A Better Way to Use the President’s Global Development Council?

April 15, 2014 By John Glenn

The President’s Global Development Council held its much anticipated launch yesterday with a terrific discussion of ideas for improving U.S. foreign assistance. This is an important conversation, and as I walked out of the event, I couldn’t help thinking about the risks of it being a tree falling in a forest that no one hears and imagining the difference that could be made if the Council would take the conversation to Capitol Hill.

What if the 10 members of the Global Development Council left the meeting and walked up Pennsylvania Avenue to see the House and Senate leadership, members of the foreign relations committees, appropriators, and the foreign assistance caucus to lead a discussion about how to move their reforms along?

Of course, Congress is out of session this week so it was impossible, but it points to the challenge and raises the point: how can the President’s Global Development Council best use its voice?

Part of its mission is certainly to advise the President, and the Council’s memo, delivered to the President yesterday and called “Beyond Business as Usual,” laid out some good ideas that focus on four areas:

  • Harnessing the private sector;
  • Innovation, transparency, and evidence-based policy;
  • “Climate-smart” food security; and
  • Global leadership.

Their recommendations include the aspirational, such as “creating a development finance bank” and “reclaiming degraded lands.” Some offer policy guidance, such as “focusing on impact” or “integrating sustainability and growth,” while others are practical, such as “taking advantage of emerging finance tools.”

All of these make sense, although they are not especially surprising if you’ve been following the development debate and the Administration’s initiatives such as Feed the Future and Power Africa. If implemented, they would almost certainly help improve America’s foreign assistance and development programs.

But the Council members also noted, often as an aside, that the success stories of development are not well-known by the American public – the dramatic decline of the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day in recent years, the decline in child deaths under five, the green revolution in agriculture, and the remarkable numbers of lives saved by new treatments and reduced incidents of HIV/AIDS, malaria, measles and diarrhea, and polio.

One place to highlight these successes would certainly be in one of the memos’ recommendations “hosting a Presidential conference on global development,” and yet I found myself thinking, if you want to increase awareness among the American people and create lasting change, why not start with their elected representatives? Making foreign assistance more effective is gaining traction on Capitol Hill, with bipartisan bills in the works in both the House and Senate on strengthening transparency, reforming food aid, and promoting electricity in Africa by engaging the private sector.

So let’s hope the Global Development Council’s members commit themselves to using their voices not only to advise, but to help increase awareness of the successes of U.S. global development and engage Congress to build champions who will lead the effort to implement their smart recommendations.