U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Deputy Administrator Don Steinberg spoke at MFAN partner InterAction’s Forum 2011 yesterday, offering insight into the “new development landscape.” He assessed the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s recent review of U.S. development efforts, highlighting some of their recommendations:
“We’ve moved forward on aid effectiveness principles, including accountability, transparency and sustainability by focusing on procurement reform, country ownership, on-budget programs, and monitoring and evaluation….
“They warned that there is diminishing support for foreign assistance in the U.S. Congress in light of severe fiscal constraints and pressing domestic needs. They questioned whether the U.S. will maintain current assistance levels; much less ever achieve the 0.7 percent of GDP level.
“They again highlighted the confusion of 27 separate U.S. government agencies in the development arena, threatening policy coherence and risking redundancy. They warned that humanitarian and development priorities are increasingly influenced by national security concerns, especially counter-insurgency and stabilization operations.
“And they called on the U.S. to re-emerge as a thought leader, building on AID’s progress in re-establishing its policy bureau; conducting evidence summits and grand challenges; incorporating science, technology and innovation in our work; and launching new strategies in education, climate change, countering violent extremism, gender and the youth bulge.”
In preparation for this winter’s High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Deputy Administrator Steinberg laid out several key issues. The U.S. “must put results at the center of our development agenda,” “move beyond a focus on Official Development Assistance (ODA) to a broader concern with ‘development effectiveness,’” and ensure “realistic and transparent” coordination among donor nations and NGOs.
Deputy Administrator Steinberg’s full remarks are available here.
On Thursday, July 21, MFAN and Foreign Policy magazine co-hosted, “The New Middle East: Can Foreign Assistance Bolster the Arab Spring?” The event explored how the U.S. should leverage foreign assistance to protect and advance nascent democratic trends in the Arab world. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Tamara Cofman Wittes gave a keynote speech, followed by panel discussion with Jacuqeline Strasser, Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the President for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC); John Norris, Executive Director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress; Hisham Fahmy, Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt; and Ehaab Abdou, co-founder of Nahdet El Mahrousa, an Egyptian youth-led NGO. Moderated by Editor in Chiefof Foreign Policy Susan Glasser, the event expanded on MFAN’s recent policy paper, “Charting a New Path for U.S. Foreign Assistance in the Middle East,” with a special focus on how non-military foreign assistance, trade, and investment can collectively contribute to more effective and efficient policies in this highly strategic region for U.S. national interests. Video of the event can be found here.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Tamara Cofman Wittes’ keynote address focused on three longstanding trends that contributed to the events of the Arab Spring: demographic shifts toward a younger population, expanded economic and social aspirations limited by diminished opportunity, and the growth of new media outlets, including increased access to Arabic satellite television and the internet. “There is no country in the Middle East that is free from these pressures for change,” she said. Deputy Assistant Secretary Wittes predicted that, although democratization is a tumultuous process, functional democratic institutions will inevitably usher in prolonged regional stability. In one of the clearest expressions of Administration policy, Deputy Assistant Secretary Wittes categorized the Arab Spring as a “strategic opportunity” for the U.S. that will provide stronger partners in advancing security, stability, and prosperity. “Democratic reform across the region is a top foreign policy objective… [it] is the channel through which the Arab peoples can meet their political social, and economic concerns,” she said. She outlined the multi-dimensional foreign assistance approach that both the Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and the State Department at large have adopted. Wittes stated that foreign assistance remains a key element of the U.S. response to events in the region, and emphasized her office’s commitment to increasing the share of MEPI grants given to local organizations.
