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Statement: MFAN Applauds Important Reform Elements in the Global Food Security Act of 2015

March 25th, 2015
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March 25, 2015 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette:

MFAN is pleased to see that the Global Food Security Act of 2015 (H.R. 1567), recently reintroduced by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Betty McCollum (D-MN), includes important reform elements that would help strengthen accountability mechanisms and promote greater country ownership of U.S. foreign assistance programs related to food security and global agricultural development.

MFAN believes that accountability is best achieved through transparency, evaluation and learning, which is why it is encouraging to see the Global Food Security Act of 2015 incorporate components of all three areas. The legislation promotes transparency by requiring that indicators and benchmarks be established to measure progress, and that results and spending information be reported publicly in a transparent and timely manner. It also calls for a whole-of-government approach to establishing coherent and coordinated monitoring and evaluation systems; and it states that strategies, partnerships, and programs be regularly reviewed and updated and that lessons learned be shared with a wide range of stakeholders.

The legislation also demonstrates a commitment to principles of country ownership. It requires that U.S. government agriculture, nutrition, and food security strategies align with country-owned strategies, and that plans be developed with input from relevant stakeholders in partner countries. It also calls for a USG strategy on building local capacity in order to support the long-term success of programs.

We applaud the bill sponsors for the inclusion of these elements as they are crucial to ensuring greater effectiveness and sustainability of U.S. global food security and agriculture programs. However, we believe the legislation could be made even stronger in several ways. First, the coordinating function within the U.S. government should lie with the United States Agency of International Development (USAID), our principal development agency, rather than the White House. USAID has been leading the development programming for the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future initiative since its inception and has the requisite expertise and experience to lead coordination across U.S. agencies. Second, reporting on spending and project data should be done in accordance with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), which the U.S. has already committed to implementing, and measures should be included to ensure that this data is accessible by all development stakeholders, especially the beneficiaries. Third, the legislation should specify that local, developing country institutions be the first option for implementing programs where appropriate capacity and conditions exist.

We look forward to working with Congress to ensure the reform elements in the bill are strengthened.

Lessons From The Road To Transparency: Four Tips For Publishing To IATI

March 19th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Laia Grino, Senior Manager, Transparency, Accountability and Results at InterAction. This piece originally appeared on InterAction’s blog on March 19.

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In honor of Sunshine Week – a weeklong celebration of open government – we’d like to share four lessons InterAction has learned in our own journey towards openness. Today, we join the more than 300 organizations that have published data on their activities according to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standard (view our data on the IATI Registry or a visualization of our data on NGO Aid Map). This includes our counterparts in the U.K., Ireland, Netherlands and Nepal, and several InterAction members, including CDA, ChildFund International, GlobalGiving, Pact, and Plan International USA. In doing so, we have taken another important step in making our organization more open and accountable, in line with the open information policy InterAction adopted last October.

In the blog post announcing that policy’s launch, we explained our rationale for making a commitment to greater openness and transparency. Our reasons for publishing to IATI are much the same, so I won’t repeat those here. Instead, I’d like to share four tips:

  • Adopting an open information policy first can be helpful. Not every organization publishing to IATI has adopted an open information policy. For InterAction, however, I believe this was a critical first step for two reasons. First, in adopting the policy, InterAction’s senior management signaled their commitment – both internally and externally – to improving the organization’s transparency. Having this public commitment to point to is useful in ensuring we are continuously making progress on implementation. Second, the development of the policy prompted us to have important discussions about why transparency matters specifically for InterAction, and to come to an agreement about what type of information we would and would not make public (a list of exclusions is available in our open information policy). This laid the groundwork for identifying what data we would be publishing to IATI.
  • Identify/cultivate internal champions. The commitment to publish to IATI or to be more transparent in general should not lie within one person alone. Those responsible for leading an organization’s transparency efforts should do whatever they can to identify or cultivate other internal champions. Some people will become champions for normative reasons – because they believe in the value of transparency in and of itself. Others will do so for practical reasons – because they realize how publishing to IATI either helps the organization or helps make their own work easier. At InterAction, it has been important to have both types of champions.
  • Integrate IATI publication into existing (or needed) business processes. Just as the commitment to publish to IATI should not lie only within one person, neither should the responsibility for actually publishing. It would have taken just one or two days for one person to simply publish information on our existing grants to IATI. Instead, it took us five months. Why? To try to ensure that our publication to IATI will not be a one-off effort, we began by figuring out: (1) what information IATI calls for and what we could realistically publish based on our current systems; (2) when and where that information should be captured; and (3) who within the organization should provide that information. Based on this analysis, we’ve made changes to our grants management process to integrate the data we need for IATI publication, rather than set up an entirely separate process. An important lesson here is that, depending on how it is approached, IATI can be a very useful tool for improving an organization’s data management practices.
  • Be patient. Publishing to IATI will almost inevitably take more time than expected (especially since – at least at first –it is usually not part of anyone’s job description). But while improving an organization’s transparency does require consistent pressure, it is important to avoid turning IATI into just another reporting requirement or making the processes of openness seem like a burden. As one of my colleagues emphasized, ultimately this is about shifting organizational culture – something that takes time in any context.

