Archive for the ‘American Politics’ Category

Secretary Clinton reveals international development goals: focus on investment

January 8, 2010

Secretary Clinton focused on investment in international development as the U.S. administration’s 2010 mantra.

The approach is country-led investment with a focus on results. This isn’t a new idea, of course. Millenium Challenge Corporation has taken this successful approach for the past five years. 

Discussions between defense, diplomacy and development departments as well as development organizations led to decisions about approach to development. Or at least, the beginning stages of changes. Clinton’s speech on definitive changes, incidentally, evoked an encouraging  roar of applause from both the development agencies and heads of state departments present at for her speech at the Peterson Institute for International Economics  on January 6th.

“But through investment, we seek to break the cycle of dependence that aid can create by helping countries build their own institutions and their own capacity to deliver essential services. Aid chases need; investment chases opportunity,” said Secretary Clinton.

With a focus on results, international development programs will look to achieve five goals:

1. Partnership

Countries must demonstrate a commitment to development by practicing good governance, rooting out corruption, making financial contributions to development. Strong economic policies are also a prerequiste. Secretary Clinton cited two examples: levying taxes on those who can afford them and managing  natural resources sustainably and devoting some of the profits to people’s development.

Partnerships with other organizations also play an important role in international development. Some foundations are also combining philanthropy and capitalism through entrepreunerial programming such as Acumen Foundation. Private companies also play a valuable role in sustainable development, according to Secretary Clinton.

“A company like…Unilever/Hindustan, which has created soap and hygiene products that the very poor – long-overlooked by private business –can afford,” said Secretary Clinton.

2. Integrate development more closely with defense and diplomacy efforts

Intregated efforts between the three Ds of forien policy, (defense, diplomacy and development) is essential for success abroad, according to Secretary Clinton. The U.S. government can ” leverage the expertise of our diplomats and our military on behalf of (international) development (workers),” said Secretary Clinton.

3. Coordinate development across Washington,D.C.

A growing problem is the number of agencies broaden their scope internationally, adding  important expertise and capacity, and working the same developing issues from different angles. This creates overlap and contradiction between development efforts. 

As attracting investment and expanding trade are critical to development, the U.S. administration encourages coordination between development programs  (USAID, MCC, and other agencies) with the trade and investment initiatives (USTR, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation).

Regional efforts are also being supported and recognized as examples of regional coordination like the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.

Also, there is also an effort underway to bring contractor workers  back to work for government agencies. 

 “It is not financially sustainable, said Secretary Clinton. “We cannot continue to send so many dollars out the door with no monitoring, no evaluation, no accountability.”

By bringing contract workers back into government organizations, the return on the investment in human capital will be greater, according to Secretary Clinton.

4. Sectoral work

In the past, the U.S. worked in all areas possible for international development. The U.S. administration is taking a new approach. Investment and technical expertise of U.S. development agencieswill be focused on a few key sectors: health, agriculture, security, education, energy, and local governance.

“Rather than helping fewer people one project at a time, we can help countries activate broad, sustainable change,” said Secretary Clinton.

5. Technology

Through technology rural neighborhoods in developing nations can move decades ahead with just access to the internet and mobile phones.

Secretary Clinton cited farmers learning the latest local market prices and know in advance when a drought or a flood is on its way through mobile phones. Mobile banking gained access to savings accounts or money sent from overseas  through cell phones as well, according to Secretary Clinton. Activists used blogs and social networking sites to hold governments accountable for how they use resources and treat their citizens: an opportunity to raise transparency on corruption and repression in developing countries, said Secretary Clinton.

Secretary Clinton also mentioned that the sees expanding development programming coming State department, USAID, multi-lateral institutions such as World Bank and even stimulus money. She pointed out that the administration would “very much like to see (American technology) used” and supporting development programs is one way to creatively development American economy and help developing countries at once. The details of how this would work is still being considered. Clinton says  that as the Geneva Accord will be the subject of meetings throughout the year. She is hopeful that ideas such as American technologies use in developing countries might be a consideration.

