Birdsall on Clinton, Elevating Development, Taking Stock in 2010

January 11, 2010
I'm joined this week by Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development. Nancy introduced Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when Clinton came to speak to CGD last week. On the Wonkcast, she shares her impressions of Clinton's speech and places it in the broader context of U.S. development policy reform—including two ongoing assessments, the White House Presidential Study Directive or PSD and the State Department’s first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review or QDDR. In the second half of the interview, Nancy reviews the past year in development and offers a policy wish for 2010.On Clinton’s speech, Nancy is enthusiastic about both the content and the significance of the messenger. "It was the first time that I can remember such a broad-ranging set-up of what development is, why it's important for Americans, from a Secretary of State," she tells me. Clinton’s passion for the subject—combined with her unequivocal language calling development an “indispensible” strategic, economic, and moral imperative—lends hope that the secretary will champion efforts to eventually elevate development so that it is represented at an equivalent level to defense and diplomacy within American foreign policy.As to the logistics of what that might look like, Nancy suggests a two-step approach. In the remainder of President Obama’s first term in office, she suggests that Clinton and new USAID administrator Rajiv Shah, guided by the findings of the PSD, ought to take a lead in untangling the difficult coordination problems within the government. As part of this, Shah should be empowered to deal with the larger strategic and policy issues that fall beyond merely implementing programs. “Then perhaps… if there is a second term, the question with Congress could be addressed of whether there should be a more independent agency on development that includes foreign assistance but also includes this strategic and policy work.” Nancy suggests that leaving a strong, institutional voice for long-term U.S. development policy would be a fitting legacy both for Secretary of State Clinton and for President Obama. (For more on the rationale for an independent development agency with cabinet-level status, see Birdsall’s introductory essay in The White House and the World.A year ago, Nancy shared her policy wishlist for 2009 on our Views from the Center blog. Her original six wishes ranged from trade policy to climate legislation to the governance of the big international financial institutions. In the second half of this Wonkcast, we go through the list together and see how much was accomplished— and what remains undone.At the very end of our conversation, Nancy adds one policy wish for the new year. She hopes to get more people talking about the vulnerability of the world's poor to shocks of all kinds, whether from changes in commodity prices or from severe weather events. No more “just lending countries money when their house burns down, having them build up more debt, and then having another shock and another round of vulnerability... That loop has to be escaped," she says. One example of an alternative approach: insurance that pays out in the event of a major shock, such as a commodity price bust or hurricane. (For more on this idea, see Birdsall Urges Pittsburgh G-20 Summit to Prepare for Next Global Crisis.)Listen to the Wonkcast to hear our conversation. Have something to add to the discussion? Ideas for future interviews? Post a comment below. If you use iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.