Inter-American Foundation (IAF)

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Inter-American Foundation (IAF)

The Inter-American Foundation (IAF) is an autonomous U.S. government corporation created in December 1969 as the Inter-American Social Development Institute. It arose from concern among key congressional members and executive branch officials in the development community that the efforts of the Alliance for Progress during the 1960s had failed to produce a noticeable effect on the social conditions of the poor in Latin America and the Caribbean, in spite of the advances shown by macroeconomic indicators. This lack of significant social progress was partly attributed to an undue emphasis on basic infrastructural projects as opposed to social policy and human resource development. However, it was also felt that the customary linkage of U.S. development assistance to short-term foreign policy interests related to host-country governments unnecessarily constrained what ought to be a long-term process of support related to host-country people.

Thus, under the congressional leadership of Representative Dante Fascell, the new agency was given considerable autonomy from the executive branch, particularly the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and a mandate to take its development assistance directly to the beneficiaries, bypassing government institutions in the host countries. To emphasize this autonomy, the new agency was to be governed by a nine-member board of directors appointed by the White House; six of its members were to come from the private sector. Most unusual, perhaps, the legislation emphasized the experimental nature of the initiatives to be undertaken by the new agency, granting it the privilege to take risks—and thus sometimes to fail—and the responsibility to document the lessons learned. It was to be funded by direct congressional appropriations and—after subsequent negotiations—from the U.S.-funded Social Progress Trust Fund in the Inter-American Development Bank. After selection of board members and president, negotiations about its modus operandi, and debate about its location and even its name, the IAF opened for business in 1971.

Operationally, the IAF functions much like a private foundation. Its programs of direct grants, organized by country and region rather than by topic, are directed by appointed foundation representatives with administrative support. All its staff members are U.S. civil servants. Prior to 2007 the IAF has distributed more than $600 million in grants in 26 countries to more than 4,500 organizations. Grants typically range in size from several thousand to several hundred thousand dollars, and durations range from several months to (rarely) more than three years, although continuation of projects for longer periods through amendments is common. For fiscal year 2006 the IAF had an authorized staff of forty-six and a total budget of $25 million, 68 percent of which was devoted to programs. It accepts proposals on an ongoing basis and has no set format or schedule for these presentations.

By design, and to emphasize its autonomy from U.S. foreign policy interests, the IAF bases all of its staff in its U.S. headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. To compensate for the lack of a permanent country presence, it has relied on a very experienced staff, frequent visits, and an intensely hands-on style of relating to grantees and other country nationals. In the early 1980s the IAF began experimenting with a supplemental system of contracted in-country support services for administration, information clearinghouse, logistics, and evaluation of projects. By the 1990s the system had expanded to a network of support centers in all countries, some with a capacity to handle disbursements for small projects.

In line with its mandate to experiment and document, the IAF maintains an active learning and dissemination effort based on its quarterly journal, Grassroots Development, and frequent publication of books and occasional papers by staff and outside experts.

See alsoInter-American Development Bank (IDB) .


Breslin, Patrick. La Fundación Interamericana y el desarrollo de base. Rosslyn, VA: Fundación Interamericana, 1990.

Glade, William P., Charles A. Reilly, and Diane B. Bendahmane, eds. Inquiry at the Grassroots: An Inter-American Foundation Fellowship Reader. Arlington, VA: Inter-American Foundation, 1993.

Mashek, Robert W. The Inter-American Foundation in the Making. Rosslyn, VA: Inter-American Foundation, 1981.

                                  Ramon E. Daubon

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Inter-American Foundation (IAF)

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Inter-American Foundation (IAF)