Dr. Rajiv Shah, the son of immigrants, has a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a business degree from Wharton. He has headed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and since 2009 he has overseen USAID. A recent interview he gave to Foreign Policy magazine shows why Americans of both political parties should be pleased the checkbook is in his hands.
“I’ve tried to bring that business-like rigor and the tendency to ask questions — some would say I ask far too many questions — to make sure that when we’re spending taxpayer resources, we’re doing it with that absolute focus that we are making an investment against generating a result,” Shah said.
Take the issue of education — a gaping money-pit if ever there was one.
Education is about results? How refreshing!
Shah also makes the best argument there is for foreign aid — it helps America, in the long run.
“At the end of the day, without stability, you cannot get economic development,” he contends. “At the same time, security is ultimately linked to economic stability. (Former Defense) Secretary Gates was right when he said development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers. Right now, Americans think that foreign aid is 20 percent of our federal budget, but in fact it is less than 1 percent. And for that 1 percent we are able to generate real concrete results.”
He points to South Korea as an example; for decades it received foreign aid. Now, he says, “we have more jobs created in the U.S. because of our trade relationship with South Korea than we do with France. … Ten of the largest 15 trading partners we have were foreign aid recipients.”
Shah also seems to be one of the few members of the Obama administration who doesn’t demonize the private sector. In fact, he recognizes that the private sector does a better job of distributing goods than government does. That’s why he’s partners with — of all corporations — Wal-Mart.
“One of the big failings in food security in particular has been a lack of working with the private sector effectively,” he said. “For instance, in Honduras and Guatemala our work with Wal-Mart is reaching more than 15,000 farming families. In that case, the farmers are producing potatoes and onions, and Wal-Mart works with farmers on training and preparation.”
Is Wal-Mart the last word on global hunger? Of course not. But does Wal-Mart know something about the logistics of moving inexpensive goods from where they’re produced to where they’re in demand?
Foreign aid will remain a controversial topic; with assistance going to rogue regimes like Pakistan and Egypt, many questions need to be asked.
But if Dr. Rajiv Shah has his way, those questions will be asked and answered. And results, rather than just intentions, will count.