsibilities as CEO was communication - inside and outside the company - quickly and fully. But perhaps more importantly, I realized that the real challenge was not only communicating, but also integrating what I said and wrote about the need for openness and transparency with the way in which I behaved and expected others in the company to behave. My communications team and I came up with a strategy to reach all of Lilly's stakeholders—in a way that provided an opportunity to instill confidence in the future of the company with both substance and style.
On my first day on the job, I granted an interview to one of the most recognizable faces on local television in the company's headquarters city- a cameras-rolling chat that was done, not secretly in some studio but in one of the Lilly cafeterias—during lunch hour. The anchor conducting the interview had never before been in the company's headquarters.
The employees in the cafeteria that day, many of whom were skeptical of rumored changes at the company, were pleasantly surprised to see their new CEO-who by the way showed up in shirtsleeves, something they had never seen before-engage in this very transparent dialogue. This interface with the employees may have turned out to be an even more important audience than the members of the public at large.
At the conclusion of the interview, much to my amazement, I received a standing ovation from the employees who had been listening in the cafeteria. This was the first time the employees had seen one of their senior leaders willing to engage with the media-and with them-and do so openly.
That day, I learned yet again that effective communication—communication that changes behavior—has to be more than simply delivering well-thought out statements. Where, how and, above all, when, these statements are delivered-all of that is absolutely critical.
As many of you may know from your own experience, I came to understand long ago that leaving an information void is always a terrible mistake. Whenever employees or media or analysts or others have to fill such a void themselves, they will inevitably fill it with the worst case scenario they can possibly imagine.
Recalling those lessons—and recognizing that the fast pace of the foreign assistance reform effort has limited our ability to communicate as effectively as I would like. During the last few months of 2006, I took about 3 weeks and traveled around the world to conduct regional meetings aimed at soliciting input from the leadership and staff implementing our U.S. foreign assistance reform effort on the ground. I have now met face-to-face with 64 USAID Mission Directors and 120 U.S. Ambassadors.
At meetings here in Washington, Pretoria, Cairo, Bangkok, and San Salvador, I began our discussions of foreign assistance reform as I want to begin with you this afternoon-by pointing out what I consider to be very good news: Foreign assistance has never had a higher profile than it does right now, beginning with intense personal involvement of the President of the United States.
There was once a time when outside of the State Department, USAID, and a few people on the Hill, not many others in the government cared very much about foreign assistance. But now, foreign assistance is a mainstream commitment of the United States Government-one of our most important tools-not only for all of the traditional reasons which still apply, but because it has also been elevated to a national priority as a core part of our national security strategy.
There is little doubt that helping developing nations become peaceful, stable, and economically self-sufficient is in the best interest of this nation's national security. Commensurate with this priority, this Administration has made an enormous commitment, from the highest levels, to development and transformation. In fact, the total official development assistance (ODA) provided by the United States for 2005, which is the last year for which we have all the detailed information that the Department of Treasury provides, came to $28.5 billion—a near tripling of ODA since President Bush took office.
But these vastly increased resources have also come with a new focus on the accompanying responsibilities: to focus on performance, results, accountability, and ultimately, to define success as the ability of a nation receiving assistance from the United States to graduate from the need for traditional development assistance and become a full partner in international peace and prosperity.
In late 2005, not long after the President and the Secretary first talked with me about taking on this role, I asked to see the data that I thought would help me better understand the challenges we face in achieving more effective use of our foreign assistance resources.
I wanted to begin by understanding our existing foreign assistance strategy. And as a proponent of the theory that one's actions speak so loudly it never really matters what one is saying, I was really more interested in understanding exactly where we were actually spending our foreign assistance dollars, rather than simply reading the speeches and policy papers that purported to describe our foreign assistance strategy.
What I found was that the allocation of our resources was neither entirely strategic nor fully consistent with what will be required to achieve our newly reassessed transformational diplomacy priorities. It turns out that prior to launching this initiative; most of our foreign assistance has been focused on five goals:
These goals, while of critical individual importance, clearly do not aggregate to any meaningful strategic vision of what the United States is trying to achieve with its foreign assistance.
