“Reimagining the Peace Corps for the next 60 ” by Daniel F. Runde

Thanks for the ‘heads up’ from Steve  Kaffen (Russia 1994-96)

 

from The Hill
10/30/21

by Daniel F. Runde, Opinion Contributor

 

 

The Peace Corps celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic there are currently no Peace Corps volunteers serving abroad. As the Peace Corps program practices resiliency and adapts to a post-COVID landscape, it should also use this moment to answer long-existing questions that can redirect the Peace Corps to a more impactful and relevant future.

About the Peace Corps

The book “The Ugly American” caused a sensation in foreign policy and national security circles when it was released in 1958. It painted Americans as arrogant, out of touch, and insensitive to the needs of the rapidly de-colonizing developing world. It was so influential that then-Senator John F. Kennedy bought 99 copies of the book and gave it to every other Senator to read. “The Ugly American” was the impetus for major foreign policy changes in how we engage with the world. As president, Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 creating USAID, initiated the Alliance for Progress in Latin America, and launched the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps was envisioned to “promote world peace and friendship” by sending Americans to work on a grassroots level in developing countries. Over the years, the Peace Corps has sent over 240,000 Americans to 143 countries. Numerous volunteers have gone on to have successful careers across the U.S. government. There are several dozen countries where country expertise comes from former Peace Corps volunteers.

The Peace Corps is a good thing. Having volunteers commit to two years of service in another country contributes to international understanding and diplomacy.

At the same time, the world has significantly changed. Before 1991, there were no Peace Corps volunteers in Central Asia or Eastern Europe. Some countries have become too dangerous to have volunteers (I.e., El Salvador, Mali). Because of globalization, there has been a proliferation of shorter-term volunteer initiatives also trying to leverage American volunteerism (I.e., International Executive Service Corps, Farmer to Farmer). Unlike 1961, English is now the global lingua franca, and 40 percent of Peace Corps volunteers teach English, math, and science.

Questions for the Peace Corps

There have been several revisions to the Peace Corps over the decades. On the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps, we need to answer long-standing questions about it and consider its direction for the next 60 years.

One question is: Where should we deploy volunteers in the age of great power competition? We could continue to deploy Peace Corps volunteers where we have traditionally deployed volunteers: where volunteers can make a difference. Or, we might consider geopolitical considerations more heavily than we have in the past to optimize engagement. The Peace Corps has slowly trended in that direction, narrowing its scope from 69 countries in 2009 to 61 countries in 2020, and terminating some country-specific technical programs. There is also a reasonable argument to increase volunteers to population growth centers in Africa, the Indo-Pacific, Central Asia, and South Asia.

Another question we should ask is: What kinds of Peace Corps volunteers should we send? The quintessential Peace Corps volunteer is a college graduate. However, the Peace Corps has worked at trying to tap into a cohort of older volunteers with specific technical expertise, which is a welcome change. There is potential to do more with military veterans who could enter the Peace Corps after completing their active-duty service. Veterans might get preferential treatment to encourage more veterans in the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps has been a historic feeder to USAID and other development and diplomatic agencies. In the developing world of the future, we will need government officials who are comfortable in security-ambiguous locales.

Peace Corps service could be an excellent additional training opportunity for veterans who want to stay in international affairs. One step might be to vet potential Peace Corps volunteers for a lower-level federal government security clearance. Such a clearance process would signal to the volunteer the seriousness of going overseas as a volunteer and might prune out the small percentage of potential Peace Corps volunteers who might see their service as an extension of spending time at a college fraternity or sorority.

Can we bring in more technical and skilled volunteers? Peace Corps Response is a more technical program that sends professionals and returned volunteers with specialized certifications to work in a developing country for a shorter time frame, 3 to 12 months. However, even that commitment may be too long for many working professionals, who are more likely and willing to invest in a few weeks to two months to make a rapid social impact.

Peace Corps Response might consider adopting some of the practices of the “Volunteers for Prosperity” program, started by President George W. Bush in 2003, that partnered with nonprofit organizations and companies to recruit skilled workers. Doing so might help to better manage the schedules and technical niches of professionals hoping to volunteer abroad. Peace Corps Response might also think about pairing skilled professionals with longer-term Peace Corps volunteers to give them rapid technical training that they can implement into their multi-year service.

Can we encourage the Peace Corps to have a more permanent presence in the countries they work in? A 27-month service sounds like a long commitment, but the length of service and high turnover rate of Peace Corps volunteers, 21 percent in FY2015, means that the work and agenda in a community change every two years. We ought to find ways to encourage volunteers to remain in a country, should they wish to do so. This is especially applicable in countries with American cohorts who are fluent in lesser-known languages, like Bahasa Indonesian, Ukrainian, or even Portuguese. For example, the Peace Corps could arrange for a 5-year residency visa in the country where the former Peace Corps Volunteer has done service, offer former volunteers a 30-day “entrepreneurship boot camp” and a $20,000 loan to start a small business in the country they worked in. For the global future, we need Americans who seek their fortunes in emerging markets to deepen ties with countries and encourage greater prosperity.

