Foreign-Aid Group Faces Reckoning over Support for DEI Ideology

Jun 19, 2024

Foreign-Aid Group Faces Reckoning over Support for DEI Ideology

National Review

Jimmy Quinn | June 19, 2024

After using divisive rhetoric about ‘whiteness,’ a powerful NGO faces a possible funding ban from Congress.

A House committee voted last week to block all U.S. government funding for a prominent foreign-aid organization that pushed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) ideology and other left-wing talking points on race.

Long a fixture of the foreign-aid scene, the group, InterAction, convenes other powerhouses in the industry and argues on their behalf before government offices. Among its members are well-known aid groups, such as Save the Children, OxFam, and Habitat for Humanity.

Now its efforts to push a DEI-centered approach to race into foreign-aid work is posing a liability amid growing complaints that it is politicizing U.S. foreign-assistance programs. An amendment to the State Department and foreign-operations budget passed on June 12 by the House appropriations committee explicitly prohibits any of those funds from being diverted to InterAction, which has long received contracts from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“American taxpayer dollars should not fund advocacy groups that politicize humanitarian aid. InterAction has demonstrated a clear pattern of using its influence to prioritize its own agenda over the needs of those it claims to help,” Representative Michael Cloud told National Review. Cloud was the author of the provision, which was also supported by the Republican Study Committee, the largest caucus of House Republicans.

“This organization operates within an ‘aid industrial complex’ that encourages a pay-to-play system, diverting much-needed resources from the needy to instead serve as a vehicle for implementing their radical social policies or propping up oppressive regimes.”

In an interview Tuesday, InterAction president Tom Hart suggested that the NGO is pivoting away from that DEI focus and trying to rebuild bridges with Republicans alarmed with the DEI push.

“Obviously, we were surprised and disappointed about the amendment,” he told National Review, emphasizing that he joined InterAction six months ago and is relatively new. “This organization is going through a new strategic planning exercise where we want to focus and we want to be more bipartisan.” He added that he spent 25 years at Bono’s ONE Campaign public-health initiative, “building bridges between right and left — successfully, I might add.”

InterAction also receives about $2.5 million in U.S. government contracts to carry out foreign-aid work and educational programs every year, Hart said.

InterAction’s work on infusing DEI principles into foreign-aid work drew attention from conservatives last year, after a Heritage Foundation report, by Tim Meisburger, a former USAID official in the Trump administration, highlighted its support of DEI ideology in foreign-aid work.

Meisberger cited a 2022 InterAction memo, “The DEI Compact: INGO Commitments Toward Greater Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” as a reason for concern. The Heritage report accused InterAction of using “typical Marxist language,” citing its invocation of concepts such as oppression, privilege, and “power structures of society.” “The DEI Compact” has since been taken down from InterAction’s website.

The Heritage report flagged another InterAction memo titled “Anti-Blackness & Racism,” which urges workers in the foreign-aid industry to confront racism. The report uses language common in left-wing activist circles, accusing aid workers of approaching their work with a “problematic white gaze.”

“Through this lens, the sector often places people of color, especially Black, Brown, and Indigenous people, against a model of whiteness — specifically, a whiteness rooted in the Global North — as the default or highest standard to strive toward,” it reads.

“Anti-Blackness & Racism” remains accessible on InterAction’s website, but Hart distanced himself from it, saying that the task force that produced it operated under prior administrations and is currently defunct. The program that published the paper on “whiteness” had ended before he arrived at InterAction, he added, but he was not sure whether it ended before or after Heritage issued its report.

“They’re trying to steer American taxpayer dollars to promote DEI, a woke climate agenda, and radical left wing foreign policy views,” Representative Kevin Hern, the chairman of the RSC, said in a statement. “Humanitarian aid should not be politicized, but that’s exactly what this organization is doing. We should not fund InterAction.”

In addition to InterAction’s advocacy for DEI, Republican congressional offices were troubled that the group lobbied against legislation that would block the U.S. from normalizing diplomatic ties with the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and that would place sanctions on the Wagner Group. Hart said that he was not familiar with those efforts, which took place before he started at InterAction,  and that it was his predecessor who had signed the letter protesting the Assad bill.

Hart said that he wants to rebuild his organization’s ties to conservatives. “There are a lot of disagreements between or among some conservatives and what InterAction has done in the past. . . . This is a moment for us to find common ground to move forward together to tackle the challenges that the world is presenting some of the most vulnerable people,” he said, adding that U.S. leadership on foreign assistance could boost America’s ability to compete with China.

It’s unlikely that Representative Cloud’s provision will survive through passage on the House floor, then consideration in the Senate, under the control of a Democratic majority.

Still, it may be a sign of where the winds are blowing for an industry that has unapologetically embraced left-wing talking points. InterAction’s embrace of DEI rhetoric reflects long-running trends in the foreign-aid realm, said Max Primorac, a former USAID official in the Trump administration and now a senior research fellow at Heritage.

“It is the first time that this industry — and, effectively, this is the foreign-aid-industrial-complex industry — is held accountable for its wacky and extremist social agenda that’s pushing through DEI.” Primorac said. He added that those efforts and the industry’s focus on abortion and “other things that have no place in foreign aid” don’t represent mainstream America and are “resented by those communities that we’re trying to help.”

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