USAID’s Development Education Program Is Not True Education About Development

USAID has recently released a request for applications (RFA) for development education in the United States that Hunger Notes finds seriously lacking. The RFA is not oriented to true education about development, and appears to be in violation of the legislation authorizing the program—the “Biden-Pell” legislation. It is at least in violation of the spirit of the legislation. The call for proposals can be viewed at USAID will provide approval for the one project to be undertaken, the $1,000,000 funding for the project, and supervision of implementation and results.

In Hunger Notes’ judgment, there are many things wrong with this proposal—five to be exact. We begin with the two principal ones first.

It requires those submitting proposals to focus on the wrong thing— support for development assistance in the United States, rather than the situation of poor and hungry people in developing countries. This focus on hungry people is actually required by the legislation, but has been ignored by USAID. (If USAID has another view on this, we will be glad to publish their response.)

To take just one quote from the proposal: “The goal of the Development Education Program is to create an atmosphere in the United States of understanding and interest in public and private international development efforts.” The development education program, as the proposal itself says, is authorized under the Biden-Pell legislation. What does the Biden-Pell legislation state? Here is the legislation:

Sec. 316. (a) In order to further the purposes of section 103 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the Director of the United States International Development Cooperation Agency shall encourage the ongoing work of private and voluntary organizations to deal with world hunger problems abroad. To this end, the Director shall help facilitate widespread public discussion, analysis, and review of the issues raised by the Report of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger of March 1980, especially the issues raised by the Commission’s call for increased public awareness of the political, economic, technical, and social factors relating to hunger and poverty.

(b) As a means of carrying out subsection (a), and to ensure the effectiveness of private and voluntary organizations in dealing with world hunger abroad, the Director is urged to provide assistance to private and voluntary organizations engaged in facilitating public discussion of hunger and other related issues.

What we see then is that the legislation requires a public discussion of why people are hungry, not “creating an atmosphere in the United States of understanding and interest in public and private international development efforts.” Thus, the USAID funding proposal seems to be in violation of the legislation authorizing the funding of the proposal! Perhaps the USAID lawyers feel that this proposal is on safe ground legally. USAID certainly has more lawyers than Hunger Notes. Or perhaps there has been no serious legal challenge to USAID’s view of what it can do under the authorizing Biden-Pell legislation.

Equally as important is understanding the reasons why we have moved—and should not—from talking about hungry people to talking about development assistance—“public and private international development assistance efforts.” Such movement is a classic case of a bureaucracy turning a good idea to its own ends. The law says pretty clearly: educate people in the United States about why people in developing countries are hungry. Yet USAID, which lives by development assistance funding levels, has transferred the focus to its own needs! Talk about hungry people, please! What we do need to understand is why people are hungry. The issues involved are several, frequently complex, and warrant education and discussion. We have tried to do this on the Hunger Notes website, but are conscious of many failings in presenting this fundamental topic clearly and completely.

To mention our other three objections, which we believe should be taken into account in a needed immediate USAID development education program redesign.

The request for proposals requires proposals to support foreign aid. No organization that understands the situation of poor people can support foreign aid uncritically.

It ignores partnership with others, enforcing a top down approach– we will decide– one proposal takes all the $1,000,000 available. There are truer partnership arrangements possible, including the model provided by USAID’s Global Development alliance.

It is, we believe, out of touch with progress in development education, including the vast strides made in development education by such organizations as ELDIS and OneWorld.

If the USAID development education program does not immediately return to its original purpose of educating people in the United States about hunger and poverty abroad, Hunger Notes believes that the program should be ended.