Why Fight Global Poverty

11/23/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

While current economic uncertainty rages -- focusing on the connection between Wall Street and Main Street -- we must not overlook the connection to those places in the world where the streets have yet to be paved. Ignoring, and thereby marginalizing, the impact of this unprecedented crisis in those poorest corners of the world weakens our ability to resolve effectively the turmoil we face at home. This is the undeniable reality that must inform our decision-making process moving forward.

The attention and resources necessary to address our own challenges as Americans do not require us to withdraw from our relationships abroad. Indeed, this is a time when renewed and rigorous global engagement makes sense.

Even when times are tough here, smart investments to help the poorest around the world remain at the core of American leadership. After all, Americans are a compassionate and generous people and helping those in need remains a deeply-held American value. Just because times are difficult for us now does not mean that we check our values at the door.

In today's world, providing aid to the poor is not only the right thing to do but also a smart thing to do. Overseas poverty, when left unchecked, leads to despair and resentment that may become a breeding ground for terrorists, intent on threatening our national security interests. Fighting poverty abroad improves America's image in the world and wins the hearts and minds of those we help.

These are all good reasons to help the world's poor -- half of the world's population lives on less than $2 a day. Yet, fighting poverty abroad helps us here at home in concrete ways. Here's how:

Economic empowerment makes good neighbors. People liberated from poverty's grip have greater opportunities to participate in and contribute to the political and economic life of their countries. Democracy and economic development go hand-in-hand, and serve as a foundation to achieve stability and reduce poverty. Stable, democratic nations are more likely to work with us to counter threats to global security.

Raising the quality of life in one corner of the world raises it throughout. We live on an increasingly interconnected planet. By strengthening the capabilities of developing nations to support the health and education of their citizens, and to protect the environment and natural resources of their communities, the fight against poverty ensures a better quality of life for everyone.

Open markets offer expanded options. By stimulating the economies of developing countries, opportunities emerge for greater private investment, which is the true engine of economic growth and essential for assisting people escape poverty. Entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes -- including U.S. businesses -- have the potential to invest in new markets, to increase trade, and to expand commercial relationships.

It is with this strategic understanding that the United States aggressively expanded foreign aid through such measures as the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). As America's innovative foreign assistance agency, MCC is empowering the poor to take ownership of their own development. MCC requires accountability and responsibility from its partners. Millennium Challenge assistance is awarded only to countries that govern justly, invest in their own people's health and education, and support economic freedom. As a result, even before the U.S. commits to providing one cent of assistance through MCC, we often see countries embrace reforms to qualify for the funding and ensure it's spent wisely.

These countries are making tough changes by curbing corruption and allowing full participation of all of their people in their political and economic processes. They are revising laws to make it easier to open a business or own property. They are elevating the economic status of women by granting them access to secure land titles. They are educating and immunizing their children and looking at ways to protect their environment. They are creating conditions where U.S. assistance and incentives -- and that provided by other developed nations -- can make a lasting difference in the fight against global poverty.

Americans are a compassionate and generous people, even in a time of economic uncertainty at home. Let's remember that by helping the world's poor lift themselves out of poverty, America's generosity is paving the way to a more stable and secure world, directly benefiting us today and for generations to come.

The writer is the Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation and formerly served as U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica and Brazil. To learn more, explore