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Archive for February, 2012

The end of poverty: Is America in it to win it?

Monday, February 27th, 2012
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This blog post was written by MFAN Partner Gregory Adams, director of aid effectiveness at Oxfam America. The post originally appeared on Oxfam America’s Politics of Poverty blog.

Hillary Clinton is no stranger to thoughtful stagecraft. But this week, she will have to give the performance of a lifetime if she wishes to protect America’s efforts to fight poverty around the globe.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Secretary makes the ritual annual trip to Capitol Hill, to testify before key Congressional Committees about next year’s foreign affairs budget request. The Secretary has long been a champion of robust, effective global development programs. But with the economy still weak, and the deficit still big, the Secretary is going to need to make her strongest possible case if she is going to be able to avoid cuts to U.S. diplomatic and development efforts.

The Obama administration has been forcefully arguing why our investment in fighting global poverty is so important to the United States’ core interests. The President’s FY’13 budget request explicitly links foreign affairs funding to efforts to advance “the security of the American people, the prosperity and trade that creates American jobs, and support for universal values around the world.” And Congress seems to be agreeing; last year, Congress eventually voted to maintain U.S. spending to fight global poverty.

I say “eventually” because, at the beginning of last year, some Members of Congress wanted to eliminate all international affairs spending. Some called for cuts to prove their commitment to cutting the deficit—despite the fact that, at only one percent of the budget, cutting all foreign aid wouldn’t even dent the deficit. Others wanted to cut foreign aid because they don’t think the problems of other countries are actually important to U.S. interests. Meanwhile, those cuts would put America at risk, and pull the rug out from under the very people who are trying to fix problems like poverty, hunger, and human rights abuses that cause problems for us here at home.

It’s worth listening to the critics of development assistance in these upcoming hearings. A few key questions to Secretary Clinton, and how she answers, can help shed light on which direction the U.S. will take over the next few years. In particular, watch for questions on:

  • Long-term focus: development investment can take a long time to pay off, but Congress is eager for quick results. Will Members of Congress play “gotcha” on individual projects that didn’t pan out? Or will they try to get the Secretary to outline longer-term outcomes that they can hold the administration accountable for?
  • Passing new laws: the Obama administration has put sweeping reforms in place over the last few years to make our development assistance work better. But few of these have been passed into law, meaning they could be easily changed before they have time to pay off. Will Secretary Clinton embrace a role for Congress in reform? Or will she try to tell Congress that legislation isn’t needed (despite ample evidence to the contrary)?
  • Corruption in oil, gas & mining: corruption is always a staple argument for aid critics. Congress has passed rules to require U.S.-based oil, gas & mining companies to disclose payments to governments, so citizens can actually follow the money their government spends. Yet companies are pushing for loopholes and exemptions to water down its impact. Will Members of Congress speak up for these rules intended to help citizens blow the whistle on corruption?
  • The response to the Arab Spring: in light of the halting progress towards democracy in Egypt, some Members of Congress want to cut off all aid to Egypt. The President has proposed a different approach; rather than cutting of our nose to spite our face in Egypt, why not direct more resources towards those countries making more progress towards democracy? In other words, why not stop talking about punishing bad behavior and start trying to support—and incentivize—democratic behavior? To see how Congress feels about this, watch to see if they support or criticize the President’s proposed $770m “Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund,” and how well the Secretary is able to defend it.

The debate that happens this week around these key questions will help map out the strategic course the United States will take in the next few years—and tell us how committed our government is to investing in lasting solutions to poverty and injustice around the world.

 

USAID’s Town Hall on the QDDR

Friday, February 24th, 2012
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Last week, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) hosted a town hall discussion for employees on implementation of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) and other key initiatives, including Feed the Future. USAID Administrator Raj Shah provided opening remarks before introducing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who spoke at-length about progress on reform at the agency.

Read a transcript and watch a video of the town hall here.

Mark Your Calendars – Week of February 27, 2012

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012
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Every Thursday, MFAN will post a list of upcoming events for the following week. For more information about each event and to RSVP, click on the links below. If your organization is hosting an event next week and you don’t see yourself on the list, please email info@modernizeaid.net.

