Although its name suggests a scholarly focus, the Academy for Educational Development's reach extends far beyond the classroom. AED is organized into 27 "centers of excellence" and has programs in 167 countries, making it one of the world's largest nonprofits addressing human and social development.
AED has forged partnerships with governments, companies and communities around the world, but perhaps none has been more crucial than its relationship with the U.S. government. In fiscal 2004, AED's federal, state and local grants, combined with its program-related revenues (including government contracts) amounted to nearly 80 percent of the organization's quarter-billion-dollar budget.
Government support is vital to the academy's HIV/AIDS efforts. According to Michael Kaplan, vice president and deputy director of AED's Center on AIDS and Community Health, the U.S. government historically has been AED's largest funder for its HIV/AIDS efforts. In 1987, for example, AED was awarded one of the U.S. Agency for International Development's first global HIV/AIDS relief contracts.
AED's work has carried over into participating in the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a five-year, $15 billion initiative to fight AIDS in 15 focus countries (Vietnam, as well as 14 in Africa and the Caribbean) and more than 100 other nations. Through PEPFAR, AED was allocated $11 million in 2005 for its programs in Botswana, Haiti, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zambia.
Background and PEPFAR programs
AED was founded in 1961 as an initiative to study the higher education system in Kansas. Over the next 40 years the organization expanded domestically and internationally to help build local sustainability. AED now also focuses on environment and energy policy, health, youth initiatives, leadership and democracy and HIV/AIDS relief.
The broadness of AED's programs has translated into its HIV/AIDS work, Kaplan said. When AED started addressing the epidemic more than 20 years ago, it aimed to change sexual and drug-use behaviors among at-risk populations. It adjusted its philosophy when it became clear that, as stated on its Web site, "fighting HIV/AIDS requires more than just treating infected individuals."
That attitude has fostered a commitment to addressing the epidemic on several fronts — domestic, international and even internal. An AED vice president died from AIDS complications, Kaplan said; the organization now has a workplace committee on HIV/AIDS. Kaplan, who lives with HIV, serves as the committee's vice president.
"It's about people who think we can make a difference and have the infrastructure to be effective," Kaplan said.
The organization doesn't exclusively employ medical professionals for its HIV/AIDS fieldwork abroad, instead hiring mostly indigenous employees. "I would say the most critical skills are about consensus building, understanding the basics of HIV, the latest on what's proven most effective and about linking resources," Kaplan said.
That approach is evident in its PEPFAR-funded programs, which have incorporated PEPFAR's emphasis on partnering with local organizations, institutions and communities to bolster sustainability and indigenous management. In Botswana, for example, AED was contracted to convert a network of voluntary counseling and testing clinics run under the U.S. embassy into a local operation. There, AED recruited local employees and developed finance, human resource, marketing and supervision systems.
Elsewhere, AED specializes in workplace programs stemming from the White House's 1999 LIFE Global AIDS Initiative, which enlisted the help of several federal departments.
According to Kaplan, the Department of Labor was appropriated $10 million to work with ministries of labor around the world to implement HIV/AIDS workplace programs and AED won the bid to execute the plan through unions, ministries and business. The organization worked to establish nondiscriminatory policies, implement prevention programs and ensure workers' access to support and treatment. The original funding was to expire in 2006, but the project has been extended under PEPFAR.
While AED takes a comprehensive approach to AIDS relief, it does run programs under the controversial PEPFAR provision that critics say is more politicized than practical.
'AB' vs. 'C' controversy
In 2003, Congress authorized PEPFAR and its three-pronged prevention, care and treatment approach. In doing so, it also endorsed the so-called "ABC" sexual transmissions prevention strategy, which promotes "Abstinence" until marriage, "Being faithful" to one partner and the correct and consistent use of "Condoms."
Under the PEPFAR provision concerning ABC, a third of all funding its grants provide for prevention programs and two-thirds of the funding for sexual transmission prevention must be spent on programs that encourage A and B. The spending requirements, in turn, have trickled down into efforts implemented by contractors such as AED.
Pointing to the AB spending requirements, critics — including some within Congress — say that such a policy distorts a balanced prevention approach and that the funding restrictions are out of touch with the realities of the AIDS epidemic.
Conversely, some conservative Christian groups have been vocal advocating that PEPFAR funds to groups that distribute condoms be curbed. The leader of one group, Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson, has said that condom distribution undermines AB education. That view was echoed by some in Congress in 2005, when several Republican congressmen wrote letters to President Bush accusing some recipients of large PEPFAR grants of not being committed enough to its AB priorities.
Prevention is the top priority in AED's endeavors, Kaplan said. In 2005, his organization ran ABC prevention programs in Tanzania and Vietnam. PEPFAR also gave AED $200,000 for an AB program in Haiti. (Kaplan said he believed AB may have been the dominant priority in Haiti, but condoms might have been targeted for a different group with that funding.) In South Africa, however, AED received funding for a condom program, but not for an AB program.
The U.S. government has declined to release the breakdown of funding for each program area addressed in an organization's outreach. However, government records obtained by the Center for Public Integrity through a Freedom of Information Act request do report the number of people "reached" through the programs. AED's 2005 community outreach totals for Tanzania and Vietnam seem to indicate that the organization may have emphasized programs that are "not focused on abstinence/faithfulness." Those "other prevention activities" include — but are not limited to — condom distribution.
In Vietnam, PEPFAR allocated AED more than $320,000 for a workplace prevention program in 2005. Documents show that the program reached 100,000 people with efforts "not focused on abstinence and/or being faithful." Comparatively, 20,000 people were reached through its AB activities.
In 2005, AED received nearly $2.4 million exclusively for a national ABC program in Tanzania. The program aimed to reach 17 million people overall — 50 percent the country's population — through the mass media with ABC prevention messages. In addition, AB-oriented community outreach programs were planned to reach more than 1.7 million people. Meanwhile, "prevention kits" that could include condoms, as well as water purification tools and disposable syringes and gloves for hospital stays, were to be distributed to nearly 5.6 million people.
Kaplan said AED has not found it difficult to stay within PEPFAR's requirements, because there is flexibility within the ABC programs and simply because "we know the policies of our funder and we follow them."
But he said he feels the bigger problem in the AB vs. C debate is the debate itself — or those at the extreme ends of the debate.
"Within overarching countries and cultures, there's a need for all of it," he said. "I don't think AB undermines C or C undermines AB. I think the way in which [some] people support them could undermine one another," Kaplan said.