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USAID at 50

Dr. Berlius Philogene with USAID partner International Medical Corps reads a patient's chart at a Cholera Treatment Center in Verrettes in the Artibonite department of Haiti. (file)

Fifty years on, USAID is a vital actor in U.S. global presence.

In 1961, newly elected U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy noted in a letter to the U.S. Congress that "widespread poverty and chaos lead to a collapse of existing political and social structures which would inevitably invite the advance of totalitarianism." He consolidated the country's foreign aid programs and created a single entity with a mandate to "assist the economic and social development of the less-developed areas of the world." And so, 50 years ago, the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, was born.

At the turn of the 20th century, the United States began to increase its influence on the international stage, and coincidently initiated its first foreign relief program: the predominantly U.S. organized and financed Commission for Relief of Belgium. The CRB delivered food to German-occupied Belgium and northern France during the First World War. Numerous programs followed, among them the U.S. effort to combat famine and typhus in Russia; the World War Two Lend-Lease program, and the European Recovery Program, also known as the Marshall Plan.

By the middle of the century, U.S. development aid was in dire need of reorganization. Then-President Kennedy, writing that "no objective supporter of foreign aid can be satisfied with the existing ... multiplicity of programs," rolled existing foreign aid entities into USAID, the newly-established agency dedicated to long-term development.

Fifty years on, USAID is a vital actor in U.S. global presence. In September 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled his Global Development Policy, and, for the first time, elevated international development as a core pillar of U.S. foreign policy. The President chose the U.S. Agency for International Development to carry out his vision.

Thus, USAID has become a quiet force for progress: preventing disease and disasters, stabilizing societies and expanding free markets, and changing with the times to best serve the people of the developing world.

"The vision for the modern development enterprise is to create conditions where our assistance is no longer needed, replaced over time by efficient local governments, thriving civil societies and vibrant private sectors," said USAID Administrator, Dr. Rajiv Shah. "We’re using science, innovation, entrepreneurship and ingenuity to create game-changing solutions that will build better lives for millions of people around the world."