As the dust settles following the 2012 election, the NGO community is looking to the Obama administration and asking: What will the legacy of President Barack Obama be for international development?
First, the president should start with the basics. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton moves on, the president should nominate her replacement rapidly. With the challenges facing the United States around the world, the president must ensure there is no gap in leadership. In addition, the administration needs to move quickly to replace any top leadership position at the State Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development. The new secretary of state must be committed to an agenda which includes fighting extreme poverty and providing humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable in every region of the globe.
In upcoming negotiations with Congress on fiscal 2013 funding for international development, the administration must vigorously defend poverty and humanitarian accounts from severe budget cuts under sequestration. The president should urge Congress to adopt the Senate Appropriations Committee-approved funding levels for the international affairs account and ensure that, if there are cuts, poverty accounts are not cut disproportionately compared to other discretionary spending. In addition, as the president drafts his fiscal 2014 budget request, we hope he will use the Senate Appropriations Committee funding levels for poverty-focused accounts as the base for development assistance.
We will be watching USAID’s progress on aid reform closely and expect the administration to stick with its ambitious reform agenda following the Fourth High Level Forum on Development Effectiveness in Busan last year – particularly efforts to increase aid effectiveness, transparency and local capacity. We support the principles underlying these efforts, and we believe that our community has a great deal to offer in terms of experience, local knowledge and relationships with NGOs overseas. Local capacity building is something the U.S.-based nonprofit community – often with decades of experience in developing countries – already knows a lot about. Our member organizations have the expertise and relationships in local communities to make it work. We hope the new Obama administration will take advantage of the vast resources our members have to offer and view NGOs as equal partners in the effort to improve lives around the globe.
As to a lasting legacy, we urge the administration to be bolder in its commitments to reduce extreme poverty worldwide. We hope it will expand the reach of its signature Feed the Future program to support more smallholder farmers and continue the Global Health Initiative, which seeks to strengthen global health systems and improve the United States’ collective impact on global health. We hope it will also continue to recognize U.S. and international civil society organizations as development actors in their own right and prioritize the facilitation of an enabling environment that supports the emergence of vibrant, independent local civil society in the developing world. U.S. efforts can make a huge difference in the lives of millions across the globe, and leave a lasting impact for generations to come.
What do you think should be the Obama administration’s focus on foreign aid in the years ahead? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
Mark Lotwis is the vice president of policy and government relations at InterAction, where he helps shape important policy decisions on humanitarian, relief and long-term development issues. Prior to InterAction, Lotwis served as senior director of campaign advocacy at the Save Darfur Coalition. He also worked as executive director of 21st century Democrats, as a partner of two leading media consulting firms and as chief of staff to U.S. Representative Ted Strickland.