102. Letter From the Permanent Representative to the Development Assistance Committee (Coffin) to the Administrator of the Agency for International Development (Bell)1

Dear Dave:

I have recently been giving considerable thought to the chronic problem of stimulating more activity in the field of public support in the DAC nations other than the U.S. I don’t need to underscore the distressing signals of reduced activity in Germany, retrenchment in France, and glacial progress elsewhere.

Our problems in the past have been to identify key Europeans who would be willing and able to carry on effective activity and to envisage the kind of activities which would be effective. My present thinking is that both objectives might be better accomplished if some preliminary groundwork were done outside of governmental circles, by way of identifying the kind of work that needed to be done on a sustained basis, the kind of international “umbrella” organization (if any) which would be helpful, and the individuals and national organizations who could be part of such an effort.

My suggestion, therefore, is that we try to see if there are several international foundations which would be interested enough in the problem to consider joint sponsorship of a conference on increased public understanding and support of development assistance. Specifically, I would start with Henry Heald of The Ford Foundation, who has demonstrated in his public statements realistic awareness of the long range nature of the development task. Ford is already doing much, but, if it could see that stronger international public support would be a catalytic agent of significant potential, it might very well feel that an initial investment would reap many dividends.

Perhaps George Harrar ought also to be involved—but I would not want U.S. foundations to dominate the effort. In any event, the first step [Page 291] would be to have a quiet discussion, talking about the need to have something going in this field, how a conference would help develop the intellectual framework, identify people and organizations, and pave the way for a standing action organization.

The next step would be for the U.S. foundation (or foundations) to enlist the interest of a few others. Volkswagen seems to me to be a logical co-sponsor. Other foundations in the UK, France, and one or two smaller countries might be included.

If such a consortium can be put together, it would face the following tasks:

Determine the nature and scope of the conference.
Establish a budget and staff to which all would contribute.

Prepare an agenda and list of participants, including the commissioning of certain papers which would be the basis for discussion and ultimate publication. This part of the effort I would envisage as the intellectual basis for a sophisticated and sustained support effort.

Its scope would have to be carefully considered. On the one hand, the conference ought not to duplicate the many meetings and conferences which are constantly being held. But on the other hand, it seems to me necessary that there be a substantive agenda to attract good people and to avoid the risk of the effort shoaling off into discussion of public relations techniques.

It seems to me that there can be proper linkage between substance and public support planning, if the substantive agenda is based on the issues most relevant to the problems of support. As a starter, I would suggest as substantive objectives (1) a more common sense of purpose; (2) a more sophisticated awareness of the common donor interest in an effective response to developing countries (humanitarian, economic, political, social); (3) the principles underlying an effective response (the stimulation of self help, adequacy of budgeted amounts, liberality of terms, continuity of program, centralization of administration, developing the needed personnel within and outside government); (4) placing in perspective the chief arguments advanced against aid (cost, balance of payments, waste, LDC maladministration and ineffective utilization of aid); (5) the need for public understanding and support to sustain an effective response; and (6) the role, structure, financing, and membership of an international public support effort.

When some such agenda has been thought out, papers should be assigned to appropriate experts or leaders of opinion; study groups organized—with representation from experts of relevant disciplines, government officials, parliamentarians, and other community leaders.
The conference itself should last for a substantial period of time, so that individual panels could discuss and redefine the preparatory work and adequate plenary sessions could take place.
After the conference, the basic “bible” or international white paper would be prepared and published in the languages necessary to reach all donor countries.
Materials for popular consumption should then be planned, published, with arrangements made for widespread distribution. Various promotional activities should be envisaged. Much of the continuing work would fall under the aegis of the international council, perhaps with continuing funding support from business, labor, and foundations.
The question of future such conferences, their location and focus, would be bound up with the very role of the continuing organization.

I hold no firm brief for the precise agenda, but it seems to me that the problem of public support is critical enough to warrant an approach to foundations. It is a problem worthy of their attention and one which perhaps is not best addressed directly by governments. All would depend, of course, on the sensitivity, ability, and imagination brought to bear on this course of action.

If this seems to have merit, you might want to take some low key soundings on your European trip, particularly in Bonn. If you feel this needs further work here, let me know the direction of your thinking. If, on the other hand, you feel this is a non-starter, don’t hesitate to say so.

With best personal regards,


Frank M. Coffin 2
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 286, AID Administrator Files: FRC 68 A 2148, PRM 7–1, Development Assistance Committee, FY 1965. Limited Official Use; Personal. Attached to the source text are two notes from the AID Executive Secretariat to Bell, February 11 and 15. In the first Bell was asked whether he wanted PC to draft a reply to Coffin, and whether copies should be sent to Gaud and Schaetzel. The approval line below the first question is left blank and “yes” on the approval line below the second is checked. The second note indicated that copies had been distributed to Gaud and Schaetzel and asked whether, in lieu of a reply, Coffin’s letter should be put in Bell’s briefing book, presumably the one for his upcoming European trip. The “yes” on the approval line has been checked.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.