SEATTLE — Andy and Wally Kocemba, the father-and-son owners of Calhoun Companies in Minneapolis, flew to Washington, D.C. recently, carrying out their lobbying efforts from the bottom up for more aggressive foreign investment policies.
“My dad and I wanted to go there to express our business reasons to support foreign investment,” Andy Kocemba said. The Kocembas believed that developing strong international markets would expand the U.S. exports, create American jobs and drive domestic economic development.
By law, nearly all U.S. assistance must be spent on American-produced items. Actually, U.S. jobs that produce U.S. exports pay much more: an estimated 13 percent to 18 percent more than the U.S. national average.
On the same mission, eight Minnesota members of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), a broad-based influential business-and-nonprofit network that supports strategic investments overseas to elevate development, met with U.S. Representative Tom Emmer and Keith Ellison. They also visited with staff of Minnesota’s senators to discuss the importance of building a strong and effective International Affairs Budget.
The USGLC believes that international aid and foreign investment as the U.S. civilian tools of diplomacy and development are significantly underfunded. Indeed, global development work is necessary to protect national security, build economic prosperity and strengthen humanitarian values.
This viewpoint is, in fact, not unprecedented. As the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank, reported shortly after the 9-11, “Terrorism thrives in societies that offer their people no hope.” When the U.S. provides foreign aid, it is also making long-term investments, putting itself in a better position to protect the country in future.
President Obama also described international development as a fundamental pillar of U.S. foreign policy. At the White House Global Development Summit last week, Obama said, “Development isn’t charity. It’s one of the smartest investments we can make in our shared future–in our security and our prosperity.”
In recent years, however, foreign assistance spending has dropped about 10 percent since 2010, to around $55 billion in fiscal 2016. At the same time, Americans have become less supportive of foreign aid in recent years. They state that foreign aid is a very substantial percentage of the U.S. federal budget.
In a 2010 WorldPublicOpinion survey, the median respondent estimated that foreign aid takes up 27 percentage of the U.S. federal budget. The reality is that barely one percent of the budget goes to foreign assistance, a minuscule fragment of more than 50 percent on entitlement spending, 18 percent on income security and 16 percent on military operations.
In the meantime, the public has become more cynical about international development efforts when the funds keep flowing into the pockets of the rich or white-elephant projects with questionable results.
Increasingly, development has moved away from the trickle-down approach. Foreign investment combined with the strength of local initiatives delivers plausible outcomes worldwide.
Under such circumstances, we need many more grassroots lobbyists such as the Kocembas for foreign investment which includes many initiatives that help poor people around the world become self-sufficient in agriculture, sanitation and clean water. “We must invest to make the world better,” said Andy Kocemba.
– Yvie Yao