In an address delivered today at Georgetown University, USAID Administrator Samantha Power presented a bold vision for USAID and the international development community—one that puts accessibility and equity at the center. Diversifying the aid workforce, as well as the organizations we partner with, and becoming more attuned to the voices and needs of those we aim to help, she says, is necessary to beat back the threats of COVID-19, climate change and corruption.
“We must do more than simply argue the importance of international development to our lives here at home. We must also work to change international development. As John F. Kennedy said, We cannot leave it up to the experts and the diplomats, said Power. “We must offer people, not a vision merely of international development but a vision of inclusive development.”
Power’s vision for inclusive development starts inside the Agency. New commitments to recruiting diverse talent including partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions are part of a broader Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion agenda for the Agency. She committed to increasing the career workforce in the next four years to equip USAID with the talent and capacity to meet some of the world’s greatest challenges. She also announced plans to boost the budget for paid internships by nearly 700 percent to bring in more candidates from underrepresented communities.
To promote investment in local partners in the countries where USAID works, Power announced two new targets: First, at least a quarter of development funds will go directly to local partners within the next four years, and second, half of every dollar spent will place those local communities in the lead in planning, implementation or evaluation by the end of the decade. To spearhead these efforts, Power also announced Centroamérica Local initiative, a $300 million commitment to work directly with local organizations in the Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Power’s commitment to broaden the base of USAID’s partners was also reflected in the announcement of a new flexible fund devoted to private sector engagement and the launch of a website—workwithusaid.org—intended to break down barriers for small businesses, NGOs, faith-based organizations, minority-serving institutions, diaspora groups and foundations interested in contracting with the Agency.
Power acknowledged that part of her task to make international development more inclusive and accessible requires more Americans to understand the work USAID does and the impact it has here at home. She made the case that the moment to engage Americans who will never work in foreign aid or see a USAID program implemented is now.
“Never before have our fates been so intertwined with those of people around the world,” she said. “The foreign policy community has been saying for decades that problems cross borders—we used to call them problems without passports—and though people understand that rationally—today it isn’t just an intellectual argument, it is a felt, lived experience.
Her address ended with a look at what she referred to as “the biggest challenges we face today”—the triple threat of COVID-19, a changing climate, and the rise of corrupt autocracies. USAID is hard at work fighting each of these in countries around the world. Power committed to ramping up global vaccine deliveries, redoubling USAID’s commitment to President Biden’s new climate resiliency and adaptation effort, and supporting fragile democracies by protecting free press through a new global Defamation Defense Fund.
She summed up her vision for USAID saying:
“Today, Americans should know that for 60 years, USAID assembled some of the brightest, most dedicated, and most effective public servants in the world, and they can take pride in the impact American generosity is having on people in need around the world. That is the Agency I feel so am privileged to run, that is the Agency that I am and excited to further unleash—not just as an Agency for International Development, but as an Agency for inclusive development.”