6.  Investment on women and girls

Women and girls are critical to advancing a country’s social, economic, and political stance globally. Future development programs  with a focus on improve women’s health, income, and access to education and food.

Programming is in progress which focuses on women farmers, or women health educators to improve outreach to women and girls. Also, there is more discussion with partner countries to play a more central role in development work. Senator Clinton mentioned new scholarships  for female agricultural scientists in Kenya.

These goals mentioned above might be altered or adjusted according to the results of the inaugural Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review  (due to be completed in earl spring) and  The Presidential Study Directive on U.S. Global Development Policy.

For access to Clinton’s entire speech visit: http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2010/01/134838.htm

Will Social Innovation Fund Help Nonprofits Grow?

December 28, 2009

Can an organization that helps struggling mom-and-pop entrepreneurs get loans in today’s economy?

One agency did. Rising Tide Capital helped 250 New Jersey business owners run their businesses and improve their profit margins. In the next few years, 500 to 1,000 business might also benefit, suggested President Obama in a speech about a new funding initiative.

The Social Innovation Fund, a new initiative led by the Corporation for National Community and Service scheduled to begin in the summer of 2010, will support organizations like Rising Tide Capital and reward them for their success.

Social Innovation Fund  is a U.S. government program created to decrease spending and increase nonprofit efficiency through building capitol. The program encourages foundations to identify successful nonprofits who will provide measurable results. The nonprofits will then graduate from private funding to government funding. Foundations are rewarded by being released from fudning the nonprofit and the nonprofit is rewarded with continued funding. Community organizations who can prove that their organization works efficiently and achieves measurable results  within the SIF’s guidelines receive no less than $100,000 per year for three to five years.

 And SIF isn’t  looking just “at the usual suspects in the usual places”, according to President Obama. The program is seeking to fund “those hidden gems that haven’t yet gotten the attention they deserve.. in all sorts of communities — rural, urban, and suburban,” he said.

Yet, several experts in nonprofit management have voiced concern over whether U.S. government funding and managed programming will succeed in making nonprofits become more sustainable rather than reliant on federal funding.

Yet, the intended goal of SIF is to encourage nonprofits’ sustainability.  Instead of nonprofits depending purely on foundation funds, government and foundations will work together to improve existing nonprofits through longer term funding and providing the tools and incentives for better program managment. Successful nonprofits will present a record of  program development and match their sponsoring foundations’ funding on a 1 to 1 ratio. Public foundations and social venture funds are responsible for identifying worthy recipients and distributing SIF funds.

SIF will change the U.S. government approach to philanthropy: from supporting programs to supporting nonprofit organizations, said  Sean Stannard-Stockton in a blog on Tactical Philanthropy.

” The breakthrough idea here is to move government into the role of catalyst and out of the business of provider, offering real hope for the expansion of solutions-based programs,” said Tom Sheridan, a Washingtonian public policy strategist  in a recent guest blog on change.org. During the 2008 elections, Sheridan was the lead political strategist of a policy initiative to increase innovation, strategic investment, and accountability in public problem solving.

Anticipating great speculation around how funding will curb government spending on nonprofit funding, the Center for questions and comments on the SIF application process are welcomed until January 15, 2010. Yet, growing speculation exists around the intended outcome not the process.

The fund supports social innovation by providing funding as a source for growth capital. Nonprofits are expected to  to show programming development and expansion as a result of funding. A home-visiting initiative of  the Department of Health and Human Services, for example, could connect nurses and other trained professionals with at-risk families and provide the measurable results of more healthy children. President Obama mentioned the home visiting initiative as well as What Works Fund of the Department of Education which will invest in educational programming for school districts and communities. These programs are two potential initiatives of the SIF.

In return, foundations and other grantmakers present their decision making strategies and systems of measuring results of programs.  The fund, which was a maximum budget of $50 Million, carries an extremely competitive standards : no grants of less than $1 million and no more than 50 grantmakers.

 Since it is allow to make grants as large as $10 million, the final list will be between 5 and 50 grantmakers. That’s a list that foundations are going to want to be on. Even those that historically have not focused on providing growth capital, said Sean Stannard-Stockton in a blog on Tactical Philanthropy.

