USAID alumni often have informed views on various development issues, based on their experience. PERSPECTIVES is a platform where alumni can express their views on development issues and anyone can offer comments on the views they express. Alumni are invited to submit perspectives in essays not exceeding 2,500 words, accompanied by a brief paragraph summarizing their views.

Alumni are invited to share their perspectives by submitting them by e-mail addressed to The UAA Development Issues Committee is responsible for the organization of the Perspectives platform and for the form and content of the brief descriptions to be published. The individual author is responsible for the content of each perspective or comment submitted. Opinions expressed in perspectives and comments do not represent the views of the USAID Alumni Association.

Please note that published books and articles by USAID alumni and a bibliography of USAID authors are on separate pages of the website’s Development Issues section.

Stephen Klein: The Paris Accord and Climate Change

The invasion of hurricane “Harvey” followed on its heels by hurricane IRMA raises the question of whether the Trump Administration can continue to deny any linkage between the warming of the earth’s oceans and temperature, and the likelihood of future enormously costly extreme weather events predicted by the world’s scientists.  This article (click here), by alumnus Stephen Klein, speculates that the President might revisit his statement that “climate change is a hoax”, and revise his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris Accord.  Political factors are set forth that might lead him to revise his position, including the growing interest in a carbon tax initiative.

Stephen KleinCarbon Tax/Carbon Dividends – Is It Coming?

The Climate Leadership Council, a group of thoughtful Republican leaders, has prepared a serious proposal for a new climate strategy: “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends”.  It proposes a tax on carbon, at a high enough level to exceed emission reductions of current regulations, and a revenue neutral plan to return the proceeds to the American people on an equal and quarterly basis.  This paper by alumnus Steve Klein describes the proposal, and then raises questions likely to arise as to the reception to it by the Administration, Congress, business, NGOs, and the broader American community.

Juan Buttari and Paul Mulligan: Our Development Assistance and Middle Income Countries: A Proposal

Buttari and Mulligan argue that US foreign economic assistance policy should also include countries above poverty levels.  Specifically, they contend that it is in the US interest to facilitate the understanding of what has worked and hasn’t in development economics and stimulate research and the dissemination of ideas, and evidence, on the topic.  To such end they identify foreign aid channels that could be used for such purposes.  The authors illustrate their case with what has happened in Venezuela and, in the discussion, in part build on exchanges that took place at an Economic Growth and Institutional Strengthening book-group meeting. Read the full paper here.


RESPONSE – Joe Ryan:

Good points by Juan and Paul about the developmental impact of professional education institutions!  University partnership programs have a great track record, which the Agency should pull together and make available to inform decision makers.  University partnerships are attractive to many of the Agency’s stakeholders and may even be making a bit of a comeback, based on Mission efforts in Pakistan, Egypt, and elsewhere.  The Agency, and indeed for the State Department, should take steps to establish a supportive policy on this.

Development Issues Themes for 2016

One proposed theme: demographic evolutions and US foreign affairs

We concluded UAA’s Nov ’15 Dev Issues meeting with invitation to propose themes for 2016 discussion and events. ‘Population’ was offered and concurred. For our review, following are notes for subjects and speakers. Pls jot a few notes in reply if you’ve time.

[Alumni ‘pop-related program’ recollections would be most welcome, too]

  • Mohamed ElBaradei – demographics and conflict — security, migration, metaphysics? [possibly available via private contact]
  • Most of Africa: slow declines in high fertility rates; stalls in use of contraception, spacing, and delaying 1st births; great improvements in mortality; high population growth likely for another 50-100 yrs. Sustaining life standards at ~4.3 billion by 2099 (ie, +~3b)?
  • Robert Walker – global demographic hot spots; why and what’s to do in diplomacy and development assistance? [Pres. Population Institute, DC-area resident, confirmed.]
  • Nick Eberstadt – the whole sky is not falling—equilibriums will evolve, possibly soon and ‘sustainably’..but who knows? [NE works at AEI, resides in DC-area.]

If you’ve time only to scan one item, explore the link in the WB/IMF global monitoring report from WB/JYKim & IMF/CLegarde, incl 4min video by WB Chief Economist, Kaushik Basu.   This is among the best demography and development treatises in many years.

Recently, population as a subject area is reviving after years of being in the ‘development’ closet. As a sector of official USG overseas development assistance since the late 1960’s–Africa notwithstanding–it is arguably the most successful and durable, more even than the celebrated Green Revolution.

Let’s consider this or some-such series of presentations and discussions: at DACOR (11:30a – 2p); at USAID’s Crystal City site; at PADF; as book review get-togethers; and as incentive for contributions to the volume Alex is promoting. All presenters could be invited to all events with video linking. Your thoughts, please.

