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Global Poverty’s Sputnik Moment

In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower spearheaded massive public investment in science and technology to counter the Soviet Union's strategic ambitions. More than a half-century later, the battle for geopolitical dominance includes the fight against global poverty, and this time the US is losing.

WASHINGTON, DC – Since the current administration was installed in the US White House, conversations about international development often morph into a communal lament. It is an elegy of sorts, even for optimists.

The lament has many verses. It starts with an “America First” approach that has resulted in a major reduction in concessionary foreign aid. While there has been continued funding for emergency aid, especially for geopolitical conflicts and to counter Islamist extremism, support for aid historically used for long-term programs – water sanitation, public health, financial inclusion, and agriculture – has diminished. And concessionary aid that still exists is being implemented slowly.

Meanwhile, donors in the United States are dedicating more resources to domestic causes such as immigration and gun violence, and an estimated $10 billion will be spent on advertising alone in this year’s US presidential campaign. And now, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced enormous new financial stresses. National and household economies are strained, borders are closed, and nationalist mindsets have hardened.

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