Nonprofits needs a wider range of diversity in financing sources, longer-term project cycles

Yet, this shift from foundations as designers of programs who drive growth capital  of nonprofits to  performance driven nonprofits is a major shift in philanthropy, according to Stannard-Stockton.

One which could potentially reward successful nonprofits overlooked before such as Rising Tide Capitol.

For nonprofits to be sustainable, said Lee Davis and Nicole Etchart of The NonProfit Enterprise and Self-Sustainabilty Team, Profits for Nonprofits, need not only a variety of sources for financing but also a variety of financing sources appropriate for their needs and stages of development. In the past, private companies have access to various sources of funding (banks, private companies, and private equity funds) whereas nonprofits only have foundations. SIF is working to make nonprofit reach financial success. The results of diversifying financial resources could lead to: more steady flow of secured income, increased diversity of  funding sources, decreased donor dependency, wider freedom in how resources are used,  and the ability to think and plan more strategically and long-term, according to The Nonprofit Enterprise Self-Sustainability Team.

“If we empower organizations like these, think about the number of young people..whose lives we can change; the number of families whose livelihoods we can boost; the number of struggling communities we can bring back to life,” said President Obama in the same speech about SIF.

Reality bites back: working poor are not a new class

February 11, 2009

A “Week in Review” story in the The New York Times declared the welfare rolls were unaffected by the recession. This simply isn’t accurate and nurtures a major misconception about poverty: only the unemployed are struggling to meet their basic needs. The largest growing population in the United States is the working poor.
 
In 1998, I worked for a welfare lobbying agency and witnessed first hand exactly why the “success” of the 1996 Welfare Reform bill was a fallacy. I saw how the focus on employment rather than sustainability provided short-lived success for my friends and neighbors. One woman had two young children was constantly trying to balance medical and day care issues with work unsuccessfully. Another woman that I knew was able to use her college hours towards welfare job training requirements. She wanted to get a college diploma in Social Work. She dreamed of making more than minimum wage, so she could truly independently support her family. With the welfare policy changes of 2002, she had to withdraw from her college classes to take a job training course in secretarial work. The welfare system has improved since then. Day care and expanded health care subsidies are now available. Yet, the number of working poor continued to grow. These facts shouldn’t be surprising.
 
Many welfare recipients have multiple barriers to work such as poor health, no high school diploma or lack of recent work experience. Without the high school diploma necessary for more than one half of all U.S. jobs openings, many people have fallen into the trap of being unskilled laborers working low-wage jobs. Even those who have managed to find jobs with higher wages are at an even greater risk in this economic climate.  Employers are much more likely to retain college educated workers over those less educated. And minimum wage will not feed a family. In the 2006 US Census Bureau’s report “Still Working Hard, Still Falling Short”, 28% of families were making 200% below the poverty line. This would be the equivalent of one family member working $9.91 an hour in a full-time job to support a family of four. It is unfathomable to me how many more Americans are currently working multiple minimum wage jobs just to feed their family.
 
It’s unfortunate that a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina was necessary for Americans to face the extreme third world poverty happening in our country. What has still not been recognized is the even greater number of employed people that are barely surviving. Americans need to be aware that poverty is a very real situation and old preconceptions of welfare need to be lifted. If Americans truly want to change the course of our country, this is one reality we have to become educated about in order to help our leaders understand and end U.S. poverty.

A country_united

January 24, 2009

While living overseas I could walk up to a stranger and connect with them merely because we were foreigners in a foreign land and spoke English. We would share experiences and many laughs over our social faux pas. I could connect with Asians no matter where I was if they spoke English because I was a foreigner there to learn more about their country. We connected over our love, new or life long for that country.

People act differently during exchanges with strangers while traveling and hopefully, it changes them. Travelers are open to interaction and developing a connection with people they never would have met otherwise. And the strangest aspect of American life is that we are country that is a frequent destination for foreigners and I can’t recall having many interactions with strangers in public places in America in my youth.

