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Archive for the ‘Policy to Action’ Category

2013 Aid Transparency Index

Thursday, October 24th, 2013
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See below for a guest post from MFAN Co-Chair and Brookings senior fellow George Ingram on today’s release of the 2013 Aid Transparency Index. The post originally appeared on Brookings Up Front blog. Be sure to watch the public event hosted by Brookings, which will be live streamed beginning at 3:30 pm EST.

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Today Brookings hosts the public release of the 2013 Aid Transparency Index—the only global measure of donors’ aid transparency.

A big hurrah to the MCC and congratulations to Treasury and USAID! 

The Millennium Challenge Corporation, or MCC, is to be celebrated, not just for leading the American pack, but for coming in first in the overall global rankings.  The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Treasury Department are to be congratulated for showing significant improvements since 2012.  The Department of State, Department of Defense and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) clearly have a lot of catching up to do.

At the policy level, the commitment and leadership of the Obama administration—through several White House directives  instructing all agencies to embrace open government and open data that is machine readable and readily usable—has been superb.  It has demonstrated it understands the value of making U.S. assistance data publicly available through the innovative Foreign Assistance Dashboard and subsequent agreement to join the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).

Why, and for whom, is making assistance data publicly available so important?  Publicly available data:

  • Helps donors make more informed decisions, manage their programs better and coordinate their aid efforts with other donors’ assistance.
  • Enables recipient governments to know where assistance is going in their country so they can better allocate their own budget resources.
  • Allows citizens to be better informed on government decisions and therefore better able to hold government accountable.
  • Feeds the private sector with a new resource on which to create new business services. Publication to IATI is picking up steam.

Donors accounting for 86 percent of official development finance (ODF) are committed to publishing to IATI by the end of 2015 and those accounting for 69 percent are now reporting some information to the IATI registry.  Only a relatively small number of U.S. civil society organizations, such as Plan USA, have committed to publishing their data to IATI.  A few leading foundations such as Gates and Hewlett have joined IATI as well.

As aid transparency is a departure from business as usual (the typical opaqueness of government), the initial decision to make U.S. assistance data publicly available was not an easy one, and the Obama administration deserves due credit.  With more than 25 U.S. government agencies involved in providing assistance, implementation, despite considerable effort, has been more difficult.  This is where attention now needs to double down.

In the first three years of the dashboard, a mere five agencies—USAID, MCC, State, Treasury and Defense—have posted only partial data.  They were joined just this week by the African Development Foundation.  Where is the data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Agriculture and data-driven PEPFAR?  Where is activity level data, so that users can determine where and how the aggregate level assistance is being used?  Where are the links to planning and evaluation documents?

The U.S. has pledged full implementation of its commitment to IATI by 2015.  At the current pace it likely will miss that goal.  The MCC and Treasury, admittedly with more simplified data sets, have demonstrated that compliance with IATI is possible.  USAID has also provided evidence of the results of good effort.

There are three problems.  One, most agencies have not made their data public, either to the dashboard or to IATI.  Two, the U.S. has not committed to providing data for some of the most relevant IATI fields, such as activity budgets and results and links to project and performance documents, although agencies have the data and can publish it.  MCC has done so already.  Three, the current process for posting U.S. data to the IATI registry is for the data to first go to the dashboard. However, data that agencies are providing are not being posted to the IATI registry in either a timely fashion or in complete, data rich form—the dashboard is not using the International Aid Transparency Initiative’s XML format but, rather, spreadsheets that lose some of the detail of the data.

The U.S. can fulfill its obligations through three steps:

  • Establish precise plans and timetables for each agency to publish its assistance data to the dashboard and IATI.
  • Provide data for the full range of IATI fields, including data at the activity level and on results, as the MCC has done.
  • Allow full data sets to be posted to IATI.  There are two alternatives for accomplishing this goal. One, the dashboard can adopt the IATI standard.  Alternatively, eliminate the requirement that agencies send their data through the dashboard.  Accept the fact that the dashboard is valuable for what it was originally designed for—collecting and presenting U.S. assistance data—and remove it as a hindrance to agencies publishing their data directly to IATI.

Finally, nongovernment aid providers and implementers need to step up and join the transparent data era.  In this day, opaqueness should be a thing of the past for all of us.

