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Statement: MFAN Applauds President Obama’s Commitment to New Global Development Agenda

September 29th, 2015
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MFAN Applauds President Obama’s Commitment to New Global Development Agenda

September 28, 2015 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette

In the first of two addresses to the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama announced the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a sweeping global development agenda to end extreme poverty and hunger. MFAN is encouraged by President Obama’s strong commitment to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and his recognition of how integral development aid has been and will continue to be to promote democratic governance and strong institutions, decrease hunger and deaths by preventable disease, increase the number of boys and girls in schools, and lift people out of extreme poverty.

The adoption of this ambitious global agenda is a reminder of how critical accountable, locally-led development is to combatting poverty and suffering and reducing inequality around the world. MFAN is pleased to see that the President specifically mentioned the importance of using our development resources more effectively, learning from our successes and failures, and helping build the capacity of recipient countries to “do more with what they receive.”

The President’s speech endorsing the 2030 Agenda comes on the heels of the release of USAID’s Vision for Ending Extreme Poverty, the agency’s plan to accelerate progress to end extreme poverty by 2030. MFAN applauds USAID for the release of the vision document, which tackles not only why ending extreme poverty is an important development objective, but also begins to looks more tactically at how to do it. It is particularly encouraging to see the document make specific reference to the link between accountability and country ownership and how the two together “help create a world in which developing country stakeholders have the tools to make smart decisions about their own development priorities and power to implement those decisions.”

Five years after President Obama pledged to the United Nations that the United States would remain the global leader in development, MFAN is encouraged that the President and his Administration are reaffirming this commitment by backing the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Now that these commitments have been made, we look forward to working with the Administration as they begin to tackle the implementation of the global goals and measure its progress. As President Obama said in his remarks on Sunday, “supporting development is not charity, but is instead one of the smartest investments we can make in our own future.”


The Time is Now: Delivering on the SDG Agenda

September 25th, 2015
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This is a guest post from Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children and MFAN Co-Chair. This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post on 9/25.


There’s no way around feelings of euphoria today.

World Leaders at the United Nations are ringing in a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that promise to end extreme poverty and the scourge of hunger and preventable deaths of infants and children around the world.

At the same time, the Pope is calling for solidarity with the most deprived and those displaced by conflict and climate change.

Over the coming days, millions of people globally – from youth in Ghana to Shakira — are taking part in the “world’s largest” prayers, lessons, and ceremonies to light the way for the SDGs. It’s one of those rare moments in which governments, faith institutions, everyday citizens and popular idols unite around a common cause to forge a historic moment.

Three years of debate among UN diplomats and millions of citizens voicing their priorities has culminated in the approval today by 193 nations of new Sustainable Development Goals, to replace the Millennium Development Goals established in 2000. Negotiations on the SDG agenda have been among the most collaborative in UN history. It is truly a global vision for a better world.

Furthermore, the SDGs comprise a holistic agenda – 17 goals rather than 8 – with ending extreme poverty at its core supported by a healthy planet in a peaceful world.

The goals are bold and ambitious. The trick will be maintaining the momentum once the speeches end, the crowds disperse, and the cameras turn their focus elsewhere.

It will take a collective effort to achieve this, but the most defining players will be governments who will bring political will and resources to deliver a better future for their people.

Here are six actions that all governments can take to make the SDGs real for their countries:

1) Create national action plans to implement the SDGs. Each government should take the SDGs back home, consult widely with local actors, and make policy and programmatic decisions to put the goals into practice in their country. The entire SDG agenda of 17 goals and 169 targets may not be applicable to every country but there are a core set – namely, the “unfinished business of the MDGs”– like health, education and poverty, which do apply to every country and can be acted upon starting today.

2) Commit financing to the SDGs. Countries should align their budgets to achieve these outcomes. For the United States, this may mean more investments to reduce deaths caused by obesity, heart disease, or automobile accidents, while for poor countries global health dollars could be invested in community health workers to reduce deaths associated with childbirth and malnutrition.

