The Julia V. Taft Fund has its origins in a meeting between the Zambian Foreign Minister and then-Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) Julia V. Taft on the margins of the 2000 U.S.-Southern African Development Community Forum. The two diplomats discussed a gap in the humanitarian crisis response for Angolan refugees in Zambia because the refugees did not have an efficient way to grind the whole grains they received as part of emergency food aid. Upon returning to the United States, Assistant Secretary Taft established a fund to support the efforts of U.S. diplomatic missions to provide short-term assistance and humanitarian protection for refugees. With the first grant, Embassy Lusaka purchased two hammermills so refugees could grind the grain more efficiently. Initially, it was named “The Ambassadors’ Fund for Refugees” and was designed to help bolster refugee crisis responses in Africa, but it was later renamed in memory of Assistant Secretary Taft and its reach spread to humanitarian crisis responses around the globe.
Today, the Julia Taft Fund managed by PRM is intended to meet gaps in refugee assistance by issuing grants to local organizations for quick impact projects to improve the lives of vulnerable refugees, internally displaced people, and host community members and to give them a path toward self-reliance. The Fund supports projects throughout Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America. Since its inception, the Taft Fund has supported more than 790 projects across the globe.
The impact of the Taft Fund is felt all over the world. One project in Jordan brings young Syrian, Iraqi, Sudanese, Somali, Egyptian, and Palestinian refugees together with their Jordanian host community peers. Another project in Serbia helped open a first-of-its-kind social enterprise pizza restaurant that hires refugees and provides on-the-job training to create a path toward self-reliance. The Taft Fund exemplifies the degree to which the United States is committed to identifying and bridging gaps in larger humanitarian crisis responses by empowering grassroots efforts to support the world’s most vulnerable people.
Each of these projects exemplifies the work of the late Julia Taft, a longtime humanitarian and advocate for refugees. President Clinton nominated Julia V. Taft to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for PRM on September 2, 1997. She was confirmed by the Senate on November 6, serving from November 10, 1997 to January 19, 2001. Assistant Secretary Taft, a leading authority on refugee and humanitarian affairs, held senior positions in both government and the private sector throughout her career. Her first exposure to refugee issues came in 1975 when then President Ford named her Director of the Interagency Task Force for Indochina Refugees at the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (now HHS). Under her direction the United States resettled more than 130,000 Indochinese in the United States. Later, she served as the Director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development from 1986-89, where she managed all U.S. relief responses to foreign disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, famines, civil unrest, and toxic chemical incidents.
We encourage you to follow the work of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, please follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and Instagram or visit our website. To commemorate this milestone for this incredibly meaningful program, we will be launching a social media campaign that will highlight current and past Taft Fund projects with the hashtag #TaftFundTuesday.
About the Author: Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Marta Youth joined the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) in November 2020. She is responsible for humanitarian assistance programs in Africa and also oversees the Office of Population and International Migration and Refugee Admissions to the United States. She has been a career member of the U.S. Foreign Service for more than 25 years.