Transforming foreign assistance

Monday, April 15th, 2013
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See below for an op-ed from MFAN’s co-chairs Rev. David Beckmann, George Ingram, and Jim Kolbe. This piece first appeared in Politico.

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The amount of good our nation has done for poor and hungry people around the world over the last ten years is astounding. We have saved and improved millions of lives through programs like the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was launched by former President George W. Bush to battle the disease in Africa, and the Feed the Future initiative, which President Obama started to support small farmers and the growth of local economies in developing countries.

Behind these big ticket initiatives, our foreign assistance approach has also been transformed into a more rigorously evaluated, strategic and selective one that is focused on helping developing countries and citizens take control of their own future. Completing this transformation must be a foreign policy priority for Obama and his successors because effective and robust development efforts will have to play a larger role in U.S. foreign policy if we are to maintain a strong global presence as our major military engagements end.

Recently, the United States Agency for International Development released the results of an extensive internal evaluation that provided the first evidence that reform is making the machinery of U.S. foreign assistance work better. The USAID Forward Progress Report provides a look at how the agency is implementing the reforms that Obama outlined in his landmark Policy Directive on Global Development (PPD) in 2010. The PPD, the first government-wide development policy reform guidance ever issued from the White House, mapped out the transformation agenda and highlighted a “long-term commitment to rebuilding USAID as the U.S. government’s lead development agency and as the world’s premier development agency.”

In the years since, USAID has focused on reforming key areas:

Evaluation and Selectivity: The creation of both the new USAID Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning and the position of Chief Economist have had clear impact on the agency’s ability to plan and to measure programs and thus make more strategic decisions. The report notes that since 2011, 186 in-depth program evaluations have been completed and published for public review. Furthermore, thanks to a more concerted use of strategic planning, the agency reduced total numbers of program areas by 22 percent and phased out agricultural programs and global health programs in 21 and 17 countries, respectively, where local institutions are in position to take charge.

Country ownership: USAID’s launch of a process to develop Country Development Cooperation Strategies (CDCS) – which involve close and cross-sectoral collaboration with recipient countries to set goals and adapt programs – is an important step towards giving partners and citizens more responsibility and accountability within the development process. Twenty CDCS processes were completed in 2012. Efforts to expand country ownership were further strengthened by the agency’s efforts to direct more resources to local institutions. The report notes a 50 percent increase in funding to local organizations since 2010, from 9.7 percent in 2010 to 14.3 percent this year.

Economic Growth and Innovation: The report outlines that strengthening the Development Credit Authority (DCA) has allowed USAID to leverage more private capital – $524 million in 2012 alone – to support entrepreneurship and growth in developing countries. A premium has also been put on new technology: six USAID missions are now actively using and supporting mobile applications to catalyze development.

Partnership: In addition to strengthening relationships with recipient governments, institutions, and citizens, USAID has developed new partnerships with universities and other private sector organizations in order to build local capacity and improve program outcomes.

Transparency: USAID has established a rigorous, multi-step risk assessment mechanism for determining host country governments’ readiness to receive government-to-government assistance from the U.S. If at any point in this process a government fails to meet those eligibility criteria, it is disqualified from further consideration. Similarly, the Obama administration launched the Foreign Assistance Dashboard over two years ago to make information about U.S. assistance more accessible to both American citizens and those of recipient countries, and has committed to publish its assistance data with the International Assistance Transparency Initiative (IATI).

In addition to increased diligence and resolve by the Obama administration and USAID, congressional engagement is needed to solidify these reforms. The president’s budget includes strong reform elements, including a proposal to reshape the inefficient U.S. food aid system to reach more people and save more taxpayer dollars, and we urge Congress to support this and other proposals, like transparency legislation introduced by Rep.Ted Poe (R-Texas).

Completing the transformation of U.S. foreign assistance will reposition the U.S. as not just the most generous, but also the most strategic, innovative, and effective player in global development. We have saved and improved millions of lives over the last ten years and our efforts have helped strengthen our image abroad: a new field survey of aid recipient countries by Oxfam America finds that 83 percent of respondents believe the U.S. is a better development partner now than five years ago. The opportunity at hand for the next ten years is to turn progress into lasting change by helping those people take control of their own lives.

