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Archive for the ‘USAID’ Category

Brookings Paper Offers Recommendations on Anniversary of PPD

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011
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MFAN Principal Noam Unger’s recent paper for the Brookings Institution, “The Shape of U.S. Global Development Reforms,” offers a number of recommendations to the Obama administration on the eve of the first anniversary of the President’s global development policy, also known as the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development (PPD).

The PPD was released to help U.S. government correct course after years of failing to strategically employ its full array of policy instruments to address the challenges posed by global poverty and conflict. The PPD was a momentous document that dramatically raised expectations within the development community, which largely felt that U.S. development efforts had been greatly undermined by outdated legislation, a fragmented aid infrastructure, and a neglected and weakened USAID.

Unger, who directs Brookings’ Foreign Assistance Reform Project, assesses the pace and scope of reform in the context of new global challenges posed by fragile states, as well as dramatically increased budget pressures. He finds that USAID is much more likely to emerge as a strategic and influential institution in the coming year, thanks to the implementation of the USAID Forward reforms, renewed focus on evaluation, greater dedication to developing Country Development Cooperation Strategies, and the creation of the Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning and reestablishment of the Office of Budget and resource Management. Unger also emphasizes the less visible impact of the PPD and USAID Forward reforms, namely overdue institutional and cultural changes within USAID’s bureaucracy.

Unger faults the administration for failing to achieve greater development policy coherence, notably by dragging its heels in the creation of a U.S. Global Development Council and formulation of a U.S. Global Development Strategy. President Obama’s stated policy to reestablish USAID as the government’s preeminent development agency is challenged by major sectoral programs that remain independent of USAID, especially PEPFAR and the Global Health Initiative. He criticizes the PPD for failing to provide clear guidelines on how best to overcome organizational fragmentation and modernize the U.S. government’s development infrastructure, noting that, “Major structural reforms were overlooked, dismissed or intentionally left out.”

He also gives the administration a failing grade on their lack of attention to differentiating clear organizational responsibilities in conflict prevention and crisis response, explaining that the QDDR assumes, “a distinction—between political and security crises on one hand and humanitarian crises on the other—that is often blurred in reality.” Unger expresses concern that the progress already made in transitioning from U.S. military to civilian leadership in frontline states may be reversing as scarce resources remain within the purview of the Pentagon and budgets shrink at State and USAID.

Unger is disappointed by what he perceives as a considerable gulf between the executive and legislative branches on development, far from the grand bargain imagined by the PPD that would exchange greater transparency for increased flexibility (through a reduction in legislated directives, earmarks, and procedural obstruction). He calls for increased consultation with Congress to preserve the development budget, educate skeptical lawmakers on the pace of current reforms, and advance efforts to craft modern legislation that would replace the outdated Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.

Unger concludes his assessment by encouraging the administration to seize the opportunity presented by the first anniversary of the PPD to rededicate itself to fundamental reforms. His recommendations include completing the Foreign Assistance Dashboard to enhance transparency, establishing the U.S. Development Council, consolidating some of the twenty agencies responsible for development assistance, tracking U.S. policies such as subsidies or military sales that have a development impact, granting USAID oversight of PEPFAR and the MCC, revitalizing Congressional engagement, and seizing the opportunities presented by the G20 and the Busan High Level Forum to assert U.S. leadership in the global movement for aid effectiveness.


Deputy Administrator Steinberg Addresses Reform at InterAction Forum

Thursday, August 11th, 2011
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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.

MFAN Event Recap: “The New Middle East: Can Foreign Assistance Bolster the Arab Spring?”

Monday, July 25th, 2011
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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 Chief of 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.

USGLC Annual Conference Round-Up-Part 1

Monday, July 18th, 2011
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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.

Raj Shah Hosts Session on Youth and International Development at the White House

Friday, July 8th, 2011
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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.

Watch the full video below, and visit USAID’s Youth Impact site to share your thoughts: