This is a summary of the story of how the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) came to life, from its formation in 1969 until the Board of Directors set its policies for operations in 1971. It is the prologue to the organization in action.
Its narrator is Robert W. Mashek, who served with the IAF from 1971 to 1988, managing IAF’s portfolio in Brazil, the Caribbean, and southern South America, before serving as interim president and executive vice president. Mashek had been a staff member in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 1968–71, from where he accompanied the formation of the IAF.
An idea is born during a visit to Guatemala
In a Guatemala City hotel in late 1968, Marian Czarnecki, a staffer in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Robert Culbertson of the Department of State talked late into the night about the troublesome state of U.S. foreign aid.
Czarnecki and Culbertson had gone to Guatemala with four members of Congress to see U.S. foreign assistance programs in action. They were among others in the United States, Congress, and the Administration who were divided on issues concerning foreign aid. Should U.S. aid primarily serve to stimulate economic growth, promote democracy, strengthen military allies, or alleviate poverty?
As that night grew old, Czarnecki and Culbertson seized upon an idea already in circulation: to create a new, independent agency for social and civic development in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The next morning Czarnecki outlined the idea to Congressman Dante Fascell, then Chair of the House Committee on Inter-American Affairs. Enthusiastic, Fascell urged Czarnecki to proceed with draft legislation, which was later reported out to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on November 6, 1969.
According to the report, social and civic development could not be adequately fostered by existing foreign aid structures. It advocated creating a new U.S. government agency, called the Inter-American Social Development Institute (ISDI). ISDI would support development activities throughout the Western Hemisphere that allowed populations in those countries to develop their potential, seek a better life through gainful employment, and live in justice and peace. The bill was introduced at the end of President Richard Nixon’s first year in office. With bipartisan support, Congress enacted the bill on December 30, 1969, establishing ISDI as Part IV of the Foreign Assistance Act.
Putting the idea into practice
The National Security Council (NSC) of the White House was responsible for taking the next steps to create ISDI. Given the broad and bipartisan Congressional interest in ISDI, the NSC advised the Administration to take care to nominate qualified board members. On August 14, 1970, the President nominated seven candidates, and the Senate confirmed their appointment by September.
All in all, however, the legislation did a better job of explaining what should be avoided than of what should be done. Determined not to rush into operations uninformed, the board established a study group to conduct a survey of social and civic development assistance in Latin America and the Caribbean. By early 1971, they settled on a general vision, designing an organization that would:
- Communicate with poor people as directly as possible;
- Respond to communities’ ideas instead of preparing its own programming; and
- Deal directly with community-led organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean and, thus, avoid operating through intermediaries.
Around that same time, the Board named as Executive Director William M. Dyal, Jr., a former Baptist missionary and Peace Corps director known for his “humanitarian and innovative approaches to poverty and political conflict.” Finally, in 1972—and after considerable negotiation—the name ISDI was dropped and the Inter-American Foundation came into existence.