Pres. Obama Unveils New U.S. Global Development Policy At U.N. MDGs Summit

During a U.N. Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) address in New York on Wednesday, President Barack Obama outlined “changes in how the United States will pursue international development” and “urged wealthy countries … to maintain development assistance to poor nations,” the Washington Post reports.

“I suspect that some in wealthier countries may ask, ‘With our economies struggling, so many people out of work, and so many families barely getting by, why a summit on development?'” Obama asked during his speech. “The answer is simple. In our global economy, progress in even the poorest countries can advance the prosperity and security of people far beyond their borders, including my fellow Americans,” he added.

“The administration has been working to redefine development aid as a national security tool, and the [U.S. Global Development Policy] strategy the president outlined Wednesday seeks to more closely coordinate the nearly two dozen government agencies involved in aid policy,” the newspaper writes (Wilson, 9/23).

“Obama told a special U.N. summit that for too long progress in fighting poverty was measured by the sums spent to deliver food and medicine – a practice that had saved lives in the short term but not always helped poor countries develop,” Reuters reports.

“‘We need more than just aid to unleash that change,’ Obama told the 192-nation General Assembly, advancing what he called a new U.S. global development policy. ‘We need to harness all the tools at our disposal – from our diplomacy to our trade and investment policies,'” the news service writes (Worsnip/Wroughton, 9/22).

“Put simply,” Obama said of the new strategy, “the United States is changing the way we do business,” Reuters reports in a separate story. “The White House said this will mean an increased focus on economic growth and development that would divert U.S. assistance to the areas where conditions looked ripest to yield sustainable progress. But the overall scale of U.S. aid was not expected to decline as a result” (Bull/Holland, 9/22). “Obama said that the United States will ‘partner with countries that are willing to take the lead’ and that the time when ‘development was dictated by foreign capitals has come to an end,'” CNN writes (9/22).

“The new U.S. program, set up after a lengthy review, builds on the Bush administration’s Millennium Challenge Corp. concept, which aimed to give special rewards to countries that seek to improve their own development and governance in specified ways,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “Aides to Obama acknowledged that the new approach would mean shifting aid from some countries to others, but they were vague on specific cutbacks,” the newspaper writes. The article details the likely recipients of U.S. assistance, and those regions where aid will might be scaled back (Parsons/Richter, 9/23).   

“To meet our goals, we must be more selective and focus our efforts where we have the best partners and where we can have the greatest impact,” Obama said, according to Bloomberg/Businessweek. “Obama said countries are more likely to succeed economically when they encourage entrepreneurship, invest in their infrastructure, and expand trade and open themselves to new investment,” the news service adds (Andersen Brower/Johnston, 9/22).

While targeting those countries capable of executing development goals, “Obama said, the U.S. would continue to provide assistance to countries in need of ‘life-saving help,'” Politico reports.

“By putting money and resources into technology, health-care systems and agriculture production, the approach is intended to put developing nations on the long-term path to prosperity; it also could systematically reduce the grinding poverty that breeds terrorism, [Obama] said,” Politico adds (Lee, 9/22).

Obama “said the United States would seek partnerships with local governments and organizations to give them a voice in setting their priorities,” the New York Times writes. The president “also said the administration would focus on choosing development projects where it believed that American involvement could produce sustainable economic growth. It will also seek to team up with other governments and well-financed new players, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” the newspaper adds (Sanger/Kramer, 9/22).

The focus will be on “broad-based economic growth,” Obama said, CNN writes. “It’s the force that turned South Korea from a recipient of aid to a donor of aid. It’s the force that has raised living standards from Brazil to India,” according to Obama. The policy will also demand more responsibility of the U.S. and its partners. “He urged donor nations to honor commitments and developing countries to make the tough choices” (9/22).

USAID, Architecture For Development

The announcement of the policy came “after a year-long review ordered by Obama in an effort to examine how U.S. aid dollars can be more effectively targeted after the world recession, a senior administration official said,” CNN reports. “During the foreign aid review, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued for more control over development policy and control over the U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID], arguing that diplomacy and development go hand-in-hand. … In the end, the State Department will maintain oversight of USAID, but as evidence of the new importance of development, the White House is establishing a ‘deputies committee’ to coordinate policy across the U.S. government, the official said,” the news service writes (9/22).

“The White House wants to raise the profile of [USAID], but it has not fundamentally changed its place in the administration,” the New York Times adds. “The agency’s administrator, Rajiv Shah, will continue to report to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. In a largely symbolic step, he will have a seat on the National Security Council for issues that are relevant to development,” according to the newspaper (Sanger/Kramer, 9/22).

“An executive-level Development Policy Committee will be created to oversee all interagency development policy efforts,” and “[t]here will also be a mandated once-every-four-years review of global development strategy, which will be sent to the president,” Foreign Policy’s blog “The Cable” writes of the details of the strategy released by the White House. The blog notes, “[t]he White House will not release the full text of this initiative, which was previously known as the Presidential Study Directive on Global Development (PSD-7).” The post examines the reactions by members of the development community to strategy details released by the White House (Rogin, 9/22).

The Christian Science Monitor writes that while “[s]ome of the policy’s key aspects draw from initiatives of the Bush administration – such as the AIDS/HIV program … [w]hat is new is the administration’s focus on creating the space for development to take on an elevated role within the government,” according to some.

The piece includes comments by Mark Quarterman, of the Center for Strategic and International Policy, who describes what he calls “the new architecture that is designed to bring up development from the background to the forefront” (LaFranchi, 9/22). 

More information on the U.S. Global Development Policy is available on Kaiser’s Policy Tracker, including how the new strategy relates to the Global Health Initiative.

The KFF Daily Global Health Policy Report summarized news and information on global health policy from hundreds of sources, from May 2009 through December 2020. All summaries are archived and available via search.

KFF Headquarters: 185 Berry St., Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94107 | Phone 650-854-9400
Washington Offices and Barbara Jordan Conference Center: 1330 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 | Phone 202-347-5270 | Email Alerts: | |

The independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, KFF is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.