Where did the Three Goals of the Peace Corps come from?

Scratch any RPCV or PCV and they’ll tell you the three goals of the Peace Corps. While the wording varies from one publication to the next, these are the goals: (1) Contribute to the development of critical countries and regions; (2) Promote international cooperation and goodwill toward the country; (3) Contribute to the education of America and to more intelligent American participation in the world.  Now, those are the stated goals, and I know that they have been tweaked with by staff and PCVs over the last 50 years. For example, “living at the level of the HCNs” is often stated as Goal # 2.

But the question is, who came up with these goals and why three? Well, at the famous Mayflower Hotel in the winter months of 1961 when the task force of Shriver/Wofford/Wiggins/Josephson and a handful of others began to draft the proposal to give JFK that would define what “Peace Corps” was, a clear statement of purpose was needed.

Harris Wofford goes into this at length in his book Of Kennedys and Kings that there were many long discussions [arguments?] of how to state the reason for the new agency.

Some members of the task force wanted a single purpose, or at least a central one. “Peace” was the overriding purpose, and as many as a dozen “purposes” were argued about, until Shriver sat down and wrote out three Goals that we have today. Now ‘the Peace Corps’ could have been something else. Bu what Shriver and the others wanted with a new form of overseas work, volunteers who would not be missionaries, business representatives, government officials, intelligence agent, or researchers. Nor would they be high-level experts or advisers. Peace Corps Volunteers would be different. They would go with a different purpose, operate in a different relationship to their host country colleagues, and presumably return with a different view of the developing world.

Volunteers would break the pattern of government aid experts, as Wofford wrote in his book.  There was a common story told then about American advisors that made Wofford’s point.

When the prize American bull, sent by the U.S. aid program, was put in the pasture with the cows, he just looked around. When asked why he didn’t do something, the bull replied, “I’m an adviser.”

I can say with confidence that was not how PCVs operated overseas.


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  • 50 year´s and it is the same…that´s the beauty of Peace Corps, and 50 more it will remain the same!

  • The third is likely the most important goal in that as RPCVs we have contributed to a better understanding of those left and left behind by development. Also, as global warming further erodes crop production in these countries, the need of Peace Corps Volunteers will grow to move societies away from subsistance level agriculture.

    Concerning the first goal, years ago, it was learned that the education of women leads to their controlling their birth rates. In countries with religious prohibitions against women being educated, the Peace Corps can contribute much to women moving to more equal status with men through education and increased assertiveness.

    While the second goal may be interpreted as living at the local level of pay, obviously, full equality of pay with HCNs is not possible because of things like health concerns, e.g. housing with plumbing. However, the goal as originallyy stated is carried out more by association with HCNs. And, that can be a mixed blessing.

    VISTA did not have a third goal and the anti-poverty legislation. It would never have been passed if it had been explicitly stated. As with Peace Corps, the major impact of VISTA had been to develop a cadre of advocates for raising up those who are poor, usually through the same process that affects the volunteers themselves, self-actualization with lifelong benefits to the community at large.

    Sadly, Peace Corps’ limited budget keeps it in places which are not as needy as others, e.g., Eastern Europe under Reagan and Bush I, because of the effort required to pull out of better-off countries and move on to the fourth world of deparately poor countries.

    But, here we are 50 years later and the need, and the will, is still strongly there among those who volunteer to serve.

  • The Peace Corps goals should be a model to every organization establishing goals. Certainly because of what they say, but beyond that, I entered the PC 46 years ago and still know those three goals — their simplicity and elegance makes them totally memorable. How many of us actually know the goals of the organization for which we work today? How many of those goals of other organizations were developed by outside branding/marketing experts who carefully crafted each sentence resulting in nonmemorable conjunctions of words “signifying nothing.” Good for the PC.

  • I agree that the goals simply stated are profound. However, I disagree with David Gurr in this comment:

    ” …the Peace Corps can contribute much to women moving to more equal status with men through education and increased assertiveness.”

    We need now to develop an Ethics of Intervention. Encouraging women to become more assertive may subject them to retaliation and violence.
    We need to be aware of how our intervention may have unintended consequences that we, as Volunteers, don’t experience but the people we would help, would.

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