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Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Making Aid Transparency a Reality

Thursday, February 12th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from George Ingram, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and MFAN Co-Chair. This piece originally appeared on the Brookings blog on February 11.

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With many development organizations, both government and non-government, working to introduce greater transparency—in data, policy formulation, and program assessment—it is an important time for the development community to take stock of the lessons learned by agencies that have lead in this arena.

With this in mind, Brookings and the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) recently held a public discussion on aid transparency. The discussion was built around a new paper by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) setting out the organization’s experiences in implementing aid transparency.

We were fortunate to host a panel comprising the key transparency experts in four of the lead organizations—Aleem Walji (World Bank), John Adams (U.K. Department for International Development (DFID)), Theo van de Sande (Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MinBuZa)), and Beth Tritter (MCC). For context, in the 2014 Aid Transparency Index, DFID scored second, MCC third, the World Bank seventh, and MinBuZa 19th (out of a total of 68 agencies surveyed).

The session focused on two fundamental aspects of transparency: the value proposition for transparency, and the obstacles and incentives to implementation—the “why” and “how” of aid transparency.

Why Do We Care About Aid Transparency?

The fact that transparency promotes accountability is the most common understanding as to why transparency is important. In development work there are multiple sets of stakeholders to be accountable to, including taxpayers, implementing partners, recipient country governments and citizens, and the agency itself.

Transparency facilitates donor accountability to the most immediate stakeholders by providing taxpayers with information that reveals what the agency is doing and how well it is doing it. Public oversight is most often conducted by researchers, the media, and the legislature. Several of the panelists noted that making data public provides stakeholders—they had in mind the press and parliamentarians—with information that is readily accessible and conveys how assistance is used, allowing them to better appreciate both the specifics and broader context of aid provision, and thereby creating a more supportive environment for assistance.

Increasingly, however, donors are coming to understand that they also are accountable to intended beneficiaries in recipient countries. This same information allows beneficiaries and stakeholders in recipient countries to assess the use of assistance, except that local stakeholders need a greater level of detail about project implementation.

Not only does making data available allow citizens to hold donors accountable, it provides an incentive for donor organizations to hold themselves accountable as they know that what they do and how they make decisions can be reviewed by the public.

Transparency can contribute to better decision-making. It provides information on what agencies are doing so outside experts and stakeholders are more knowledgeable and can provide better informed input. MCC, for example, makes public both the data it uses to determine country eligibility and the results from crunching that data, so anyone can use the same data to check the results and provide feedback. When implemented in a truly open fashion, outside input can produce better informed decisions.

Transparency facilitates local ownership. How can you have real local engagement and ownership of development programs if local organizations and stakeholders lack basic information? Transparency can fill this gap. It provides data and information that allows local entities to be active participants in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of assistance programs. It provides information, not just to citizens, but also to recipient ministries, which often are in the dark on development agency activities in their country.

Transparency promotes market intelligence and facilitates coordination. If all donors share their information, the development community as a whole will have a clearer understanding of what other development agencies are doing and will be able to identify what has worked and what has not worked. Coordination is almost impossible in countries that are the focus of tens of donor agencies and hundreds of projects—it is just not feasible to get all the right people in the same room and sift through all the requisite material. But, if everyone publishes timely, comprehensive data in a common format through the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), anyone can learn what other donors are doing in a particular sector or region of a country. Coordination then becomes possible.

Transparency improves competition. More complete market information leads to better, fuller competition. And not just competition in the development arena, but also in the broader marketplace as it provides the private sector with data and information it can deploy in its business operations.

What does all this add up to? More effective use of assistance resources—a goal towards which we all should be striving.

Overcoming Obstacles to Greater Transparency

The discussion of obstacles and incentives to aid transparency focused on political will and organizational culture, reporting systems and technology and software, and costs.

All participants agreed that political leadership was critical to their organizations moving ahead on aid transparency. In each case there was political leadership of the highest order, in one case from the head of state, and for all organizations from the agency head.

