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Think of foreign assistance, and you might picture food relief or rebuilding towns following disasters. However, U.S. foreign assistance includes many long-term development programs to break the cycle of hunger and poverty.
Agricultural development programs, such as the Feed the Future initiative, help farmers grow more food with better resources. These programs help farmers earn more for their crops while providing more nutritious food for communities. Agriculture programs also connect farmers to markets where they can sell their crops and invest in efficient storage and transportation so the food doesn’t spoil before making it to the selling point.
Foreign-assistance programs also help communities invest in infrastructure and services, such as roads, education, health clinics, and financial services like loans and savings accounts. These building blocks strengthen people and communities, making them less likely to struggle with poverty and hunger. For example, when the Ebola crisis struck West Africa in 2014, many of the countries hit hardest had weak health systems that could not respond quickly and adequately to get the virus under control. Long-term investments in these building blocks will lessen the effects and make communities more able to bounce back from humanitarian emergencies .
Governments and nonprofit organizations have learned many lessons from decades of implementing foreign-assistance programs. One of the most valuable lessons is that to be effective, foreign assistance must be “country-led” — the country and its people taking ownership in a program. The people whom these programs are helping have the best understanding of their needs and the culture and environment these programs must work in. They must be a key partner in creating and implementing foreign-assistance programs. The U.S. must work in partnership with these countries so there is mutual understanding and also so progress continues when the U.S. transitions out of the program.
Transparency — making actions and data easily available — is also crucial to track progress. This also holds U.S. and foreign governments accountable to ensure money and resources are used well. Having data and results accessible allows different agencies and organizations to learn from each other’s successes and lessons. In this way, we can keep foreign assistance programs modernized and efficient so they can have the largest possible impact.
By Marlysa D. Gamblin and Kathleen King
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