UNITED NATIONS – UNITED NATIONS (AP) — International aid and advocacy groups are welcoming President Barack Obama's new global development policy, saying they expect it will make U.S. foreign assistance more effective and better help those who really need it.
Obama's strategy, spelled out at an anti-poverty summit at the United Nations this week, for the first time elevates American development policy in other poor nations to the level of diplomacy and defense.
"Traditionally, foreign aid wasn't very popular in the United States and no one thought it was important," said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, an advocacy group that urges lawmakers to end hunger at home and abroad.
"Helping developing countries is really important to the United States for security and moral reasons," Beckmann said Thursday. "(It) will provide a rational and more coherent policy that will work to reduce global poverty and ensure economic growth in poor countries."
The most important part of the administration's new focus is that it puts poor people in other countries in charge of their own development, said Gregory Adams, director of aid effectiveness for Oxfam America.
"There is misconception in America that people are poor because they don't have stuff and that if we give them enough stuff: food, schools, medicine, they won't be poor anymore," Adams said. "But if you don't get people involved in their own development they won't escape poverty."
Obama told world leaders on Wednesday that the United States is changing its approach to development and will use diplomacy, trade and investment to help poorer countries instead of just giving them money.
"Instead of simply handing out food, our food security initiative is helping countries like Guatemala and Rwanda and Bangladesh develop their agriculture and improve crop yields and help farmers get their products to market," Obama said at Wednesday's closing of the three-day summit to spur action to achieve U.N. goals to combat poverty by the 2015 deadline.
"Instead of simply delivering medicine, our Global Health Initiative is also helping countries like Mali and Nepal build stronger health systems and better deliver care."
"We're making it clear that we will partner with countries that are willing to take the lead," the president told leaders. "Because the days when your development was dictated by foreign capitals must come to an end," Obama said, drawing loud applause.
The new strategy, the product of a nearly yearlong effort, also includes anti-corruption measures and calls for accountability from the U.S. and the countries it works with.
Senior American officials involved in foreign assistance policy told a news briefing at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. on Thursday that specifics about the new global development strategy will be spelled out in a major policy document next month.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, director of policy for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, said the document will announce reforms within the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, the main U.S. agency responsible for civilian foreign aid.
To illustrate how the new U.S. policy would work, Oxfam's Adams gave the example of financing construction of a rural school in sub-Saharan Africa.
"You can measure what you have done by gathering all the receipts for the building materials and labor," he said. "But if you come back in three years, you might find that it is empty, unused, because the government couldn't afford teachers or textbooks. "
But the new U.S. development focus, which Adams said is similar to Oxfam's, would give the community a stake in the school by involving them in its construction, help train teachers and provide textbooks. Success would be measured not on what was spent, but how many girls graduated three years later.
"We'll be doing things very differently," USAID administrator Dr. Raj Shah told the news briefing. "Going forward, we'll focus first on results and real outcomes," and be more selective about what aid money is spent on.
Humanitarian groups said congressional support of Obama's plan would be critical.
The president can already count on the support of Democratic U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont and John Kerry of Massachusetts.
The strategy will "build the capacity of developing countries to achieve lasting progress against poverty, conflict, environmental degradation and other major threats to global security," said Leahy, who chairs the Senate's Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations.
Kerry, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, said it would help "address the leading moral, strategic and economic challenges of the 21st century."