by Marc Ellingstad, USAID Counselor of Mission for International Development at the U.S. Mission to the European Union and Lev Turner, USAID Advisor for Food Security and Humanitarian Assistance at the U.S. Mission to the European Union
Collectively, the EU (along with its member states) and the U.S. provide about 80% of official development assistance, thus coordination for the benefit of our development partners is critical. The close relationships between USAID and European Union institutions around the world allow us to more effectively coordinate policies and programs, both at HQ level and on the ground. Whether we are addressing longer-term development strategies or emergency situations such as natural disasters, the goal is to provide more effective and efficient assistance. There is always room for improvement, and together with our EU colleagues, we are exploring ways to expand joint programming, which can reduce overhead costs and foster common development platforms in-country. When we face challenges that are insurmountable with funding alone, we work to identity opportunities to strengthen the promotion of our shared values around dignity, humanitarian access, and protection through joint messaging and advocacy.
In early November, we hosted a very dynamic and engaged group of young EU professionals to discuss development and humanitarian issues. Beginning with a brief introduction to the United States Agency for International Development, we noted that our historic roots are in Europe with the Marshall Plan and John F. Kennedy formally constituted the Agency in 1961. We described the relatively decentralized way that USAID works, the importance we place on country-level expertise and ownership, and the very vital role that our local colleagues play in our operations around the world. Turning to how we work, we noted USAID is committed to strengthening local ownership and capacities. One of the many ways we strive towards that goal is by increasingly implementing our programming directly with local partners. Like our development colleagues in the EU Commission, it is important for us to approach our work in country as cooperative efforts with partners.
During our exchange with our guests, we were quite impressed by their knowledge and insightful questions. Given the numbers of refugees currently arriving in the European Union every day, we were not surprised that many of the questions concerned migration and how policymakers and development professionals can best address root causes. We discussed the challenges faced by Syrian refugees in meeting their basic humanitarian needs, and the importance of providing higher levels of humanitarian assistance for refugees and internally displaced persons in the region, including educational opportunities for affected children. We also discussed migration patterns in the Americas, and the unique security and development challenges facing Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. We agreed on the need to be disciplined and committed to development and humanitarian financing – it is better to help prevent a crisis than respond to one.
Development and humanitarian issues span the entire globe, and our brief event hardly provided us with enough time to scratch the surface on important topics raised by our counterparts, such as the role of technology and connectivity in development, the importance of education, challenges facing development agencies working in hostile environments, the intersection between trade and development and the role of free-trade agreements, how we approach questions of food security, the role of China as a donor in Africa, and the role that remittances play. Still, Lev and I both enjoyed the depth of thinking and analysis that formed our conversation. The energy and thoughtfulness that came across from our young European colleagues was indeed inspiring.