While political leadership is essential, it is not sufficient. It must be accompanied by a supportive culture in the organization. It is imperative that the internal audience understands and owns the use of the data—if they do not appreciate that the data and its public availability can be of benefit to them, they will not support transparency. The natural state of bureaucracies is to “hug” data—keep it internal. It is natural for bureaucracies to be fearful of revealing data and information—fearful it will be used by the media and parliamentarians to expose weaknesses. It is essential to (i) overcome this fear, and (ii) demonstrate that the data is useful for agency program management. Overcoming the fear requires leaders who are willing to risk making data public. In the case of the three bilateral agencies represented at the event, the fear dissipated once data was released, including in the case of the MCC evaluations that revealed mixed results. To quote one of the panelists, “the silence was deafening.”

Reporting systems and technology and software to integrate financial and program data are always an issue. But the clear message from the experience of these four organizations is these issues can be difficult but by no means insurmountable, so long as there is strong political leadership and a supportive culture in the organization. An important instrument for overcoming systems and technology hurdles, and at the same time for building a supportive bureaucratic culture, is to ensure that the issues are tackled and solutions found through a team approach that includes experts from the program side who use and analyze data, the data crunchers, and the technology experts. Working together they come to understand the value and role of each party and build an understanding of the value of aid transparency.

In fact, the DFID participant on the panel offered up the DFID transparency tool to anyone who wanted to use it. That is a generous offer that other agencies should consider as a way to build on the DFID experience and knowledge.

A key challenge frequently raised is the potential cost of aligning systems and upgrading technology and software to be able to publish agency data to IATI. Interestingly, when the question was put to the panel, the response was that the cost to implement transparency was minimal to modest, not huge.

The Need for More Political Will

The bottom line for these experienced practitioners of open data is that political will and leadership are critical to transparency efforts, as is the need to foster a culture of collaborative data use. In looking at the principal U.S. government agencies involved in providing assistance, MCC was fortunate to have had transparency built into its founding structure and strong political leadership on transparency, which the new head of PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) is now bringing to that program.

There has been good leadership at the highest political level—President Obama has been very clear and articulate on government transparency, and the White House and Office of Management and Budget have issued several directives mandating open data. But evidence of political will and leadership from other U.S. agencies has been worryingly scarce. Until that happens—and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review offers the most immediate opportunity—those agencies will continue to muddle along on aid transparency.

Transforming U.S. Foreign Aid through Country Ownership

Thursday, January 15th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children and MFAN Co-Chair.

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Throughout my life, and particularly in my work with Save the Children, I have seen examples of where aid has made a powerful difference in helping to transform people’s lives; and I’ve seen it fail.

When it works, whether it comes in the form of health, nutrition, or humanitarian projects that prevent thousands of deaths or in education that provides children the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty, aid can play a crucial role in meeting the needs of billions of children and families around the globe and literally changing the future.

And when it fails, its impacts range from insignificant to actually leaving communities worse off in a range of ways.

Because of this, an important part of our advocacy at Save the Children is directed at improving the way aid is delivered to maximize its positive impact.  Research has shown time and time again that foreign assistance is more effective and sustainable when those local governments and communities on the receiving end have a strong voice in deciding and developing the relevant projects, using their vast local knowledge and skills.   When developing countries are in the driver’s seat and leading the design, implementation, and management of development activities we are closer to achieving country ownership.

Country ownership has become an increasingly important aspect of U.S. development projects.  In 2010, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched USAID Forward, a set of policy reforms, to strengthen the agency and restructure its approach to aid.  The Local Solutions initiative is a key aspect of USAID Forward that focuses on bolstering local capacity, promoting country ownership, and increasing sustainability of program results.  The initiative has the potential to transform the way aid is administered, implemented, and ultimately the effects it has on millions of lives in developing countries.

However, the initiative currently uses a single indicator to track progress – percentage of USAID Mission funds provided directly to local institutions.  This single measure is insufficient to evaluate such a multi-faceted effort.

Save the Children has recently released a report entitled, Tracking USAID’s Efforts on the Local Solutions Initiative: A Review of Select Procurements in Six Countries.  For this research, Save the Children looked at the procurement documents that so often shape how policies at the headquarters level translate into programs in the field.  Based on the content of these procurements, our researchers scored USAID’s efforts to promote county ownership across the six countries.  They found that in all six countries reviewed, USAID integrates country ownership principles satisfactorily.  Moreover, USAID collects a wealth of data through its programs that could be analyzed to assess its multi-faceted effort more comprehensively and used more strategically to inform its operations – particularly its engagement with local institutions.