People visit our country because they admire the inalienable rights we enjoy and the wealth, until recently we could depend on making with hard work and determination. Yet, as a nation of mostly immigrants, Americans seem uninterested in foreigners. Some even feel threatened by their presence. And we fight among ourselves over differences of opinion, religion, race, etc. Even though we all appreciate our right to think and act as we choose, we challenge people with opposing lifestyles and choices to do the same. We forget so much of how we came to be as a country until moments as dramatic as 9-11 happen. The other moment of American unity, in my lifetime, happened Tuesday, January 21st at the Inauguration of President Barak Obama.

Sharing that day with strangers from San Francisco, Chicago, Vermont, I felt once again like a stranger in a new country, a new America. This day seemed to make people more open and giving, like two strangers who meet in a foreign land. People on the crowded subway made way for a mother with her young children. Someone gave me their napkin when they heard me sneeze. There was no impatience and no shouting despite the long lines and crowds. No fights. People were uncannily happy and patient without the aid of illegal substances, I can only assume.We knew that we would remember all those that we’d interacted with, even the strangers. They would become part of that memory just by being there.

I left the country two years ago with a heavy heart, disappointed after so many years of writing letters to politicians, pushing for new legislation on foreign policy. I had many arguments trying to explain my government’s actions to Germans, British and Filipino’s who sometimes seemed more educated than I was on our foreign policy. Their disappointment in the U.S. government was apparent. I said that maybe we needed to be knocked off our pedestal anyway.

Now, we were entering a new time in our country’s history. Change would have come with or without Barak Obama. Our country was ready for sweeping change and as President Obama has said many times, we are responsible for making that change happen by voting and by committing to changing our lifestyles and behaviors to change this nation for the better. One man can do nothing without group consensus to change. Speculation is needless. We will not know whether the country wants change enough to change themselves except with time and the results of many media and political pollsters endless toil.

Madeleine Albright at the 92nd St. Y, NYC, January 7th

January 13, 2009

Former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright shared with Dan Rather thoughts on foreign policy punctuated by her dry brand of wittism last Wednesday at the 92nd Street Y.

Drawing insights from her new memoir, A Memo to the President, Albright answered Rather’s probing questions on  tough calls past presidents’ had made in foreign policy as well as her hopes for the new administration. Albright is expecting great things from the new administration:  change in the American approach to foreign policy, greater open discussion and collaborative decision making within the White House and a chance for America to turn around the negative view the world currently has for the most part of American society and politics.

“There is a sense that this election will change how America is viewed by the world…We’re going to be engaged actively (in improving relations with Middle Eastern countries) and we’re going to have a very smart president,” said Albright, evoking a shattering round of applause.

The next administration has great challenges to confront, far more intimidating than anything the nation has ever faced, even Roosevelt. There is once again a dire economic crisis, but we also have many issues to deal with overseas. While we’ve fought Afghanistan and Iraq, the Hamas and Iran have gained power. We “took our eye off the ball in Aghanistan” and Al Quada has continued to grow in strength. “The U.S. has been absent”, she said.

The most important thing is to change our approach and give up this notion of a “war on terror”.  Albright sees  fighting terrorism through predominantly military force as the wrong approach.  It won’t work. Our aggressive and military-driven approach has only fueled the extremist groups’ agendas. She indicated that our purely militaristic approach devoid of diplomatic means gave the world a dim picture of the U.S. foreign policy. And made it easy for terrorists to glorifying their agenda.

Clearly, Albright said, the current administration thought that they could go into Afghanistan and create enough damage that the terrorists would run away and hide and not try to bomb us again. We were egotistical to think that they could be so easily subdued and we lack the foresight to have a plan b, c and d.

Iraq was “the greatest disaster in foreign policy”. Albright claims that the results were worse than Vietnam War because of the damage done to America’s reputation in international relations.  Albright’s advice for turning around the world’s current view of America:  close Guantamanamo Bay was the second step. The first step has already been achieved _electing President-elect Obama.

