The coolest thing I got to do last year for ONE was to travel around the country, meet dozens of people, and talk to them about the money the US spends on foreign aid. My goal was to help capture, through a series of short, creative videos, the way Americans feel about giving our money to the world’s poorest people.
Along with our talented friends at Gnarly Bay and VICE/VIRTUE, I traveled to each region of the country, asking complete strangers if they would take a few minutes and share their thoughts with us. I met small business owners struggling to stay afloat, stay-at-home moms, students, bankers, roofers, truck drivers, teachers, youth ministers, and a man staying at a local shelter while he looked for a new job. Their sentiment was overwhelmingly the same: we spend too much on foreign aid, and in these tough times where we are all struggling, we should be spending that money at home, not abroad.
But then I shared the facts: foreign aid was less than 1 percent of our budget and had helped to accomplish some pretty amazing things, including getting 8 million people on life-saving AIDS medication and helping more than 1 billion people through smarter agricultural programs.
The transformation, after people heard these facts, was incredible. People were shocked at how little we actually spent, and amazed at how much had been achieved. They were happy to find out that their tax dollars had helped to save and improve lives all over the world, and insisted that their representatives in Congress not make cuts to lifesaving programs. They also lamented the fact that this wasn’t common knowledge, saying that more people should know about all the good we are doing with so little.
Watch the videos here:
I agree. Time and time again, studies have shown that Americans don’t have their facts straight on the aid we send toward poverty reduction. In 2011, the Kaiser Family Foundation asked Americans which programs they would support making minor or major reductions in spending. The area most people supported making cuts? Foreign aid. Another survey shows that the average American believes foreign aid accounts for 25 percent of our federal budget and feel that 10 percent would be a more appropriate percent. The reality? Foreign aid accounts for less than 1 percent of our budget.
For those of us in the business of advocating for foreign aid programs, these numbers present a huge opportunity. If people think foreign aid should account for 10 percent of the budget, imagine how thrilled they’ll be when they find out it’s less than 1! But they also present a huge problem. The public perception that we’re spending too much on foreign aid makes it easier for politicians to cut foreign aid, especially with all eyes on Washington to reduce our nation’s growing deficit.
That’s why ONE created these videos. Because we need to share the facts with as many people as we can.
So, do your part as an activist and forward the videos I helped make to your friends. Share it on your social networks, and politely correct the next person you hear bemoaning the amount of money we spend on foreign aid. The truth is powerful – and we need more people to know it.