The Peace Corps has long been an independent agency, separate from USAID or the State Department. Would tying Peace Corps to one of the other international affairs agencies overseas create synergies? For example, there could be value in joining the Peace Corps’ work with USAID for the purpose of measurement and evaluation functions, merging HR and accounting with another international affairs agency.

Political capital for moving organizational boxes around has waned due to the significant difficulty and time spent in merging agencies, and it is very unlikely something like a merger would happen in a Biden administration.

The Peace Corps has lasted for 60 years and continues to be much beloved by former Peace Corps volunteers. It is part public diplomacy, part global development, and part self-discovery for volunteers. In the new world that we live in, post-COVID 19 — and in an era of great power competition — the Peace Corps should adapt and evolve.

Daniel F. Runde is a senior vice president and William A. Schreyer chair in Global Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He previously worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Bank Group, and in investment banking, with experience in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.

 

5 Comments

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  • Some of your proposals echoes suggestions I made in my 2013 Brookings Policy Brief “Reconsidering the Peace Corps” and have been elaborated upon in a 2008 Brookings report and a couple of WorldView essays since then. The one suggestion of yours that I don’t understand is the one about security clearances. It’s had for me to imagine any situation in which a security clearance would be necessary or desirable for a PC volunteer.

    • Backround checks on potential Volunteers were always done in the 1960s. My presumption is that they havw been continued. The reason for security clearances was to make sure that the potential Volunteer was not currently involved or had been with any “intelligence gathering”
      goverrnment agencies.

  • RECALLING OUR PEACE CORPS

    ICE WINE HONEY COMES AS
    AUTUMN VANISHES TO WINTER
    AND THE VINTAGE FADES

    SAPPHIRE GRAPE COATED
    IN SOFT WHITE POWDER
    SHRIVELING TO RAISIN

    DURING FROSTY DAYS
    ICY NIGHTS UNTIL PRESSED
    FOR THEIR ICE WINE HONEY.

    RACING AGAINST THE SUNSET
    NEGATIVE LIFE EVENT DUTY
    OUR LACKS IN CURIOUSITY

    TURN AROUND, WON’T DROWN
    THIS WORLD’S OUR BIG ENOUGH

    © copyright Edward Mycue 31 October 31, 2021

  • THE WEIGHT OF THIS SAD TIME WE MUST OBEY

    (C) Copyright Edward Mycue, 3595 Geary Blvd, Apt 320, San Francisco, CA 94118 tel # 415 387-2471 mycueed@yahoo.com

    *Nota Bene Concluding Shakespeare’s King Lear, Edgar, Earl of Gloucester’s son, says : “The weight of this sad time we must obey,/ Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say” (V. iii)

    1.PHOENIX XEROTICA

    Chances are America we will return as a Phoenix
    Chances are America hope will spin into morning
    Chances are Extraordinary America we’ll awaken

    All that noisy night the phoenix flamed
    crackling embers into singeing song
    scorching fog, fuchsia, western laurel tree
    razing memories of my flower years,
    smoke clouding what passes, these keys of flesh,
    time the phoenix entered the sun dance
    fragmenting, shattering, grinding-down
    my tired half-dreams of a failed dream,
    scooping from that mist of muffled bones
    one frail and fragrant puff of finished fuse.
    Fleeing, finding stars, sky, sirens screaming,
    years turn, hope spins again into morning,
    so what could never end might yet still come again.

    Chances are America we will return as a Phoenix
    Chances are America hope will spin into morning
    Chances are Extraordinary America we’ll awaken
    the dead have no voice
    but they speak echoing pasts
    cultivating winds in gardens of worlds
    where sable crepe drapes the doors
    where Quasimodo matures from Adonis
    where every scarlet aberration becomes a memory
    where Hastrubal’s wife and kids must flee into the flames.
    The bitter lingers.
    Events stamp themselves cumulatively
    on place, period, progeny.
    There’s no grand opera in a puppet play.
    The soldier marionette is mute.
    The dead have no voice.
    Speak for them

    Chances are America we will return as a Phoenix
    Chances are America hope will spin into morning
    Chances are Extraordinary America we’ll awaken
    We are the early grape
    flat, dry, and cloudy.
    The time is short,
    but some days never end.
    There is no joyous lake.
    There is no incantation
    that can bend the moment back
    into patterns we may see too late.

    Wait for tomorrow?
    Tomorrow never comes.
    Wait for tomorrow?
    Tomorrow never comes.

