A Better, Bolder Peace Corps
Given that there are roughly half the number of Peace Corps volunteers serving our nation compared to the more than 15,000 who served in 1966, and given that many countries continue to request more volunteers or new Peace Corps programs, the National Peace Corps Association continues to strongly support initiatives to grow and expand the Peace Corps.
At the same time, the Peace Corps community realizes and promotes ideas and policies that will make the Peace Corps not only bigger in the next fifty years, but also better and bolder.
On a variety of fronts, there is activity to advance a better and bolder Peace Corps. The following outline provides an overview on some of the key developments that have been the focus of the Peace Corps and Peace Corps community. If you want to share your comments, you can contact us at email@example.com. You can also offer comments/suggestions directly with the Peace Corps by following this link.
- Peace Corps’ Comprehensive Assessment and Strategic Plan
- Peace Corps Safety and Security
- Peace Corps Volunteer Benefits
- Other Issues
- NPCA Documents and Resources
Peace Corps’ Comprehensive Assessment and Strategic Plan
The Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations language included a provision to conduct a Comprehensive Assessment to identify strategies and recommendations for improving Peace Corps’ operations and a plan to implement reform, including:
- Improving the recruitment and selection process to attract a wide diversity of highly and appropriately skilled Volunteers;
- Training and medical care for Volunteers and staff;
- Adjusting Volunteer placement to reflect priority United States interests, country needs and commitment to shared goals, and Volunteer skills;
- Coordinating with international and host country development assistance organizations;
- Lowering early termination rates;
- Strengthening management and independent evaluation and oversight; and,
- Any other steps needed to ensure the effective use of resources and Volunteers, and to prepare for and implement an appropriate expansion of the Peace Corps.
Director Aaron Williams requested the assessment also address how the Peace Corps can best strengthen activities to bring the world back home (third goal activities) and agency reporting mechanisms.
On June 14, 2010, the Peace Corps released its report. The 200 page document includes six strategies and 63 recommendations. The six strategies are:
- Target the Peace Corps’ resources and country presence across countries according to specific country selection criteria to maximize grassroots development impact and strengthen relationships with the developing world.
- Focus on a more limited number of highly effective technical interventions that will enable the Peace Corps to demonstrate impact and achieve global excellence.
- Embrace generalist Volunteers, recruit them recognizing the competition for their services, and provide them with training and comprehensive support for success in their project areas and community outreach activities.
- Make Peace Corps Response an engine of innovation by piloting new programs to expand the Peace Corps’ presence and technical depth and increase overseas service opportunities for talented Americans.
- Actively engage Volunteers, returned Volunteers and the American public through strong partnerships with private sector companies, schools, civil society, returned Peace Corps Volunteer groups and government agencies to increase understanding of other cultures and generate commitment to volunteerism and community service as a way to “continue service.”
- Strengthen the Peace Corps’ management and operations by using modern technology, innovative approaches and improved business processes that will enable the agency to effectively carry out this new strategic vision.
Follow this link to review the full Peace Corps assessment.
Peace Corps Action
Read this update from the Peace Corps which includes progress to date in implementing the Comprehensive Assessment.
The update includes the following:
- As of May 13, 2011, of the 63 recommendations included in the report, 12 recommendations have been fully implemented, while work has begun on 42 others.
- For the first time in agency history, Peace Corps has conducted a rigorous portfolio review of all country programs using a standard, transparent set of criteria. The Agency has also reviewed data and information about countries requesting Peace Corps assistance or countries where Peace Corps believes it would be mutually beneficial for the United States and the host country to establish a presence. Using the criteria developed in the Comprehensive Agency Assessment, Peace Corps incorporated the input of Voluteers, Peace Corps staff, Headquarters and sources outside of the agency in the inaugural portfolio review.