The report recommends three action for USAID: 1) conduct a more comprehensive review of efforts across all countries implementing the Local Solutions initiative to report on progress and identify and scale up promising practices; 2) adopt additional standardized indicators to complement the current single indicator and expand the agency’s ability to track more broadly its efforts to promote country ownership; and 3) pay more attention to the local institutions working on agency-funded activities as sub-grantees or sub-contractors.

Effective tools to evaluate country ownership can impact the way USAID does development and could shift the entire sector towards practices that advance countries’ local priorities and ownership over decisions about their own development.  Similarly, adopting a consistent set of indicators would ensure that all USAID Missions around the world “speak the same language” and learn from each other.

The procurements reviewed show that USAID is prompting movement in the right direction with the Local Solutions initiative.  In Uganda, USAID is emphasizing the need for its projects to be measured against the goals of the Government of Uganda, not just its own goals.  Furthermore, USAID is recommending that monitoring and evaluation of project activities be carried out with participation from local organizations.

Country ownership – and USAID’s Local Solutions initiative – can transform the way aid is delivered while upholding human dignity and supporting people to become agents of their own development.  Save the Children’s report attempts to fill crucial information gaps in the implementation of USAID’s Local Solutions initiative and draw the aid community’s attention to the urgent need for a comprehensive progress update as the initiative enters its fifth year of implementation.

MFAN Welcomes David Ray, VP for Policy & Advocacy for CARE USA, as the Newest Executive Committee Member

Friday, November 21st, 2014
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November 21, 2014 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette

MFAN is pleased to welcome David Ray, Vice President for Policy & Advocacy for CARE USA and Managing Director of CARE Action Now, as the newest member of the Executive Committee. Ray brings with him more than 25 years of advocacy, constituency building and campaigning experience, including 19 at CARE alone, which will be a huge asset to the committee.

CARE has expressed strong support for MFAN’s reform agenda and a commitment to adding their experience and expertise to our network. CARE’s work spans the globe, and the organization worked in 90 countries in 2014. We look forward to CARE’s contributions as we continue to push for greater accountability and country ownership to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective in helping developing countries access a path to prosperity.

MFAN Congratulates MCC on Its 10th Anniversary

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014
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November 18, 2014 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette

The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network congratulates the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) on 10 years of fighting global poverty and delivering foreign assistance in an innovative, transparent and results-oriented way. MCC has been an important partner in driving U.S. foreign assistance reform, especially in MFAN’s priority areas of accountability and country ownership.

Throughout the past 10 years, the MCC has been committed to delivering smart, effective foreign assistance by focusing on partnerships, country-led solutions and implementation, accountability and results. MCC has put a strong emphasis on policy performance, which has had a positive impact on generating country-led policy reforms in partner countries – known as the “MCC Effect.”  The agency has also been a global leader when it comes to aid transparency and the top U.S. agency in sharing timely and quality data about its work. In 2013 and 2014 MCC was rated first and third, respectively, on Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Index, a ranking of more than 60 of the world’s leading donors.

We once again extend our congratulations to the MCC and its 300 dedicated employees on a decade of pioneering reform and look forward to continuing to work closely with the agency to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective and accountable.

What Teach a Woman to Fish Can Teach Us

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from George Ingram, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and MFAN Co-Chair. This piece originally appeared on the Brookings blog on November 3.

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Ritu Sharma, founder and CEO of Women Thrive, recently published Teach a Woman to Fish. The book centers on her experiences working beside poor, women-led families in four developing countries.

The book is much more than just a nice, interesting, feel-good story about the lives of strong women in poor villages. It is a tapestry woven from a medley of threads—human interest stories, political and social analysis, economics, history, development policy, grassroots organizing, how to influence government, and policy prescriptions—all at a very close and personal level. The book “humanizes” development, bringing the lives of real people to what too often are sanitized statistics and policy papers. Teach a Woman to Fish is a series of real human stories interwoven with brief wonk-free tutorials on important policy issues.