    Three’s a crowd.
    The spunky one’s the cream in your coffee.
    I know I know we said.
    That’s the thing!
    Do it. Do it now.

    Early wine is flat, dry and cloudy
    and some days never end.
    There is no joyous lake.
    There is no incantation
    that can bend the moment back
    into the patterns
    we have seen too late.

    Chances are America we will return as a Phoenix
    Chances are America hope will spin into morning
    Chances are Extraordinary America we’ll awaken

    You are dancing to the music of your dear life now
    As you partake it, enjoy it, wonder at its rising
    into the clouds out there over the sharp rocks
    dancing to the music of the time that remains
    the story that goes on from there for you is a
    finding and forging an understanding swiveting
    continuing further along processional journeys
    –not the routines a nation’s decline promises—
    under a self-surveillance in your own self-direction
    coming as you partake it enjoy it watching it rise
    into clouds above distant sharp rocks hopes surmount
    as you partake it, enjoy it, wonder at it rising rosy

    you are dancing to the music of your dear life now
    Chances are America we will return as a Phoenix
    Chances are America hope will spin into morning
    Chances are Extraordinary America we’ll awaken

    The rainbow is a glass carnation of perceptions.
    Understanding even when not agreeing,
    remembering that we are not stone children.
    Where rainbows are seen there are new stories.
    You are dancing to the music of our dear life now
    2. DISSEMBLING: SECRETS, LIES

    Keeping things secret can be blackouts, brownouts, dissembling through lies, denials, withholding information, presenting only a selection of truth, half-truths presented as the whole, false dichotomies distorting, breaking down truths bit here, bit there.

    3. ACTS OF SELF- DEFINITION: THE REAL STORY

    (“Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.
    ‘It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Griswold v. Conn., 381 U.S. 479, 486 (1965).’ Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.”The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling on homosexual marriage released November 18, 2003)
    The real story is how the excluded or ignored come forward
    Identities are merging: doors closed, open
    facts along with comedic theatrical certainties
    Anthony and Cleopatra exchanging clothes
    David and Jonathan exchanging clothes
    Sweltering: not only “global warming”
    Soaring sweeping rhapsody unleashed
    Through lands both ‘should’ & ‘might’
    The real story is how the excluded or ignored come forward
    Frequent fliers, wheels-up, square-long
    Bye-bye to BALK, THWART, HAMPER
    The mundane-ecstatic’s quotidian daily
    SMITTEN, SUBMITTING, CELEBRATING
    Duties and tasks: the”of’s” the “it’s” the “if’s”
    (Bubbles of ancient air are alive in glaciers)
    When you see (or hear) you recognize (know it)
    Knocking, barking-up wrong trees, in common wrong places
    The real story is how the excluded or ignored come forward
    in the alphabet of vocabularies ordinarily witnessing any self
    –even from a making-nothing-happen queer writing from life
    The real story is how the excluded or ignored come forward.

    4. THE END OF THE WORLD

    The enemy of my enemy is my friend. The friend of my enemy is my enemy. The friend of my friend is my friend (unless that friend is a friend of the friend of my enemy). The feud of my family is a breach in the friendship of my blood. My blood is my enemy. This the edge of my world and how rotten is the tooth of my despair. Does peace have a pulse for peace?
    Does our world have a hope? I read seas are rising, glaciers disappearing, crops failing. When 30years ago I asked great aunt Antonia Bellone how then she felt, she said “disgusted” (memento mori, rewound.)
    In San Francisco every wave in the Pacific Ocean here at Land’s End, where great ships foundered, brings back unfinished symphonies: the future is ugly, sharp paradigm shifts, earth jimjams a jungle, diamond skies, sea change, playground happenings, tree rats scurrying into the canopies, everyone here is there under the surface of consciousness along with all the bungled aspirations, mischances, mistakes, errors, crimes completing apprenticeships, and over the mind a brown shale –roomtone, mouthfeel, reordering parts, rationing emotions. Ripening memories pressing upward, stardust a diminishing gusher, thickening light a sea scar.

    © Copyright Edward Mycue 25 x 21 San Francisco

    *Nota Bene Ending Shakespeare’s King Lear, Edgar, Earl of Gloucester’s son: “The weight of this sad time we must obey,/Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say” (V. iii)

  • (EXPLAINING HOW TO BUILD LIFE):
    IT TAKES FOREVER
    because life is built
    from the inside out,

    from the bottom up but

    you do it upside down from
    the top like you’re digging

    a hole when you’re really
    building a frame and

    hanging a skin around

    –that is, form the inside out

    when it’s upside down and
    the light isn’t so good

    and everything has to be
    tilted and turned. It’s hard….and….(repeat from the top)

    ________________________________
    (C) Copyright Edward Mycue 3 November 2021 9:00AM Wednesday

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