Summer Internship Series #5

Our fifth internship post comes from Simone, MPP accelerated 2014.

Hey there Charlottesville! Are you holding up without me? Hopefully. With the closing of my college basketball career in March of this year, I am spending my first summer away from Charlottesville since I enrolled at UVA. No worries, I haven’t been squandering away the newfound freedom. My past eight weeks have been spent in the District of Columbia, with InterAction, the largest coalition of U.S. based international development NGOs.

I am working with InterAction’s public policy team. During the summer, the PP team spends the majority of its time focusing on advocacy to members of Congress before the July Fourth and August recesses. For the first few weeks of summer we were focused on getting the HR 1983 Food Aid Reform Act passed. HR 1983, or the Royce-Bass bill, was focused on amending the Food for Peace Act. Food for Peace is the primary U.S. food aid program, sending American grown food aid on American freighters to crisis areas. When Food for Peace began in 1966, the program made sense. American farmers needed the subsidies, the American maritime industry benefited from the increased business, and in a time with wars were fought on the high seas more American freighters in the ocean provided a security blanket. Alas, it is 2013, and the American farming industry is experiencing some of its biggest surpluses in years, freighters are one of the more inefficient forms of travel, and war is fought in the skies. These changes mean that the Food for Peace program is largely inefficient and outdated.

My responsibility during this time was to keep the PP team updated on developments amongst the House representatives. This meant attending a number of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s hearings on food aid reform. At my first hearing, one of the witnesses was Andrew Nastios, the former director of USAID. He told stories of being in the middle of famines in Ethiopia and Somalia, and watching as people wasted away while food aid was in transit. It would take months for the aid to cross the ocean, and then weeks to be trucked inland through war zones. It was clear from his testimony that the current Food for Peace system wasn’t working.

Our advocacy efforts consisted of one-on-one meetings with foreign affairs staffers, holding briefings for congressional aides, and creating sign-on letters from our 180-some members to send to the members of Congress.  The bill finally went to a vote, and unfortunately we did not get the result we wanted. The bill did not pass. There was one positive, 203 representatives voted yes to the amendment, a huge step forward from 2008 when a food aid reform bill didn’t even go to a vote.

Being on the advocacy side of international development and aid reform can be frustrating, when it seems like months of hard work go to waste when a bill doesn’t pass. But in this business there is no time to mope. The next push for InterAction is the Poe Bill, or the Foreign Aid Transparency Act, and there is no time to mourn losses. The most important thing I’ve taken away from my time at InterAction so far is this is a work of increments. Monumental change doesn’t happen overnight. Advocacy is delicate work, but hopefully my Batten training has prepared me well.  

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