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Views from the Center


name Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a major speech at CGD yesterday, calling development a central pillar of U.S. foreign policy alongside diplomacy and defense. Perhaps you’ve read the transcript or watched the video. It’s a long and detailed speech, so now you’re wondering: what are the big takeaways?

Among those present, I heard wide praise for the speech, in large part because the messenger matters. Nobody I spoke with could recall another sitting Secretary of State delivering the same caliber of speech focused solely on U.S. development policy. Secretary Clinton brings a long history of personal interest and knowledge of global development and has now demonstrated her willingness to use her bully pulpit to draw enormous attention to the issues. When she speaks, people listen. And it gets a fair amount of media coverage.

The speech also affirmed development policy is a priority for the Obama  administration and injected some new momentum into the conversation. Secretary Clinton called development “indispensible” and  a “strategic, economic and moral imperative—as central to advancing American interests and solving global problems as diplomacy and defense.”

And just as the messenger matters, timing matters. Secretary Clinton delivered her speech yesterday, and today swore in USAID Administrator Raj Shah. These two events put behind us all the discussion of “when will they finally name a USAID administrator?” and in some ways signal a turning point. The administration now has confirmed new leadership at USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator.  Highly capable staff are also working on development at the State Department and the many other U.S. government agencies involved in development (Treasury, USDA, the U.S. Trade Representative, etc.). With the anticipated confirmation of a new head for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the administration will have a full team on board in early 2010.

In her remarks, Secretary Clinton acknowledged that a focus on development demands smarter policies and better results, saying we “have to be selective and strategic about where and how to get involved.” The speech itself covered everything from coordination of U.S. government agencies and among development policies (aid, trade, private investment, etc.), restoring USAID to the “premiere development agency in the world,” the role of women and girls in development, leveraging American technical know-how and innovation, almost every development sector and the role of NGOs and contractors. Many people left the room happy, satisfied that their issue was addressed. But the biggest challenge remains how to  “be selective and strategic” about our development investments. The point is, everybody agrees on the need for more focus; nobody agrees on what it is we should not do.

Hillary Clinton on January 6 at a Center for Global Development event In fairness, there was only so much that Secretary Clinton could say ahead of the results of the Presidential Study Directive on U.S. Global Development Policy (PSD). The main impact of Secretary Clinton’s speech in my mind is that it pushes the development envelope. It raises the profile and attention to these issues, injects new momentum into the debate, and tees up this administration to make some significant changes to the development status quo. I’m hopeful that with a capable team of development leaders finally in place and two major review processes underway—the PSD and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review--we’ll soon hear some specifics about the steps the U.S. will take to really create a 21st century development policy.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t say my favorite part of the speech was the focus on telling the development story to Americans;  not only what we do and how we do it, but that better development policy is a priority, even in these difficult times, because it is inextricably linked to our own national moral, economic and security interests.

As one audience member said to me after the speech, “Where do you go from here?” To that I say, Mr. President, CGD stands ready and willing to host your major U.S. global development speech this spring.

This is some of what I’ve heard and thought since hearing Secretary Clinton speak yesterday afternoon.  The floor is open. What do you think?


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.