US Political Party Platforms on Global Health Development – A Summary by Jeff Meer/PHI

2012 is an election year, so political rhetoric is at an all-time high. While every possible issue under the sun is being debated and bandied back and forth, sometimes global health and development can get lost in the fray. Jeff Meer/PHI put the following document together. It contains some of the elements of the draft Democratic Party 2012 Platform, now under discussion in Charlotte. It is interesting to contrast these sections with similar ones from the Republican Party Platform, included below.


DEMOCRATIC PARTY PLATFORM:

Climate Change. The national security threat from climate change is real, urgent, and severe. The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters; and the degradation of vital ecosystems across the globe. That is why…the President and the Democratic Party have steadily worked to build an international framework to combat climate change. We will seek to implement agreements and build on the progress made during climate talks in Copenhagen, Cancun, and Durban, working to ensure a response to climate change policy that draws upon decisive action by all nations. Our goal is an effective, international effort in which all major economies commit to reduce their emissions, nations meet their commitments in a transparent manner, and the necessary financing is mobilized so that developing countries can mitigate the effects of climate change and invest in clean energy technologies…It is also why we have worked regionally to build clean energy partnerships in Asia, the Americas, and Africa…”

Global Development. As the United States works with allies and partners to establish an international order that advances peace and prosperity, President Obama and the Democratic Party will continue to build three key pillars of American global leadership: a prosperous and inclusive economy, our unsurpassed military strength, and an enduring commitment to advancing universal values.

President Obama recognizes that promoting global development is a strategic, economic, and moral imperative for the United States. Development expands markets for American products and creates American jobs. Strong and prosperous regional partners are critical to addressing global challenges, ending regional conflicts, and countering the spread of global criminal networks. And good governance and stability cannot take root, and basic human dignity cannot be protected, where poverty reigns and people lack access to the food, basic education, clean water, and medicine they need to survive.

For these reasons, the President this year announced a new strategy toward sub-Saharan Africa that commits to…we believe that the private sector will be the engine of prosperity in the developing world. The administration continues to work to promote opportunity and development in sub-Saharan Africa by improving the region’s trade competitiveness, encouraging economic diversification, and ensuring that the benefits from growth are broad-based…

HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease. Recognizing that health is a prerequisite for development, the President has made unprecedented progress in the global fight against HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. Building on the strong foundation created during the previous administration, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has expanded its prevention, care, and treatment programming. As a result, PEPFAR now has made significant investments in more than 30 countries, and we set a goal to roughly double the number of lifesaving anti-retroviral treatments we provide by the end of 2013. With his latest budget, the President is fulfilling his historic commitment to request $4 billion over three years for the Global Fund, and the President remains committed to robust funding for PEPFAR and the Global Fund in the future. And President Obama lifted the 25-year ban that prevented non-citizens living with HIV from entering the United States, allowing the world’s largest group of HIV/AIDS researchers, policymakers, medical professionals, and advocates to convene in Washington to continue their efforts to improve prevention and treatment.

Our efforts to combat HIV/AIDS are part of a broader commitment to address the challenges posed by infectious disease. Over the past four years, the administration has leveraged billions of dollars in commitments from donors to meet the demand for new vaccines, making it possible to immunize millions of children and prevent premature deaths…

Women’s Rights. As we work to advance universal values and human dignity, the President and the Democratic Party understand the critical importance of expanding protections and opportunities for women and girls around the world. Ensuring full equality and providing women and girls the opportunity to learn, earn a livable wage, and participate in public decision-making are essential to reduce violence, improve economies, and strengthen democracy. To continue to make progress at home and advance women’s rights and opportunities abroad, we will urge ratification of the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the State Department are committed to advancing the rights of women and girls as a central focus of U.S. diplomatic, development, and defense interests. We will continue to promote the full engagement of women in the political and economic spheres. We will work to address underlying socio-economic problems, including women’s access to health, education, and food security. And we will ensure that women are equal participants in reconciliation and development in areas affected by conflict.

International Family Planning. President Obama and the Democratic Party are committed to supporting family planning around the globe to help women care for their families, support their communities, and lead their countries to be healthier and more productive. That’s why, in his first month in office, President Obama overturned the ‘global gag rule,’ a ban on federal funds to foreign family planning organizations that provided information about, counseling on, or offered abortions. And that is why the administration has supported lifesaving family planning health information and services…

REPUBLICAN PARTY PLATFORM:

Under “A Failed National Security Strategy,” the draft platform states that the Administration’s current National Security Strategy “subordinates our national security interests to environmental, energy, and international health issues, and elevates “climate change” to the level of a “severe threat” equivalent to foreign aggression.”

Under “Sovereign American Leadership in International Organizations,” the draft platform states that “the United Nations Population Fund has a shameful record of collaboration with China’s program of compulsory abortion. We affirm the Republican Party’s long-held position known as the Mexico City policy, first announced by President Reagan in 1984, which prohibits the granting of federal monies to non-governmental organizations that provide or promote abortion.” It also states that “Under our constitution, treaties become the law of the land. So it is all the more important that the Congress – the Senate through its ratifying power and the House through its appropriating power – shall reject agreements whose long-range impact on the American family is ominous or unclear. These include the U.N. Convention on Women’s Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty as well as the various declarations from the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development.”

