CGD Hosts Secretary Clinton Address: "Development in the 21st Century"

January 06, 2010

In a major policy speech hosted by CGD, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared international development a central pillar of U.S. foreign policy, together with diplomacy and defense. She hailed Raj Shah, recently confirmed as administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and said she intends to rebuild USAID into, “the premier development agency in the world.”

In her speech, Clinton said that, especially in tough economic times, the American people have the right to ask why the United States spends tax dollars to help developing countries. Development overseas is critical to U.S. security and prosperity, she said, and development professionals must do a better job of measuring and communicating the impacts of their work.

“We must evaluate our progress and have the courage to rethink our strategies if we're falling short,” said Clinton. “We must not simply add up the dollars we spend or the number of programs we run, but measure the results—the lasting changes that those dollars and programs have helped achieve.”

Seasoned observers in the standing-room-only audience of development professionals said afterwards that the speech was the most detailed and forceful on development by a top U.S. official in many years. This reflected, they said, both Secretary Clinton’s personal interest in global poverty reduction the Obama administration’s broad commitment to elevate development policy issues.

Introducing Clinton, CGD president Nancy Birdsall said that “in the rich world no country … has more unrealized potential to make a difference than our own USA—and doing this well is in our own best interest.”

Birdsall said that she has been pleased to learn that a 2008 CGD book, The White House and the World: A Global Development Agenda for the Next U.S. President has been widely read within the administration. “I won’t mind if its ideas and recommendations are reflected here today—indirectly or directly!” she said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Birdsall also thanked Clinton “as the world’s most powerful diplomat” for putting “women and girls at the center of U.S. foreign relations,” for speaking out for women’s rights and “giving voice to the most vulnerable women in the Congo and beyond by calling for an end to sexual violence and mass rape.”

A central idea in Clinton’s remarks was the need for better coordination of development assistance, both within the U.S. government and in U.S. activities overseas. She highlighted the multitude of U.S. agencies involved in international development and described the complexity of today’s aid environment, in which aid flows not only from traditional bilateral and multilateral donors, but also from the emerging powers, from non-profit organizations, individual charity, venture capital funds, and for-profit corporations.

“Now, I know that the word integration sets off alarm bells in some people’s heads. There is a concern that integrating development means diluting it or politicizing it—giving up our long-term development goals to achieve short-term objectives or handing over more of the work of development to our diplomats or defense experts,” she said.

“That is not what we mean, nor what we will do. What we will do is leverage the expertise of our diplomats and our military on behalf of development, and vice versa. The three D's must be mutually reinforcing.”

In interactions with developing countries, Clinton declared that U.S. approach should be based, “on partnership, not patronage.” She spoke of the need for shared responsibility between donors and recipient countries and highlighted the Millennium Challenge Corporation model, which rewards countries that meet economic, governance and human rights benchmarks, as one way of sharing control.

Clinton also highlighted key sectors where she says the United States will focus its assistance. She described significant commitments to global health and agriculture, and stated that support for women and girls will be a theme that runs through all of the U.S. development work. “I will not accept words without deeds when it comes to women’s progress,” Clinton said.

Clinton closed by recalling some of the successes of development assistance over the past half-century—from the eradication of smallpox to the success of South Korea, Thailand, and Mozambique, to massive humanitarian relief operations. She said these are achievements that Americans can take pride in, and said the mission of development is fundamentally in tune with American values.

“We can succeed,” Clinton concluded, “and when we do, our children and grandchildren will tell the story that American know-how, American dollars, American caring, and American values helped meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Standing room only crowd