Peace Corps’ Second Fifty Years:  What One Thing Needs to Change?

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I was talking with a former Peace Corps Director a few days ago and we were discussing the Peace Corps and the accomplishments of the past fifty years when he asked me a question:  “If you had one thing that you would change about the Peace Corps for its second fifty years, what would that one thing be?”

I’ve been thinking about this question for a long time and I think it is a question that it would be good for all RPCVs to ponder as we go about observing the anniversary of the signing of the executive order creating the Peace Corps.

Fifty years ago President John F. Kennedy signed the executive order bringing the Peace Corps into existence.  Now there is an opportunity for President Barack Obama to sign another law into being that would enhance and support the mission of the Peace Corps. Here is the one single improvement that I think needs to be made that would most benefit the mission of the Peace Corps.


The Third Goal

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Looking back with the perspective of 50 years, if there is one glaring failure in the idea of the Peace Corps, it is in the accomplishment of the 3rd goal – to bring the world back home to America. And if there was one single thing that could be added to the Peace Corps to correct this failure, it would be the creation of a “Peace Corps Foundation,” a private charitable non-profit corporation, independent of the US government, whose focus would be to provide support and funding for third goal activities by Returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

The Peace Corps has neglected to support the third goal and the problem has been lack of funding for third goal activities. Even now the agency allocates less than 1% of their resources to supporting the third goal. What is needed is a independent non-profit corporation dedicated to the third goal whose purpose would be to increase public awareness within the United States of Peace Corps Volunteer experiences, and the diversity of the countries in which they serve.

President Obama’s transition team addressed the idea of a Peace Corps Foundation is their transition document “The Peace Corps Roadmap” and said that “the Fish and Wildlife Foundation serves as an example. This proposed Foundation would have the ability to raise private funds to support a host of activities that Peace Corps as a federal agency cannot support with appropriated funds. The idea to create a Peace Corps Foundation has been drawn-up as a proposal, but has not been introduced as legislation. While Director Tschetter has received positive bi-partisan reaction, he considered that a new leadership in the Peace Corps needed to study this initiative and decide whether it should be given further consideration. In principle, we consider that it is an interesting idea for Peace Corps to have a closely related, private, non-profit partner with the capacity to raise private funds and broaden the scope of the Peace Corps’ work.”


The Peace Corps Foundation and Fiscal Responsibility

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In keeping with principles of fiscal responsibility in this time of a federal budgetary crisis, not one penny would be required from the US government to create or support the Peace Corps Foundation. The Foundation would be totally financed with private funds from corporations, foundations, and private individuals. The Foundation would not be a federal agency nor would it receive any funding from the US government.

“There would be no appropriated funds used for this initiative, and I believe once you create a proper legal foundation and we are well on the way to doing that, it will encourage and open up the giving,” says former Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter who first proposed the idea for a Peace Corps Foundation in 2008. “There are corporate monies. I have talked to corporate executives personally, and I know there is potential there, and they would give to a foundation that has structure and accountability.”

The legislation to establish a Peace Corps Foundation was already drafted in bill form in 2008 during the directorship of Tschetter, the only Returned Peace Corps Volunteer to have served as both the agency’s Director and Chairman of the Board of the National Peace Corps Association. According to Tschetter, the legislation is ready to be introduced to Congress and the bill has already been vetted and received approval from the OMB, Treasury, IRS, the State Department to go ahead with the Foundation.


How Could RPCVs Go About Expanding the Third Goal?

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Think of what RPCVs could do if there were funds available from a non-profit organization dedicated to further the third goal? “The Peace Corps Foundation would foster greater participation and support to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and their organizations, encourage cross-cultural exchange, volunteerism through community events, classroom visits, and other educational activities,” said Director Tschetter. “Ultimately, a Peace Corps Foundation building in Washington D.C. would serve as an educational facility where Americans, particularly children, would come and learn more about other cultures and countries, as well as how the Peace Corps fulfills its mission of promoting peace and friendship worldwide. The Foundation would also complement the Peace Corps’ Third Goal activities such as Peace Corps Week, the Coverdell World Wise Schools Program, and the publication of educational materials for teachers and students.”

All Returned Volunteers need from President Obama is support for the enabling legislation. RPCVs will do the rest.