Steve Driehaus States the Case for the Peace Corps

Friday April 19, 2019

Steve Driehaus (Senegal ’88 – ’90) recently addressed the Foreign Policy Leadership Council on the ongoing case for the US Peace Corps.  Steve knows what he is talking about, having served not only as a PCV but also as the Peace Corps country director in Swaziland and Morocco.  He also served in the US Congress and reassured the audience that the Peace Corps has broad bipartisan support there.  The annual budget for the Peace Corps is $398 mm, about the cost of 1 1/2 F22 Raptor fighter jets.  In a sense, Steve was “preaching to the choir” at this event, as it was co-sponsored by CARV and there were many RPCVs in the audience.

Steve gave a brief history of the Peace Corps, including John F. Kennedy’s original formulation at the University of Michigan in 1960.  He reminded the audience that this was only 15 years after the end of World War II, and the idea of forging a personal connection between Americans and others around the world was crucial, but no more so than it is now.  He stated that the Peace Corps is fundamentally a cultural exchange program that also works in development.  As such, it is never co-located with other agencies within an embassy in the countries where we serve.  There are currently about 7,400 volunteers in 62 countries.

Steve reacted strongly against a recent opinion piece by Michael Buckler in “The Hill.”  (Click here for a link). Buckley argues that a more data-drive approach would bolster the case for the Peace Corps, justifying the use of taxpayer dollars.  According to Steve, the value of Peace Corps service is not captured merely by data, especially as the results of our efforts are often not observed for years.  For example, Steve reports that he finds Peace Corps service is like a grad school for US Foreign Service officers.  Likewise, host country nationals at the highest levels of government frequently refer to the positive influence that Peace Corps volunteers had on their lives.  As examples of long-term yet non-quantifiable benefits of Peace Corps service, Steve pointed to the work of Addie and Ryan Hall who served in Swaziland.  Ryan helped young people create rap videos about HIV-AiDS prevention and Addie worked with girls in the area of reproductive health.  Both projects clearly will have positive long-term impacts but it would be impossible to prove this by regression analysis.

In the Q&A, Steve agreed that the Peace Corps could do a better job of tracking what RPCVs are doing, both in the US and abroad.  He pointed out that the agency does share best practices both in-county and internationally.  He believes that PCVs help host country nationals to view challenges and opportunities differently, rather than imposing large-scale solutions.  This tends to lead to sustainable outcomes.  He recommends using technology to allow PCVs to have greater impact on decision-making.


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