Q&A with Michelle Wymer

Q&A with Michelle Wymer


Michele advises non-profit and corporate clients regarding international policy affairs and global development projects. As a partner with the DC-based Kyle House Group, Michele provides strategic guidance for clients seeking government relations counsel, commercial advocacy, partnership development and policy analysis that improves the lives of people around the world. Previously, Michele served as a senior staff member on the State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, traveling extensively to conduct oversight of U.S. foreign assistance programs in more than 60 countries. In this capacity, Michele was charged with authoring the annual legislation that determined operational and programming funding levels for U.S. foreign assistance programs.

Q: What do you want the general public to better understand about the ways in which governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can work together? Are there any common misconceptions you encounter about the responsibilities of either when it comes to addressing poverty? 01

The percentage the U.S. government spends on U.S. foreign assistance and what those dollars pay for is one of the biggest misconceptions. When polled, most Americans believe our government spends upwards of 25 percent of the federal budget on foreign assistance. This could not be further from the truth. Just 1 percent of federal dollars go to foreign assistance, and the portion dedicated to alleviating poverty, disease and hunger and meeting humanitarian aid is only half of that. Of that 1 percent of the budget, around 70 percent of that is spent in partnerships with NGOs that implement programs to address global poverty, increase diplomacy and development capacities. This is to benefit the host country, who also have an interest in a healthier and more economically secure population.

NGOs are the best partners in every country around the globe at effectively administering resources to address the most critical and pressing needs. They are the partners that are the issue experts and relied upon heavily by our government and others to effectively deliver services.

Q: When Americans are asked to identify the causes they’d like to personally support, issues regarding vulnerable children routinely top the list. U. S. adults also widely consider education to be the most effective way to alleviate poverty. As an expert in the field, are they correct in their instincts that early intervention is important? 02

Yes, all evidence points to early intervention as one of the critical life-saving and giving interventions. Thought leaders like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF and others have created entire strategies and funding mechanisms that support this theory. Evidence shows that the first 1,000 days of a person’s life are critical to setting up healthy minds and bodies. Early interventions like nutrition and access to water in sanitation in the first 1,000 days (conception to 2nd birthday) set children up to succeed. The 1,000 Days Campaign states: “Globally, almost half of all child deaths are due to malnutrition and it is now estimated that one-third of the world’s population is malnourished—suffering from either undernutrition, obesity, deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals or some combination of all three.”20

The hardest statistic to swallow is that malnutrition and its effects are entirely preventable, but the damage done is irreversible. Programs that address the first 1,000 days and educate moms on how they can best provide for themselves and their babies during that critical window are having massive impacts. According to UNICEF, the under-five mortality rate has been cut in half since 1990.21 Despite these impressive results, the fact remains that 15,000 children under five die every day of preventable diseases, and according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, 155 million children under the age of five are affected by stunting.22 So while there is hope in how far we’ve come, there is certainly more to be done. Early interventions like good sanitation measures and breastfeeding also have proven track records in providing benefits for both mom and baby.

Q: The data highlights some striking differences in the ways conservatives and liberals see and engage with poverty. How has your work in DC either confirmed or contradicted these attitudes within the general
public? Though liberals and conservatives, by definition, will disagree on some methods and policies, where do you see the common ground on this issue? 03

Yes, there are certainly varying degrees of separation between how liberals and conservatives view poverty. Generally, liberals believe that the government should be responsible for all services, including providing all types of services to the poor. Republicans believe that, while many services need to be in place, the government should be smaller, taking a more hands-off approach. That is where the divide lives: Who should pay—U.S. taxes? Or should we rely on the goodness of others while also expecting people to pull themselves up out of addiction, homelessness, joblessness, etc.?

That is why faith-based and local charities are incredibly important to both sides of the aisle, and generally very well-respected. According to Faith for International Assistance, for every $1 invested from the U.S. government, American faith-based organizations (FBOs) raise nearly $6.23 FBOs typically provide services to the most marginalized populations—homeless, hungry, sick, elderly—domestic and abroad, and NGOs and FBOs are the on-theground implementers.

Those motivated by faith are inspired by something outside themselves, and that is a uniting force, and an area where the moral argument resonates along with economic, security and other reasons. The challenge is helping the faith community understand how critical their voice and contributions are to protecting marginalized populations, and educating everyday Americans on the critical relationship of private and public resources that, when leveraged, can make the most significant impact for good globally.

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