Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance Reform

Roxanne Stachowski is ICRW's external relations associate. She helps lead a variety of advocacy issues for the organization.

Recent years have brought remarkable progress in the way the U.S. government alleviates poverty, eradicates disease and drives sustainable economic growth around the world. President George W. Bush’s Millennium Challenge Corporation and President Barack Obama’s Presidential Study Directive on Global Development have improved the effectiveness and efficiency of U.S. foreign assistance efforts by demanding accountability and harmonizing the myriad departments that govern foreign aid. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah have called for a focus on gender equality and targeted investments in women and girls as a way to maximize development results. 

Despite such progress, more needs to be done to bring the U.S. development system into the 21st century. The world’s complex and growing challenges cannot be resolved by military or diplomatic solutions alone. Foreign assistance has never been more important to U.S. security and prosperity. To that end, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a coalition of international development practitioners, policy advocates and experts pushing for reform, today launched an updated policy agenda for how policymakers can build on the progress made by the last two administrations. Among its recommendations, MFAN calls for better coordination among partners, a stronger focus on local priorities and more engagement with Congress to codify reforms.

Prioritizing reform is more important than ever. Foreign aid has already withstood significant cuts in the recent federal budget battle. During this time of economic austerity, all U.S. programs must improve their impact and do more with fewer resources.

Ultimately, as ICRW has said before, for foreign aid reform to truly be successful, U.S. development must address gender inequality, which lies at the core of our global challenges. MFAN’s new policy agenda calls on the U.S. to “incorporate gender analysis into the design, implementation and monitoring of programs.” Indeed, requiring programs to account for the varied roles, responsibilities and vulnerabilities of women will improve the efficiency of development initiatives. When women have equal opportunities to improve their lives, everyone benefits – their children, their families and even their countries. 

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