Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity


Views from the Center


This is a joint post with Sarah Jane Staats.

U.S. policies and practices have a significant impact on development prospects in the poorer world. While development is crucial to numerous U.S. policy goals, it is often oddly absent in domestic political debate. On Wednesday, January 27, President Obama will deliver his first official State of the Union address to Congress, the American public, and a global audience seeking to understand the U.S.’s priorities in 2010. As in previous years, CGD encourages people around the world, from the Beltway to Bangkok, to participate in and evaluate the president’s remarks by playing CGD State of the Union Bingo.

During his presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama emphasized global development priorities, vowing to elevate, streamline, and empower U.S. development programs and to “restore America’s standing in the world by providing a new American leadership to meet the challenges of a new century.”One year into the new administration, President Obama now has most of his development team in place, including recently-confirmed heads of USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (and hopefully soon at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation). The White House is leading a government-wide review of U.S. global development policy; the State Department and USAID are undertaking the first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR); and in a recent speech at CGD, Secretary Clinton declared development a central pillar of U.S. foreign policy, alongside diplomacy and defense. The earthquake in Haiti has also thrown development—its vital role, the challenges, and the enormous support from the American people—back onto center stage.

All of this suggests that global development may feature prominently in the president’s State of the Union address next week. Together with our CGD friends and colleagues, we’ll be listening not just for the words on our bingo cards, but also for some of the policy recommendations covered in CGD’s book, The White House and the World: A Global Development Agenda for the Next U.S. President, that was produced during the 2008 U.S. presidential elections. These include:

  • Strengthening U.S. development policies and programs to meet the global challenges of the 21st century. While U.S. development programs may come up in relation to the emergency response in Haiti, it would be great to hear President Obama reference to the Presidential Study Directive on U.S. Global Development Policy, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review and/or Congress’s role in reforming and elevating U.S. foreign assistance, and how these efforts might reshape and strengthen our programs in Haiti, Pakistan, and beyond.
  • Highlighting the administration’s commitment to girls and women worldwide. The Obama administration created the White House Council on Women and Girls and U.S. State Department Office of Global Women’s Issues during its first year. President Obama could further signal his commitment by stating that programs and policies that benefit girls and women will be at the center of the Global Health Initiative and the Food Security Initiative. He could talk about making HIV prevention more effective among girls and young women (who make up three out of every four new infections in parts of sub-Saharan Africa) by linking those programs with girls’ education, protection of girls’ rights, and access to reproductive health care (see CGD’s Start With A Girl report for more examples). President Obama could also invite or introduce a guest who works for, or benefits from, a U.S.-funded community-based organization that serves girls and women.
  • Making immigration policy work for development. We would be thrilled to hear President Obama mention the need to improve U.S. migration statistics (including tracking departures) or increase guest worker visas. CGD senior fellow Michael Clemens posted a recent blog and video emphasizing the linkages between U.S. migration and development policies, including how that plays out in Haiti.
  • Making trade work for the poorest countries. President Obama and the G-20 leaders vowed to avoid protectionist trade measures and to take additional steps to help poor countries cope with the global financial crisis, but we’ve seen few details. It would be great to hear President Obama talk about the important role trade can play—not just for poor countries, but for our own economy. CGD’s Reforming Trade Preferences initiative and working group on Global Trade Preference Reform examine and recommend ways to make our trade policies better serve low-income countries and U.S. interests.

What do you hope to hear from President Obama?

In past years, friends of the Center have hosted State of the Union Bingo parties in cities around the world—as far away as Dhaka, Bangladesh; Napa, California; and Lexington, Kentucky. We encourage you to bring these handy, printable bingo cards to your favorite viewing spot. Post your plans or report on your festivities as a comment on this blog, or send us an email (and pictures!) at You can also follow our game in real time on Twitter (@cgdev) and Facebook.

We hope President Obama’s address sparks thoughtful discussions about the importance and future of the U.S.’s role in global development. To help inform and expand your debates, check out The White House and the World and Rich World, Poor World: A Guide to Global Development.


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.