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President Obama's second term in office began on Inauguration Day, January 21st, and the list of policy challenges facing his administration is daunting. Aside from the difficult task of addressing the nation's economic woes, the president and his administration will also deal with the increasing complexities of global climate change, a rapidly changing energy market, entitlement and tax reform, healthcare reform, and the repercussions from the still simmering "Arab Spring." Throughout this month, we will solicit the viewpoints of a variety of HKS faculty members to provide a range of perspectives on the promise and pitfalls of The Second Term.
We spoke with Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development Director, Science, Technology and Globalization, about the pressing international development policy issues of the president's second term.
Q: What are the top priorities for a second Obama administration in the area of international development?
A: The international development scene underwent seismic changes during President Obama’s first term. First, foreign aid built on the principles of classical charity gave way to new approaches that focus on mutual benefits through measures such as international trade. Second, the eurozone crisis and Japan’s economic decline have significantly impaired America’s traditional partners in supporting classical development cooperation. Finally, new actors such as China, Brazil and India have changed both the context and content of international development cooperation. Given these shifts the United States needs to review its approach and focus more on emerging trends such as knowledge partnerships with developing countries. A new approach will also need to reflect a sense of political courage to purse grand visions and abandon the current pre-occupation with pilot projects. One such a grand vision is to support Africa’s efforts to feed itself in a generation. There are others.
Q: What will be the potential challenges/roadblocks in the way of implementing those top priorities?
A: The United States remains the world’s preeminent source of scientific and technological knowledge needed to foster international development cooperation. However, many of its development cooperation institutions (both organizations and rules) are ill-equipped for the task. Much of the knowledge needed for the United States to project its influence is in universities and the private sector. Most of the existing mechanisms for development cooperation need to be adjusted to leverage the power of universities and the private sectors to foster international development cooperation.
Q: Where do openings/possibilities for compromises exist in those areas?
A: In Africa, for example, the main development challenge is building new physical and intellectual foundations for development. This is mainly in the form of infrastructure, institutions of higher learning and business start-ups. The United States has the world’s largest scientific and technological infrastructure that can be leveraged to support higher education and entrepreneurship. China has already positioned itself as an important player in the construction of infrastructure in Africa. Maintaining these facilities will require extensive training of young people in engineering fields. This opens up new prospects for trilateral cooperation between the United States, China and African countries in ways that reflect the true nature of contemporary international relations.
Q: Are there lessons that a second Obama administration can draw upon from the first administration, or from history, when crafting international development policy over the next four years?
A: The United States has a long history of supporting pioneering programs in international cooperation. The Peace Corps model, for example, offers insights of how technical and managerial expertise could be harnessed to promote knowledge cooperation. American inventions such as the land-grant system, entrepreneurial universities, venture capital, industrial clusters (such as Silicon Valley) and support for small businesses offer ideas that could be projected as part of the country’s new development cooperation policy.
Many important ideas from the first Administration such as the Grand Challenges for Development managed through USAID are already paving the way for new approaches to development cooperation but are being up held by incumbent procurement procedures. One final feature of US development cooperation that will need to change is the addiction to small pilot projects. New initiatives will need to be bold enough so they can capture public imagination and reflect the magnitude of the challenge. For example, the challenge of supporting Africa’s efforts to feed itself will need to be addressed at a scale that can make a difference. Little will be achieved without the political courage needed to pursue grand visions.
Tuesday, Jan 20, 2009
"Many important ideas from the first Administration such as the Grand Challenges for Development managed through USAID are already paving the way for new approaches to development cooperation but are being held up by incumbent procurement procedures," writes Juma.
Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development Director, Science, Technology and Globalization