Each year that I have introduced the annual report of the Inter-American Foundation, I have found it a vivid reminder of the encouraging efforts going on in this hemisphere, the often daunting context, and the vast diversity of Latin America and the Caribbean. Behind each grant awarded by the IAF are people struggling on the margins who have organized to do better. For many, working toward their ambitious goals requires taking on inequality, unemployment, threats to the environment, exclusion and chronic violence—all tough topics on the global agenda that challenge authorities and agencies with far more resources. Yet somehow the citizens most impacted are figuring out what might spark change where they live.
I will mention just two urgent issues that have resulted in some of the dozens of creative solutions described in this report. The first is the need to protect the environment. Common to many plans to raise the standard of living in disadvantaged communities is an awareness of the play between pressures on environmental resources and the potential for a better life. These plans are clear in their intent to ensure that valuable ecosystems and natural assets are not sacrificed to development. They emphasize restoration of woodlands and watersheds, benign tourism, responsible agriculture, even the safe treatment of e-waste. The second issue is the violence that ruins lives and destroys communities. Courageous grantee organizations, some working in extremely dangerous places, are standing up to violence in the home and on the street and also addressing the poverty, exclusion and impunity at the root of the problems in need of resolution.
The IAF approach to supporting these and other projects is cornered on listening to what the marginalized and the excluded have to say and responding directly to them with the modest investment they need to overcome their circumstances. I commend the strength and commitment of the IAF employees who have listened so well. Their focus is not abstract; it is on people. The funding decisions they make require idealism tempered by rigor and hard-nosed pragmatism.
Our board looks toward the future well aware that every item in the federal budget is going to be on the table during foreseeable funding discussions, including foreign aid which accounts for only 1 percent of the total. Just a tiny sliver of that small amount is allocated to the IAF for investment in the kind of self-help that brings about positive change. Grassroots development has long been acknowledged for making the most of limited resources and putting ordinary citizens in charge. Recently, in a statement jointly issued with the IAF, the United States Agency for International Development recognized the complementary function that the Inter-American Foundation serves in our country’s aid efforts by developing thriving communities, the “necessary building blocks for resilient democracies.” Americans can take pride in this solid approach to foreign assistance that demonstrates a sincere commitment to the people of Latin America and the Caribbean.
This message would not be complete without recognizing, in particular, the 12 productive years that Kay Arnold served with us, including her leadership as chair and vice chair in 2000 and 2001. When her second term expired, she graciously agreed to continue to work with us until the United States Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominee as her replacement. We have been working since April with two engaged and engaging new board members, Eddy Arriola and Kelly Ryan—and with Kay Arnold in her new position as vice chair of our robust and committed advisory council.
When President Barack Obama entrusted me to act as chair of the IAF’s board of directors four years ago, I accepted the responsibility as an honor and also as an opportunity to partner with hardworking people as they turn great ideas into something lasting. I can confirm that the rest of the board shares this aspiration. We have advanced in this effort by working together in a spirit of bipartisanship and of consensus that balances the perspectives of the public and private sectors. I am grateful to my colleagues on the board for their support during my tenure as chair and for the contribution that each one has made to the IAF and to efficient, responsive public diplomacy.
John P. Salazar Acting Chair, Board of Directors