Background Briefing on Plans to Elevate and Strengthen Development as One of the Three Pillars of the Nation's Foreign Policy

Special Briefing
Teleconference Background Briefing by Two Senior State Department Officials
Washington, DC
January 6, 2010

OPERATOR: If you would like to ask an audio question, please press *, then 1. Please record your name clearly when prompted. To withdraw your request, you may press *, then 2. Once again, to ask an audio question, please press *1.


Your first question comes from Steve Baragona with Voice of America.


QUESTION: Hi, thanks for taking the call. I’m wondering what role food security is going to play in this strategy.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, food – well, we know food security plays a very important role in this strategy. And fundamentally, this is really about following a set of priorities that are delineated in countries by country leadership. And so the Food Security Initiative, as an important initiative announced by the President earlier this year, is in response to countries that often have their total gross domestic product – more than 30 percent of that coming from the agriculture sector, more than 60 percent of total employment in agriculture, and often more than 70 or 80 percent of that is of average disposable income spent on food.


Countries that have those attributes have been, over the past few years, increasingly asking for a more focused and strategic investment set of activities in food security and agricultural development. That’s why the President developed and launched the Food Security Initiative, and that will be an important part of taking this forward.


Also, the principles of how that will work in partnership with countries as opposed to as opposed to projects implemented outside of that partnership, focused more on sectors and with a serious strategic review that says what are the outcomes we’re trying to get, how do we measure baselines, how do we really focus on accountability and generating results, and in a way that engages the private sector and the science and innovation components, are all sort of examples of some of the principles that we’re talking about today.


QUESTION: Thank you.


OPERATOR: Kim Ghattas with BBC.


QUESTION: Hi, good morning. Thanks for doing this and Happy New Year still.


I know this is going to be a speech mostly about the wider strategy about development, but I was wondering if you could tell us anything about what sort of thinking has gone into what could be done in Yemen when it comes to development aid there, particularly because some development people, organizations argue that pouring money and development aid into countries like Yemen, countries that are at war or countries that are failing, doesn’t actually have an impact, that that’s when it’s too late to actually to use aid to have any impact on the country and on the situation internally.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: It’s a very important question. And one of the things the speech addresses is the need to have different development strategies in different contexts. The Secretary will emphasize that because this is the government spending development dollars, we do have to focus on areas where we need development results as part of our broader security strategy, as well as other circumstances in which what we’re hoping for is transformative development in countries that are better poised for economic growth.


In a place like Yemen, it’s very hard, and you don’t have a lot of the conditions that are optimal from a pure poverty reduction perspective. On the other hand, without development, you’re never going to have security, so we have to pursue security goals and development goals simultaneously. What is, I think, distinctive here is the emphasis, though, will be, even in a context as difficult as Yemen, on really getting results, not just pouring money in, but measuring what comes from that expenditure of money and adjusting our strategies accordingly.


QUESTION: Thank you.


OPERATOR: Once again, if you’d like to ask a question, please press *, then 1.


Andrew Quinn with Reuters.


QUESTION: Yeah, hi. You mentioned that there’s going to be a need for political accountability, presumably on the part of the recipient countries. And you also talked about sort of the leap of faith that this is going to require that we’re have to give up some of the direct control and allow them to take more responsibility for what happens.


I’m wondering if you can talk about whether or not the speech is going to outline specific mechanisms that will be envisioned for how we can ensure that this money, which is so badly needed at home, isn’t wasted on corruption, as so often is the case, or just on simple mismanagement. What can the U.S. do while empowering these other countries to ensure that we’re just not sort of throwing money into the wind?


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I can outline a few tools that have been used in the past and will continue to be employed going forward and talk through a few other tools that we’re going to look at using. This is an ongoing area of continual improvement in development for all development partners over the last several decades.


You can, of course, provide resources to specific government partners, public sector partners, private sector organizations, and have very vigorous focus on accountability and results. You can put into place baseline assessments of actual outcomes so that your subsequent measures of outcomes and results have some real comparator. You can develop almost case-controlled methodologies for program rollouts where you look at what’s happening in communities that aren’t yet getting program services, what’s happening in communities that are, and actually make realistic judgments about what’s the net impact of a program against a more dynamic baseline. That’s something that Poverty Action Lab and others have pioneered.


You can continue to do what we have been doing, which is a very strong focus on auditing and process evaluation to ensure that you can track resources as they flow through a variety of different organizations on the ground and highlight and identify any discrepancies that do arise. And of course, you can have a more selective approach to who you’re able to partner with and trust. There may be certain ministries and certain parts of certain governments that are able to work in a new paradigm of partnership and engagement, and there may be others where that may not be the case. And being realistic and honest and data-oriented in making those judgments is, I think, an important part of executing the vision.


QUESTION: Thank you.


MR. CROWLEY: We probably have time for about one more question. I apologize, but both of our speakers have to get to a meeting with the Secretary.


OPERATOR: Sir, at this time, I show no further questions in the queue. (Laughter.)


MR. CROWLEY: Okay. Well, thank you very much. And we look forward to listening to the speech and following up with all of you. Thanks for joining us.

PRN: 2010/009