A Roundtable of Obama Administration Heavy Hitters Talk Development and EducationAn impressive assemblage of Obama Administration higher-ups gathered for a roundtable discussion last week at the annual U.S. Global Leadership Coalition conference, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) Administrator Rajiv Shah, and Millennium Challenge Corporation CEO Daniel Yohannes. Discussion focused on the elevation of the profile of international development and the announcement of a new Global Development Policy, the U.S. Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, which seeks to “facilitate the stabilization of countries that are emerging from crisis or conflict, to alleviate poverty, to advance the basic welfare and dignity of all humankind.”

This impressive slate of speakers, a combination of various Cabinet-level officials and prominent agency leaders, suggests a comprehensive and high-level approach to meeting the challenges presented by international development policy. Secretary Gates spoke with candor about his vision for what the world will look like in five years— a world with less global conflict. He stated, “Development contributes to stability. It contributes to better governance. You can’t have development without security, and you can’t have security without development.” His words attest to the fact that security goes beyond that of asserting military might. His words and vision align with one of NAFSA’s core beliefs: that international education - connecting students, scholars, educators, and citizens across borders - is vital for our security. NAFSA’s policy statement, Renewing America's Global Leadership, states:

It is these person-to-person relationships that sustain diplomatic and political relationships, which is why generations of American foreign-policy leaders have pointed to educational exchanges as one of our most successful foreign policy tools, the most proven and effective way for the United States to build a foundation for dialogue and partnership with the rest of the world. We believe international education, by its nature, is fundamental to fostering peace, security, and well-being - for America and for the world.

While development does require basic stability and security to advance its goals, there is an economic component as well. Secretary Geithner stated that investing in only half of a country’s resources has rarely, if ever, resulted in a path to economic prosperity. He spoke to ensuring access to microcredit loans for women and granting women the titles to land ownership as ways to encourage the inclusion of women in a country’s overall economic growth strategy.

This sentiment is expanded upon in the book Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (who spoke at the 2010 NAFSA Annual Conference in Kansas City) which contends that development goals cannot be achieved without the empowerment of women and girls. Empowerment involves many elements, but perhaps one of the most essential is education. Empowering women as agents of economic change is simply not possible without education, which the Obama Administration recognizes. Early in 2009, President Obama significantly elevated the issue by creating the position of Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, currently occupied by Melanne Verveer, which now presides over the new office on Global Women’s Issues at the State Department. Secretary Clinton has continued to champion the empowerment and education of women and girls on the world stage through the work of this office.

As evidenced by this roundtable discussion, international development cannot succeed at the level proposed by the Obama Administration without security and economic growth, both of which are simply not possible without education. International education, especially the education of women and girls worldwide, is a prerequisite for advancing our global community towards peace and prosperity for all.