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How to make US foreign aid work

Give recipients a say in where the money goes.

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President Obama is ushering in a "new era of responsibility." And at this time of economic downturn it's a good thing. Every facet of the government's business, including how US tax dollars are invested in the fight against global poverty, must be treated with a renewed sense of responsibility.

The call to responsibility is a staple of American values, so why shouldn't it underscore the delivery of US development assistance? A clear majority of opinion leaders polled in a recent survey believe that foreign assistance and supporting development in poor countries should be used as a more important tool for US foreign policy in the Obama administration. As we pick up that duty, US taxpayer dollars have to be spent with a clear sense of purpose and accountability.

One way to do that is to make sure that in this conversation we include an important ally in the fight for accountability – the recipients of US foreign assistance. Just as American taxpayers are concerned about how their money is spent, recipients of help in the form of money abroad want to know that they are getting the most value from each dollar spent. They can help us spend wisely.

Consider Honduras, which received a $215 million grant from the US government through the Millennium Challenge Corporation to fight poverty and stimulate economic growth.

Honduras is using the bulk of this funding to build roads to give farmers better access to markets and to let poor families reach schools and health clinics. To sustain this vital investment for the long-term benefit of its citizens, the country added its own funds for road maintenance.

It makes most sense to invest US development dollars in a way that lets recipients themselves champion home-grown solutions to their needs and hold their governments accountable for the results.


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