How much of the US budget goes to foreign aid? What do you think—5%, 10%, 20%?
In early 2015, the Kaiser Family Foundation asked 1,500 Americans the same question. The average answer was 26%. In the same poll, a majority of Americans thought we spent too much on foreign aid.
Foreign Aid: Only 1%
The real answer: less than 1%. In 2016, the US spent $38 billion on foreign aid, which was less than 1% of a $4 trillion national budget.
By another measure, in 2017, the USA’s foreign aid commitment from the U.S. State Department and USAID totaled $50.1 billion, or just over 1% of the budget (Wikipedia). Total military assistance was about $15 billion. Total economic assistance was about $35 billion.
The Wikipedia link breaks it down by country, which is incredibly instructive. Certain conflict-prone countries are getting a lot of our attention and money. One way to look at it is that this table reflects American priorities to help alleviate extreme poverty and help assist conflict-affected countries. Why do we do it? A combination of moral and self-interest, which is perhaps beyond the scope of this blog.
But whatever our reasons, it’s hard to make the argument that it’s a waste. It literally is an incredibly small investment to help some of the poorest, war-torn countries from getting worse.
How small? In 2017, the US GDP was about $19.4 trillion. Our national budget allotted $35 billion to foreign economic aid programs. Let’s break it down as if this was a person: If you make $60,000/year (which happens to be the GDP per person in 2017), then it’s the equivalent of you donating $108.
USAID is a force for good
USAID implemented about $20 billion of the $35 billion economic assistance. Based in Washington, DC, the United States Agency for International Development is the largest bilateral international development organization. USAID works to improve lives, strengthen communities, and advance democracy.
We at Dorst MediaWorks are proud to have produced USAID videos on four continents, including recent USAID video productions in Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, and Lebanon.
As its website says, “USAID’s work advances U.S. national security and economic prosperity; demonstrates American generosity; and promotes a path to recipient self-reliance and resilience.”
Typically large USAID subcontractors will hire Dorst MediaWorks to execute the video production and photography components of projects. We travel in country for filming and photography, and then work with project teams back in Washington DC to tell the best stories.
Washington DC USAID Video Production: Lebanon & Rabih’s Fishing Business
This is the story of Rabih, who struggles to make a living as a fisherman before buying a new boat and building his business. And the microfinance institution Al Majmoua, which is extending loans to rural entrepreneurs in Lebanon for the first time.
Dorst MediaWorks produced this USAID video for USAID subcontractor International Executive Service Corps. Since 1964, IESC has worked in 130 countries and helped to create or save over 1.5 million jobs.
Over multiple years, Dorst MediaWorks has produced 17 videos for IESC. Here they are:
Washington DC USAID Video Production: Haiti, Private Sector Development
This is the story of Hermine, one of many Haitians working hard to recover after 2010’s devastating earthquake. Hermine works at a clothing factory. When hercompany receives a grant from USAID to help expand operations, she is promoted. Today, she’s making progress in her dreams of building a house and helping her son pursue his education.
Dorst MediaWorks produced this USAID video for USAID subcontractor Nathan and Associates. Nathan is a private international economic and analytics consulting firm that works with government and commercial clients around the globe. It was founded in 1946 and has 40 program offices around the world.
Washington DC USAID Video Production: “Ghana & The Global Shea Alliance”
This is the story of Rita Dampson, a shea butter entrepreneur in Ghana who has built her cooperative up to more than 1,000 village women. USAID and the Global Shea Alliance partner to connect women from 21 African countries to the global marketplace.
Washington DC USAID Video Production: Ethiopia & Sara’s Handicraft Passion
This is the story of Sara, a fashion designer from Ethiopia. Not long ago, she had seven employees and was struggling to turn a profit in the local market. Today she has more than 400 employees and her designs appear in major retailers such as J. Crew. What was the difference? The support of USAID.