Opinion: It’s Time to Reinvent How America Delivers Foreign Aid


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Opinion: It’s Time to Reinvent How America Delivers Foreign Aid

When President John F. Kennedy created the U.S. Agency for International Development in 1961, he could not have imagined that helping other countries develop would be such an unpredictable, ever-changing task. What started as the funding of roads, schools and clinics in faraway places is today a global search for solutions to some of the world’s most intractable problems—from entrenched poverty and corruption to climate change and pandemics.

What was a single American agency has since turned into a network of stakeholders—multilateral banks, official donors, private investors, NGOs and academics. And what was a national policy to foster prosperity abroad has grown into a multitude of international commitments to worthy causes, such as the Sustainable Development Goals.

We are now facing another moment of profound change, in both economic development and domestic politics. COVID-19 will likely bring about partial de-globalization, wider digital gaps, more inequality, massive fiscal deficits, new social norms, unpredictable attitudes towards risk, and existential threats to entire sectors of the economy. The inauguration of President Joe Biden heralds a shift in foreign policy, likely toward more leadership in global issues and more engagement with global institutions.

How can America’s system of development assistance prepare for—and make the most of—the new realities? It is critical that the United States remains engaged in global affairs. As such, the National Academy of Public Administration has included “Advance National Interests in a Changing Global Context” as one of the 12 Grand Challenges in Public Administration facing the nation in the decade ahead.

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