Another item on her wish list for the future president’s foreign policy agenda is to create a global atrocity committee that can monitor possible conflicts and develop strategies for negotiations and conflict resolution, watch for the signs that lead to genocidal activity. The situation in Somalia and Rawanda taught her that detachment from conflict at the level of genocide is not an option.

“It is our responsibility to prevent genocide”.

The Israel and Palestine was also at the center of the conversation and at the top of Albright’s concerns in foreign policy. Albright saw a bi-lateral instead of unilateral with drawl of military would have been a more successful solution. And using a moderate from Israel or W.Gaza who could take credit for the withdrawl would have been the best approach.

The major benchmarks for change in Gaza-Israel conflict are related to the cause/effect of many political leaders tactics and their opponents’ reactions.  If there is a ceasefire for long enough to initiate a peace process, probably led by someone such as Tony Blair or Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Nazif, there might be some progress towards a resolution between the two nations. Also, it is very important to see what the U.S. role will be in this situation and how we will become involved under the new administration or possibly the old. Albright also saw a need for more consistency in the U.S. approach to the foreign policy on the Middle East. A regional policy may be necessary.

There is also a considerable amount of work overdue in the Americas region. Illegal border crossing continues despite the recent increase of 18, 000 border patrol officers. Albright believes the U.S. can influence Latin American countries in a positive way.  Encouraging and promoting democracy is important but not at the expense of the peoples’ quality of life.

“People want to vote and eat.”

Can Obama achieve all this? The most important thing is that he act as a “confident not a certain president”.  A confident president isn’t afraid to be challenged by various points of view, to insist his cabinet members’ challenge each other and remain open himself to considering all the angles his team has presented to him before making a decision. That takes team work. And the American people should also be a part of the president’s effort to create change.

“I hope that when you stand for the first time behind the presidential seat you will have uppermost in your mind the need to restore our faith in each other. Speak to us as adults–share with us your thinking, tell us your doubts…Beyond that, let us know what we can do to help. Challenge us. We aren’t afraid of the truth and we’re more willing to make sacrifices than we ordinarily let on”.*

To read more about Albright’s insights on foreign policy during her service as Secretary of State, pick up a copy of A Memo to the President. Her memoir gives you a 101 class in modern foreign policy since World War II. It’s an engaging peice of nonfiction and worth sharing with fellow history/current affairs fanatics.

 

*Albright, Madeleine. Memo to the President. HarperCollins Publishers; New York: 2008, pg. 310.

 

Giving Credit Where it’s Due

November 27, 2008

CEOs of AIG, Citibank and others have much to be thankful for this year. The government has saved their profit margins and secured their savings for their annual sunsoaking trip to Belise in their private jet. Meanwhile, Salvation Army prepares to feed 3,000 people in downtown Detroit this morning alone. I am not a economist but the numbers still leave my eyes burning.

In the last three months, the unemployment rate rose from 6.1 to 6.5 percent with a total increase of unemployed persons now at 10.1 million in the U.S.  Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson syncretic move? He decided to use $200 billion dollars, part of the U.S. government’s 800 B initiative to revive credit markets, to increase credit card limits for the average American.  The idea is certainly to increase spending and jump start the economy, but giving people plastic is the most ridiculous way to help people. There is once again no accountability or forethought given to the great debt this will take the Federal Deficit into! 

When the average weekly earnings of an American working full-time is currently $720 for the third economic quarter, how credit cards turn into anything but lifelong servitude to a laundry list of credit card companies? The Consumer Federation of America and other lobbying agencies are encouraging Congress to include legislation in the bail out package to curb credit card companies from illegally hiking up their interest prices on existing card holders. In the recently passed Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, market transparency and financial oversight of credit card companies will be monitored by the U.S. government.

Will this system work? Will the government be able to help the average American balance their check book? I don’t see how this solution can be anything but a bandaid until the unemployment rate drops and food prices start to decrease.

We need farm aid in order to increase production and lower the prices for basic commodities. Regulation on loans without high interest rates is also needed to generate small business income. And we need an increase in the productivity of projects under the departments of public transportation, water and sanitation which will in turn increase the number of jobs available to Americans. It’s only logical. And that doesn’t an economist to deduct.