Many in the international development community are asking the question, how does USAID fit in the Trump worldview of "America First"? I propose the following seven principles that speak to the effectiveness of USAID in the world and the overall influence of the United States of America. Over the long term, this would make our country safer, more stable, and wealthier while making America a force for good across the globe.
We live in an increasingly interconnected world. Isolationist thinking is decreasingly practical as the transportation of ideas, people, and goods speeds up. Fragile and failed states are a primary cause of terrorism, refugees, and general human suffering. The primary target of USAID's interventions should be fragile states and the very poor, as a way of stabilizing our world, therefore improving their prosperity while ensuring our own.
How is this done? It starts with measuring results and being data driven. Obviously, the definition of "return" can be debated in the domain of humanitarian relief and development. Nevertheless, just because the definition is hard to describe, the results generated are very real. Increasingly focusing on desired outcomes and working hard to find a way to measure them is the answer.
Innovation in service delivery is found most often close to the customer, and in general, within constraints found in the field, at the point of customer (or beneficiary) interaction. We should seek out innovation wherever it is happening, then bring the resources of USAID to bear while scaling up what is working. Like venture capital investors constantly search for innovation, USAID must do the same.
To facilitate a results orientation and customer focus, the Trump administration has an opportunity to utilize another management discipline-organizational development-to get the right people in the right seats on the bus. Specifically, the President should consolidate USAID, the Director of Foreign Aid function, signature presidential health programs such as PEPFAR, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. This ensures accountability and affords leverage on behalf of the customer.
The development problems found in fragile states are complicated and interrelated. Health challenges in particular are systems driven. Focusing on health systems strengthening for example, instead of disease specific vertical solutions, should be done. The recent Ebola outbreak brought this point home, and should be taken seriously.
Institutional will is important to prune what is not generating results, in order to invest in what is. This requires deft relationship building with key constituencies, as well as the organizational discipline to face reality. Measuring outcomes and benchmarking across the agency can drive better resource allocation.
International development is a complicated field that is implemented across varied geographies, governments, and organizations. Between Republicans and Democrats here at home, NGOs and the military abroad, and various country governments in the field, the culture of collaboration is essential. Effective collaboration is enhanced when humility is present-believing that answers are to be found both outside the organization as well as from within.
These seven ideas could guide USAID's strategy toward one that President-elect Trump could use to turn America's compassionate response to the world's needs into an impact fund that delivers the ultimate helping remedy: diminished need for future assistance.
Michael Spraggins is the Founder and Chairman for LifeNet International. LifeNet is an innovative health-care-focused NGO that is currently scaling up in East Africa. He is also the CEO of Spraggins Inc., a building products company based in Orlando, FL.