USAID

RECENT POSTS

Fighting poverty? Don’t make bad faith political choices | 

Whoa, it’s already Friday! Time for another podcast!

This week, East Coast correspondent Tom Murphy and I ramble and argue but mostly agree with each other about lots of things happening in the humanitarian sphere – you might even call it the Humanosphere. We cover USAID’s “fake Twitter” fiasco,” new developments in World Vision’s gay marriage “flip flop” fiasco, as well how much money there is in global health (spoiler: not enough!) and what it’s actually being used for (spoiler redux: it should bolster the public sector, not get funneled into one-off gadgets and gizmos). I’m sure there are other fiascos out there we didn’t have time for.

All of that may sound like bad news, but here’s the good news: Tom and I bring our humano-nerd powers to bear on sorting through it all, so you don’t have to! And you get to observe the interplay between my tendency to paint people of different political persuasions (World Vision donors who don’t believe in gay marriage, for example) with a broad, unflattering brush, and Tom’s level-headed attempts to contextualize and rationalize their beliefs.

Don’t worry, nerdliness isn’t contagious through headphones or speakers.

Want to hear more podcasts? Subscribe and rate us on iTunes.

Will the US foreign aid budget continue its decline? | 

US Foreain Aid snapshot

An increase in the foreign affairs budget for 2014 saw an end to a four year decline in the US. Discussions are now taking place over the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and the downward trend may resume.

That is what will happen if Rep Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget proposal wins out. If President Obama gets his way, funds will hold steady at $44.1 billion. While it looks likely that foreign aid will be safe from cuts, thanks to is strong supporters, being back on the chopping block is a cause for concern for foreign aid supporters.

Ryan’s cuts into foreign aid appear to be based more on a belief that it is an unnecessary expenditure. The proposed Ryan budget led to public cries to protect the US foreign aid budget. Supporters like to point out that it represents less than 1% of the total federal budget.

Making cuts to such a small program will do little to help reduce US government debt and will harm the people who benefit from US aid work. Ryan has acknowledged this fact in the past, but continues to propose cuts. Foreign aid advocates are pushing against Ryan’s plan by pointing to the damage it will cause to US foreign policy interests.

“Now is not the time to cut America’s vital tools of national security given the growing number of hotspots around the globe,” said General Anthony Zinni, Co-Chair of U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s National Security Advisory Council. “The International Affairs Budget has already seen large reductions in the past few years, and now is not the time to diminish America’s leadership in the world.”

Continue reading

Humanitarian community weirdly silent on USAID “Cuba Twitter” fiasco | 

Students in Cuba gather behind a business looking for a Internet signal for their smart phones in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
Students in Cuba gather behind a business looking for a Internet signal for their smart phones in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, April 1, 2014.
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

If lack of public outrage is any indication, many in the humanitarian field appear to be just fine with the recent revelation that the U.S. government’s lead anti-poverty agency has been spending tax dollars to operate a secret project aimed at fomenting political unrest in Cuba.

You may remember when news leaked out in 2011 that the CIA had faked a vaccination program in Pakistan in its effort to find Osama Bin Laden.

It took a while for the humanitarian community to respond, and condemn, that scheme. But most did and the dire predictions that the CIA ruse would endanger aid workers (and undermine the crucial polio campaign in Pakistan) turned out to be tragically accurate. As Laurie Garrett recently wrote in Foreign Policy, the CIA scheme gave militant extremists all the justification they needed for targeting polio vaccine workers and the murders go on today – and polio continues to spread.

Now, thanks to an AP investigation, we learn that USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development) has since 2009 been running a secret social media scheme in Cuba aimed at using cell-phone text messages to foster political dissent against the communist government. The AP reported that the project, dubbed “Cuban Twitter” involved creating secret shell companies and foreign bank accounts.

Bill and Paula Clapp
Bill and Paula Clapp
Seattle International Foundation

“So we’re back to the days of USAID acting like the CIA?” said an exasperated Bill Clapp, a Seattle-based philanthropist who with his wife Paula has been working for decades on a variety of anti-poverty and empowerment projects throughout Latin America. “If our goal is to promote open societies around the world, I’m not sure having our lead aid agency running covert foreign policy operations is the way to do it.” Continue reading

US underfunding crucial global health research and development, warns group | 

3990283241_60ffdd7e81_m
Steve Snodgrass

As global health funding remains largely stagnant, more groups are trying to get a bigger piece of the US budgetary pie. For their part, research and development supporters wants a bigger slice, or at least for theirs to stay the same size.

A report by the Global Health Technologies Coalition warns that the political wrangling over federal budgets in Washington DC are putting crucial global health research and development at risk.

The coalition, made up of some 30+ NGOs, says funding for research and development has eroded over the past few years. Making proper investments means not only that new lifesaving developments in areas like TB, AIDS and maternal health can be made, it also represents a significant boost to the US.

“The investment we have made in research to date has contributed to major public health successes, but there is no guarantee that the gains we have made today will work tomorrow,” said Kaitlin Christenson, MPH, director of the GHTC, to Humanosphere.

Christenson argues that investing in research and development is one that will benefit people around the world, as well as Americans. It taps into the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans. The report, Innovation for a changing world: The role of US leadership in global health R&D, says that existing investments have helped to create 7 million jobs and contributes $69 billion to the US GDP each year.

