With Election Day here and the race for the White House at its end, and with the recent headlines dominated by the destruction left by Hurricane Sandy, the bloody conflict in the Middle East, and the dreaded "fiscal cliff" approaching Congress, it couldn't be more clear that the next president will face massive challenges in a world desperate for leadership. Yet, as the world watched the presidential debates, one important topic left uncovered was America's engagement in the world and the important role of U.S. foreign assistance.
In my role as the CEO of Global Communities, I see firsthand the effectiveness of foreign assistance in having a meaningful impact on the lives of vulnerable populations around the world and in asserting America's leadership. Through foreign assistance, we promote stability, provide life-saving humanitarian assistance, and promote economic growth, each of which is in America's best interest. Research shows that "for every 5 percent drop in income growth in a developing country, the likelihood of violent conflict or war within the next year increases by 10 percent."
However, there are many voices in Congress and throughout the country calling for deep cuts to the funds that support these assistance programs. Often times these opinions are based on the misconception that foreign assistance represents a significant amount of federal spending. However, the fact is that the entire foreign affairs budget, of which foreign assistance and development is only a part, comprises less than 1 percent of the overall federal budget. Cutting aid would not only be ineffective in balancing the budget, but it would do so at the cost of life-saving programs that consistently deliver results.
Another misconception among those calling for disproportionate cuts to foreign assistance is that these programs function as "hand outs." In fact, foreign assistance in its best form -- and one that I've seen work with dramatic results time and again -- is founded on partnership with and empowerment of the communities in which we work. This is the core of what we do. We work with real people who understand the needs of their communities, and partner with them to bring about lasting change. Under this approach, development is actually something we do with the vulnerable, not something we do for them.
This is the approach that Global Communities has taken for 60 years in more than 100 countries around the world, engaging and involving individuals and communities throughout the development process to keep control and ownership in their hands. It's an approach we believe in so strongly that we recently changed our name -- from CHF International to Global Communities -- to reflect that commitment.
Our work in Haiti is a meaningful and recent example of this approach. After the 2010 earthquake, the infrastructure of many Haitian communities was utterly destroyed. In order to help them rebuild, Global Communities launched a major recovery program in the community of Ravine Pintade, Port-Au-Prince, working in collaboration with multiple stakeholders. Along with our partner PCI, we identified key leaders within the Ravine Pintade community, worked with them to identify their needs in a manner that allowed us -- with them -- to not simply rebuild the neighborhood, but to "build back better." The result: a rebuilt a community based on their feedback that was stronger and more vibrant than before the earthquake struck. This groundbreaking USAID-funded KATYE ("neighborhood" in Creole) program was responsible for the creation of green spaces, schools, proper access to roads, family homes that will be more resilient in the face of future natural disasters, and a safer and healthier community. This kind of development using American foreign assistance dollars begins and ends with a commitment to the communities themselves, empowering them to create lasting change for their own good.
With Election Day now here and the outcome an apparent toss-up, I hope that the next president of the United States will work to maintain a robust foreign assistance budget, which will ensure the continuation of America's legacy of leadership and engagement throughout the world with a focus on our humanitarian values. Doing so transcends politics, and is a commitment that our next president must not ignore.