Tillerson goes to the Hill, and Guterres talks prevention: This week in development news

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres addresses the U.N. Security Council ministerial-level open debate on conflict prevention and sustaining peace. Photo by: Rick Bajornas / U.N.

With two big hires, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative gets political, while the U.S. Congress learns more about the man selected to lead Donald Trump’s foreign policy and development cooperation. This week in development news.

The U.S. Senate began its confirmation hearings to learn more about President-elect Donald Trump’s nominees to fill key cabinet positions. Rex Tillerson — the former ExxonMobil CEO Trump tapped to be his secretary of state — answered questions Wednesday in a nine-hour session about a range of issues, including Syria, climate change, and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s budget. Tillerson had good things to say about two Republican-initiated foreign aid programs: the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. New Jersey Senator Cory Booker pressed Tillerson on whether he will support increased budgets at USAID. In his response Tillerson emphasized effectiveness, and promised a comprehensive review of USAID and Department of State programs. He said that a joint strategic plan between State and USAID in 2017 will provide “a perfect opportunity... to take a comprehensive look at the effectiveness and what are our ranges of opportunities out there that might argue for greater funding,” Devex’s Amy Lieberman reported.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres put conflict prevention and sustainable development front and center in his first official address to the U.N. Security Council Tuesday. “We spend far more time and resources responding to crises rather than preventing them,” said Guterres, who began his term on Jan. 1 this year. The new U.N. chief noted that crisis prevention tends to go unnoticed — and has therefore been undervalued in policy discussions and public opinion. “Perhaps because successful prevention does not attract attention. The television cameras are not there when a crisis is avoided,” he said. Guterres emphasized the need for the U.N. to play a greater role in conflict prevention throughout his campaign to lead the international organization — which has seen its effectiveness and credibility challenged by the crisis in Syria, sexual abuse allegations against peacekeepers, and its role in spreading cholera to Haiti. Guterres faces an uphill battle to restore confidence in the U.N. at the same time as populist politicians such as Donald Trump have threatened to pull funding.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative — Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan’s philanthropic venture — announced two big appointments from both sides of the political aisle this week. Former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe will become CZI’s new president of policy and advocacy, while Ken Mehlman, former Republican National Committee chair and George W. Bush campaign manager, will lead CZI’s policy advisory board. Both announcements came on the same day. The decision to bring on two, high-powered political strategists shows that CZI is expanding its focus from technological and engineering solutions to global challenges, to those that require greater investment in and awareness of politics and social policy to achieve results, Devex’s Catherine Cheney reported.

RTI International, a nonprofit U.S. aid implementer, acquired IRG, the international development branch of U.S. contractor Engility Holdings. RTI was already one of USAID’s largest implementing partners, and this acquisition will allow the organization to expand to new geographies and carry out programs in a wider variety of development sectors, according to RTI President and CEO Wayne Holden. RTI recorded almost $900 million in revenue last year. Some see a likely trend toward further consolidation among aid implementers as official development assistance budgets remain relatively flat.

Jin Liqun, president of the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, said the United States is still welcome to join the emerging multilateral institution that many view as a competitor to Western-led institutions such as the World Bank. President-elect Trump’s advisors have suggested the incoming president might view U.S. membership in the AIIB in a warmer light than the Obama administration did. “The door is flung open, and the door will remain that way,” he told Bloomberg in an interview.

Idris Elba wants to be your valentine. The British movie star is raffling off a date with himself to raise money for the charity group W.E. (Women Everywhere) Can Lead, which promotes women’s and girls’ education and empowerment in Africa. In an online video, Elba promised the winning bidder flights, accommodation, and a choice of menu items during the “romantic evening.” He mentioned pepper soup and fufu, in particular. “That’s an African dish,” Elba said with his eyes closed. “And you pound the yams. And you know what? I’ll let you pound my yams.” Cue: internet frenzy.

UPDATE: This article has been changed to reflect that CZI appointed Ken Mehlman and hired David Plouffe.

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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.