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Archive for the ‘USAID’ Category

USAID Releases Second Annual Letter

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012
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Last week, USAID Administrator Raj Shah released his second annual letter describing the ways in which the agency has elevated development over the past year, with a nod to USAID’s 50th anniversary celebration. The letter focuses on three areas that have framed the agency’s work including seizing pivotal opportunities, embracing challenging roles, and building capacity, not independence.

Regarding opportunities, Shah describes his trip to Kenya in which he visited the largest refugee camp in the world in Dadaab. Using this example, he makes the point that “The development community has to expand its focus from relief to resilience—from responding after emergencies strike to preparing communities in advance.” Aside from the work USAID did, some of it in partnership, to prepare for the severe drought, he also notes the success of the FWD campaign to educate Americans and spark a call to action.

The letter also goes into detail about the value in boosting harvests as a means to fight poverty and in educating young people and expanding access to voluntary family planning to “reap a demographic dividend” and promote economic growth for future generations.

In another plea to the development community, Shah argues the community “must embrace more challenging roles” in light of the growing connection between conflict and poverty—as seen in the Arab Spring—and the entrance of new actors into development practice, such as the private sector. Shah lays out development’s growing role on the frontlines, acknowledging the concern about the militarization of aid, but writing, “…the truth is, the cost of conflict—developmental, economic, human—are simply too high for the development community to ignore.”

Using the expansion of mobile technology as inspiration, Shah then describes USAID’s Grand Challenges for Development, designed to attract innovative solutions to global problems and embrace change.

Lastly, the letter outlines USAID’s vision for sustainable foreign assistance: “Americans can take pride in knowing that the United States is helping people persevere through crisis and overcome poverty, while helping countries build a more peaceful and prosperous future. But they should take comfort in knowing that by building capacity instead of dependence, we not only create lasting progress in developing countries, we help deliver meaningful results for the American people.”


Shah Says Elevating Development is a Challenge, Not a Reward

Thursday, March 8th, 2012
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Yesterday, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah delivered a major speech before the Council on Foreign Relations on how the administration is elevating development and transforming foreign assistance. Shah framed the speech saying the decision by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to elevate development was not a “show of gratitude…It was a challenge.” To accept the challenge, and embrace the new world order, Shah said USAID changed its approach in three key ways: delivering value for money by making critical tradeoffs and shutting down missions and programs; prioritizing innovation through the Grand Challenges for Development program; and instituting a new model for partnership that relies more heavily on “local entrepreneurs, civil society organizations and partner country governments.”

Shah cited the agency’s decision to invest directly in the Afghan Health Ministry as one such example of finding efficiencies and partnering with local institutions. He said, “By investing directly in the health ministry instead of foreign contractors, we saved more than $6 million last year alone. As a result, we can plan to draw down our health support in Afghanistan more quickly knowing the country has the capability to successfully manage the transition.”

Shah also spoke at length about USAID’s efforts to support democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, partnerships with the military on the frontlines, and the decision to partner with the private sector on development initiatives. He closed his remarks by outlining three areas where USAID can seize opportunities to express value at home and abroad: building resilience to humanitarian disasters, not just relief; strengthening food security, particularly through Feed the Future; and promoting economic growth through continued investments in children’s health and education.

In closing, Shah pronounced, “We know these efforts can work. We have seen this in individual sectors and we’ve seen it in aggregate…And when it works, it shows our assistance is not just “from the American people, it’s for the American people.”


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.

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.


What should we expect from the President’s 2013 assistance budget?

Thursday, February 9th, 2012
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See below for a guest post from MFAN Principals John Norris, executive director of the Center for American Progress’ Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding initiative,  and Connie Veillette, director of the Center for Global Development’s Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance initiative.

It would be a mistake to think that the budget crisis has passed for America’s foreign assistance programs and institutions. Although the 2012 international affairs budget dodged the proverbial bullet, and the president’s 2013 budget request will likely be reasonably robust, this is all something of a mirage. The administration appears eager to keep its powder dry in advance of what will eventually be a high stakes showdown over sequestration at the end of the year, after considerable election-year dust has settled. The administration does not want to put significant assistance cuts or USAID Mission closures on the table now and give up that advantage later.

It is a reasonable negotiating strategy, although it may prove to be a poor management decision. Looking at our relative fiscal health as a country, it seems almost inescapable that eventually there will be steep cuts in our foreign affairs spending as part of some grand bargain (however begrudging) that includes both spending cuts and revenue increases. We will likely see few signs of this in the President’s budget request, which will  read very much as a status quo request where we see shifts in emphasis, but no dramatic headlines. For those of us who care about effective assistance programs and the health of the U.S. economy, this amounts to whistling past the graveyard and hoping for the best.

For those who care about selectivity and focus in our aid programs, the budget will likely be something of a disappointment. Officials at USAID have argued, including in this blog post, that they are being more selective and catalytic in their approach to assistance. These are important but insufficient steps. USAID continues to be spread too thinly across too many countries and over-represented in places like Latin America and Eastern Europe that should be on a faster track for graduation. USAID can only take a share of the blame for the slowness in adapting to new realities. Both Congress and the State Department have been slow to assent to USAID pulling up stakes in Latin America, and no ambassador ever likes to lose a USAID Mission under his or her general command.

These arguments may have been fairly esoteric during periods when the U.S. assistance budget was flush in the post-9/11 period. But if the administration is not more aggressive about putting money into fewer places where development is more likely to succeed in the immediate term, it could be left to deal with some wrenching and very disruptive changes when a top-line budget agreement is finally brokered.

As Connie noted in this recent post, U.S. economic assistance, including the major health, development, and humanitarian response accounts, goes to 102 countries.  One country – Afghanistan – accounts for about 10% of the total.  The top 15 recipients account for 40% of the total, leaving about $12 billion to be distributed to 88 countries. Very small sums are allocated for countries like Belize ($20,000) and Micronesia ($490,000), which begs the question of whether it costs more to administer the funds than the value of aid provided. Ambassadors argue that such aid buys political influence, but one is only left to wonder what exactly we as a country get from Micronesia on the political front that would not lead to the conclusion that this money is better spent on development programs that have a chance of securing real and lasting development progress in a higher priority country.

From all indications, we will see a real push in the budget to provide more support for the Arab Springcountries. How exactly this effort will be affected by the Egyptian government’s hidebound determination to shoot itself in the foot and prosecute American democracy activists remains to be seen. But if we are to glean any lessons from the disastrous assistance programs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan over the last decade, it is that money should follow reform, not the other way around.

This is the year in which, more than any in recent memory, the wisdom behind our assistance will be judged most harshly.  The President’s budget should reflect an understanding that Congress will be scrutinizing aid partners, goals, and effectiveness, and that anything that doesn’t pass muster could drag the best of these programs down.