Rachel McCleary's "Global Compassion: Private Voluntary Organizations and U.S. Foreign Policy Since 1939"

Global Compassion: Private Voluntary Organizations and U.S. Foreign Policy Since 1939

Rachel McCleary, Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Political Economy of Religion Program, Taubman Center for State and Local Government, Harvard Kennedy School


Aid organizations such as Oxfam, CARE, and Catholic Relief Services are known the world over. However, little is known about the relationship between these private voluntary organizations (PVOs) and the federal government, and how truly influential these organizations can be in the realm of foreign policy. Indeed, since the end of the Second World War, humanitarian aid has become a key component of U.S. foreign policy and has grown steadily ever since. This history of interaction deflates the common claim that PVOs have been independent from federal government and that this independence has only recently been threatened.

Global Compassion is the first truly comprehensive study of private voluntary organizations and their complex often fraught interaction with the U.S. federal government. Rachel M. McCleary provides an ambitious analysis of the relationship between the two from 1939 to 2005. The book focuses on the work of PVOs from a foreign policy perspective, revealing how federal political pressures shaped the field of international relief. McCleary draws on a new and one-of-a-kind data set on the revenue of private voluntary agencies, employing annual reports, State Department documents, and I.R.S. records to assess the extent to which international relief and development work is becoming a commercial activity. She outlines the increasing financial dependence of these organizations on the federal government and the consequences of that dependency for various types of agencies, as well as often competing goals of the federal government and religious PVOs. As a result, there is a continuing trend of decreasing federal funds to PVOs and simultaneously increasing awards to commercial enterprises. Focusing on the interplay between public and private revenue, the discussion ends with the commercialization of foreign aid and the factors most likely to influence the future of PVOs in international relief and development.

In this thought-provoking and rigorously researched book, McCleary offers a unique and substantive look at an understudied area of U.S. foreign policy and international development, and she provides a crucial analysis of what this relationship holds for the future.

Notable Quotes

“Rachel McCleary’s well-researched book superbly documents the U.S. government’s troubling shift to predominantly for-profit con¬tractors in implementing its twenty-billion-dollar-plus foreign aid program. Coming at a point in history when private philanthropy— charities, corporations, foundations, and religious organizations— far exceeds official aid in volume and efficiency, McCleary’s Global Compassion underscores the compelling need for a new foreign aid business model.”

-- Carol Adelman, Director, Center for Global Prosperity, Hudson Institute

“A much-needed, data-rich, contribution to our knowledge of the relationship between the state and humanitarian action.”

-- Michael N. Barnett, Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

“Rachel McCleary’s book fills a crucial gap in our knowledge of how private voluntary organizations like CARE and Save the Children work with the U.S. government on foreign aid—as implementers, advocates, advisors, critics. Importantly, the book raises a number of sensitive issues usually little discussed, like the commercializa¬tion and militarization of U.S. aid, and takes an often provocative look at the operations of the PVOs themselves. Global Compassion will be a vital part of the growing literature on U.S. foreign aid.”

-- Carol Lancaster, Professor of Politics, Georgetown University

The Virtual Book Tour is brought to you by the Harvard Kennedy School Library. If you have any comments or suggestions, please contact Heather McMullen, Director, Library and Knowledge Services.

Meet Rachel McCleary

Related Links

John F. Kennedy School of Government 79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
617-495-1100 Get Directions Visit Contact Page