The Three Goals Of The Peace Corps

When I last worked for the Peace Corps (back in the mid-’90s) there was a lot of talk about the Three Goals of the Peace Corps, but no one seem to know too much about how they came about, or why. Even the few books on the early history of the agency are vague about the who, what, when and how of the Peace Corps goals. Harris Wofford in his 1980 book Of Kennedys And Kings does write about how decisions were made by the Mayfloor Gang who invented the Peace Corps. And since Wofford was with Shriver from the very beginning days of planning the agency, his words are worth reading.

Harris writes, “A clear statement of purpose was also required. From the first sessions several purposes had been articulated and some discareded, and Shriver welcomed hard argument among the contending viewpoints. Providing trained manpower for development? Promoting mutual international understanding? Creating goodwill toward America? Educating the Volunteers and their fellow citizens?

“Some members of the task force insisted that Shriver and the President choose a single purpose or at least settle for a main one. Shriver found the tension between competing purposes creative, and thought it should continue. ‘Peace’ was the overriding purpose, and the process of promoting it was necessarily complex, he said, so the Peace Corps should learn to live with the complexity. Finally we agreed on three propositions about the program.”

The three goals of the Peace Corps outlined:

     It can contribute to the development of critical countries and regions.
     It can promote international coopeation and goodwill toward this country.
     It can also contribute to the education of America and to more intelligent  American participation in the world.

So, if you were wonder what you were doing in the Peace Corps, that was it!


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  • I don’t doubt that fierce debate took place at the Mayflower Hotel when the principals were trying to arrive at the original goals of Peace Corps. But that debate is over. Peace Corps is now well established and each of the three goals have been proven and have turned out to be largely complimentary. (For short-hand, let’s call the goals: 1. development work, 2. cultural understanding or “public diplomacy,” 3. bringing understanding of the world home to Americans.)

    In the PC Office of Inspector General in the 90’s and in recent years, we systematically evaluated programs and learned that the first goal–development work–has largely proved to be a solid platform and meaningful site for the second goal–mutual cross-cultural learning and sharing. While some PCVs are able to jump into the host culture unaided, most Volunteers get their footing through a project. The better PCVs engage in a project, Goal 1, and thereby become more rooted in the community, the more likely they are to pursue Goal 2, engaging in meaningful cross-cultural exchange and learning the host language.

    Conversely, the more one learns the host language and culture, the better one can engage in meaningful developmental work. While there will be different emphases between goals in various posts and projects, both goals 1 & 2 are essential to mission success. There is a natural flow and synergy between the two.

    However, Goal 3, often summarized as “bringing it all back home,” has always been a bit of an afterthought and still needs to be strengthened, promoted and expanded. (We need more innovative outreach for this domestic goal such as Peace Corps Readers and Writers.)

    These three goals can be improved, of course, but they all point to and guide essential aspects of the Peace Corps. Debate about goals now turns on methods of implementation. These goals are now interactive, well integrated and help account for much of the Agency’s élan, staying power and long-term success.

  • Steve–I agree with you on the Third Goal. Whoever the next Peace Corps director is, he/she should focus on the Third Goal, which has always been overlooked. Part of the problem is where “the money is” located, i.e., the State Department budget; part of the problem is that the agency always looks overseas from D.C. and not to the Third Goal back here at home. So, we can honestly say that most, if not all, Peace Corps Directors have failed to fulfill the promise of Kennedy’s Peace Corps.

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