The Ford Foundation’s groundbreaking effort to help Vietnamese and Americans address the lingering effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam, and the leader who began this work at Ford more than ten years ago, Charles Bailey, will transition to the Aspen Institute as part of a plan to accelerate work on this urgent issue.
The Ford Foundation and the Aspen Institute have each played a central role in building a space for a bipartisan, humanitarian response to Agent Orange in Vietnam, an issue on which progress through diplomatic discussion alone had proved difficult. These efforts helped lay the groundwork for the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin, a bi-national humanitarian initiative launched in 2007 to develop practical responses to the continuing human and environmental consequences of Agent Orange use during the war. Both organizations have also worked to raise awareness of this issue among policymakers in the United States.
In June 2010, the Dialogue Group released a 10-year Plan of Action that identifies proven and actionable solutions to address the health and environmental impacts of dioxin—the poison that contaminated Agent Orange—in Vietnam. Officials from Ford and Aspen said that the plan heralds a key moment of opportunity to secure long-term funding from both public and private sources to see health and cleanup programs through to their completion.
“We are very proud that our work over the last decade has set the stage for closure on an issue that touches the lives of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese,” said Luis Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation. “Under the expert guidance of the Aspen Institute, and the continued leadership of Charles Bailey, this work is now poised to attract an array of new partners from both the public and private sectors.”
Bailey has already collaborated with Aspen Institute staff to identify opportunities for corporate social responsibility investments in Vietnam consistent with the Plan of Action. Drawing on Bailey’s extensive network of contacts in Vietnam, the Institute has helped organize visits for American opinion leaders to dioxin “hotspots” and to model programs serving people with disabilities linked to dioxin exposure. At a May 2 roundtable briefing at the Institute’s Washington D.C. offices, Bailey updated US and Vietnamese officials on progress in achieving the plan’s objectives. (see video from the May 2 roundtable here)
“We’re grateful for the Ford Foundation’s sustained support for this issue,” noted Institute president Walter Isaacson, “and delighted that Charles will be carrying it on. There is simply no better person to lead this effort.”
A $1.6 million grant from Ford will facilitate the transition of its work and help the Aspen Institute pursue a set of activities intended to seize the momentum created by the Dialogue Group. These efforts include:
- Building a long-term, sustainable commitment among a wide array of public and private sources to address Agent Orange at a scale consistent with the Dialogue Group’s Plan of Action;
- Providing expert oversight of projects in Vietnam to ensure that they remain focused on needs of affected people and employ cost-effective best practices;
- Publishing periodic reports on the sources and uses of funds and the progress being made.
Since 2000, the Ford Foundation has provided over $17 million in support of efforts to respond to the legacy of Agent Orange and dioxin. Ford grantees have helped to implement dioxin containment and public health measures; piloted programs of services for children and young adults with disabilities that have reached over 10,000 people; increased awareness in the United States around these issues; and provided support to restore the environment in Vietnam. This work was conceived and led by Bailey, who has devoted three decades of service to the Ford Foundation in key leadership roles across Africa, Asia and the United States.
The Dialogue Group is co-chaired by Aspen Institute president Walter Isaacson and Ambassador Ngo Quang Xuan, vice chair of the Vietnamese National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Susan V. Berresford, former president of the Ford Foundation, serves as the group’s convener.
“At a time when so many of society’s challenges can seem intractable, the steady and skillful work of this collaborative effort shows all of us that real solutions—and closure—are within our reach,” said Ubiñas.
The Dialogue Group continues its efforts to identify a just and honorable response to the tragic legacy of Agent Orange. Added Institute executive vice president Elliot Gerson: “As Charles is fond of saying, this is a humanitarian issue that we can do something about. The Aspen Institute is proud to be part of the solution.”