U.S. Foreign Assistance: A Decade of Impact

Visiting a mothers’ group trained by USAID’s flagship nutrition project, Suaahara. Given Nepal’s already high stunting rate of 41 percent for children under five, nutrition was a critical concern following the earthquake.

Ten years ago, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked a simple question: how much money were the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) spending on democracy programs? This simple question shed light on a major gap within the Department and USAID: we had no central repository for information on our foreign assistance. We had no easy way to answer questions about democracy programs, or about our foreign assistance in general.

The Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources (F) began as a vision of Dr. Rice. Today we can answer that question of how much we are spending on democracy programs and so much more. As we look back at our decade of impact, we take stock of how far we have come. In just 10 years, we created and implemented a structure and framework that supports a coordinated U.S. government-wide foreign assistance approach to both country and global challenges. We also created a common standard language to talk about what we do, how we do it, and how many U.S. taxpayer dollars support it. We tell our story, and the huge impact foreign assistance has on U.S. foreign policy, to the public and to Congress.

All of these milestones in F’s history have made us more efficient and effective in our use of U.S. taxpayer dollars — our one percent of the federal budget pie that makes up U.S. foreign assistance. As the years roll on, our commitment to being good and honest stewards of our taxpayer dollars grows stronger than ever. In 2012, F helped lead the Department’s effort to update its evaluation policy. Now, all bureaus that implement U.S. foreign assistance must complete yearly evaluations. F publicly posts those findings. We also publicly post aid data on www.ForeignAssistance.gov, a website we manage on behalf of all the U.S. agencies implementing foreign assistance programs overseas.

An infographic depicting F’s 10 year history. [State Department photo]

What was initially created to answer a simple question has evolved into so much more: a body that provides a holistic approach to foreign assistance resources. The return on investment of our foreign assistance is invaluable, and is significant for many reasons, but two stick out above the rest. First, our foreign assistance is integral to our U.S. foreign policy. As our world continues to grow ever smaller, as technology and social media connect us closer than ever before, our foreign policy is what both keeps Americans safe, and what allows us to address complex challenges like countering Daesh and violent extremism, combating climate change, and addressing health crises like Zika. Second, our U.S. foreign assistance is what makes America the leader in solving these complex global challenges. It provides us with dynamic solutions to what can seem like impossible issues.

Looking back on our decade of impact — on the milestones we have achieved, on the tools we have created to make foreign assistance more manageable and accessible — inspires us to look to the future. What will the next 10 years bring? What about the next 50? The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by world leaders in 2015, will help steer our work in the decades to come. The SDGs are bold and ambitious, universal in nature, and focused on driving social, economic, and environmental development outcomes for the next 15 years. Our foreign assistance dollars will be hard at work to support them.

As we collaborate closely with government agencies, we must continue to invite and engage the private sector and nonprofit communities. Our organizations may be different, but our goal is shared: to advance our development and diplomacy objectives, so that our world is more safe, secure, and prosperous for all people. Working together is the only way that we can become even more nimble and even more agile as a leader in solving global challenges, and as we further our own foreign policy goals.

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on DipNote, the U.S. Department of State’s Official blog.