What Samantha ‘NCS’ Power Means for Development

Most people outside of Washington have little idea who Samantha Power is. If they do know her, it's probably for her sudden resignation from Barack Obama's campaign last year after she called Hillary Clinton a monster. But for those in the development community, Power is becoming a very important person to know.

That's because last week President Obama named Power as senior director for multilateral affairs at the National Security Council. In this role, she'll have close contact with new Secretary of State Clinton (the two have reportedly buried the hatchet), and likely travel with Clinton on some of her foreign trips. Given Power's background, it's also likely that the Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard professor will also influence the new administration's development policies.

Power is the author of three books that directly deal with human rights and development issues. She has worked at Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. She is credited with getting Obama involved in trying to stop the Darfur conflict when she worked for him in 2005-2006. She is an advocate of using force to stop conflicts like these.

Powers believe that bad governments thrive because populations are living in "climates of fear."

U.S. policy should be "about meeting people where they're at," the American Prospect has quoted her as saying. "Their fears of going hungry, or of the thug on the street. That's the swamp that needs draining. If we're to compete with extremism, we have to be able to provide these things that we're not [providing]."

This gives a pretty good idea of where Power could take development within the State Department. She believes in providing people with their basic needs, and better governance will follow. Change comes from providing, not from giving people the means to provide for themselves.

This is a departure from Bush administration policy. Bush created the Millennium Challenge Corp. to promote democracy through economic growth. Countries had to meet a specific set of goals in order to be eligible for funding - most of these goals dealt directly with the ability for a country to foster economic growth.

If Power's selection is any indication, this is going to change. Her appointment could signal that the focus of the U.S. development community is going to shift from economic growth and democracy promotion to proving basic needs for those in need. It's less about creating thriving marketplaces and more about filling bellies.

This could mean big changes for the development community at large. NGOs and other organizations involved in development over the last eight years have become conditioned to think about development in terms of democracy promotion. If you wanted to win government money, you had to talk this talk. It is possible that these organizations will now have to change their tune. No longer is it simply about proving the building blocks for economic and democratic growth. These NGOs now need to start thinking about how they can change conditions on the ground right now.

About the author

  • David Francis

    David is a Washington-based journalist and former Devex staffer who spearheaded Devex's "Obama's Foreign Aid Reform" blog. He has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, SportsIllustrated.com, San Francisco Chronicle, Foreign Policy magazine, and the Washington Monthly. David holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago and a graduate degree from Georgetown University.