What is our Return on Investment for USAID?Many people ask, what is our “return on investment” for USAID? One clear answer is that we substantially improve public attitudes about the US. America offers humanitarian assistance all around the world, and there is growing research to suggest that US aid to developing nations results in substantial benefits to the US itself.

The non-profit group Terror Free Tomorrow, in Washington DC, has done extensive surveys:

  • Two-thirds of Indonesians favorably changed their opinion of the US because of the US tsunami response in 2004. Most significantly, 71% of self-identified Osama bin Laden supporters adopted a new favorable view of the US.
  • As a direct result of American efforts in 2004, support for Al Qaeda and terrorist attacks dropped by half in Indonesia  (the largest Muslim country in the world). Even two years after, 60% of Indonesians continued to have favorable opinions of America.
  • After the U.S. Navy ship Mercy, fully equipped floating hospital, docked for several months in local ports in 2006, provided medical care to the people of Indonesia and Bangladesh, nationwide polling in Bangladesh found that 87% said the activities of the Mercy made their overall opinion of the US more positive.
  • Indonesians and Bangladeshis ranked additional visits by the Mercy as a higher priority for future American policy than resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • After the US war in Afghanistan, and the drone strikes inside Pakistan, anti-American attitudes in Pakistan were among the strongest in the world. However, on a local level, where USAID had been active after an earthquake – there was still significant trust in the US, even four years after.
  • Even more dramatic change in public opinion can occur when American aid is targeted and focused on directly helping people in need and not foreign governments.

Humanitarian aid saves lives and helps to improve living standards during horrible disasters. It builds allies and strengthens our national security by doing so. It changes public opinion toward the US and can lead to significant changes in values. It can increase understanding across borders – lessening inter-tribal, religious, and regional conflict, and enhance support for free markets, trade, and democracy.

In this time of limited government funds, the effectiveness of American foreign humanitarian help must be protected. A full understanding of humanitarian aid shows that it helps donors and recipient nations alike.

– Mary Purcell

Source: Brookings Institution
Photo: Truth-Out