A clash of values in Nairobi, $1B for global talent, and Trump's religious freedom test: This week in development

U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Photo by: REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque

Trump plan would tie aid to religious freedom, Nairobi shines a spotlight on sexual and reproductive health, and a billionaire couple unveil their $1 billion idea. This week in development:

The largest United Nations summit on sexual and reproductive health in 25 years is underway in Nairobi — and facing significant pushback from conservative and religious groups that oppose its agenda. The Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, which started Tuesday, marks a quarter century since the first International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, which is credited with shifting sexual and reproductive health policy toward a more rights-based and women- and girl-centered approach. Before the summit in Nairobi began, anti-abortion protesters marched through the city, carrying signs that were branded with the logo of a Spain-based conservative advocacy group. On Monday, a Kenyan government official assured faith leaders that abortion and LGBTI rights would not be on the summit agenda, a message that the conference’s organizers rejected. “This is a global summit — it’s not a Kenyan summit. Everything is on the table and these are issues that need to be discussed,” said UNFPA Director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships Arthur Erken, speaking at the same press conference as the Kenyan official. Monday saw the launch of a new report from Family Planning 2020, a global partnership focused on family planning, which found that 53 million more women and girls are using modern contraceptives over the past seven years — short of the partnership’s target, but 30% higher than projections before the launch of the global effort.

The Trump administration is mulling a plan to condition foreign assistance on recipient countries’ respect for religious freedom, Politico reported this week. The proposal, still in its early stages, resembles an existing policy that restricts aid to countries the U.S. government says are not doing enough to prevent human trafficking. In May, Devex reported that the Trump administration’s unusually strict interpretation of that policy was creating confusion and uncertainty about which development programs would be affected. A similar approach, based on international religious freedom, would be consistent with the Trump administration’s intensive focus on that issue. In September, President Trump hosted an event on religious freedom during the U.N. General Assembly. Last week, a ProPublica investigation detailed concerns about Vice President Mike Pence’s heavy-handed approach to channeling U.S. Agency for International Development funding to Christian groups in the Middle East. All of these efforts — to restrict funding to some countries while channeling other funds to specific interest groups — take place against the backdrop of an administration that has been very skeptical of the value of U.S. foreign aid that does not clearly advance the White House’s specific political interests.

Eric and Wendy Schmidt, the billionaire couple who made their fortune from Eric Schmidt’s 10-year post as CEO of Google, announced a $1 billion commitment on Wednesday to identify and support talented young people around the world. The new initiative, called Rise, will create a service-oriented residential fellowship for at least 100 young people — ages 15-17 — every year, aimed at building a global network and supporting promising ideas and ventures that grow out of it. Eric and Wendy Schmidt have previously given more than $1 billion in philanthropic funding through the Schmidt Family Foundation, which concentrates on addressing climate change, and through Wendy Schmidt’s particular interest in ocean health. The new initiative, focused on finding and developing global talent, builds on lessons the couple have learned in their leadership roles in Silicon Valley, they told Devex. “That fundamental idea that the network is possible and that you don’t need to invent everything yourself, you need to link yourself to other people — that’s an interesting model for how to do things,” Wendy Schmidt said.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.