The Gold Friends

When I was 8 years old, my grandmother decided that I needed to learn to cross stitch. She treated everything as an opportunity to improve me, so I was not allowed to pick the motto for my sampler myself, as I might not have chosen a worthy lesson. It said, “make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold,” and when I finished, it was framed and hung on my bedroom wall.

I was reminded of my grandmother’s lesson when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke earlier this week at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) on the development landscape’s dramatic changes. The secretary noted that in the 1960s, official development assistance (ODA) was 70 percent of the capital flows going into developing countries. Yet despite increased development budgets, ODA now accounts for just 13 percent of capital flowing into developing countries, while other flows have “skyrocketed.” For example, the American public invests around $8 billion annually in countries all over the world through private actors like InterAction members. In further remarks today at a side event during the UN General Assembly, the secretary announced a new commitment by InterAction over the next three years that our members will devote more than $1 billion in private nongovernment funds to support food security and nutrition worldwide.

In her CGI speech, the secretary said that much of the U.S. government's assistance is channeled through international NGOs because “they have expertise and local knowledge, and they can respond quickly when needed. We want to continue our successful relationships with them, but we also need to broaden and increase our network of partnerships to advance our work in development. Given the landscape we face, that makes sense.”

I agree. NGOs are also reaching out for partnerships with many new “silver friends”: corporations, countries such as South Korea who have “graduated” from assistance and become donors, and impact investors who seek a monetary return and social good. Our government is also looking for silver friends. New opportunities are exciting, but development and long-term social change happen over a slow arch of history. Bending the moral universe toward justice is the work of more than one generation and cannot be confined to a congressional budget cycle.

NGOs have always been in it for the long haul, with both the U.S. government and our local partners. InterAction members seek a more robust partnership with USAID and would like to see the agency leverage our various resources. More than two-thirds of the funding for InterAction members comes from private sources, such as foundations, corporations and individuals. These resources are used to support local organizations, to implement programs in areas or for groups not prioritized by ODA, and to continue or expand programs once ODA has run out. By working in a closer and more vibrant partnership with U.S. NGOs, USAID could increase the amount of resources dedicated to achieving our shared goals. One way to do this is to expand USAID’s Global Development Alliance (GDA) model, in which “alliances are co-designed, co-funded, and co-managed by partners so that the risks, responsibilities, and rewards of partnership are equally shared”: a powerful way and innovative way to deepen the gold friendship.

But even more important than being able to pool resources for greater impact, the old friends – the gold friends – share a special trust and can keep one another true to our values as we bring along new friends and allies. NGOs not only the have the attributes the secretary describes but the trust, support and confidence of broad swaths of the American public, who give though their congregations and synagogues, who sponsor children and buy animals for poor famers living halfway around the globe. We share the secretary's closing sentiment from her CGI address:

“We must think and act innovatively and be willing to change ourselves to keep pace with the change around us, and at the same time, we must stay true to our values. Otherwise, we will lose our way.”