Friday, July 19, 2013

USAID: Global Reach to Build Civil Societies Big and Small

GHANA—In a remote village hours from Tamale, USAID worker Valerie DeFillipo and her colleagues arrived to a warm welcome from the small town’s 200 inhabitants. Villagers greeted the team to show gratitude and support for a USAID-funded Planned Parenthood of Ghana clinic, the village’s only source of medical care. Dozens of locals came to hail the clinic as a fixture of community wellness and women’s empowerment and health, by providing a
fusion of family planning and other education and health services. Today, the small clinic continues to educate, heal and empower community members.

USAID’s activities in isolated communities such as the one DeFillipo visited challenge the notion that foreign aid should be reserved for and has the greatest impact on governments and large-scale programs. Of the agency’s 2,642 projects across more than 170 countries, many function in remote areas that have little or no infrastructure, health facilities nor the human and financial basis to sustain economic development. 

USAID programs, both large and small, aim in some way to not only build local capacity across sectors but to foster a thriving civil society.  A healthy, economically- and politically-empowered civil society—USAID asserts—becomes the soil from which democratic governance and human rights can be nourished.

Just recently on his tour of African nations, President Obama unveiled a new USAID plan with this concept at its heart. The Strategy on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, as the plan is called, supports civil societies in restrictive countries by promoting human rights and political activism. Through these channels, USAID encourages aid recipients to exercise their political and economic rights.

The aid organization pursues other large-scale projects as well. According to the agency’s website, every year over 3 million people receive life-saving medicines through its immunization programs. USAID has also reached over 850,000 people with HIV prevention education and more than 50 million couples with family planning services.

For many communities across the globe, however, bloody conflicts and regional instability preclude aid distribution and can reverse development. Delivering much-needed services to these areas becomes a sensitive matter, yet USAID has an approach for that, too. In tandem with U.S. special operations forces, USAID projects even extend to war-torn societies in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The joint effort serves to align better development and security outcomes with American foreign policy goals and values.

Despite the sequestration’srestrictions on State Department and USAID financing in recent years, the agency maintains its lofty goals. Its 2014 budget proposal of $20.4 billion will fund and facilitate programs aimed at ensuring food security, improving birthing conditions, more efficient food assistance distribution, democratic governance and economic growth. 

With an eye toward development and U.S. national security, and in the shared interests of its partners, USAID maintains its global footprint through multidimensional means. Whether in a small village or capital city, the agency’s presence will continue to serve as the face and goodwill of the American people and of its interests.

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