Ms. Glasser then took the podium and launched into a discussion of the critical issues facing U.S. policymakers’ as they try to keep pace with new developments in the region. Mr. Norris emphasized the integral value of providing collaborative assistance that strengthens local ownership while highlighting the challenges to achieving a genuine partnership. He argued that U.S. inconsistency in applying uniform democratic standards contributes to the cynicism surrounding aid among Arab publics. Ms. Strasser outlined OPIC’s expansive role in ensuring the continued flow of private investment in Middle Eastern countries undergoing democratic transitions, including loans to small/medium enterprises and the development of new political risk insurance instruments. Mr. Fahmy focused on the importance of the private sector as the engine of employment for youth, and warned that post-revolutionary populism represents a threat to the potential of the Arab Spring. He lauded the Obama administration’s debt forgiveness package, but lamented the lack of dedicated resources commensurate to the challenges in Egypt and Tunisia. “People are asking, ‘Do we have to have a civil war to get money and attention,’” he said, referring to costs related to the ongoing NATO mission in Libya. Mr. Abdou spoke on the challenges faced by Egyptian civil society, including the cumulative effect of several decades of government efforts to delegitimize NGOs, Egypt’s retrogressive NGO law, and the proliferation of new organizations and associations. He stressed that the top priority of civil society is coordination, yet donor strategies that intensify competition for resources are unintentionally undermining the efficacy of their own assistance and aggravating existing divisions within civil society.
MFAN Partner the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition hosted its annual Washington conference last week with a day-long forum that focused on the economic link between development and U.S. leadership and growth. “Investing in the Future: A Smart Power Approach to Global Leadership” brought together high-ranking government officials like Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, General James Cartwright, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and World Bank President Robert Zoellick, among others to discuss how employing our smart power tools—diplomacy and development—can enhance our economic prosperity at home while bolstering our image abroad.
Secretary Clinton kicked things off with a keynote that focused on what she referred to as State and USAID’s “commercial diplomacy.” Clinton began by recommending that the U.S. take stock of what we can do to renew America’s economic strength, create jobs, and invest for the future, adding that our prescriptions must be evidence-based and not ideological. She remarked, “To compete overseas we must out innovate, out educate, and out build the rest of the world,” doubling down on what we do well and adding new tools and techniques to compete effectively in the 21st century. Clinton then cited five examples of efforts across the U.S. government to foster economic growth at home. Here, she made a forceful case for passing the pending free trade agreements with Korea, Panama, and Colombia, noting that while trade is a polarizing issue, done right it creates American jobs. She argued passing these deals is critical to economic recovery especially because these nations are in strategically vital areas.
As her last point, Clinton argued that supporting foreign aid and development work to build up tomorrow’s trading partners and create opportunities for countless U.S. businesses. USAID, MCC, and State address problems that U.S. businesses face by fighting corruption, strengthening the rule of law, overcoming commercial codes and cutting red tape, and helping to build infrastructure. Clinton then took a moment to announce she will be appointing State’s first-ever chief economist. She ended with a call to action, saying the community should share its success stories and reminded everyone that leadership is an achievement not a birthright. Watch Clinton’s full remarks below.
In another event entitled “Investing in the Future: A Town Hall on International Development,” former Rep. Mark Green, USGLC Senior Director, moderated a panel which included: Raj Shah, USAID Administrator; Daniel Yohannes, MCC CEO; Leocadia Zak, Director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency; and Elizabeth Littlefield, President and CEO of Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Generally, all four panelists highlighted the ways in which the development work of each agency is contributing to American growth through new business opportunities and especially by creating improved investment conditions in developing countries. In response to Green’s question about how development positively impacts the domestic economy, Zak highlighted the dual mission of USTDA and noted the strong return on investment: $47 in exports to every $1 of investment. She also noted the growth of the technology sector in the developing world and the opportunity this presents to U.S. companies. Along that vein, Shah pointed to the famine gripping East Africa and argued it is in U.S. business interests to bring technology to the region that can prevent famine and promote stability. Shah noted that USAID specifically is making significant headway in partnering with private entities to create market incentives for local farmers to produce and sell their crops and to help families move out of poverty.
