“No objective supporter of foreign aid can be satisfied with the existing program-actually a multiplicity of programs. Bureaucratically fragmented, awkward and slow, its administration is diffused over a haphazard and irrational structure covering at least four departments and several other agencies. The program is based on a series of legislative measures and administrative procedures conceived at different times and for different purposes, many of them now obsolete, inconsistent and unduly rigid and thus unsuited for our present needs and purposes. Its weaknesses have begun to undermine confidence in our effort both here and abroad.”

On March 22, 1961, President John F. Kennedy wrote these words in a letter to Congress; a letter calling for significant changes to how the United States approached global development. That letter led to the creation of our nation’s first global development strategy. Eight months later, USAID was born.

Fast forward nearly five decades to another crossroad. Another U.S. president is examining how we might better assist the world’s poorest countries and those most in need.

President Obama addresses the U.N. General Assembly. Photo credit: US Mission to the United Nations

In September of this year, President Barack Obama unveiled his Global Development Policy, which for the first time elevates international development as a core pillar of U.S. foreign policy. In front of the United Nations, he called for a renewed, modern and rebuilt USAID to carry out that vision.

This week marks a 50-week count-down to USAID’s 50th anniversary.

President Kennedy’s and President Obama’s respective visions are not bookends in the story of U.S. global development. Instead, they serve as two points of reflection for this country’s premier development agency – its conception and its renaissance. Where we started, and, more importantly, where we would like to go to meet tomorrow’s challenges.

Each week, for the next 50 weeks, we will fill the area between the points with an artifact, document, or story in the build up to our 50th anniversary on November 3, 2011.

But this does not mean we are looking backward. The 50th anniversary is a time to celebrate and reflect, but also an opportunity to look forward. The final bookend to Kennedy’s letter to Congress will be set in place when we have put ourselves out of business, creating the conditions where our work is no longer needed.