3) Assign a high-level government lead on the SDGs. To ensure rigorous monitoring and accountability, it is important to put in place a focal point on the SDGs who can reach across ministries and carry political weight to ensure action and coordination.

4) Communicate a clear commitment to the SDGs. Heads of state can take these goals home and share them with Parliament or Congress and speak to citizens, private companies, and others to contribute financing, technical know-how, and new ideas and innovations to deliver on the SDGs. Citizens should also play a role holding governments’ “feet to the fire” to be accountable for achieving this agenda over the next 15 years.

5) Prioritize action to “leave no one behind.” Many times on large agendas such as this one, people try to attain the easy solutions and quick wins. This time, however, the world pledged to achieve progress for the poorest and most vulnerable groups first. This requires investments in gathering and disaggregating data to ensure that all groups benefit from progress and no one is being “left behind,” such as girls living in poverty.

6) Publish an annual whole of government report on the SDGs and participate fully in the global follow up and review process. Every country should create progress reports on the SDGs and encourage citizen participation to leverage all resources and people-power in fulfilling the 2030 agenda. This will demand that we work together to strengthen our systems for evaluation and learning in order to scale projects that work and end those that don’t.

With the new SDGs, we can build a world in which no child lives in poverty, and where each child has a fair start and is healthy, educated, and safe. But progress toward meeting these goals in each country will depend on more government investment, open and transparent country institutions, participation by a diverse cross-section of civil society, and effective partnerships between government, civil society, private sector, and donors.

In 2030 we will judge success by what has been delivered, rather than by our declarations today. Let’s use this historic moment to pave the way for concrete action for children around the world.

ACCOUNTdown Reviews USAID Effectiveness to Build for Future

August 10th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Nora O’Connell, Associate Vice President for Public Policy and Advocacy at Save the Children and Co-Chair of MFAN’s Country Ownership Working Group.


Recently, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) launched the ACCOUNTdown campaign and scorecard to push for greater aid effectiveness reform by the Obama Administration.  ACCOUNTdown focuses on the U.S. government’s progress to strengthening its international development programs’ accountability and country ownership.

The ACCOUNTdown report highlighted a range of improvements by various U.S. development agencies and departments. We welcome these incremental shifts, but with just less than a year and half left in this Administration, we want to see more.

We know from Save the Children’s own work that embedding accountability and ownership in programs can have an impact on the ground. Whether it is health, education, or nutrition programming, the most lasting impact occurs when local potential is nurtured to enable countries and communities to achieve their own aspirations. Aid can and should do that better. Here are four things that could make a difference now.

  • Too much USAID funding is still being driven by priorities set by the U.S. government in Washington, rather than aligned with host-country strategies. When aid is driven by Washington, then Washington funding goes away, so does a lot of the progress. But when aid is part of a partnership with local communities, governments and civil society, then the results are not only continued by the people in those countries – they are magnified.
  • The introduction of USAID’s Local Solutions initiative in 2010 set a target for increased direct flows of U.S. government resources to developing countries. But partnership is more than that; USAID must start measuring how it’s increasing local capacity more broadly.
  • The Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) was created in 2004 in part to enable more country-driven approaches; their country compact development process is a good example of aligning with host country priorities. MCC should work to increase the use of country systems and local partners in high-performing countries to extend country ownership.
  • The U.S. government has made progress in helping countries finance their own development and should continue to do so. This was illustrated in the announcement of the Addis Tax Initiative and PEPFAR’s launch of the innovative health financing initiative which reflect how the U.S. is supporting domestic resource mobilization for development.

The U.S. government can take many additional steps in the next 18 months to further its commitment to country ownership and accountability to have a greater impact through its on-the-ground programming.

As an active MFAN member, we look forward to future progress reports from the ACCOUNTdown campaign as a way to ensure the Obama administration honors its commitments to aid effectiveness.

