"I believe, philosophically, the purpose of foreign assistance is to end the need for its existence," said Mark Green, the new administrator at the US Agency for International Development, as he laid out plans to make the agency more streamlined and efficient by re-examining the way the US procures and distributes aid worldwide.
Green, a former lawmaker and ambassador, is taking on the challenge at a time when his agency's budget faces deep cuts. He pledged to examine all investments "sober-mindedly," and focus on building countries' resilience to deal with future crises so they're less reliant on foreign help.
A former Republican congressman representing Wisconsin, Green was most recently the president of the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused on promoting international democracy. His appointment reflects the Trump administration's focus on bringing private sector practices into government, an approach Green emphasized.
Speaking to reporters at the State Department, Green said he hadn't seen much of the controversy surrounding President Donald Trump's comments in which he appeared to equivocate Nazis and white supremacists with people protesting them in Charlottesville, Virginia.
"I honestly haven't paid much -- I haven't seen much of it," he said. "Again, certainly it's very clear what my views are with respect to the importance of diversity and civil rights and democracy, and at USAID, as we just talked about, those are important principles that we'll continue to put in play."
The larger goal at the agency is to help struggling nations help themselves, he said.
"Over the long run, I'm asking the team at USAID to look at every program we've got, every investment we make, and measure ourselves by how we move a country closer to that day when they can take over these programs for themselves," Green said. "There are places where that day is a long way off, but there are other places where it's much closer. In any case, we want to work closely with our partners to get there."
In the meantime, he said, "We will continue to stand with people when disaster strikes or a crisis emerges, but we'll also ask others to do their part."
The most compassionate action, he said, is to "help our partners, allies and friends to lead themselves. And so we look to build the capacity of our partners."
A focus on building resilience dovetails with longstanding national security view that one way to reduce conflict, instability and terrorism is to address their root causes, which can include famine or droughts that destabilize countries and regions.
Green said he'd "received nothing but support for my approach" from Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. But development work, such as building resilience, requires an interest in deep engagement overseas and funding that might not be available given looming budget cuts.
"To be honest, I have not seen all the numbers," Green said of the USAID budget. He added that he saw the budget as a "directive to make sure, we're as efficient and effective as we can possibly be. And also that we are clear eyed and communicating well about some of the challenges that we see. And again, I think it's clear that there are lots of challenges."
Green said that USAID responses would be guided by problems that countries themselves identified, including climate change.
"I believe the climate is changing," Green said, "and I believe that it leads to impacts. We have seen it in the case of food security challenges."
"I think there are a variety of reasons for it, but I think certainly man-made activities are making environmental conditions worse and, again, we certainly, as an agency, now work with governments, and NGOs, and civil society, to take those challenges on."
Green said he'd look to further develop USAID's collaborations with the private sector, perhaps drawing on their distribution networks to better deliver aid, and ask aid partners to help the agency work more effectively.
He brings to his new job deep experience in development issues, particularly in Africa, where he served as ambassador to Tanzania from 2007 to 2009. Green has served as CEO at the Initiative for Global Development, a nonprofit group that asks corporate leaders to reduce poverty through business growth and investment in Africa.
Green has also been senior director at the US Global Leadership Coalition, a network of 400 businesses, NGOs, policy experts and leaders that supports US engagement in the world and the use of development as a tool of US foreign policy.