December 31 - A New Mandate for the Peace Corps
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A New Mandate for the Peace Corps [12/31/01]:
December 31 - A New Mandate for the Peace Corps
Over the past several years many have recognized that with the changes that have taken place in the last 40 years, the Peace Corps must be redefined to meet the challenges of the new century. The three goals of the Peace Corps remain the same. What is different is how the world has changed, what returned volunteers have learned from their experience in the Peace Corps and in "real life" after the Peace Corps, the new tools that are available in the wired world, and rpcv's own willingness to get involved with the Peace Corps again. We are the ones who know the Peace Corps and it's mission best. Now is our time to redefine how it can best meet those goals.
The Committee for a New Peace Corps issued a white paper in March 2000 which examined the changing role of the Peace Corps in today's world. Founding Director Sargent Shriver gave a speech at Yale last November where he called for a new Peace Corps - a vastly improved, expanded, and profoundly deeper enterprise.
Now Peace Corps Online initiates it's coverage of returned volunteers who are working with Congress for changes in the legislative mandate that defines the role of the Peace Corps. We urge returned volunteers to support the efforts to bring the Peace Corps into the 21st century by reading what returned volunteers are doing, by stating your own opinions in this forum, and by making your views known to your representatives in Congress. Our coverage of a new mandate for the Peace Corps begins today with the following story:
A New Mandate for the Peace Corps
Dave Hibbard and Roger Landrum, both from the first wave of Nigeria RPCVs, are leading an effort to redefine the role of the Peace Corps in the world through new Congressional legislation. The case is simple. After 40 years, the Peace Corps "brand name" has earned wide respect across the world and the program model has a proven track record. After 40 years, however, the 1961 programming model and the Peace Corps agency need to be re-examined and redesigned to become more flexible, entrepreneurial and collaborative. At the same time, after September 11 the Peace Corps also needs to be reconsidered as an important American strategic asset for addressing the many new challenges of globalization. Strategic reviews are routinely undertaken with military operations and many other federal agency missions, usually through White House initiative or Congressional Committee oversight. But the Peace Corps, while routinely reauthorized with bipartisan support, has lacked serious attention at these levels and is without adequate strategic-planning resources to undertake a major re-examination from within.
In December, Hibbard and Landrum made a first round of visits to test Congressional waters. They asked specifically for new legislation that would mandate new missions for the Peace Corps and include more imaginative harnessing of the most underutilized of all Peace Corps resources: the cultural and career expertise of RPCVs. In discussions with the foreign affairs staffs of Senators Campbell, Allard, Dodd and Kennedy, as well as House Members Udall and Pelosi, the level of interest was very high. Initial commitments were made to introduce new legislation in the House and seriously consider holding Senate hearings.
In coordination with the National Peace Corps Association and Congressional staff, a process is underway to define in more concrete terms what the elements of a "New Mandate" for the Peace Corps might look like--and how such ideas could gain political momentum. The first step is to develop a working list of potential new roles for the Peace Corps. The goal is to have the list of proposals completed in draft form by the end of January through wide outreach to RPCVs and review by an advisory group. The NPCA board will also review and comment upon the proposals. The most viable concepts will then be passed along for Congressional consideration.
Some of the initial proposals are fairly obvious, such as new missions for Peace Corps in Afghanistan and more broadly in the Islamic world. Others would require creative public diplomacy to explore new kinds of joint ventures with countries which have never hosted Peace Corps, such as Mexico and Egypt, moving beyond the traditional Peace Corps model into shorter-term technical assistance teams and more collaborative planning and implementation of new ventures (domestic youth service programming would be an example). Some initiatives might be negotiated and managed by teams of RPCVs. The NPCA is already experimenting with this in Iran and Cuba.
Landrum suggests that "Congress should consider earmarking funds directly to the NPCA to manage new projects by RPCVs, both overseas and at home. This could trigger broader and long overdue cooperation between Peace Corps and its alumni, above and beyond routine agency staffing roles." Another interesting proposal is Congressional mandates for international nonprofit ventures led by entrepreneurial RPCVs: the International Women's Democracy Center, World Corps, and Youth Service International are all examples. Landrum calls these ventures "direct extensions of Peace Corps experience and expertise."
Other options include Congressionally-mandated missions for RPCV teams working at home with Muslim foreign students and immigrant communities. Hibbard describes these roles as "directly related to American interests in better relations with the overseas Islamic world."
Several months are available for additional debate and discussion before Peace Corps reauthorization legislation comes up in May. A forum on "The Future of the Peace Corps" is scheduled for the NPCA conference in Washington in June, where New Mandate ideas can gain additional consideration and be backed by constituent visits with Members of Congress. RPCV groups across the country will be critically important allies.
Disabling terrorist networks and projecting American military strength will only go so far. What comes next in advancing world development and building conditions for peace? A new era of American engagement in the world will also be necessary, and Congress may recognize that a "New Mandate" for Peace Corps and RPCVs will be a valuable asset.
Dr. Dave Hibbard is a M.D. practicing in Boulder, Colorado and a former Peace Corps doctor in India. Dr. Roger Landrum is president of Youth Service International and chaired the Committee for a New Peace Corps which submitted an RPCV position paper to the Bush Transition Team.
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Old mandate still works as a model provided it is fully implemented. It's a shame that less than 8,000 PCVS are currently serving overseas.
US policy seems to be expand the CIA and US military operations abroad, dominate more local economies with our US-based conglomerates, obtain freer access to foreign natural and human resources and to diminish that 'liberal' Peace Corps.
So, you served two years in the Peace Corps and now want to get involved, again? Fine. There are literally hundreds of international volunteer organizations waiting for help. Don't wait for Bush to be 'enlightened'. Plenty of work to do outside of the federal government and taxpayer expense.
By Tiffany Tuttle, RPCV, Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday, January 08, 2002 - 3:23 pm: Edit Post|
I think a rehaul of the Peace Corps mission would be welcome, as long as those changes are made by RPCVs, and especially by recently-returned RPCVs. I know that, in my experience, the best volunteers were the ones who thought outside of the official PC box and blazed their own trails. Their experiences and conclusions would be invaluable in helping shape policy. I don't think that the new policies should be left to the people and politicians at home in the US. In order to create a model that is appropriate for today's world, we need the input of today's PCVs.
For those of us who feel that their talents can better be used elsewhere post-PC, I agree that there are plenty of organizations which could use your help. But I don't think that means we should leave incoming volunteers with an outdated model to work with. Why force PCVs to constantly reinvent the wheel?