Rev. David Beckmann, a 2010 World Food Prize laureate, is the president of Bread for the World. George Ingram is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Jim Kolbe, a former Republican congressman from Arizona, is a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and a senior adviser at McLarty Associates. They are co-chairman of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.

 

 

MFAN Statement: USAID Offers Evidence of Reform Progress

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
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March 20, 2013 (WASHINGTON)This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann, George Ingram and Jim Kolbe:

We strongly commend the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for releasing a comprehensive internal evaluation of progress on the USAID Forward reform agenda. The report highlights very positive and promising signs that USAID has begun to transform itself into a more effective, accountable institution. This progress could not have come at a better time; budget pressures demand better results, and the Agency will bear greater responsibility at the leading edge of U.S. foreign policy as our military leverage decreases in places like Afghanistan and the greater Middle East.

Strengthening USAID has always been one of MFAN’s primary objectives. We supported Administrator Rajiv Shah when he launched USAID Forward on the heels of the 2010 release of President Obama’s landmark Policy Directive on Development (PPD). The PPD sought to reshape the U.S. development approach around economic growth, selectivity, innovation, partnership, and evaluation. As the directive noted, a key avenue to reaching these goals involved a “long-term commitment to rebuilding USAID as the U.S. Government’s lead development agency and as the world’s premier development agency.”

The new USAID Forward progress report is rightly built around the key strategic tenets of the PPD:

  • Evaluation: The creation of the new USAID Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning has had a clear impact on the Agency’s ability to measure programs and thus make more strategic decisions. The report notes that since 2011, 186 in-depth program evaluations have been completed and published for the public. USAID’s important decision to create the position of Chief Economist – and bolster economic expertise across the Agency – has only strengthened the credibility of these evaluations.
  • Selectivity: Stronger evaluation has also allowed for important decisions about resource allocation and selectivity. The report notes that the Agency reduced total numbers of program areas by 22 percent and phased out agricultural programs and global health programs in 21 and 17 countries, respectively, where they were no longer needed. We look forward to USAID exercising increased focus in assistance programming in order to capitalize on opportunities where we can achieve real development gains.
  • Country ownership: USAID’s launch of a process to develop Country Development Cooperation Strategies (CDCS) – which involve close and cross-sectoral collaboration with recipient countries to set goals and adapt programs – was an enormously important steps towards giving partners and citizens more responsibility within the development process. Twenty CDCS processes were completed in 2012, and the Agency has ambitious goals to increase that number.  Efforts to expand country ownership were strengthened by the Agency’s efforts to direct more resources to local institutions.  The report notes a 50 percent increase in funding to local organizations since 2010, with 14.3 percent of mission funding now being awarded directly to local institutions.
  • Economic Growth and Innovation: The report notes that strengthening the Development Credit Authority (DCA) has allowed the agency to leverage more private capital – $700 million in 2012 alone – to support entrepreneurship and capacity building. As an example, the report notes that six USAID missions are now actively using and supporting mobile applications to catalyze development.
  • Partnership: In addition to strengthening relationships with recipient governments, institutions, and citizens, USAID has developed new partnerships with universities and other organizations in order to build local capacity and improve program outcomes.

There are other bright spots in the report, relating to both building internal human capital and committing to continued measurement and evaluation of reform progress. We believe the report itself is a strong signal by Administrator Shah that the Agency intends to be more transparent.

We hope USAID will push harder for progress in other areas. Administrator Shah has committed to closing seven USAID missions that have outlived their strategic usefulness by 2015. We encourage Administrator Shah to continue to pursue mission consolidation alongside the programmatic realignments outlined in the report, and we look forward to receiving more information on this issue. In addition, we urge USAID and other relevant players in the Obama Administration to more constructively engage with Congress on development issues in order to try to solidify these and other reforms through legislation.

MFAN looks forward to upcoming independent research and analysis from our partners that seeks to measure the true impact of these changes on the ground in developing countries. We also look forward to working with USAID to maintain the momentum of these critical reforms.

Liberia’s Government Takes the Helm to Protect Vulnerable Children

Friday, March 1st, 2013
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See below for a guest blog from Geoffrey Oyat, Child Protection Manager in Liberia. This is the ninth post in our field feedback series and the fifth in Save’s “Aid Reform Stories from the Field” series. Click the links to read posts from Save the Children in Guatemala, Malawi, Ethiopia, and NicaraguaWomen Thrive in Ghana; Oxfam America in Uganda; Management Sciences for Health in Bolivia; and PATH in Kenya.

