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Coming Tuesday: Forum on “reforming aid, transforming the world”

Tuesday afternoon, Global Washington will host a public discussion on foreign aid — why we do it and how to do it better — at the UW’s Kane Hall, room 120.

The event, entitled “Reforming Aid, Transforming the World,” is open to the public, with registration starting at 3:30 p.m. and at a cost of $10 to non-members.

Moderated by Carol Welch, a development policy expert for the Gates Foundation, speakers include a member of Congress, an aid advocate from Oxfam, a representative of World Vision and an official from USAID. The event couldn’t be more timely. As Global Washington says:

Even in a challenging economy, many policymakers believe that foreign assistance is an integral part of the U.S. budget. The United States can be a leader in creating a more stable and prosperous world–improving global health, alleviating poverty, and combating injustice. But in order to do so, aid projects must actually be helping. Limited resources must be used as efficiently as possible.

Sure, but isn’t there a more fundamental question here? Many in Congress seem to be inclined to cut foreign aid, even though it represents less than 1 percent of the federal budget.

I asked Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, who is among the speakers at Tuesday’s event, if they aren’t sort of avoiding the elephant in the room by talking effectiveness and reform. Isn’t the battle really about whether we should be sending money overseas at all?

“I’d agree that we haven’t really made the case as effectively as we should that foreign assistance serves our national interests,” said Smith.

That knowledge gap along with the need to reform and improve how we deliver aid are the primary reasons he and Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Florida, formed the Congressional Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance Reform.

“We spend a relatively small amount of money on foreign aid,” said Smith, adding that many confuse military spending with foreign assistance and with commercial partnerships. The confusion stems in part, he said, from the fact that many different government agencies now run their own programs of “foreign aid,” which also creates a lot of inefficiencies.

One of his primary goals, the Congressman said, is to follow Britain’s lead and consolidate all foreign aid under one agency and focus it on alleviating global poverty “as opposed to selling someone military equipment or using projects to cozy up relationships based on foreign policy.”

In short, Smith said, we need to do foreign aid better and make sure its focused on solving the right problems. We’ll see what the others have to say tomorrow.

 

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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at]humanosphere.org or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.