Statement On The Fiftieth Anniversary Of The Inter-American Foundation

Mr. LEAHY.  Mr. President, for fifty years the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) has partnered with grassroots organizations and underserved populations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to advance U.S. interests by helping to improve the lives of the hemisphere’s poorest people, supporting civil society, and strengthening democratic institutions.  I want to take this opportunity today, on IAF’s 50th anniversary, to comment briefly on the Foundation’s accomplishments and on the unique value of small-grant, community-led development.

In 1969, Congress established IAF as an independent development agency charged with identifying and investing in community-led development solutions.  IAF awards small grants, averaging $280,000 over four years, directly to local organizations, eliminating costly intermediaries and ensuring programs are led and implemented locally.  IAF also requires grantees to contribute or mobilize their own cash or in-kind resources, helping to ensure sustainability and local investment in project success.  On average, such counterpart investments mobilize $1.31 for every $1 invested by IAF.

According to IAF, in fiscal year 2019 alone, it awarded $18.5 million to 97 grassroots organizations in 24 countries and mobilized $20 million in grantee counterpart resources.  IAF grantees created more than 2,500 partnerships with other organizations to share experiences and advance their missions, trained more than 200,000 people in new leadership and technical skills, and contributed to the creation of 11,000 new or improved jobs.  

IAF’s development model illustrates that if modest resources and technical support are provided directly to communities and their grassroots organizations so they can define their own needs, design their own solutions, and invest in their own communities, then local ownership, self-reliance, and sustainable development are possible.

IAF’s small-grants model also enables it to be nimble and responsive to changing conditions on the ground, including natural and man-made disasters.  In recent years, IAF has used its network of grantees in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru to support thousands of displaced Venezuelans and the communities where they have relocated. 

After the signing of the Colombia Peace Accords in 2016, IAF launched the Colombian Peacebuilding Initiative and invested nearly $2 million in 23 local Colombian organizations to support community-level peacebuilding and reconciliation. 

In Central America, IAF has 98 projects addressing the causes of migration in areas likely to be targets of criminal gangs in order to help families and communities resist such violence.  And since June 2019, IAF has awarded $650,000 in grants to civil society organizations across the Eastern Caribbean focused on strengthening community-led disaster mitigation and preparedness planning.

IAF’s successful approach to development is why we increased funding in the fiscal year 2020 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, which was reported unanimously by the Appropriations Committee in September.  Increased funding would enable IAF to support a greater number of meritorious grant proposals, as the Foundation was able to fund only seven percent of the almost 800 proposals received in fiscal year 2019.

Regrettably, this model of donors directly supporting small-scale, local initiatives to design, implement, and sustain their own development solutions is more the exception than the rule.  I hope IAF’s 50th anniversary serves not only as an opportunity to commemorate its many accomplishments, but also to reflect on the need to expand IAF’s approach to development across the U.S. government.  

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