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Monrovia, Liberia

Geoffrey OyatMr. Mulbah, a farmer in Gleegbar Town in northwest Liberia, was persuaded by a distant family member to send his four older children to a boarding school in Monrovia in 2007.  This school, Aunt Musu said, would provide a better life for his two sons and two daughters since there was no good school in Gleegbar Town. Four years later, Mr. Mulbah was notified that his children were living in an orphanage, where they had been beaten, starved, and forced to beg for money on the streets. Mr. Mulbah’s children were returned to him in July 2011 and he is now caring for a family of nine and sending all his children to the local school in Gleegbar Town. Although Mr. Mulbah is now reunited with his children, many other parents in the region still face uncertainty about their kids’ whereabouts.

Poor services and poverty in rural areas compel parents to send their children to the capital city Monrovia with hopes for a better life for their children. Parents enroll their kids in orphanages with false promises of funding for their education. An assessment done by Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in 2008 found that a majority of the 5,000 children living in orphanages in Liberia are not orphaned but wrongly placed.

The Government of Liberia is faced with the daunting task of supervising orphanages and ensuring the protection of Liberia’s two million children. Moreover, the country is still recovering from a 16-year civil war and its institutional capacity remains weak.

Over the past decade, Save the Children has been assisting Liberia’s Department of Social Welfare, the government ministry responsible for child protection on measures and structures to prevent and respond to abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence affecting children.

With funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Displaced Children and Orphan’s Fund, and administered by World Learning, Save the Children Liberia has been removing children from the streets, unsafe orphanages, and other risky circumstances, and reintegrating them with their parents when possible. We have also helped parents to improve their skills and economic opportunities to prevent family separations in the first place.

With its latest package of reforms called “USAID Forward”, USAID is investing more resources in building the capacity of Liberia’s institutions to take over essential functions such as child protection and health services that were primarily led by international NGOs and private contractors in the years immediately following the war. By shifting these responsibilities –from US entities to the Liberian public sector – USAID is fostering sustainable development and reducing the need for U.S. development assistance over time.

Aid reform LIBOver the past several years, Save the Children’s role has expanded beyond providing child protection services alongside Liberia’s Department of Social Welfare. We are now working to help improve the government’s tracking and protection system for vulnerable children. In the USAID-funded project called, “Educating and Protecting Vulnerable Children in Family Settings” project, we are setting up a case management system for the Department of Social Welfare, in partnership with World Learning, to enhance the government’s ability to prevent vulnerable children from being separated from their families and reintegrate those that have been separated. World Learning has also been working to build the capacity of the Department of Social Welfare in child protection and other priority areas. Since the project began, we have prevented 457 separations and returned 221 children, ages 4 to 18, to safe homes.

Once the project is over in 2014, the Department of Social Welfare will take leadership over the protection and unification of children in Liberia. They will have quality baseline information on vulnerable families in six counties and an active county-level database of families linked to the national record. Moreover, members of Liberia’s judiciary and police will be able to work with 36 community groups and local leaders trained by Save the Children to identify child protection risks, relevant laws, and local services provided by the Department of Social Welfare.

Building stronger and more responsive government institutions is a challenging task, particularly in a country like Liberia that has been so deeply impacted by war. Efforts by Save the Children, however, help to ensure that U.S. development assistance not only improves the lives of vulnerable children in Liberia now but also strengthens the country’s public institutions to lead and drive effective service delivery for at-risk kids in Liberia in the future.

 

Building resilience in the Horn of Africa

Monday, December 3rd, 2012
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See below for a guest blog from Abomsa Kebede, Technical Advisor for Save the Children in Ethiopia. This post describes the benefits of USAID’s new resilience strategy, which was unveiled today. This is the seventh post in our field feedback series and the third in Save’s “Aid Reform Stories from the Field” series. Click the links to read posts from Save the Children in Guatemala and MalawiWomen Thrive in Ghana, Oxfam America in Uganda, Management Sciences for Health in Bolivia, and PATH in Kenya.

