Friday, November 13, 2009

New USAID Head

The New York Times and many other news outlets recently reported that the Obama administration has nominated Rajiv J. Shah to become the new Administrator of the United States International Agency for Development.  This news item may seem distant from nonprofit law, but bear with me.

Nonprofit organizations (or ngos, or associations, depending on where the organizations are located) play a vital role in USAID's plans for progress in poor countries.  Among many other roles for nonprofits, AID's hopes and plans for encouraging "rule of law" depend in large measure on strengthening civil society. A thriving civil society generally depends on a healthy nonprofit/ngo/association sector.

AID had for many years been the dominant player behind U.S. based development initiatives, but in recent years it has seemed in disarray.  Under the Bush administration, the Millennium Challenge Corporation appeared to be the U.S. Government's favored vehicle for carrying out aid programs.  AID, meanwhile, was absorbed into the State Department and seemed to be administratively under siege.

It is unclear, at least from my distant perspective, whether AID will reemerge as the leader of U.S. development programs, but our Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and at least some commentators, hope that it will.  With a robust and well run USAID, the U.S. Government can move forward with its plans to strengthen civil society and establish rule of law, most pressingly in post-conflict Iraq and Afghanistan.

Whether or not such rule of law programs -- developed primarily in the U.S. and often based on a limited understanding of the laws and cultures of the subject countries -- have any chance of success, is a discussion for another day.


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