A Guest Post by Porter McConnell, policy advisor for aid effectiveness, Oxfam America
Remember when I told you about the sexy procurement reforms to our foreign assistance that put poor people and their governments in charge of fighting poverty?
Vendors in Juba’s Konyokonyo market have benefitted from USAID’s microfinance program in southern Sudan. Photo: Omar Ortez/Oxfam America
The procurement reform just got some company. Recently, USAID formally announced USAID Forward, a bundle of reforms to make USAID more effective.
The reforms are a direct result of demands from US development professionals, citizens of countries where we provide assistance, and governments trying to do right by their people. When we visited Afghanistan, Cambodia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, and southern Sudan, here’s what people told us:
1. Building capacity of countries to lead in their own development (“Implementation and Procurement Reform”)
We heard in Kenya: A malaria control official explained to us that the Ministry of Health trains local teams to do indoor residual spraying of houses to prevent malaria. When the US lends a hand, they get US organizations to come in and spray then they leave. But since houses must be re-sprayed regularly to keep malaria at bay, and the US hasn’t trained the locals to take over, the Kenyan official worries that “Kenyans aren’t any better prepared to do it themselves next time.”
USAID is delivering: “USAID’s Procurement Reform Group was charged with exploring ways to make significant changes in how USAID’s assistance is designed and delivered in order to build local leadership and capacity…In FY 2013 USAID will obligate no less than 14% of its program funds through partner country systems in 18 countries. In FY 2015 USAID will obligate no less than 20% of its program funds through partner country systems in 25 countries.”
2. Getting the right people for the job, who know the country where they’re working (“Talent Management”)
We heard in Cambodia: A USAID staff member reported that “when we have a planning meeting with Defense, there are five of them sitting across the table for every one person from USAID. The agency is completely understaffed, especially if we are expected to lead on development issues.”
USAID is delivering: The agency will triple mid-level hiring by increasing the cap on mid-level Development Leadership Initiative hires from 30 to 95 per year to reverse the 38% decline in its workforce between 1990 and 2007. USAID will also now be able to officially classify the Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs) who do the lion’s share of USAID’s work as “experts”, which will lead to a more talented and nimble USAID.
3. Restore USAID’s capacity to get creative in tackling poverty (New USAID Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning)
We heard in southern Sudan: A USAID staff member told us that “we no longer have our intellectual horses..to tackle philosophical but also organizational and operational issues in development, to be more innovative, to be more adaptive…By losing our most experienced staff [over the years], we’ve also lost a lot of our historical institutional learning. Any change should restore our capacity to lead with ideas, and should respond to the question of how it will strengthen us.”
USAID is delivering: “To make smart, informed decisions, USAID has created a new Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning (PPL) that will serve as the intellectual nerve center for the Agency. PPL will promulgate cutting-edge creative and evidence-based development policies.”
These are just a few of the changes happening at USAID. To check out the new USAID Forward website, click here. To find out more about what Oxfam heard from people in the field, click here.