Reflections on a Post-Election Development Agenda

Like most people, I've been thinking a lot about how the results of the hard-fought presidential election of 2016 will shape the future. In this new year, as we near Inauguration Day, I think particularly of the realms of foreign policy and international development--and our world's young people.

Over the past 20 years, I've been engaged in ongoing foreign aid reform efforts under numerous presidents. Frankly, I am guardedly optimistic that there remains solid bipartisan support for many of those priorities. But there's no question we need to redouble our work in other areas, including efforts to empower the poor and disenfranchised. Here are a few of my reflections, and some fervent hopes, as we enter this newly transformed landscape of the Trump administration:

  • We must continue to make the case that young people be placed at the center of our development agenda. There was a lot of talk in the presidential campaign about the forgotten people in society who are not getting the support they need to fully participate in the economic and civic life of their communities. When we consider economic development, the world's 1.2 billion young people remain the largest marginalized and under-represented sector of society. While we've made important, necessary leaps in areas such as girls' and women's rights, early education, and children's health, we still need to see a clear priority placed on ensuring those in their teens and twenties are prepared for success in the workplace. We cannot reach our global goals, the Sustainable Development Goals, if young people are not fully empowered in the workplace or engaged in their communities. When we invest in this global youth cohort, we are investing in people who have 50 years of engagement and productivity ahead of them. We are investing in those best equipped to drive economic growth and create more open, democratic, and stable societies in the years to come. A 50-year ROI--return on investment--should be attractive to all investors.
  • We must build on existing bipartisan support for international aid and development. Most Republican and Democratic policymakers can and do agree on a range of foreign policy issues and strategies. Namely, most lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that given the complexity and fragility of our world, foreign assistance is a critical tool for advancing our country's security and economic interests--to say nothing of the humanitarian imperative. As George Ingram from the Brookings Institution pointed out about our current Senate and House of Representatives, "The contentious 114th Congress enacted five pieces of foreign assistance legislation, all passed with strong support from Republicans and Democrats." We can and should build on that in 2017.
  • We need to continue to promote what works. Despite political differences, from George W. Bush's administration to Barack Obama's, we have seen a continued emphasis on three areas that overlap with IYF's own experience:
  1. While there's general bipartisan agreement that local ownership of USAID initiatives is critical to helping countries become more self-reliant, more of this work needs to be done. At IYF, we know through experience that building the capacity of local NGOs and community-based organizations and working with well-intentioned governments for longer term systems change is required for sustainability and scaling. It is challenging, but such support and training are critical to long-term success.
  2. There's also agreement that one of the most powerful tools to expand employment opportunities, build an inclusive economy, and improve the health and well-being of marginalized people--including youth--is by building and maintaining strong public-private partnerships. Knowing that we can't and shouldn't go it alone, building partnerships and multi-stakeholder alliances is integral to how IYF operates and has been an essential component of our success.
  3. There is also growing support for greater accountability, transparency, and evaluation of development programs. We must all do more to make those improvements a reality. Investing in what works, and ensuring that our strategies result in positive, evidence-based outcomes, has been a key focus of IYF's work for more than two decades. It must be the rule, not the exception.

In 2016, there was substantial bipartisan support for effective, collaborative, and locally based development work. In this new year and the years ahead, we must build on that and continue to push for an even broader and deeper consensus around the need to expand employment and civic engagement opportunities among the world's young people, whose success is vital to making the world a safer and more peaceful, prosperous, and secure place to live.