Clinton Calls for 'New Mindset' in US Foreign Assistance

After months of speculation, Hillary Rodham Clinton finally broke the silence on U.S. foreign aid reform. With hints at scaled-back contracting and a convergence between development and defense, the dawn of a new era in foreign assistance has arrived.

"It's time for a new mindset - for a new century," she said. "Time to retire old debates and replace dogmatic attitudes with clear reasoning and common sense. And time to elevate development as a central pillar of all that we do in our foreign policy."

Scaling down contracting

Clinton believes that the huge emphasis on contracting undermines opportunities for improved service delivery and coordination between stakeholders like the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. State Department.

"For too long we have relied on contractors for core contributions, and we have diminished our own professional and institutional capacities," she said. "This must change. Contractors are there to support, not supplant."

The U.S. secretary of state plans to draw contractors in-house for full-time positions, and according to her, a new set of guidelines on contracting is being developed under the quadrennial diplomacy and development review. Additionally, an extensive recruitment campaign for foreign service officers with technical expertise is under way.

With the help of key stakeholders like USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Clinton hopes to transform USAID into "the world's premier development agency."

Local and international partnerships

Speaking during an event organized by the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, Clinton emphasized the need for "development built on consultation rather than decree."

Through partnerships with organizations like the Millennium Challenge Corp., developing countries would have the opportunity to lead the way in "designing and implementing evidence-based strategies with clear goals."

On the local front, Clinton suggested elevating development and making it an "equal pillar" with diplomacy and defense in U.S. foreign policy. While some people consider such integration efforts as politicizing and diluting development, Clinton thinks otherwise.

She argued that "development diplomats" like Wangari Maathai have helped change society's approach to development by using diplomacy as a tool. Consequently, the convergence of the three "Ds" would help further the goals of democracy and human rights, particularly in "strategically critical" places like Afghanistan and Haiti, she stressed.

"What we will do is leverage the expertise of our diplomats and our military on behalf of development and vice-versa," she explained. "The three 'Ds' must be mutually reinforcing."

Investment versus aid

With these efforts in place, the Obama administration intends to break the dependency cycle associated with aid and give birth to investment opportunities.

Targeted investments are to be made in key sectors in developing countries including health, agriculture, security and local government. Additionally, more direct funding is to be applied to new research so as to fuel innovations and ideas.

Clinton also stressed the importance of investments in women and girls.

"This is not only a strategic interest of the United States, it is an issue of great personal meaning and importance to me, and one that I have worked on for almost four decades," she said. "I will not accept words without deeds when it comes to women's progress."

With financial commitments in climate change and HIV/AIDS amounting to $100 billion and $63 billion, respectively, many wonder where the money for revamping the aid sector will come from.

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