See below for a list of MFAN Partner events:

WWF Reacts to USAID’s New Climate Change and Development Strategy

Friday, February 17th, 2012
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See below for a guest post from MFAN Partners at the World Wildlife Fund U.S. (WWF): Vanessa Dick, Senior Program Officer, Government Relations; Jonathan Cook, Deputy Director, Climate Adaptation Program; and John O. Niles, Director, Climate and Forests. The authors respond to USAID’s recent release of a Climate Change and Development Strategy, which “provides a strategic framework for USAID to address the challenges and opportunities associated with climate change and outlines the Agency’s goals, strategic objectives, and guiding principles for climate change programming.”

***

We’ve reached a point when it’s politically risky for a U.S. government agency to publicly prepare for the real risks of climate change.  Nonetheless, USAID has remained firm, recently releasing its agency-wide Climate Change and Development Strategy. This strategy identifies promoting low emissions growth and reducing climate change impacts as core development objectives, acknowledging the heavy reliance of USAID’s partners on economic activities that are vulnerable to climate change (ie. agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and tourism) and the critical mitigation opportunities in the developing world.  Without preparing for and integrating climate change throughout its work, USAID risks substantial backslides in development gains – in our view, a much larger political risk.

The newly released Strategy identifies three important strategic objectives:

  • Accelerate transitions to low emission development through investments in clean energy and sustainable landscapes;
  • Increase resilience of people, places, and livelihoods through investments in adaptation; and
  • Strengthen development outcomes by integrating climate change in Agency programming, learning, policy dialogues and operations.

In addition, the Strategy upholds important foreign aid reform principles, including responding to partner country priorities, donor partnering and coordinating, building institutional and governance capacities of partner countries, strengthening civil society, and prioritizing monitoring and evaluation.  As with any strategy, its true value will be measured by its implementation, but having these clear objectives and an outline of available tools is an important starting point.

In the context of sustainable landscapes, also known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), the Strategy reaffirms recent USAID interest in working on policy reform at multiple scales of governance.  For REDD+ this means increased attention to sub-national jurisdictions such as states and provinces in developing countries.  USAID will also look to invest in stronger technical understanding of forest carbon stocks and measurements of deforestation to encourage new incentives to stem deforestation.  All of this is done with an eye towards leveraging more private investment in REDD+ with partner agencies such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), Export-Import bank, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

The Strategy also recognizes climate change adaptation and community resilience as an important pillar.  It highlights the role of governance at all scales (recognizing decentralization has made sub-national institutions important in many countries).  The Strategy could improve its treatment of adaptation as a proactive step to reducing community vulnerability, highlight linkages between adaptation and mitigation (and their potential tradeoffs), emphasize the importance of ecosystem services in adaptation strategies, and say more about the value of community-led approaches to adaptation.

Finally, the Strategy talks about sector-specific and country-wide approaches to climate change vulnerability assessment. WWF believes vulnerability assessments should take a spatial and multi-sectoral approach that looks for relationships (including tradeoffs) across geographical, sectoral, and other types of boundaries. Otherwise, there is a significant risk of reductive, stove-piped thinking that may lead to inefficient and unsustainable outcomes, or even mal-adaptation.

Mainstreaming climate change is a critical challenge, and there’s lots of good language in the Strategy underlining the cross-cutting nature of climate change and the need for its integration across all USAID programs.  The Strategy emphasizes capacity building and training to support this process.

To keep USAID programming successful it will be important to see concrete progress in this commitment to climate change across all of the Agency’s work.  At the end of the day, USAID’s development goals will hinge on the Agency preparing for climate change.  The Strategy is an important step and WWF’s applauds its release.

Click here to read the full Climate Change and Development Strategy.

 

Mark Your Calendars — Week of February 20, 2012

Thursday, February 16th, 2012
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Every Thursday, MFAN will post a list of upcoming events for the following week. For more information about each event and to RSVP, click on the links below. If your organization is hosting an event next week and you don’t see yourself on the list, please email info@modernizeaid.net.

See below for a list of MFAN Partner events: