The Clintons took over the stage this morning at the Clinton Global Initiative. Bill introduced Hillary, who got not one, but two standing ovations from the crowd. Kicking off the day’s proceedings, Secretary of State Clinton spoke about designing diplomacy for the 21st century. Her speech was focused on how the United States can deploy smart diplomacy strategies, that work alongside development and defense, to consolidate American interests across the world.
Clinton began by mentioning that we live in times of great change. Indeed, new technologies, significant demographic shifts – both in the developing and the developed world – revolutions and democratic transitions, and a global financial crisis that has contributed to reshaping world economies are complex realities global diplomacy has to take into account. “In the face of all this change,” Clinton said, “those who care about having an impact need to think and act innovatively.” She added that we must also “be willing to change ourselves to keep pace with the change around us, and stay true to our values, or we will lose our way.” From this broad statement, she went on to speak specifically about the benefits of elevating development and incorporating it into a global engagement strategy for the United States, together with diplomacy and defense.
Secretary Clinton spoke about how the Obama administration has done just that, and how development aid is being re-thought. In the past, “we focused on urgent and immediate needs at the expense of the long term”, Clinton said. She talked about how development aid dollars used to represent a much more significant proportion of the funds that flowed into developing nations. But, today, because of the dramatic increase in capital, remittances, trade and other flows, “we have to spend dollars differently.” And indeed, development aid should be in tune with the realities of the 21st century. Clinton mentioned how it used to be the case that development dollars needed to be spent on providing food assistance, helping building schools and in other basic areas when governments weren’t able to. Nowadays, however, given how different the global picture is, it’s necessary for development dollars to be invested in smart ways, so it can be leveraged for political change and sustainable growth.
“We want to move from aid to investment,” Clinton said. “Today, with new resources, development has to fit into a more dynamic economic picture”, she added, saying that development aid should be “a catalyst for sustainable growth and progress.” Building on World Bank president Jim Kim’s remarks yesterday about how the private sector should talk to the World Bank about investment opportunities in the developing world, Clinton said that one of the roles that American development can play is to “help mitigate and reduce investment risk.” Driving the point home, Clinton said that, today, the United States is not “just providing aid to people in crisis; we’re making strategic investments.”
Clinton painted a very modern picture of what development aid should be, and how it needs to move beyond traditional aid and working with traditional NGO partners. She spoke about how development intersects with business opportunities, and how “we need the private sector to give new economies opportunities.”
Clinton then spent some time defining what she believes “country ownership” – a jargon-y development buzzword – means. She started by clarifying what country ownership doesn’t mean: “it doesn’t mean that donors are supposed to keep money flowing while recipients decide how to spend it; it doesn’t mean shutting out the voices of civil society and faith-based groups; it doesn’t mean not letting beneficiaries do everything on their own.”
For Clinton, country ownership means that development should be “lead, implemented and increasingly paid for by government, civil society and other groups.” It means that developing countries need to “set priorities, manage resources, develop their own plans and carry them out.” She also mentioned that, in her view, country ownership means that “the whole country – men and women” are involved. “When more women enter the workforce, it spurs innovation and grows the economy – in short, everyone benefits.”
In the part of her remarks that sounded the most like a campaign speech, Clinton listed some of the development and diplomacy accomplishments of the Obama administration which further the goals detailed above: the ambitious reform of USAID under Raj Shah, the Feed the Future initiative, the development of “groundbreaking renewable energy investment vehicles” in Africa, public-private partnerships such as the Clean Cookstove Initiative. “But there is still a lot of work to do, and this is where you come in”, the Secretary of State said, speaking directly to the audience – one of her husband’s favorite rhetorical devices.
Clinton spoke of the need of development policy to invest more deeply in a broader range of partners, beyond traditional international NGOs. She spoke of the need to broaden and increase our network of partnerships to advance our work in development. “Let’s start viewing all of our separate efforts as a portfolio of complimentary investments,” Clinton exhorted, “let’s redouble our commitment to multi-partner approaches that bring all of us together.”Her speech then shifted to a more classic political speech – mentioning the need for the United States to advance freedom, rights and dignity across the world, the rejection of violence and underscoring American efforts in supporting democratic transitions in the Middle East. “We need your help and leadership”, Clinton told the audience, to spread development, dignity and freedom.
This is an important forum for Hillary Clinton to address – indeed, some of the world’s most powerful business, NGO and political leaders gather at the Clinton Global Initiative every year to discuss and explore partnership opportunities, something which is frankly only possible when Bill Clinton brings all these stakeholders together for meaningful engagement. The Secretary of State’s speech made clear that the United States and Americans need to rethink their approach to development aid: multisectoral, investment-based and results-oriented with the ultimate objectives of sustainability and long-term growth. While many of the people at the Clinton Global Initiative already know this, Hillary Clinton’s speech served to give these efforts broader meaning in the context of American foreign policy and the advancement of American goals and interests worldwide.