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Washington and Lee University

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Caitlin Edgar '12

Studies Foreign Aid and International Development

Caitlin Edgar is a junior biochemistry major with a minor in German from De Pere, Wis. She is presenting her research on foreign aid and international development at W&L's Science, Society and the Arts conference on March 4, 2011.

View the complete conference schedule

Describe your research project. How did you become interested in the topic?

My paper essentially addresses the broad issue of how foreign policy relates to sustainable international development. U.S. foreign aid has recently received a lot of criticism from experts such as William Easterly and Dambisa Moyo, and many critics have called for cutting back foreign aid drastically, arguing that it actually hinders independent development and encourages dependency. When I began researching this topic, I was curious to see whether the best approach was not to cut foreign aid necessarily but to change its mission and distribution in such a way as to increase accountability, efficiency, and efficacy.

My interest in this topic stemmed from my experiences in co-founding Change for Haiti with Yasmine Espert (the W&L student relief response to the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010). After a major humanitarian emergency like a natural disaster, a unique opportunity exists to restructure policies and programs without having to slowly phase new strategies into existing systems. Unfortunately, oftentimes all of the aid is thrown into meeting immediate needs without any thought to building long-term sustainable solutions to providing health care, education, employment, or housing. Only a few organizations like Jewish World Services develop a cohesive plan for immediate relief and sustainable development.

Realizing that I wanted to explore ways of addressing humanitarian needs that also stimulated economic growth, I decided to study U.S. aid to Pakistan after the summer 2010 flooding, particularly focused on health care. Pakistan was an excellent model for my topic for several reasons. First of all, Pakistan is without a doubt one of the most important countries to U.S. strategic interests, and the United States' relationship with Pakistan is a historically tumultuous one. Secondly, Pakistan is facing more and more difficult infrastructural health, education and employment issues while under self-imposed pressure to compete with its rapidly developing neighbor, India. Thirdly, the summer 2010 flooding in Pakistan caused greater devastation than even the Haitian earthquake, but elicited a smaller international humanitarian response. Lastly, it provided an opportunity to use the U.S. response to the 2005 flooding for comparison.

How did you go about researching your topic?

Researching this topic involved synthesizing existing literature on U.S.-Pakistan relations, humanitarian agencies and structures, U.S. development and defense concerns, foreign aid, and Pakistan history and modern culture. Conversations with development experts, the Pakistan embassy, and political advisers guided my thinking as well as exploring innovative systems in other developing countries.

What was your favorite part of the project?

This whole project has been thus far the most engaging educational experience I have had. My only regret is that I could not spend all of my time and energy on it. (There is the pesky concern of taking classes simultaneously.) I have learned more about economics, politics, health care, human rights, and diplomacy writing this one paper than I have in any of my other studies combined. 

What will people find most surprising about your research?

Perhaps one of my most interesting and surprising findings came from reading a public opinion survey done in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) of Pakistan this past summer concerning U.S. involvement. If you're interested in what I found out, come to my powerpoint presentation on Friday!

How will this research experience help you in the future?

By nature of the topic, my findings are suggestive rather than conclusive, but I would love to one day be a part of a team that implements new health care infrastructures in developing countries. I am excited to continue my studies in medicine and public policy, guided by my interests and research in international development.