On Evaluations, State Steps Up to the Plate

July 30th, 2015
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Please see below for a guest post from Diana Ohlbaum, Co-Chair of MFAN’s Accountability Working Group.


The State Department is accustomed to taking physical risks.  Political risks, not so much.

Foreign Service Officers work in all the world’s most dangerous and difficult places.  They promote judicial and security sector reform to prevent conflict, join with the international community to protect refugees during crises, and support reconstruction and stabilization once violence abates.  But taking a close, hard look at how well their own programs are working, and making those findings public, has been a much harder pill to swallow.

Last week marked a big step forward in the State Department’s commitment to evaluations and transparency.  With little fanfare, the Office of Foreign Assistance Resources announced on its website that it will publish full texts of unclassified foreign assistance evaluations on a rolling basis.  This is a significant improvement from its most recent evaluation policy, issued in January, which had required only that summaries of evaluations be posted publicly, and that the site be updated only once a year.  State also made the list of evaluations much easier to browse, and included a new link to PEPFAR’s evaluations.

Compared with USAID, or the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which have far more demanding evaluation requirements, these may be small steps.  But State is still transitioning from a secretive, cable-writing culture to one of sharing and learning.  The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), released this spring, seeks to thrust State into the 21st century by, among other things, enhancing its use of data and analytics and bringing more rigor to its evaluations.

Even before the QDDR was finalized, however, State had conducted 138 foreign assistance funded evaluations, with 38 more in progress and 71 planned.  It had revised its evaluation policy to ensure that it took account of the legitimate differences between evaluating foreign assistance programs and evaluating diplomatic operations.  While some of the changes appeared to be steps backward from the 2012 policy, the very fact that the evaluation requirements were made permanent should be seen as a victory.  Many State Department officials reportedly had believed, or hoped, that the mandate would be allowed to quietly expire.

Still, hard work remains to be done at State.  The QDDR pledged that the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs would develop “a comprehensive approach to monitoring and evaluating security assistance,” which we at MFAN hope will conform to industry standards of scientific rigor, independence, and transparency.  State should commission, as USAID has done, an assessment of the value and quality of its evaluations to date, as well as an analysis of how the evaluations are being used to inform policy and program decisions.  More thought must be given to involving local participants and beneficiaries in deciding what counts as success and whether it has been achieved.  Most importantly, the Secretary should give his blessing to legislation, now being developed in the House and Senate, to codify the evaluation requirements and ensure that security assistance is not let off the hook.

The fear of conducting evaluations and making them public is understandable, since some – particularly on Capitol Hill – see them as a political bludgeon instead of as a learning tool.  But while audits and investigations tell us whether funds were properly spent, evaluations help us understand how and why a particular outcome was achieved.  Without that knowledge, we are left to swing blindly at problems and hope for the best.

Now that the State Department has scored a base hit on evaluations, who’s next at bat?  All eyes are on you, Department of Defense!

MFAN Launches “ACCOUNTdown to 2017″ Tracking Progress to Strengthen U.S. Foreign Aid

July 28th, 2015
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July 28, 2015 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette

Today the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network is launching a new campaign, ACCOUNTdown to 2017, to track progress made toward strengthening the accountability and country ownership of U.S. foreign assistance. With ACCOUNTdown, we take stock of where Congress and the Administration are in meeting their reform commitments and the goals we laid out last year in MFAN’s The Way Forward and outline further steps that should be taken over the next 18 months to advance progress.

Bipartisan leadership over the past two decades has elevated and enhanced the ability of U.S. foreign assistance to confront threats, reduce poverty, and advance our interests. As the United States continues to face significant challenges around the world, effective foreign assistance remains as imperative as ever. Robust development policy and practice help support empowered citizens to hold their governments accountable and build local capacity to achieve sustainable results.

Over the next 18 months, we will push for and assess progress, and publicly report our findings. We urge Congress and the Administration to work together to institutionalize existing reform commitments around two critical pillars of development – accountability and country ownership.