NPR logo President Obama, On Foreign Aid: U.S. Must Be 'Big-Hearted And Hard-Headed'


President Obama, On Foreign Aid: U.S. Must Be 'Big-Hearted And Hard-Headed'

President Obama addresses the Millennium Development Goals Summit at the United Nations headquarters. Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption
Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

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

That's President Obama's new manifesto for American foreign policy toward the developing world.

He outlined the new approach this afternoon at the U.N. General Assembly summit on the Millennium Development Goals.

The eight "MDG," as they're known, are such laudable and essential goals that all 192 U.N. member states agreed to achieve them by the year 2015.

We're talking about ending the most extreme poverty and hunger, making sure that all the world's children at least learn to read and write, and fighting mankind's most devastating diseases.

But the goals have been around for 10 years already, and they've been talked over so often that many people's eyes just glaze over when the subject comes up.

What's worse is that the U.N. itself says the goals aren't going to be achieved by the 2015 deadline unless the international community goes into overdrive.

Obama said the new U.S. approach needs to be "big-hearted and hard-headed," emphasizing accountability and responsibility along with aid.

In prepared remarks, the president made the new policy sound a bit like triage — the U.S. will put its money and its effort into programs that show results, programs that move countries "from poverty to prosperity."

He said U.S. assistance will focus more on long-term development than on fixes like food assistance that doesn't help people feed themselves.  "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," the president said.

Obama cited food security programs in Guatemala, Rwanda and Bangladesh that help farmers improve crop yields and move their crops to market.

The hard-headed part of the equation came toward the end of the president's speech, where he emphasized accountability and responsibility from the countries that receive aid.  He said the effort will be to foster broad-based economic growth in countries that encourage entrepreneurship, build up their infrastructure and knock down their trade barriers.

"No one nation can do everything and still do it well," Obama said.  "To meet our goals, we must be more selective and focus our efforts where we have the best partners and where we can have the greatest impact."

Related NPR Stories