USAID End Runs the Peace Corps

JUNE 07, 2011
by RICK COHEN

When critics suggest that the Obama administration is hard on the corporate sector, they may be missing specific elements of the Obama agenda that have lots of corporate sector promotions built into government programs. Take the volunteerism program of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

USAID just established the Center of Excellence for International Corporate Volunteerism, developed in conjunction with IBM and the nonprofit CDC Development Solutions, an organization that manages international corporate volunteerism programs. CDS does well in this deal, getting $743,076 from USAID over two years to get the Center’s website up and operational and IBM will kick in $4.1 million in addition to in-kind donations of technology plus 100 volunteer employees.

According to CDS 21 major corporations are on tap to send 2,000 employee volunteers overseas this year compared to only six companies that sent 280 employees to volunteer overseas in 2006. One of the benefits of the Center is apparently the ability of corporations to access IBM for its extensive international volunteering expertise. IBM admits that volunteering can lead to business, as happened as a result of its volunteering activity last year in Nigeria. But what is USAID’s agenda? Or the Obama Administration’s?

In response to critics such as Ian Vasquez at the Cato Institute who called this program “jumping on a bandwagon a little too late . . . smell(ing) very much like a development fad,” defenders such as Carol Adelman from the Hudson Institute called the program “a smart move because of the battle over the budget.” In other words, with conservatives taking aim at foreign aid, it doesn’t hurt to protect USAID’s budget by increasing its linkages with corporate America.

Sam Worthington of InterAction described the USAID corporate volunteerism program as tantamount to “a private Peace Corps and the technical expertise that comes with it.” Worthington added, “The new face of America overseas, often privately funded, can be very positive,” a form of “responsible capitalism.”

Contrary to the perspectives of conservative critics, most USAID assistance goes through U.S. contractors under “Buy American” contracting principles, supporting nonprofit and for-profit entities delivering development aid. Combined with the corporate volunteerism program, USAID is demonstrating the strength of its commitment to American capitalism as a primary development tool.-Rick Cohen

8 Comments

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  • While this could be a model for more corporate funding for overseas projects that are worthy, so many questions remain: How are the volunteers trained, how will their work fit into the AID Mission in a country, how long will they they serve, have countries requested these volunteers and so on. While some aspects of IBM Foundationwork, especially in education, seem very good indeed, I understand that volunteers going overseas get very little training and only stay for terms as short as a couple of weeks. What are the primary goals of the corporations? Do they want to educate their own staff be giving them an overseas experience? Are they looking for new markets for their products? Are they going to plan a long term project as a partner with a foreign organization or ministry or will AID do the planning?
    Perhaps corporations are now willing to fund some of the small projects that PCV’s develop?

  • Thanks Judy and thank you John for bringing this to the surface…as USAID celebrates its 50th Anniversary…they are trying to do what USAID has attempted to do for the last fifty years, to take Peace Corps and it’s budget for their use. To call this new effort a private Peace Corps can and will hurt Volunteers…the REAL Peace Corps Volunteers not this private sector effort. Peace Corps Volunteers walk a careful line in the communities of the third world, more now thnt at any time. But the real danger will be for USAID to make a move to get control of the Peace Corps. Where’s Lyndon Johnson when we need him to stand up for Peace Corps…he stood up to USAID in the early years! We need a Congressional review of USAID’s current efforts, their new program will spend more taxpayer money than what Peace Corps now gets. Let our voices be heard, USAID does not have a private sector Peace Corps…just another failed outreach effort to fool folks.

  • Comment from a cynic:
    I have heard the same hype a hundred times over the years. Someone should review the program 18 months from now, if in fact the records would be made available to researchers (including evaluations by host country officials).
    Is there pre=service training? How long? How are participants chosen? What are the assignments? Will the program attempt to train HCNs, or train trainers? etc., etc.
    Jack

  • FlacoBob,

    I have a question that may or not relate to this topic. But, in the Agency Assessment, one of the recommendations for Peace Corps Response was to include non-Peace Corps Volunteers who had “professional experience.” Are you aware of this and do you have an opinion.

    It is Recommendation VI-2: ” The assessment team recommends that Peace Corps Response develop a new recruitment strategy for Peace Corps Response Volunteers that focuses on recruiting individuals with professional experience to complement the efforts of Peace Corps Volunteers…” (Page 111..PCAA)

  • AID used to have a program to send retired businessmen to developing countries to help new entrepreneurs get started. I worked with this program in Ukraine and South Africa. I can’t remember its name but its nickname was the “Paunch Corps.” I applaud any program that uses the goodwill of Americans to help less fortunate people.

  • SBA started the original program to place retired businessmen with start-up businesses, domestically. It was incorporated into ACTION in 1971 when all volunteer program, domestic and overseas, i.e., Pece Corps, were added to this newly created agency by the Nixon Administration. It didn’t stay long as it did not fit in with the volunteer culture of the agency. Peace Corps eventually got a divorce as well from ACTION, in 1984,, thanks to Paul Tsongas, when he was elected to the Senate, He had ponsored the same bill in the House, along with Cong. Don Bonker (Wa) for a number of Congressional sessions, but with no countervailing legislation in the Senate, until he got there, which was passed by both houses.

  • The efficencies of private contractors vs Peace Corps $50,000+ cost per worker per year(not including PEPFAR payments for workers,Housing paid by NGO,etc) cant be ignored.The huge salaries and plumb jobs for some of those employees(Country Directors make $160,000) is the reason PC exists in country and DC to many.PC has also partnered and charges for those workers in some forms.About 40% of the workers teach English now.Its too expensive and real development work is being done by those Co’s,but not enough to contract out PC,so partner.As PC becomes a reflection of CNCS as basically placement anf grants,we see its too expensive.CNCS could do the same or better.

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