Under “America’s Generosity: International Assistance that Makes a Difference,” the draft platform states, “Americans are the most generous people in the world. Apart from the taxpayer dollars our government donates abroad, our foundations, educational institutions, faith-based groups, and committed men and women of charity devote billions of dollars and volunteer hours every year to help the poor and needy around the world. This effort, along with commercial investment from the private sector, dwarfs the results from official development assistance, most of which is based on an outdated, statist, government-to-government model, the proven breeding ground for corruption and mismanagement by foreign kleptocrats. Limiting foreign aid spending helps keep taxes lower, which frees more resources in the private and charitable sectors, whose giving tends to be more efficient and effective.

Foreign aid should serve our national interest, an essential part of which is the peaceful development of less advanced and vulnerable societies in critical parts of the world. Assistance should be seen as an alternative means of keeping the peace, far less costly in both dollars and human lives than military engagement. The economic success and political progress of former aid recipients, From Latin America to East Asia, has justified our investment in their future. U.S. aid should be based on the model of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, for which foreign governments must, in effect, compete for the dollars by showing respect for the rule of law, free enterprise, and measurable results. In short, aid money should follow positive outcomes, not pleas for more cash in the same corrupt official pockets.

The effectiveness of our foreign aid has been limited by the cultural agenda of the current Administration, attempting to impose on foreign countries, especially the peoples of Africa, legalized abortion and the homosexual rights agenda. At the same time faith-based groups – the sector that has had the best track record in promoting lasting development – have been excluded from grants because they will not conform to the administration’s social agenda. We will reverse this tragic course – encourage more involvement by the most effective aid organizations, and trust developing peoples to build their futures from the ground up.

Under “Advancing Hope and Prosperity in Africa,” the draft platform states “PEPFAR, President George W. Bush’s Plan for AIDS Relief, is one of the most successful global health programs in history. It has saved literally millions of lives. Along with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, another initiative of President Bush, it represents America’s humanitarian commitment to the peoples of Africa, though these are only one aspect of our assistance to the nations of the continent. From Peace Corps volunteers teaching in one-room schools to U.S. Seabees building village projects, we will continue to strengthen the personal and commercial ties between our country and African nations.”

Admitting Failure: Trendy, but (at least for NGOs) not Prudent

This blog post is in response to the Second Aid Blog Forum: Admitting Failure, a topic forum proposed by anonymous blogger J at Tales From the Hood.

Admitting failure is apparently trendy these days.  As nonprofits and NGOs spend countless hours polishing their annual reports and filling them with rosy success stories to placate donors and stakeholders, a growing chorus of bloggers and development pundits are calling on aid organizations to be up-front and honest about their failures so that others can learn from them.  The idea took off when Engineers Without Borders Canada built a website where development groups could share failures and exchange lessons.  A “Fail Faire” was even held in DC last week to “celebrate” failure. 

While all of this openness and honesty is heartwarming, would I, if I were running an NGO, admit to (that is, publicize) a failed project or program?  To me, that answer is simple: Hell no.

Is there value to sharing failures that could be lessons for your own organization or others?  Absolutely.  But how much good does it do the average layperson to hear about a failed project?  And, once they get a hold of the story, what are the chances that it will come back to bite your organization in the ass?

Take, for example, the field day that the AP had with the results of an audit of grants at the Global Fund.  The Fund, which maintains a policy of “full transparency and zero tolerance of corruption,” published the results of an ongoing audit last year that discovered that several million dollars of grants (representing a very small portion of total funds disbursed) had been lost to fraud and corruption in four countries.  It then began to pursue legal action to recover the funds and prosecute the individuals responsible.  Sounds great, right?  Did the press or anyone else respond with gratitude or acknowledge the up-front and open nature of the Fund in publishing its findings?  If only.  It became a runaway news “scandal,” with the AP painting the “celebrity-backed” Fund as being “plagued by fraud.”  The result: Sweden, Germany, Denmark, and the European Commission froze their disbursements

While it is true that the Global Fund is a uniquely high-profile organization that deals in numbers with many zeros, I think the general tendency of people to react poorly to failure holds true across the board.  Particularly in the current atmosphere of fiscal austerity, the last thing people want to see is their tax dollars or donations being “wasted” on failed projects that were not originally designed to help them in the first place.  While most Americans support foreign aid, I imagine that a lot of them would change their tune if they thought that it did not work.  People have (reasonable, IMHO) objections to their tax dollars being used for “trial and error” projects.

There is, however, true value to learning from failed projects – this is part of the reason that researchers publish (albeit reluctantly) the results of unsuccessful experiments in professional journals and share them at conferences.  But that is precisely the point – the failures are shared with an audience that can appreciate them and the lessons they bring.  The aid community would benefit from creating supportive forums through which they can exchange lessons about failure, whether that be conferences like “Fail Faires” or practice-based journals in which such stories can be published.

Many organizations could stand to make their annual reports, particularly the finance portion, more transparent in order to give donors a better idea of their operations.  Saundra Schimmelpfennig has a great summary of resources that describe good standards and best practices.  But NGOs shy away from laying bare individual project failures, and for good reason.  Unless an individual has background knowledge on how aid and development works, it is difficult to put these stories into context.  It is a whole lot easier to simply decide to hold your donation (or call your Congressman) than it is to have faith in a charity’s ability to learn from its mistakes, especially when stories of ill-conceived projects abound.