New from CGD

A Funny YouTube Video about Foreign Assistance?

June 02, 2008

The U.S. Foreign Assistance Act -- a cornerstone of America’s support for global development -- is so badly out of date and needs the next American president to help bring it into the 21st century. That's the message of a new YouTube video launched this week by the Center for Global Development. “The situation would be funny if it weren't so pathetic,” said CGD director of communications and policy Lawrence MacDonald. “At a time when Americans' security, jobs, health and way of life are ever more closely linked to the well-being of the 5 billion people in the developing world, our foreign assistance approaches are stuck in the Cold War mindset of the mid-20th century.”

The new one-minute video, Bring U.S. Foreign Assistance into the 21st Century, is a product of CGD's Global Development Matters Website. It opens with scenes typical of early 1960's America and includes the original audio recording of President John F. Kennedy's remarks upon signing the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. The Foreign Assistance Act, Kennedy promises, “will provide military assistance to countries which are on the rim of the communist world and under direct attack.” The video flashes through images showing nearly 50 years of change in technology, international relations, and security threats. It asks: “How can foreign assistance policy written in 1961 address the issues of today?”

“The presidential campaign now underway could be an opportunity for a national dialogue about why and how the U.S should support economic growth and poverty reduction around the world. We know that the candidates themselves are interested in these issues, as are many Americans,” MacDonald wrote in a letter to CGD subscribers inviting them to watch the video. “But so far, mainstream media has focused too often on petty campaign politics and gaffes, trivializing the national conversation. Overlooked amid the noise is a growing public understanding that we must improve our global development policies to help build a better, safer world.”

MacDonald said that public support for updating the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act is growing, with many groups in Washington and around the country pushing for change. By watching the video and sharing it with friends, people who understand the urgency of modernizing U.S. foreign assistance can help to expand the constituency for change, he said.

CGD president Nancy Birdsall said that the video's message is supported by research and analysis in a forthcoming CGD book, The White House and the World: A Global Development Agenda for the Next U.S. President . “Sound global development policy -- trade, migration, investment, and climate change as well as foreign aid -- is no longer just the right thing to do; it is crucial to the safety and prosperity of the American people,” she said. “Modernizing the Foreign Assistance Act is a essential part of getting organized for success.”

Several other recent studies have similarly concluded that the U.S. approach to foreign assistance is in need of an overhaul. These include the HELP Commission, Impact 08 Framework, CSIS Smart Power Commission , papers produced as part of CGD's Modernizing U.S. Foreign Assistance Initiative and a forthcoming consensus document, “New Day, New Way: U.S. Foreign Assistance for the 21st Century,” endorsed by several of the country's top foreign assistance and global development experts. The New Day, New Way report will be launched Tuesday, June 10 th , on Capitol Hill with opening remarks from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) and other members of Congress.