“The investment in innovation resonates with American character, that helps support domestic improvements, economic growth and our diplomatic goals,” she said.

Continue reading

Guest Op-Ed: Is global health about gizmos or people? | 

By Julia E. Robinson, director of advocacy programs for Health Alliance International at the University of Washington.

In Liberia, a health worker takes child's temperature at the FJ Grant District Hospital in Greenvile in the Sinoe County.
In Liberia, a health worker takes child’s temperature at the FJ Grant District Hospital in Greenvile in the Sinoe County.
AP

It’s an exciting time to be fighting for the “End of AIDS.”

Everyone from Hillary Clinton to Pope Francis is talking about the possibility of turning a corner on the pandemic. Advances in treatment and vaccine research hint there could be an AIDS-free generation in the near future. International donors are ponying up huge amounts of money for developing these new technologies.

Just last week, the United States Agency for International Development  (USAID) announced a $1 billion initiative called the Global Development Lab to keep churning out high tech solutions to some of the toughest public health problems facing the planet, including HIV.

Meanwhile, many poor countries and communities lack enough nurses, doctors and health workers to even carry out the most basic health services.

Global health experts talk about a ‘delivery bottleneck’ for new vaccines – a euphemistic way of describing the fact that Western innovations are piling up because the global south simply lacks the health care workforce and systems to deliver these new health technologies.

Continue reading

USAID hopes to boost innovation in development with new lab | 

Former Sec State Clinton at the USAID Innovation Lab launch.
Former Sec State Clinton at the USAID Innovation Lab launch.
Rob Baker

Innovation is the buzzword for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with the launch of its new Global Development Lab. The agency held an event, featuring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to unveil its collaboration with 32 “cornerstone partners” including US universities, major corporations, foundations and nonprofits. It comes with a roughly $1 billion annual budget, marking a significant shift in US development priorities.

The new lab puts more emphasis on discovering and spreading solutions to the biggest challenges in international development.

“With breakthroughs that reach a global scale, we can really bring an end to global poverty,” said Lona Stoll, senior adviser to USAID Administrator Raj Shah, to Humanosphere. ”It gets us to development impact better, cheaper and more sustainability.”

Its creation is the realization of a recommendation included in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, carried out when Clinton was at the helm of the US State Department, to review the performance of the entire US  State Department. USAID’s head Raj Shah has talked a lot about the need to support innovation. He has made previous forays with programs such as Development Innovation Ventures.

Private-public partnerships are increasingly getting  attention for both their positive and negative potential. The lab features notable corporate partners: Cargill, Cisco, Citi, Coca-Cola, DuPont, GlaxoSmithKline, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Nike, Syngenta, Unilever and Walmart.

The event came on the same day that an attempt by the agency to create a Twitter-like platform in Cuba to spark civil unrest, was revealed by the Associated Press. It gave cause for concerns that US development policy was not purely humanitarian. Critics the public-private partnership rush are concerned with what the lab will actually accomplish.

“This preposterous idea that corporations will solve the world’s development challenges is so out of touch [with] reality that it would be comical if it were not for its disastrous consequences,” said Anuradha Mittal, the founder and executive director of the US-based Oakland Institute thinktank, to the Guardian.

Continue reading

Calls grow louder for urgent action to protect Syria’s children | 

children study

The present situation for Syria’s children is bad. Three years have passed and a generation is caught in the middle.  It’s not hyperbole when considering that there is no end in sight to the civil war.

Physical danger is an immediate concern. Numbers are hard to know, but estimates put the number of children killed during the conflict at 10,000.

Need is driving some children into labor, something that was not the norm for Syria before the fighting started. Salah is only 15 years-old, but he works in a mine near the Beka’a valley of Lebanon, with his brother. School is not an option for the boys and the family needs income. So they must work.

“I didn’t use to work in Syria,” Salah said to UNICEF. “But I am working here because I need to help with the expenses. My brother is working too. We can’t go to school, so it’s better if we work.”

Also worrying is fact that some 3 million kids are not going to school, roughly half of the country’s school age children. If the disruption lasts for much longer the impacts could be long lasting, worry humanitarian organizations.

A total of 5.5 million children have felt the impacts of the fighting. The number of children affected by the Syrian civil war doubled in the past year and it keeps growing.

Continue reading

Winning hearts and minds, one aid dollar at a time | 

PEPFAR branding appears on hospital in South Africa.
PEPFAR branding appears on hospital in South Africa.
USAID

There is plenty of debate over whether aid can help countries grow economically, but there is new evidence showing that it affects public opinion in a recipient country. Programs that provide targeted, sustained, effective and visible aid can lead to positive views of the donor countries.

While the money that US spends on aid programs in other countries helps people, it also serves a foreign policy goal. On one hand, the US stands to benefit from a safer, healthier and more prosperous world. On the other, it can generate good will towards the US.

“By doing good, a country can do well,” says Yusaku Horiuchi, an associate professor at Dartmouth College.

Benjamin Goldsmith of the University of Sydney, Terence Wood of the Australian National University and Horiuchi published a paper that proves how foreign aid can be a positive force for winning the hearts and minds of individuals. While the impact has been claimed for some time, they say that there was no evidence base, only anecdotes and claims by aid proponents. They undertook a  comparative, cross-national perspective using data from a variety of countries to evaluate how the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), launched by the Bush administration in 2003, has impacted views on the US.

Continue reading