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Archive for the ‘MCC’ Category

Year in Review: A Look Back at Aid Reform in 2015

Friday, December 18th, 2015
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As 2015 comes to a close and we head into the final year of the Obama Administration, we want to take some time to reflect on all that we as a network have accomplished these last twelve months to move the needle on U.S. aid reform. With your energy and support, we continued to push on our pillar issues of accountability and country ownership and the policy priorities we laid out in these areas in our paper, The Way Forward: A Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond.

MFAN’s Continued Work to Strengthen Accountability & Country Ownership

MFAN hit the ground running in 2015 on accountability and country ownership. MFAN partner Save the Children released a new report early in the year tracking USAID’s Local Solutions initiative in six countries. MFAN and Brookings hosted an event to highlight the findings of a new policy paper from the MCC, Principles into Practice: Transparency. Continuing on the transparency and data use track, MFAN in partnership with AidData, the State Department, and USAID hosted Do More With Data: Moving U.S. Government Aid Transparency Forward, an event that brought together internal and external drivers of USG foreign aid transparency to explore ongoing and new efforts to make data more accessible.

This year we welcomed Dr. Patricia Morris to the MFAN Executive Committee. Pat took over as the new President of Women Thrive Worldwide, a longtime MFAN partner, in January. We also welcomed a new staff member in 2015, as Stephanie Cappa joined the MFAN hub as our Senior Government Relations Manager.

Heading into the Spring, MFAN and Devex launched Reform for Results, an online series to engage the broader development community on progress made and emerging opportunities on MFAN’s policy priorities from The Way Forward. The series featured a video interview with U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx, OpEds from MFAN Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette, Honorary Co-Chair Senator Richard Lugar (Ret.), and Executive Committee members Ben Leo, Tom Hart, and Tessie San Martin.

MFAN’s Country Ownership Working Group released a policy brief outlining recommendations for how to better measure country ownership, which, for example, can be applied to USAID’s Local Solutions initiative. The paper was met with enthusiasm by USAID, as they are currently working on developing and integrating new metrics into their ownership work. The Country Ownership Working Group also welcomed Save the Children’s Nora O’Connell and Oxfam’s Greg Adams as its new co-chairs in 2015, following on the great leadership of Tessie San Martin of Plan and Rodney Bent.

In July, MFAN launched its new ACCOUNTdown to 2017 campaign to track progress made toward strengthening the accountability and country ownership of U.S. foreign aid. The campaign will take stock of where Congress and the Administration are in meeting their reform commitments and outline further steps that can be made before the end of the 114th Congress and the Obama Administration. Also in July, coinciding with the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, MFAN released its Principles of Public Sector Domestic Resources Mobilization, outlining how the U.S. government can effectively help partner countries mobilize domestic resources for development.

As part of our continuing work to highlight MFAN’s policy priorities and engage with the Obama Administration, the Co-Chairs sent letters to OMB Director Shaun Donovan, outlining our priorities and how the Administration can make progress on them in its final year, and MCC CEO Dana Hyde, outlining our recommendations for the MCC’s forthcoming five-year strategic plan. In addition, MFAN Honorary Co-Chair The Honorable Jim Kolbe testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the value of the MCC.

The Obama Administration’s Second-to-last Year

Early in the year, President Obama demonstrated his enduring commitment to development and effective foreign assistance in his State of the Union address and, following shortly after, his FY16 budget request. In the State of the Union address, the President called for a “more effective global effort” to combat development challenges like the Ebola crisis. The budget request included a number of provisions to help advance reform, including additional flexibility for food aid, a funding boost for the MCC, and an increase in USAID’s Operating Expenses budget.

Also early this year, USAID Administrator Raj Shah stepped down from his post after leading the agency for five productive years. Administrator Shah was a long-time champion for effective development, spearheading efforts such as USAID Forward, the Local Solutions initiative, and the establishment of USAID’s evaluation policy. In April, we released an MFAN-led community sign-on letter calling for a new USAID Administrator. Just two weeks later the announcement was made that MFAN co-founder Gayle Smith was nominated.  As the community anxiously awaited Gayle’s confirmation, MFAN organized another community sign-on letter in June to urge the Senate to confirm her as USAID Administrator.

At the end of April, the much anticipated second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review was released. We were pleased to see the document focus on transparent and accountable governance and the better use and analysis of data, and the emphasis on building internal capacity at State and USAID in the area of monitoring and evaluation. We look forward to continuing to work with the State Department on the implementation of this QDDR in the New Year.