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Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Two-year-old Lokko Godana drinks cow’s milk every morning. The milk is rich in proteins and vitamins, providing Lokko the nutrition she needs to supplement a daily diet of maize porridge. Lack of access to animal milk was the primary cause of her malnutrition last year when the drought slowed cow milk production in the southern pastoral areas of Ethiopia. With supplementary feeding for the cattle, milk production increased and Lokko’s health improved.

Malnutrition accounts for 53 percent of infant and child deaths in Ethiopia and children in pastoralist communities are among the most nutritionally vulnerable in the country due to recurrent and prolonged periods of drought. The lack of rainfall devastates fodder and water sources for cattle and other animals, decreasing milk production and putting children under five at risk of severe malnutrition.

For decades, Save the Children Ethiopia has been working with pastoralist families in Ethiopia to help them plan for, manage, and recover from drought emergencies. While we cannot stop droughts, there are successful strategies to lessen their impact.

One significant challenge in responding early to a severe drought is getting needed resources to communities fast. Speed is critical to preventing malnutrition. In the past, to receive disaster-related funding, Save the Children and other groups had to make new applications for funding to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other donors, which often takes weeks or even months to process. This has been necessary because USAID and other donors historically have run emergency and development programs on separate tracks with separate funding sources, application processes, and program objectives. This has meant that even when we see a drought coming, we don’t typically have the flexibility to reprogram resources or receive new resources quickly in order to avert severe hunger and lack of nourishment, despite having existing relationships and funding mechanisms in place.

USAID is changing this way of working. Today USAID will unveil a new resilience strategy to support chronically risk-prone communities in between, before and after the repeat cycles of disaster. Furthermore, the agency will begin to broadly apply instruments, such as the “crisis modifier”, to quicken the pace of disaster response in the Horn of Africa and in other regions. The crisis modifier is a program component written into a cooperative agreement targeting drought-prone areas. USAID has integrated this option into development programs to reduce the processing and approval for emergency funding, even before a disaster strikes.

USAID already has implemented the crisis modifier successfully in my country for years. For example, in a project that I help manage, called “Pastoral Livelihoods Initiative,” or PLI, funded by USAID, the crisis modifier can make the difference between life and death for livestock – and malnutrition for kids. When the drought hits, the crisis modifier allows emergency programs to begin immediately by adding funds provided by USAID’s “Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance” (OFDA), to our existing PLI grant enabling Save the Children and our project partners to address the crisis early and limit its effects. The emergency funds help to prevent livestock loss through activities such as supplementary livestock feeding and commercial destocking to help families sell livestock ahead of a drought and then replace them after the drought. In response to the emergency in 2011, USAID programmed approximately $1.6 million through the crisis modifier to the consortium led by Save the Children under the second phase of the PLI project. As a result, this project was able to lessen the impact of the drought for more than 180,000 people.

USAID is not planning to create a new bureau to implement their resilience agenda, but instead will bring all bureaus together—OFDA, Food for Peace, Global Health, Food Security, Climate Change and others—to do more joint problem solving and planning. Instead of sending multiple teams out to target countries to complete separate analyses and action plans, USAID has launched “joint planning cells” from these bureaus to connect staff in the field and in Washington. These joint planning cells set objectives, design projects, and develop procurements around the same problems of community vulnerability, looking at both immediate and long term needs. This joint approach appears to be paying dividends.

While recognizing that the resilience approach, crisis modifier, and joint planning cells are not yet standard practice across USAID programs, I believe they show good progress in the right direction. While developed initially for the case of Ethiopia, USAID is looking for ways to introduce the crisis modifier to other disaster-prone countries around the world. Just in the Horn of Africa, USAID is seeking to directly benefit 10 million people and reduce the numbers of people that need emergency assistance by one million over five years through resilience-focused programming.

We as Ethiopians feel that our government and local institutions should increasingly lead, manage, and apply these disaster risk management techniques in a way that is most appropriate for our communities. Moreover, we need to create early warning systems for livestock crises and community-based resilience funds that are coordinated with the Ethiopian government’s emergency response. Already the Ethiopian government has adopted some PLI best practices in its national emergency livestock guidelines.

USAID must play a strong leadership role with the Ethiopian government and other donors to ensure that resilience is not just another fad but a meaningful and sustainable step forward in changing how all national and global institutions address recurrent crises. Kids like Lokko are counting on it.