105. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs (Coombs) to the Under Secretary of State (Bowles)0


  • The “New Look” in Foreign Assistance

In the next few days, before the Foreign Aid Pattern gets frozen, I hope you will sit down with Labouisse, Coffin, Ball and Bell and make sure that the foreign aid program is really going to have a “new look”, with a heavily increased emphasis on people and their development, not two or three years from now but in FY 1962.

There is real danger that two years from now people will ask, “What is new about Kennedy’s foreign aid program?” Much attention has been devoted to important technical changes—such as longer budget periods—but the cards are stacked against a major shift in the pattern of programming.

Many old timers either do not understand or do not believe in the “new emphasis” on human resource developments.
The staff, in Washington and the field, is loaded with narrow specialists whose projects would hereafter receive less emphasis. They will naturally resist a shift.
The argument is made that so much old stuff is in the pipeline that at least one year, maybe two, of “turn-around time” is needed. There is some truth to this, but we need to be very tough in cutting off old stuff in order to start on new.
The loan program will in all probability go into physical stuff which can be photographed and mortgaged and earn an interest rate. Actually, investment in education will yield a higher economic return in the long run but it’s not a banker’s idea of an “investment.”
There is a prevalent notion that education can be emphasized at little cost by supporting a few pilot demonstrations here and there. On this premise, people say they are all for an emphasis on education but then end up providing meagre money for it. Actually educational development will require a great deal of money and we kid ourselves if we think otherwise.

For weeks now I have been pushing hard at every opportunity for a genuine emphasis on education and human resource development. [Page 237] Harry Labouisse and Harry Coffin are fully sympathetic, I am sure. But somehow, when the charts get drawn and the budget figures get laid out, education tends to get obscured and lost in the shuffle.

I am afraid that everyone has been so busy with the technical details that insufficient attention has been given to the political dimensions, both domestic and international, on which the success of the program will ultimately rest.

It is imperative that the Kennedy foreign assistance program look different and be different, right from the outset. It must not be the same old program with new labels.
Both the American people and foreigners will respond to a strong and clear emphasis on people and on education. This should be the hallmark of the new Kennedy program. The philosophy should be clear and simple: a society’s main wealth is in its human resources; the development of people must precede the development of industry (this is the history of U.S. development); the development of new, viable, free societies is much broader and more complex than simply economic development; the United States values people more than material things, we place our confidence in the liberation of human energy and aspirations through the education of peoples’ minds.

Incidentally, I saw Adlai in New York on Friday1 and he feels strongly along the same line.

I hope that you and Dean and the President will all ask one key question about the plans for the new foreign assistance program: How new will it actually look and be—as seen by the public—in the coming year, and how much increased emphasis will there really be on human resource development?

One final point: It is very important that our accent on education be very visible, even in the organizational structure of the program. If education is buried away in the regional bureaus and there is no provision for a top flight person with a good staff to worry about educational development in the program generally, it will be impossible to attract good enough people into the program to provide strong leadership on the education front, and we will lose an important political advantage at home and abroad.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 811.0000/5-561. Personal and Confidential. The source text is initialed “PHC per LL,” presumably Lillian Lovitz (CU). A typewritten note at the end of the source text reads: “Dictated but not signed by Mr. Coombs.”
  2. April 28.