This fall marked the much-anticipated launch of the Sustainable Development Goals at the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. President Obama strongly endorsed the ambitious in his address during UNGA.

Foreign Aid Reform on Capitol Hill

The year was also an active time in the fight to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective in Congress. This spring the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a landmark hearing on food aid reform, convened by SFRC Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) and Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD).  The hearing was an opportunity to highlight the importance of legislative efforts like the Food for Peace Reform Act, introduced by Senate champions Bob Corker and Chris Coons (D-DE) earlier in the year, and to make the case for why the current systems to needs to be improved in order to deliver more for hungry people around the world. To capitalize on the moment, MFAN, as part of a broad coalition of international development organizations, signed on to a statement of support for food aid reform.

In October, the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015 was introduced in the House by Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA), and in the Senate by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD). Just a few weeks after introduction, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee took up and approved the bills. MFAN and InterAction also organized a community sign-on letter in support of the bill and the MFAN Co-Chairs sent a letter to Secretary Kerry urging his support, recognizing that the State Department has been a hurdle to getting the bill passed in previous congresses.

Meanwhile, the Senate confirmed Gayle Smith as the new USAID Administrator in November, seven months after being nominated. MFAN and our partners were pleased that the Senate finally took action to fill this important position.

Onward to 2016

We are rounding out 2015 on a high note, as the House of Representatives recently unanimously passed the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act. In the New Year, we hope to see the Senate take similar action so that we can see this legislation enacted. We look forward to a busy 2016 as MFAN and our partners continue to push Congress and the Administration to prioritize accountability and country ownership to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective and sustainable. Early next year we will be holding our next public check-in on our ACCOUNTdown to 2017 campaign and will continue to update our ACCOUNTdown Dialogue Series, so stay tuned!


MFAN Letter to MCC CEO Dana Hyde: Priorities for MCC’s Five-Year Strategic Plan

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015
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December 4, 2015

The Honorable Dana J. Hyde
Chief Executive Officer
Millennium Challenge Corporation
875 15th St NW
Washington, DC 20005
Attn: Ms. Beth Tritter

Dear Ms. Hyde:

On behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), thank you for your continued leadership to advance effective U.S. foreign assistance and for the opportunity to provide feedback on the forthcoming five-year strategic plan of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

Since its founding, the MCC has been on the cutting edge of the U.S. global development landscape, especially in the areas of strengthening the citizen-state compact and catalyzing inclusive growth.  Continued innovation and leadership in these essential areas should be clearly reflected in the MCC’s vision for moving forward.

Building on the broad endorsement of the Sustainable Development Goals in September, we urge the MCC to seize the moment by laying out a strategic plan for implementation of the global goals to promote inclusive growth, reduce inequality, and support effective, accountable, and inclusive local institutions in the countries where it works.

The MCC’s leadership on this front should include strong public commitments in the five-year strategic plan in the following critical areas:

  • Promote country ownership – Country ownership of development has been a fundamental aspect of the MCC’s approach from the beginning. The MCC should commit to increase its use of country systems, including government, civil society, and private sector, to ensure the lasting value and sustainability of its programming.  Innovative initiatives like the MCC’s community-driven development programs in Indonesia and the Philippines should be expanded to additional countries, and lessons from these efforts should be incorporated into operations more broadly for greater impact and sustainability.
  • Catalyze domestic resource mobilization – MCC should continue to respond to country interest in this area in both compacts and threshold programs, in conjunction with the U.S. commitment to double investment in DRM at the recent Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa.
  • Accountability to local citizens – MCC should ensure it is consistently meeting its own standards for transparency, consultation, and learning and seek to further strengthen those policies and approaches. The MCC should deepen its support for the local supply, demand, and utilization of data – including countries’ own budgets – and establish guidelines to give local partners and beneficiaries a greater role in the evaluation process.
  • Reduce inequality – MCC should make a public commitment to design all of its projects with an eye towards reducing inequality, which, as the IMF has well documented, inhibits economic growth. The MCC should ensure that initial analyses include an explicit focus on the poorest beneficiaries and an assessment of the impact on reducing inequality in its social analyses.
  • Further leadership on gender integration – MCC has been a leader in developing policies and tools for gender and social analysis from compact consultation to implementation. It should deliver on the commitment to make its sex-disaggregated data public by the end of 2015, and ensure that it is driving gender integration consistently and comprehensively throughout all of its work, rigorously monitoring the impact on poverty reduction, growth, and inequality, and sharing lessons learned with the broader development community.

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide input into the MCC’s five-year strategic plan.  We look forward to continuing our work together and would welcome the opportunity to consult further with you and your team before finalizing the plan.