17 Jan’16 Gary Merritt

Stephen Klein: Climate Change – A Challenge to Humanity: Prospects for the Climate Meeting in Paris – December 2015

In this perspective, Steve Klein reviews the physical evidence of climate change and its likely consequences, but notes that governments have been slow to take concerted action. This summer, Pope Francis has issued a dramatic “challenge to humanity” to take action in his Encyclical Letter On the Care of Our Home, which accepts the science as complementary to church teaching, and thus adds a moral imperative to the scientific consensus. The paper presents some of the likely negotiating challenges for governments in Paris in December. The Pope’s initiative hopefully will change the tenor of the discussion at the meeting, and perhaps the outcome. But will it be enough? To read Steve’s short paper, please click here.

Juan Buttari: Do’s and Don’ts and Perennial Challenges in Our Development Assistance

In this piece Juan Buttari shares his view that our foreign economic assistance policy is likely to undergo a deep reassessment in the coming years and identifies some of the issues in need of resolution. He argues for: a bipartisan consensus on basic goals and principles for development assistance; the streamlining of the present administrative structure for foreign assistance; a 3-prong approach that includes project and institutional and policy reforms; the simplification of current development schemes that he considers unwieldy and self-defeating; and, the promotion of economic growth as the pivotal objective in development assistance. The author offers his reflections on each of these major points. Click here to read this very interesting think piece.

 Steve Giddings: Meeting the Food and Nutritional Demands of an Urbanizing Africa: Expanding the Agricultural Value Chain Linking Producers with Consumers

In this perspective which was used to stimulate discussion at a 2012 Conference of the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa, Steve Giddings makes the case that farmers in Africa, particularly small holders, have by and large not adjusted their cultivation practices to take advantage of the changing demographics in many parts of the continent where rapid urban growth is changing the nature of demand for food products. By 2030 more than half of Africa’s population will live in urban areas, much of this growth in smaller towns and secondary cities. Dietary preference and consumption patterns of urban residents differ from those of those in rural areas, the former having a much more diversified set of demands, including demand for more processed foods and for a greater variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Meeting the food and nutritional demands of this burgeoning urban population will require changes to all of those involved in the agricultural value chain, from farmers to traders, from marketing agents to agribusiness entrepreneurs and from wholesalers to retailers. He presents some options for action from both the public and private sectors and suggests that donor and African government agricultural policies should be adjusted to reflect these demographic changes taking place in sub-Saharan Africa. To read the full paper, click here.

Ken Lanza: USAID and Economic Growth – Elevating Institutional Development

In this Perspective, Ken Lanza sets out his conviction that broad-based, sustainable development requires economic growth and that, in turn, sustained economic growth requires effective public and private institutions that can enable the implementation of sound policies and facilitate the myriad individual transactions that make up a functioning economy. The author perceives a prolonged trend in USAID programming away from support for essential institutions and, instead, toward support for individual transactions. He presents a continuum of possible program types and recommends that USAID give highest priority to institutional reform while also supporting policy reform and transactions having more immediate measurable impact. To read the full paper, click here.


RESPONSE – Joe Ryan:

New! I very much agree with Ken Lanza’s advocacy for decade-long (or longer!) engagements with institutions, as a mode of development assistance.

The best opportunity for this kind of assistance arises when an important sectoral institution has a leader whose vision for the institution is consistent with USAID’s, and who has the position and skills to realize that vision with USAID’s assistance.

This way of describing the assistance opportunity clarifies, by the way, that it is not USAID but rather the institution’s leadership team that is the key to institutional capacity building.

Probably we as USAID staff have all had the opportunity to support one or more developing-country leaders like this. But do we stop and ask where they came from? More operationally, can such leaders be built? What are the inputs?

One input that tends to be common to these folks, in addition of course to their institutional knowledge and skills built on the job, is a first-class professional education that introduces them to global best practice in their field. This is what results in the vision that USAID can share.

Not a few of those professional education experiences will have been at U.S. universities, which is one reason that so many of us are advocates of scholarships.

To generate a leadership cadre numerous enough to transform a sector, however, scholarships to the U.S. are too expensive and have too many leakages. They also do nothing to build a local base that practicing leaders can turn to for expertise in adapting best practices to local institutions.

So what USAID should do is to support decade-long partnerships between U.S. and local universities to build local professional education programs. USAID had a great record in this respect from the mid-1950s until the mid-1970s, and the resulting institutions have been the bases upon which a great deal else has been built — although now we tend to forget the U.S. input.

USAID/Pakistan and USAID/Egypt have recently undertaken the right kind of initiative, but the U.S. foreign affairs establishment is still not in the game.   UAA members might include this in their talking points to get the establishment to provide more support at the policy level. (3/1/16)