This article was originally published by “The Hill.”

By Gregory Adams

 America is the most generous country in the world.  We do this for a lot of reasons.  Helping other countries helps strengthen our own security, and our own prosperity.  But most importantly, America gives aid to fight poverty because it is the right thing to do.But Americans often ask ourselves, “is any of this aid making a difference?” How do we make sure our aid gets to the people who need it?  How do we make sure it leads to real change? How do we make sure it’s not wasted-or stolen?

In seeking to answer these questions, we often have a big blind spot.  We think we are the only ones who can find the answers.  In fact, people on the receiving end of our aid actually have these same questions.  And-if we take the time and effort to listen to them-they can help us make aid work better.

People like Gabriela Ayerdi from Guatemala, who helped organize her community to run a corrupt mayor out of office. Or Gyan Mani of Nepal who exposed dramatic teacher absenteeism in his Nepali school district by videotaping classrooms full of students but no teachers. And people like Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa who is helping governments in East Africa build legal systems that work not just on paper, but in practice, to protect people’s rights.

For too long, U.S. assistance has worked around people like Gyan, Gabriela, and Jacqueline.  Too often, we don’t take the time to seek out these leaders, and ask them how we can help.  Instead, we come armed with projects designed in Washington-projects that often break down once they encounter local realities.  We impose solutions that work for us, without ever bothering to ask if they work for the people we intend to help.

It’s time to try a new approach—one that is increasingly demonstrating results around the world.  It’s time to invest locally. Taking a new approach, and investing more locally, will be difficult.  It will force us to change not only our policies and practices, but our way of thinking about the world.  But there are steps we can take now to change our approach.

First, the U.S. government can support local development efforts by making the time to actively seek out more opportunities to invest in local government and civil society, finding those local leaders inside and outside government who are driving change — particularly helping U.S. government personnel to get beyond the embassy walls and engage more with citizens in the countries where they serve.

Secondly, they U.S. government must not only stick to but also ultimately go beyond USAID’s goal to put a larger share of each aid dollar directly in the hands of local organizations, and encourage the State Department and the Millennium Challenge Corporation to develop their own methods to increase direct local investment.

Thirdly, cleaning up procurement rules would allow more flexibility in choosing partners and defining outcomes for development projects.
Lastly, the U.S. must finally live up to promises of transparency by publishing basic data on U.S. foreign aid that’s useful to people in partner countries, and help governments and civil society collect, manage, analyze, and publish more of their own development data.

People like Gyan and Jacqueline want our help.  But they are not sitting around waiting for it.  They are raising their voices, taking action, and demanding change.  The question is not whether people in poor countries can do this without America.  The question is, a generation from now, will they look back and say. “When we stood up to injustice, when we stood up for accountability, America stood with us”?
America needs to take up this challenge, and find new ways to stand with these leaders, to build the world we all want.

Adams is the director of Aid Effectiveness at Oxfam America in Washington, DC.