Obama's speech at the UN Millennium Development Goals Summit: Awesome

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Today US President Obama laid down the gauntlet for all rich companies whose tax avoidance means less money for the poorest countries. He called for tougher rules all round, and now he must take this message to the G20 later this year to make it a global priority.

President Obama knocked it out of the park in his address to the UN MDG Summit this afternoon. We asked for a “barn burner of a speech,” and boy did we get one.

The Speech

Some excerpts:

“So let’s put to rest the old myth that development is mere charity that does not serve our interests. And let’s reject the cynicism that says certain countries are condemned to perpetual poverty.

“We also recognize that the old ways will not suffice… After all, no country wants to be dependent on another. No proud leader in this room wants to ask for aid.  And no family wants to be beholden to the assistance of others.

“Put simply, the United States is changing the way we do business.

“For too long, we’ve measured our efforts by the dollars we spent and the food and medicines we delivered. But aid alone is not development.

“Consider the millions of people who have relied on food assistance for decades. That’s not development, that’s dependence, and it’s a cycle we need to break. Instead of just managing poverty, we have to offer nations and peoples a path out of poverty.

“So we will seek partners who want to build their own capacity to provide for their people.

“Because the days when your development was dictated in foreign capitals must come to an end.

And this can be our plan – not simply for meeting our Millennium Development Goals, but for exceeding them, and then sustaining them for generations to come.”

The Action

Some concrete actions to match those words, from the policy released today:

  • A new policy for how we spend our foreign aid dollars: “Today, the President signed a Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, the first of its kind by a U.S. administration. The directive recognizes that development is vital to U.S. national security and is a strategic, economic, and moral imperative for the United States.”
  • A way to make deliberate choices: “Formulate a U.S. Global Development Strategy for approval by the President every four years.”
  • Country ownership: “Place greater emphasis on building sustainable capacity in the public sectors of our partners and at their national and community levels to provide basic services over the long-term.”
  • Coordination among agencies, led by National Security Council:  “Establish an Interagency Policy Committee on Global Development, led by the National Security Staff and reporting to the NSC Deputies and Principals, to set priorities, facilitate decision-making where agency positions diverge, and coordinate development policy across the executive branch, including the implementation of this PPD.”
  • A new partnership with Congress: “In forging this new partnership, we will seek greater flexibilities, including a reduction in earmarks and the ability to reallocate funding from less to more effective programs, while committing departments and agencies to a much higher standard of accountability for results.”
  • A seat for development at the table: “To ensure that development expertise is brought to bear in decision making, the Administrator of USAID will be included in meetings of the National Security Council, as appropriate.” [Next step will be to make this permanent.]

Tomorrow, we will hold the president accountable for delivering on his words today. But tonight, we’re joining our friends and colleagues around the world to celebrate.

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