The Future of Engaging with the Rest of the World

At her Senate confirmation hearing in 2009, then-Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton stressed the importance of focusing on 3 Ds -- defense, diplomacy, and development -- in advancing the country's interests around the world and protecting the United States against major threats.

With the release of the highly-anticipated Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review this week, the administration provides some insights into the future of engaging with the rest of the world. The QDDR is the result of 14 months of effort and review of the US development and diplomacy programs and make them, in the words of Secretary Clinton, more "coordinated, complementary, and mutually reinforcing." The focus on development and diplomacy is especially vital, given how much on the global stage the US has been associated with the first D -- defense.

The underlying theme of the report -- a greater focus on impact, efficiency, and effectiveness of international development efforts -- is of the essence, given the current political and economic climate here in the United States. With limited resources yet pressing global needs and concerns, there is as great a pressure as ever to ensure that international engagement delivers.

In the developing world, the need to deliver results is just as pressing as it is in the United States. While significant resources are being invested in development globally, the results in reducing poverty are not uniform.

Some of the recent reports on the progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals are not optimistic -- for instance, there has been insufficient progress to reduce high poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, and South Asia and it is unlikely that poverty reduction goals will be met there if current approaches persist.

Often, the calls to meet development challenges are answered by increasing the levels of development assistance. The focus on impact evaluation provides an alternative. It argues that you can achieve more with what you already have. It signifies a significant shift in how development will be viewed and evaluated in the coming years. Yet, it also formalizes what many of us have been talking about for years.

In achieving higher impact in development programs, greater focus must be placed on institutional reform of countries, rather than just humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian assistance is key in responding to crises and natural disasters. Helping people in crisis is a noble task indeed, yet without institutional reform, problems and barriers that keep people poor and excluded will continue to keep them on the margins of society.

This has been the key to success in 17 countries in Africa that have reduced poverty and created opportunities for citizens to partake in governance and economic development. The experience of these countries is captured in the new book titled Emerging Africa by Steven Radelet, currently a Senior Advisor on development to Secretary Clinton and formerly a Senior Fellow at Center for Global Development.

In tracking the development of these countries, Radelet shows their transformation from bankrupt, unaccountable dictatorships mired in permanent economic crises and poverty to democracies with peace, economic prosperity, tangible poverty reduction, and improved governance.

These African success stories, Radelet argues, are mainly due to the new generation of business, political, and civil society leaders, democratization of governments, sound economic reforms, and the spread of new technologies.

We know that institutional reforms -- reforms that deal with structures and practices within governments and economy, not just individual political leaders and companies -- work and can deliver results for the people in need. The question will be whether the development assistance framework will take these lessons to heart -- not only on the conceptual level, but in the implementation.

There is hope that it's already happening. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is in the process of strengthening its knowledge management and impact evaluation expertise. A greater challenge will be strengthening a broader understanding of development. As Secretary Clinton noted during the launch event for QDDR at the State Department, democracy, economic growth, and rule of law are overlapping and mutually reinforcing. Unfortunately, in too many development programs these themes are still viewed and implemented independently of each other.

In short, in making sure that US engagement with the rest of the world is more effective, efficient, and has maximum impact -- as outlined in QDDR -- we can focus on a few simple things: removing the development silos, integrating democracy and economic growth, building staff capacity to understand and implement democracy and economic growth programs, and focusing on institutional reform and development.