Global Compassion: Private Voluntary Organizations and U.S. Foreign Policy since 1939

Global Compassion: Private Voluntary Organizations and U.S. Foreign Policy since 1939

Global Compassion: Private Voluntary Organizations and U.S. Foreign Policy since 1939

Global Compassion: Private Voluntary Organizations and U.S. Foreign Policy since 1939


Aid organizations like Oxfam, CARE, World Vision, and Catholic Relief Services are known the world over. However, little is known about the relationship between these private voluntary organizations (PVOs) and the federal government, and how truly influential these organizations can be in the realm of foreign policy. Indeed since the end of the Second World War, humanitarian aid has become a key component of U.S. foreign policy and has grown steadily ever since. This history of interaction deflates the common claim that PVOs have been independent from the federal government, and that this independence has only recently been threatened. Global Compassion is the first truly comprehensive study of PVOs and their complex, often-fraught interaction with the federal government. Rachel McCleary provides an ambitious analysis of the relationship between the two from 1939 to 2005. The book focuses on the work of PVOs from a foreign policy perspective, revealing how federal political pressures shape the field of international relief. McCleary draws on a new and one-of-a-kind data set on the revenue of private voluntary agencies, employing annual reports, State Department documents, and I.R.S. records, to assess the extent to which international relief and development work is becoming a commercial activity. She outlines the increasing financial dependence of these organizations on the federal government and the consequences of that dependency for various types of agencies, as well as the often competing goals of the federal government and religious PVOs. As a result, there is a continuing trend of decreasing federal funds to PVOs and of simultaneously increasing awards to commercial enterprises. Focusing on the interplay between public and private revenue, the discussion ends with the commercialization of foreign aid and the factors most likely to influence the future of PVOs in international relief and development. In this thought-provoking and rigorously researched work, Rachel McCleary offers a unique, substantive look at an understudied area of U.S. foreign policy and international development, and provides a crucial analysis of what this relationship holds for the future.


Before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, on the United States, societies were experiencing geopolitical fragmentation. The ideologically rigid fault lines of the cold war became fluid. National and ethnic identities reemerged, and new political alliances were created. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, transnational threats followed religious fault lines, creating a different fragmented world. Both scenarios—the cold war and post–September 11—have been the root of great human suffering and dehumanization.

The field of international relief and development is going through a radical change, not out of willfulness but because of transnational security threats that run along both ideological and religious fault lines. Current world circumstances require private voluntary organizations (PVOs) to remain operationally flexible, adapting to quickly changing circumstances while addressing security issues that historically have not been present.

Unfortunately, PVOs for all their expertise and experience lag behind rather than lead a reassessment of how relief and development should be carried out. To be viable, they must reclaim the programmatic territory they have given up to for-profit contractors and the U.S. military. They need to refocus on their institutional strengths and the constituencies they are serving.

This book is a constructive attempt, using long-term data, to show the strengths and weaknesses of the relationship between PVOs and the U.S. government. As that relationship grew closer, the U.S. federal bureaucracy expanded and PVOs gained experience and maturity, resulting in complexities.

PVOs accepting significant federal funds became interest groups losing sight of their constituencies overseas. These agencies need to wean themselves from that source of funding to become relevant and meet the challenges of aiding others in the new global context. Furthermore, in . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.