- Peace Corps is now conducting its survey of volunteers every year rather than every two years. Their input through the Annual Volunteer Survey is incorporated into the agency’s country review when considering several criteria (including volunteer safety and security, program impact and program direction). Peace Corps further reports an increase in the response rate to the annual survey, with 80% of volunteers responding to its 2010 annual survey.
- The Office of Programming and Training Support has developed a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) core curriculum. The Office of AIDS Relief (OAR) is developing an enhanced curriculum for HIV/AIDS education, awareness and prevention funded by the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The Africa region is advancing a sub-regional focus on malaria prevention. It is based on a successful initiative of Peace Corps Senegal which, in collaboration with national and international partners, led to a measured reduction in deaths from malaria.
- To insure that all health care providers meet US standards, a Credentialing Unit has been established. Policy has been developed to establish the processes for the review and verification of the training, expertise and license of Peace Corps Medical Officers.
- In 2010 and 2011, Peace Corps reported a number of strategic partnerships and working agreements with various organizations designed to strengthen collaboration recruitment and programming. These include the following Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) or Partnerships:
- Partnership with Britain’s VSO Program (5/25/11)
- MOU with Save the Children (5/3/11)
- Partnership with the President’s Malaria Initiative (4/26/11)
- MOU with Special Olympics (3/17/11)
- MOU with The National Human Services Assembly (1/11/11)
- MOU with Population Services International (12/17/10)
- MOU with The US Environmental Protection Agency (12/14/10)
- MOU with CHF International (9/23/10)
- Partnership with Teach for America (7/8/10)
- Partnership with the Corps Network (4/23/10)
- Partnership with City Year (3/10/10)
Peace Corps Safety and Security
In recent months, the element of safety and security drawing the most attention and calls for improvement center on physical and sexual assaults of Peace Corps volunteers, including the case of Peace Corps volunteer Kate Puzey, who was murdered in March, 2009. On May 11, 2011, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing to bring more attention and oversight to this issue. Along with trying to reduce risks, there was particular attention devoted to the agency’s response. Witnesses and lawmakers cited instances where the response was highly inadequate and insensitive, with serious concern expressed about the presence of a “blame the victim” culture.
Follow this link for more background on the issue, and NPCA’s reaction.
Peace Corps Action
In his testimony, Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams outlined fourteen steps that have been taken to address these issues. These steps include the following:
- The creation of a Victims Advocate position to coordinate victim support services.
- A March, 2011 Memorandum of Understanding with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) to collaborate and share resources on sexual assault prevention and response.
- Created the Peace Corps Volunteer Sexual Assault Panel – consisting of outside experts and former Volunteers who were victimized by sexual assault – to assist the agency with the design and implementation of the agency’s sexual assault risk reduction and response strategies.
- Formalized the agency’s existing practice of sending a Peace Corps staff member to be with the family of a fallen Volunteer within 24 hours of the notification of the Volunteer’s death (unless the family requests otherwise).
- Tasked the Deputy Director to lead a team that has visited overseas posts to gather Volunteer input on safety concerns and evaluate the effectiveness of the agency’s efforts to prevent crimes against Volunteers and support victims of crime.
Follow this link to read Director Williams’ written testimony.
- Director Williams testified that since 2010, Peace Corps has been developing new training materials on sexual assault prevention and response. A new online training (required for Volunteers prior to overseas departure) is scheduled to begin during the summer of 2011. Additional in-country training before and during service will follow.
- Hearing witnesses objected to a training video on volunteer safety which included interviews with three women whose assaults involved alcohol and who speak apologetically about their actions leading up to the assault. Director Williams said at the hearing that use of the video would end immediately.
- The Peace Corps Inspector General testified on the importance for Peace Corps and the State Department to develop a Memorandum of Understanding to define the roles and responsibilities of both agencies in support volunteer safety overseas. The IG said formalizing this relationship “is a critical step to improving the agency’s capacity to respond to security situations.” During the hearing, Director Williams said discussions with the State Department on this matter are underway and he hoped an agreement would be reached soon.