George Ingram
MFAN Co-Chair
Brookings Institution

Carolyn Miles
MFAN Co-Chair
Save the Children

Connie Veillette
MFAN Co-Chair
The Lugar Center

ACCOUNTdown Reviews USAID Effectiveness to Build for Future

Monday, August 10th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Nora O’Connell, Associate Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy at Save the Children and Co-Chair of MFAN’s Country Ownership Working Group.


Recently, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) launched the ACCOUNTdown campaign and scorecard to push for greater aid effectiveness reform by the Obama Administration.  ACCOUNTdown focuses on the U.S. government’s progress to strengthening its international development programs’ accountability and country ownership.

The ACCOUNTdown report highlighted a range of improvements by various U.S. development agencies and departments. We welcome these incremental shifts, but with just less than a year and half left in this Administration, we want to see more.

We know from Save the Children’s own work that embedding accountability and ownership in programs can have an impact on the ground. Whether it is health, education, or nutrition programming, the most lasting impact occurs when local potential is nurtured to enable countries and communities to achieve their own aspirations. Aid can and should do that better. Here are four things that could make a difference now.

  • Too much USAID funding is still being driven by priorities set by the U.S. government in Washington, rather than aligned with host-country strategies. When aid is driven by Washington, then Washington funding goes away, so does a lot of the progress. But when aid is part of a partnership with local communities, governments and civil society, then the results are not only continued by the people in those countries – they are magnified.
  • The introduction of USAID’s Local Solutions initiative in 2010 set a target for increased direct flows of U.S. government resources to developing countries. But partnership is more than that; USAID must start measuring how it’s increasing local capacity more broadly.
  • The Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) was created in 2004 in part to enable more country-driven approaches; their country compact development process is a good example of aligning with host country priorities. MCC should work to increase the use of country systems and local partners in high-performing countries to extend country ownership.
  • The U.S. government has made progress in helping countries finance their own development and should continue to do so. This was illustrated in the announcement of the Addis Tax Initiative and PEPFAR’s launch of the innovative health financing initiative which reflect how the U.S. is supporting domestic resource mobilization for development.

The U.S. government can take many additional steps in the next 18 months to further its commitment to country ownership and accountability to have a greater impact through its on-the-ground programming.

As an active MFAN member, we look forward to future progress reports from the ACCOUNTdown campaign as a way to ensure the Obama administration honors its commitments to aid effectiveness.

Want to Know What We Got for Our Money? MCC’s Telling Us.

Friday, April 24th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from MFAN Accountability Working Group Co-Chair, Diana Ohlbaum.


In this space back in February, I suggested a list of ways for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to advance its thought leadership and boost its development effectiveness.  One of those ideas was to conduct “after-action reviews” to provide an honest look at what did (or didn’t) happen during a compact, why (or why not), and how to improve next time.

True to form, less than a month later the MCC responded by publishing its first “compact closed” page, in this case with respect to Mozambique.  The page has a lot to recommend it: a concise summary of the amounts promised and spent; the dates of compact signature, entry into force and completion; a break-down by project area; the total number of beneficiaries; the changes made during the term of the compact; the key compact indicators, targets, and results for each project; the policy conditions; and links to all the key documents, including constraints analysis, evaluations and scorecards.

This is an extremely useful way to look at the big picture of MCC’s results, particularly for Congressional staff who don’t want to have to wade back through years of notifications and justifications to understand how the project changed over time and what they got for their money.  It answers the important question of “What did this compact achieve?”, which is not ordinarily addressed by evaluations, Inspector General investigations, or Government Accountability Office reports.  My only quibble with the page is that it shows the results according to the adjusted targets rather than the initial goals, which gives an unfairly rosy picture of how the compact was implemented.  The Center for Global Development’s Sarah Rose also helpfully suggests that the page include information on policy impact.

I hope, as well, that this effort was not entirely an exercise in packaging information for the public, but also included a very detailed and substantive de-brief from those who worked on the program, with an eye to identifying best practices and lessons learned.  Although this should happen continuously throughout a compact’s duration, compact closure is an important opportunity to ask questions like:  What do you know now that you wish you had known at the start? What were the most burdensome processes and requirements, and how did you manage them?  If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?

Such a review would be different from an independent evaluation in that it would draw directly from the perceptions and experiences of the staff and local partners who were most closely involved, and not necessarily be designed for public consumption.  This type of learning is essential for an organization whose personnel are hired for their specific country knowledge, subject-matter expertise and language skills, and often leave when the compact is complete rather than assuming a new post within the MCC.