During audience QA, the panel addressed questions regarding smart power in Sub-Saharan Africa, the role of women in development, how to ensure U.S. companies don’t damage local economies, and the outlook for the Partnership for Growth initiative. Shah touched on the President’s Sub-Saharan Africa policy which prioritizes good governance as well as the role of science, technology, and innovation in helping spur growth. Yohannes noted the importance of treating host countries as partners while Littlefield commented that diplomatic relations with North Africa have been enhanced through business-to-business interactions. Together, Shah and Yohannes reiterated their core focus of empowering women in the development process, demonstrating how Feed the Future targets women farmers. Finally, regarding the Partnership for Growth, Zak and Yohannes emphasized the importance of listening to needs as articulated by host countries and in evaluating feedback in real time. Watch the town hall below and stay tuned for more coverage of USGLC’s conference.
USAID Administrator Raj Shah answered questions from young Americans at the White House on Thursday afternoon. In a discussion moderated by Kalpen Modi, Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement, Administrator Shah highlighted a number of USAID’s priorities. He spoke about accountability under USAID Forward, Feed the Future as a driver of self-sufficiency, and the importance of investing in women and girls.
In a session aimed at engaging youth, Administrator Shah touted the enthusiasm and creativity of American students as crucial elements in future development efforts. He focused on innovation and technical expertise as means to overcome funding constraints, emphasizing the agency’s eagerness to work with new partners.
This blog post from Porter McConnell, policy and advocacy manager for aid effectiveness, first appeared on Oxfam America’sPolitics of Poverty blog.
Once in a while, the development and democracy communities have a “Eureka” moment:
Development types are realizing that poverty + stuff does not = development. Development is a relationship that we can support; it’s not a set of items that poor countries are lacking.
Democracy types are realizing there’s no way to build country systems short of actually using them. Developing country governments are like muscles: if the U.S. and other donors leave them to atrophy because we can’t “trust” them, they will never become strong.
In part because of the Arab Spring, the democracy and development communities are seeing anew that their fates are inextricably linked. This week, USAID is holding a conference called Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance 2.0. Speakers from USAID Administrator Raj Shah to Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment are calling for better integration of U.S. development and democracy efforts.
It’s about time: in the last 10 years, the pendulum of donor opinion has swung from excluding governments entirely and funding civil society to focusing entirely on supporting governments and downplaying the importance of civil society. Heading into theFourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectivenessin Busan this fall, the development community needs to avoid the temptation to engage in these wild pendulum swings. Both government and civil society have to be engaged in order to see any lasting development impact.
Development at its core is about the compact between people and their governments. U.S. programming, whether it’s development or democracy, needs to keep that compact front and center. I’ll give you a recent example from Ecuador: the EC announced it was funding the Ministry of Education directly to implement its ten-year national education plan. Local civil society had to convince the EC to fund civil society oversight too, to hold the government accountable to the plan. If the EC had had the compact in mind, they would have sought from the start to support Ecuador’s education plan in a way that strengthened that critical relationship between people and their governments.
That’s not always easy to do. For civil society to play a “watchdog” role, they need the space to operate without government crackdowns. Cambodia is a test case of this right now. If theCambodia NGO lawthat’s being discussed right now becomes law, exercising healthy oversight over the Cambodian government will effectively become illegal. Human Rights Watch and Freedom House are speaking out, but many of the development groups are staying silent. Development groups have historically stayed out of the fray when civil society space is threatened. They reason that they can be more useful addressing economic and social rights by maintaining relationships with the government. The problem is, under the proposed NGO law, small community-based organizations may find it difficult to continue current operations, and flagship U.S. programs like Feed the Future won’t have any implementers. Development NGOs simply cannot afford to shy away from talking about civil society space. That’s why Oxfam, and now Save the Children and CARE, arespeaking out.
But why should democracy groups care if their development colleagues speak out? It turns out that one of the best ways to make progress on governance is through development programs, where “democracy” is not the central goal of the program. One oft-cited example of this isadaptation to climate change, where some governments have given their blessing to multi-stakeholder bodies because the frame is climate, not governance. Democracy, human rights, and governance groups would do well to engage development colleagues, and their resources, in the broader effort to increase accountability.
For more about what the future holds, check outvideo coverageof the Tuesday panel on “Integrating Democracy, Human Rights & Governance across All Development Goals”, featuring Oxfam America Vice President Paul O’Brien.