Calls for Further Action
Witnesses at the hearing raised additional calls for further improvements, including the following:
- Hearing witnesses all recommended that legislation is needed to institutionalize improvements, citing the transient nature of Peace Corps employment due to political appointments within the leadership and the five-year rule through many parts of the agency. Director Williams expressed a willingness to work Congress on legislation and noted that he is currently working with the office of Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) on whistleblower protection legislation.
- While they praised the establishment of a Victims Advocate, witnesses said there is also a need for “mobile” advocates in the field, who can provide prompt response and support to sexual assault survivors.
- RAINN representative Jennifer Wilson Marsh further recommended the formation of a Sexual Assault Response Team – comprised of a victim advocate, law enforcement and medical examiner – designed to respond with an organized, coordinated response to meet the immediate and long term needs of the victim.
- Ensuring that a support network for assault survivors includes having an individual available to accompany and support a Volunteer traveling back to the United States following an assault.
- More support and assistance for survivors seeking workman’s compensation claims through the U.S. Department of Labor.
- The Inspector General noted that one of the most common safety and security issues identified during audits of country programs is the non-compliance of background security investigations or suitability checks on host country staff. The IG reported that 44 percent of the 63 posts audited since 2004 were not in compliance, and that since 2009 revisions (which includes short term contractors), 73 percent of the 15 posts audited were found to be non-compliant.
You can read the complete testimonies from the May 11, 2011 congressional hearing by following this link and scrolling down to the hearing “Peace Corps at 50”.
You can follow this link to read the recommendations of the RPCV group First Response Action.
Peace Corps Volunteer Benefits
For some individuals who serve as Volunteers or are considering service in the Peace Corps, the benefits offered by Peace Corps can impact the post-Peace Corps experience and/or the diversity of the pool of Peace Corps applicants.
A December, 2009 National Peace Corps Association survey on a better, bolder Peace Corps included a section on volunteer benefits. Among those most impacted (including Peace Corps applicants, current volunteers and recent RPCVs), three benefit items ranked high in terms of improvement. They are expanding and improving health insurance immediately following Peace Corps, expand student loan forgiveness for Peace Corps service and increase the volunteer readjustment allowance.
Other recommendations included in the survey related to volunteer benefits included expanding non-competitive eligibility status for RPCVs, expanding opportunities through the Master’s International Program, increased opportunities and incentives for volunteers who extend for a third year, and expanding career counseling workshops and job fairs in regions outside of Washington.
Peace Corps Action
- In March, 2010 Peace Corps announced a $50/month increase in the Volunteer Readjustment Allowance
- In December, 2010 Peace Corps announced the expansion of its Master’s International Program with 26 universities, expanding opportunities for Volunteers to receive graduate school credit for their service abroad. The expansion includes four Historically Black Colleges and Universities and four Hispanic-serving institutions, and increased the number of participating schools to more than 85.
There are many, many suggestions from policymakers, opinion leaders and members of the Peace Corps community on how the Peace Corps can be further enhanced and emboldened. The following outlines some additional issues where Peace Corps has taken some action.
Entering Strategically Important Countries: Lawmakers and others have called upon Peace Corps to increase its presence in strategically important nations. One of the most recent examples was the Senate Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2010 which said in part, “there are hundreds of volunteers currently serving in countries with little if any strategic importance to the United States who could be used more effectively.” The language also noted the importance of sending more volunteers to countries with large Muslim populations.
NPCA Documents and Resources
- Volunteer Safety and Security webpage
- WorldView magazine, Fall 2010: Articles on improving the Peace Corps on the eve of the 50th aniversary
- WorldView magazine, Winter 2009: Articles on revitalizing the Peace Corps
- NPCA Better Bolder Survey Report – Full Report (December, 2009)
- WorldView magazine, Fall 2008: Articles on improving the Peace Corps
- NPCA Summary of March 2008 Inspector General Report on Peace Corps’ Medical Clearance System
(page updated 5/31/11)