Inside USAID’s Policy Framework

Steven E. Hendrix

In March 2023, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) presented its new Policy Framework, the Agency’s highest-level policy document. That Framework lays out its collective vision for international development, translates U.S. national security and foreign policy goals into Agency priorities, and promotes coherence among our development, humanitarian, stabilization, and other crisis-response policies and efforts we undertake to implement them.  As such, it operationalizes the goals and objectives from the White House National Security Strategy and the Joint State Department-USAID Strategic Plan.

Since USAID’s founding more than 60 years ago, USAID has worked together with partner countries to help tackle many of the challenges of our time.  Yet despite remarkable progress, today, development challenges have taken on a global magnitude not seen since perhaps the Second World War, with significant implications for America’s national security. These global challenges threaten development progress, bypassing borders and affecting nations regardless of ideology or system of government. They are deeply interconnected, with climate change accelerating global hunger, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating long-standing economic challenges, and pervasive inequality contributing to democratic decline.

The world is at a decisive juncture.  If we fail to collectively grapple with these circumstances and do not take steps to find solutions, we risk perpetuating greater conflict and instability, rather than making progress towards shared prosperity and peace. The United States must offer inclusive leadership and bold action to extend the reach of human dignity to all—especially in communities too often excluded or left behind.  We must drive progress in ways that surpass the confines of the budgets we control or of the programs we administer. 

USAID is launching this new Policy Framework to address these challenges and reinforce our commitment to building a more peaceful, prosperous, and humane world. This Policy Framework serves as a roadmap to driving “progress beyond our development programs.”

“Driving Progress Beyond Programs” connects major policy initiatives, strategies to recruit new partners, and internal reform efforts, and provides a comprehensive guide for the Agency to operationalize its vision to achieve progress beyond just programs - progress that cannot be delivered by USAID funding alone. 

For USAID staff overseas and in headquarters, the Policy Framework is the basis for strategy, program, budget, and operational planning.  For USAID partners, it clarifies USAID’s objectives and how the Agency aims to achieve them, and it supports collaboration and mutual accountability among USAID, partners, and the people and communities served.

The Policy Framework establishes three overarching priorities to drive progress through and beyond our programs: first, to confront the greatest challenges of our time; second, to embrace new partnerships; and third, to invest in USAID’s enduring effectiveness.

On “Confronting the Greatest Challenges of Our Time,” to drive the progress we seek in more than 100 countries in which USAID works, the Agency aligns on specific objectives and adopts new strategies to achieve them. USAID will:

  • Respond to complex emergencies, build peace and resilience, and invest in lasting food security:  USAID is working with our international partners to mobilize the resources, reforms, and action required to meet people’s most urgent needs while leading on initiatives to achieve lasting recovery, peace, growth, and food security. The Agency will deliberately pair immediate disaster assistance with longer-term humanitarian and development efforts that will support early recovery, risk reduction, and resilience, as we strengthen broader coherence among humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding activities.
  • Help countries withstand the effects of a changing climate and secure a net-zero future:  USAID is supporting countries and communities around the world in adapting to and managing the impacts of climate change.  USAID is fostering adaptation action around the world and enabling economic growth that is less reliant on fossil fuels, deforestation, or land degradation while strengthening energy security, independence, the preservation of natural ecosystems, and a just transition. USAID must take ambitious action both to significantly scale our work to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and to help communities adapt to the shocks and harms already upon them.
  • Stem the tide of authoritarianism, counter corruption, fight digital repression and disinformation, and spur democratic renewal:  USAID is the leading provider of democratic assistance in the world, and we are turning our focus toward new and crucial fronts in the fight to strengthen democracy. These activities are part of the bold, coordinated action the U.S. government is undertaking with its allies and partners to strengthen accountable governance and the rule of law, fight authoritarian influences, protect human rights, and combat corruption, including in the President’s Initiative for Democratic Renewal.
  • Bolster health security, improve primary care, and reverse the decline in global life expectancy:  USAID is leveraging its substantial global health presence and financial resources, technical expertise, and targeted advocacy to strengthen systems to meet urgent needs while strengthening health systems for the long term.
  • Address economic headwinds and promote inclusive economic growth:  USAID is drawing on its global presence, partnerships, and versatile toolkit to help partner countries manage economic challenges, while strengthening the rights, opportunities, and systems that underpin inclusive and sustainable development. The Agency is also working with partners, especially local ones, to help close gender, racial, and other gaps that impede inclusive progress. 

To “Embrace New Partnerships,” USAID currently programs nearly $30 billion in foreign assistance each year, but given the scope of today’s problems, aid alone is not enough. The Agency must  mobilize collective action with governments and form new linkages with the private sector and local actors. To this end, USAID will:

  • Elevate the practice of development diplomacy:  Through USAID’s convening power, our global footprint, our standing in key multilateral institutions, our linkages to the private sector, our strategic communications channels, and America’s influence as a global power, we have the potential to drive collective action far beyond the scope of our programming.
  • Deepen engagement with private companies and organizations:  To drive the development progress we seek and address the scale of need in the world, we must therefore deepen engagement with the private sector, from multinational corporations to private companies and entrepreneurs within the countries where USAID works.
  • Significantly expand our support for locally-led development:  Through a set of internal reforms, actions, and behavior changes, USAID will expand space for actors based in the communities in which we work to lead, strengthen local systems, and respond to local needs.

To “Invest in USAID’s Enduring Effectiveness,” to make the maximum impact with our programming and drive significant progress beyond it, USAID must urgently transform itself to meet the moment. It must rebuild a depleted workforce, inform our work with the latest development thinking and evidence, and dismantle bureaucratic burdens that diminish our impact. To reach this, USAID will:

  • Expand, diversify, retain, and empower its workforce
  • Strengthen and modernize communications
  • Ground responses in evidence
  • Reduce burdens so staff can focus on the work that matters most.

The Policy Framework prioritizes an ambitious agenda for organizational change and inclusive development. USAID works to embed diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility principles in our work at every level so that our programs, people, processes, policies, and practices are inclusive, reflect the diversity of our nation, advance equity, and enhance accessibility.  These principles will help deliver the significant development gains we seek, and to make sure that those gains are truly inclusive—benefiting all individuals, including women and girls and people of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, and people of all backgrounds, ages, disability statuses, and racial, ethnic, religious, caste, and socioeconomic groups.

To conclude, the new Policy Frameworks ensure that Agency staff, the larger development community, and the public at large understand USAID’s highest-level policy priorities. The Framework reinforces that USAID is confronting the greatest challenges of our time, embracing new partnerships, and investing in the Agency’s enduring effectiveness. These priorities are interconnected, and will drive “progress beyond programs.” 


About the Author

Steven E. Hendrix is the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Senior Coordinator - U.S. Department of State, Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance (F), & the State Department Managing Director - Planning, Performance, and Systems (F/PPS).