For 17 years Ritu has been a force leading Women Thrive, which in turn has been a key driver behind the Washington policy community’s growing acknowledgement of the critical role of women and the importance of taking a gender approach to development.

The Teachers are the Poor, Not Us

For me, the overarching message of the book is that the poor have the solutions to their problems. Our western answers often are not the only, nor the best, solutions. But those struggling to improve their lives, and their country’s future, can use our support and understanding in helping them unlock those solutions.

There are many local organizations—companies, NGOs, grassroots networks, government—that are helping to create those opportunities. External donors and other development actors should be seeking out these local organizations and supporting them in their efforts to empower and unlock opportunities for the poor. This is the fundamental rationale that underpins the priority USAID and the development community put on local ownership. The book offers real examples and explanations of why this policy is the right approach. Local ownership is not a silver bullet for development, nor is it the sole approach, but in many instances it is the right approach.

This fits with how Ritu sees poverty: “…poverty is not about having no money; it’s about having no power to change your own circumstances.”

The “Girl Effect”

If you have ever wondered about the “girl effect” and why education is so important—not just for its direct impact on girls and women, but also its contribution to moving entire communities and countries out of poverty and onto sustainable patterns of prosperity—read this book. There are entire books devoted to the role of education in development, but in just a few pages Ritu gives you the basic course and makes it alive with real people. She explains why education is more than just teaching in the classroom, and why food, nutrition, and health are all critical for children to be able to focus and learn. She explains why education is not achieved simply by getting children into schools, but that they must actually learn to reap the benefits, to achieve the girl effect.

She describes the nature of discrimination against women and why we should all stand up to end this all-too-prevalent practice. She confronts us with the reality of violence against women, including sexual violence. She explains why child marriage disempowers and harms girls.

Ritu introduces the reader to small-scale farming and why the practice of prohibiting women from owning land—the very land they farm—discourages efficient and productive farming and must be overcome. This is happening in some countries, although much too slowly.

Influencing Government

Teach a Woman to Fish is a tutorial on how to accomplish practical goals. Do you want to know about networking, organizing, and advocacy? Ritu explains how these work at the grassroots and the national level and why they are powerful tools for empowering the poor. She explains how village-level women’s networks function and what they can accomplish; how women’s groups organized at the national level to influence a government’s request to the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and even circumvented their own government to go directly to the U.S. Congress and the MCC; how Women Thrive mobilized to influenced the MCC to adopt a gender policy, and not just a notional one but a strong one, and then to hire a gender expert to make sure the policy was implemented; how Women Thrive worked the halls of Congress in pursuit of legislation on violence against women; and what you can do to influence your representative in Congress.

And then there is Fair Trade and the power of the purse—how we can influence corporate behavior simply by our purchasing decisions.

Role of Foreign Aid

Ritu explains why foreign assistance is important for U.S. interests in the world.  She advocates using assistance to promote poverty reduction and the rights of people, and warns against cutting off assistance as the unintended consequences of that action may adversely affect the very people we seek to help.

The stories provide an insight into how the American aid agencies—USAID and the MCC—sometimes get it right in improving the lives of individuals and communities, but not always.

The book introduces you to village heroines: Irangani, Malini, Maria, Carmen. Ritu tells us about a few heroes named Kepali and Mahesh. And she even introduces some U.S. heroes and heroines: a corporate hero by the name of Ed and two Congressional heroines named Nita and Beth.

Who Should Read This Book

  • Development policy experts who know the theory and policy of development but not the reality on the ground
  • Field-grounded implementers who know what happens in villages but not how to communicate that to policymakers and translate that experience into policy
  • College professors teaching an introductory course in development, international economics, international relations, and global women’s studies
  • Regular people who want to understand how others live and how we can make a difference

What comes through in Ritu’s stories is her admiration for village women who are sustaining the lives and livelihoods of their families. She is humbled by their stamina and fortitude, their good sense and good humor, and their kindness and generosity. She relates how much she has learned from them.

Ritu, I thank you for this essay and sharing with us your experiences at the village level and your well-reasoned policy prescriptions.

Thank you for teaching us.