While we may have been achieving great progress in some individual program areas—as clearly we have—a more coordinated, comprehensive, strategically integrated foreign assistance program will more likely sustain the gains of our investments in the long term.
Many ideas for foreign assistance initiatives, presented individually, have seemed to look great on paper. The purposes for which foreign assistance funds have been allocated have differed from one U.S. Government agency to the next, from one office to the next, from one bureau to the next, from one overseas mission to the next. United States foreign assistance has had a thousand agendas, and therefore no coherent story to tell Congress, the American public, or the citizens and host governments of the countries we seek to assist about what it was the United States was seeking to achieve with its foreign assistance dollars.
Under Secretary Rice's leadership, the United States seeks now to reform its organization, planning and implementation of foreign assistance in order to address all of these challenges.
By applying all U.S. foreign assistance to the achievement of a single overarching goal—which Secretary Rice has articulated very clearly as: "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"—our foreign policy is now recognizing that empowering human potential and achieving sustainable transformational development requires more than short-term charity.
It requires a paradigm that is also focused on sustainability—and with that, a paradigm focused ultimately on something Secretary Marshall said nearly a half century ago: 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.
And ensuring that the people in our host countries, and indeed our partners around the world, understand that is not only vital to the success of our programs, it is absolutely essential to achieving your mission—improving America's public diplomacy.
Over the past few months, my staff and I have met with key players in the delivery of foreign assistance within the United States Government, and with many leaders in the development community and on the Hill.
One of the things that has really struck me is that—while many will withhold judgment until they see the results—the principles of this reform do seem to have very widespread support, inside and outside of the government and, indeed, on both sides of the aisle.
One reason, I believe, is because while it will be close to a year before we have results data to report, it is not difficult to imagine the possibilities inherent in knowing—and being able to say with accuracy—exactly what it is the United States is doing to assist our host countries, not just in one sector, or one program, but what we are doing in totality, across the board.
So much is changing, but while we're implementing all of this change, let's not let anyone be misled into somehow thinking that all that came before this reform was ineffective, because it certainly was not. I know, and the world needs to know, that United States foreign assistance has indeed had a tremendous impact. But too much of our impact has been short-term in its duration and sustainability really needs to get more focus in what we are doing.
Telling this story is where you come in. Even as we seek to find ways to paint that full picture—both on a country by country and on a global level—the story of U.S. foreign assistance is the best international news story we have, bar none.As we move forward, I seek your partnership in securing the successes of the future by shining a light on the many incredible stories of American generosity and partnership we already have to tell.
The challenges we face are certainly not mine alone to "fix." They are ours to solve together. The time when only a handful of people recognized the value of foreign assistance has passed. From world leaders to rock stars to elementary school children, people are aware as never before of the challenges facing the developing world—and the way those challenges affect not just those suffering, but the entire global economy and the security and prosperity we seek.
Some may choose to put their energies into resisting the changes that have brought development into the main stream of American foreign policy, and the consequences that have resulted. As some of you may have heard me say before, that is not a path that holds any interest for me. I hope it does not for you. Rather, let us put our energies into finding new and more effective ways to work together in a thoughtful strategic way—not just with one another and the traditional development community—but with all of those who share our vision of development that brings about lasting change.
I know that many of you are already working hard to do much of what I have just described. Later in this conference, you will have the opportunity to learn more about the ways in which we are reforming foreign assistance, the implications of reform for public diplomacy, and how State and USAID can find even more ways to work together in getting our collective USG message out to all we can persuade to listen.
I hope you will make the most of these opportunities. I really need your help and your partnership.Let me assure you that your efforts to do business in a new, collaborative, and integrated way is vital to helping the United States—and, more importantly, those we seek to assist—attain the uncommon results that I believe, if successful, will be the enduring legacy of OUR time. Thank you very much.
Released on February 7, 2007