Some of these lessons may be too sensitive to be trotted out in public, or too context-specific to be of broader value.  But some of the feedback – from MCC’s local staff and partners as well as its direct hires — could be summarized in a way that is helpful to other organizations, inside and outside government, working in the same countries or on similar projects.

Although it may not be obvious to the user, the “compact closed” page required an enormous amount of effort from the MCC, with dozens of people and multiple departments involved in developing content, writing code, creating charts, designing new layouts and styles, and extracting data.  It’s the template for similar pages forthcoming on other completed compacts, which will be a useful resource for the entire development community.  From my perspective, this is a noteworthy step forward on transparency as well as a valuable tool for assessing overall results.

MCC: A Pat on the Back, and Then a Push

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Diana Ohlbaum, Co-Chair of MFAN’s Accountability Working Group


When in 2013, the Millennium Challenge Corporation was ranked #1 in the world on Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Index, it provoked as much trepidation as pride.  What do you do when there’s nowhere to go but down?

The MCC has spent most of its 10 years blazing a trail to broader country ownership, greater transparency, and a sharper focus on results.  But staying in the lead may prove harder than seizing it.  Sarah Rose and Franck Wiebe’s thoughtful and well-researched analysis of the MCC’s model explains its successes and challenges, and makes detailed suggestions for improvement.  Adopting many of these recommendations could help MCC stay at the forefront of development effectiveness.

To their excellent list, I would add the following ideas, which are admittedly more of a stretch:

  • Threshold Program.  In their focus on policy performance, Rose and Wiebe correctly note the lack of clarity about this program’s rationale and metrics for success.  Instead of either sharpening its current focus or eliminating it entirely, as the authors suggest, how about trying something new: using it to help countries establish a “clean”, well-functioning, transparent, and accountable procurement agency through which their own government, as well as external donors, could channel funds?  Using local systems is a critical element of country ownership, but finding systems that meet even the most rudimentary standards of public financial management can often be difficult.  Even if the MCC did not subsequently sign a compact with a country, creating an entity that was truly accountable to the public would help the government attract aid and investment and responsibly spend its own resources.  And the government’s degree of success or failure in building such an entity, with MCC’s help, would be a good measure of political will for reform.
  • Second Compacts.  If the MCC’s ultimate goal is to help countries “graduate” from assistance (which was the initial concept behind the compacts, as a transitional step from aid to trade), then one thing we ought to expect is that countries complete the program with the capacity to spend resources responsibly.  Every country must deal with problems of corruption, but if a government is unable to build a road without losing half the money to graft or is unable to pay the teachers it hires and make sure they show up at their jobs, then both growth and stability will be at risk.  Given that the pool of candidates for second compacts is growing, what about adding a requirement that second compacts must be spent directly through a country’s own systems – thereby increasing the focus during first compacts on public financial management, and weeding out those countries that have not made sufficient progres
  • Contract Transparency.  MCC was built with transparency “in our DNA”, making not only its budget and results public but also its selection criteria, country scorecards, and compacts.  What would keep MCC in the vanguard and do wonders for accountability would be to publish the texts of all its contracts, and require that partner countries do the same (at least for contracts financed by the MCC).  Knowing the overall amount spent and the nature of the project is essential information for civil society, but knowing who is carrying out each activity, in which locations, to what specifications, under what conditions, according to what timeline, and at what cost, helps even more.  That information is contained in contracts, and American taxpayers as well as intended beneficiaries are entitled to know it.  It also provides a valuable monitoring tool to ensure that contractors are performing as promised in real-time, rather than waiting to find out about problems during an audit or evaluation, when they may be too late to fix
  • After-Action Reviews.  Pioneered by the U.S. Army, this kind of de-brief is designed to provide an honest look at what did (and didn’t) happen during the operation, why, and how to improve next time.  While MCC’s commitment to rigorous impact evaluations is impressive and welcome, these don’t tell the MCC – or more importantly, Congress – whether the compact as a whole was successful.  No doubt, if these reviews are to be fully candid then there would need to be a “sanitized” version for public release, but having a clear view of what we initially hoped to achieve, how and why that changed during the process, and what we would do differently, would earn MCC another gold star as a learning organization.  This is something already under consideration at MCC, but whether they are willing to measure performance against the original standards and targets is yet to be determined.

Changes like these could not only improve the MCC’s own performance and outcomes, but raise the bar for everyone else.  With a forward-looking new CEO at the helm, this is an opportunity for all of us to think big.