InterAction is committed to publishing high-quality information on its grant-funded activities on a quarterly basis. As we work out the kinks in publishing what we’ve currently committed to, we will be thinking about how we can make the process easier and further improve the quality of our published information. As all IATI publishers should, we will also be looking at how InterAction itself can realize the full benefits of publishing. Hopefully these lessons help clear the path to transparency for other leaders (like you?!), too.

MFAN, Devex Launch New Series on Aid Effectiveness: Reform for Results

March 19th, 2015
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Today, Devex and the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network are launching a new series on U.S. foreign assistance reform, Reform for Results. Last Spring, we released our policy paper, The Way Forward: A Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond, which laid out concrete goals the U.S. government could take to make U.S. aid work harder and achieve more. With this series, we will examine accomplishments to date and emerging opportunities in 2015. We believe that the time to push the envelope on key reforms is now as the Obama Administration moves into its final years, the U.S. considers its commitment to the next round of global development goals, and Congressional interest in ensuring aid dollars are well spent increases.

We start the series with a piece from MFAN Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette, which can be found here. In the coming weeks, we will be publishing new content to the Reform for Results website on our pillar issues of Accountability and Country Ownership and we encourage the community to engage in the series starting today using #Reform4Results on Twitter.

MFAN Welcomes Dr. Patricia Morris, President of Women Thrive Worldwide, as the Newest Executive Committee Member

March 13th, 2015
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March 13, 2014 (WASHINGTON)This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette

MFAN is pleased to welcome Dr. Patricia Morris, President of Women Thrive Worldwide, as the newest member of the Executive Committee. Dr. Morris joined Women Thrive in January, coming from Development and Training Services, where she focused on promoting accountability and sustainability in development projects. Prior to that, Dr. Morris managed nine country offices for Women for Women International and worked at InterAction and Creative Associates International. She has worked closely with the U.S. government to advance initiatives empowering women and girls throughout her career.

Women Thrive Worldwide has long been committed to MFAN’s reform agenda. Their continued support, and the experience and expertise they bring to our network, is invaluable. Their work for women living in poverty worldwide is focused on advocating for the priorities that women decide are best for them. We look forward to Women Thrive’s contributions as we continue to push for greater accountability and country ownership to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective in helping developing countries access a path to prosperity.

USAID and PEPFAR: Institutionalizing Local Ownership for Sustainability

March 12th, 2015
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See below for a guest post from Justin Fugle, Senior Advisor for Policy and Program Outreach for Plan International USA. This piece originally appeared on Plan’s blog on March 9.

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Although the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Local Solutions is often associated with recently-departed Administrator Raj Shah, a panel discussion at Plan International USA’s office in Washington DC on March 3 made it clear that localization has deeper roots in the Agency and will continue. This is good news for aid effectiveness and for USAID itself, for Local Solutions is critical to USAID’s renewed influence in the wider development community.

As Counselor to the Agency, Susan Reichle acknowledged as much when she said, “For USAID to be the lead development agency, we need to put partnering locally front and center.”

Within the U.S. government, both the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief (PEPFAR) and Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) continue to break new ground on local ownership for sustainability. In the wider world, the same principles have been embraced and implemented by the Department for International Development (DFID), other European aid agencies, and in the consensus documents from Paris, Accra, and Busan. Increasingly, partner country governments are insisting that donors align with local priorities, and the in-country USAID Missions hear them. Local ownership is a central assumption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well. With all this in mind, the institutionalization of Local Solutions must be seen as a top USAID priority.

If Plan’s experience is any guide, institutionalizing local ownership requires a significant change in business practices and a radical shift in mindset. As donors and INGOs, we have to be willing to transfer our power to capable local actors and to be driven by their agendas. 

By doing so, we greatly increase the chances that the work will be scaled-up and sustained. Plan’s ex-post evaluations have found that when programs are jointly designed, implemented, and financed by Plan and local actors, the chance of sustainability increases significantly. During the panel, PEPFAR’s Director of Sustainability and Development Dr. Janis Timberlake agreed. 

“Our goal is programs that are locally managed, funded and implemented,” she said.

USAID Local Solutions Coordinator Liz Warfield further outlined the principles at work.

“Local Solutions is not just about [Implementation and Procurement Reform] it is using, strengthening, and partnering with local actors to achieve sustainable impact…. To fulfill USAID’s Mission of ending extreme poverty, we need to work with existing systems and not around them or against them…. In fragile states, they may need capacity development first, but even in fragile states, there are systems and we should use them…. [T]here is a clear role for international partners, but that is moving from a direct service delivery mentality to the role of broker and facilitator,” she said.

Warfield outlined a number of steps underway and planned within USAID to institutionalize this major shift. Among them is the revision of the ADS 200 Series, which is the mandatory and best practice guidance to the Missions on planning, programming, evaluation, and other key topics that significantly influence the final shape of USAID’s funding and management decisions. Other steps include staff training, staff incentives, and collecting evidence of the lasting impact of local ownership.

This last aspect is essential if Local Solutions is to survive into the next administration and beyond. Evidence is critical to support the assertions that local ownership truly increases sustainability, providing lasting benefits to the population. In that sense, one of the most significant announcements during the panel at Plan was Warfield’s explanation that USAID will collect evidence of the results of Local Solutions through mid-term evaluations, meta-evaluations, and ex-post evaluations three to five years after close-out.

As Warfield said, “The idea of ex-post evaluations will influence the way we do programming.” Rather than being satisfied with positive results at close out, USAID will move towards measuring success through sustainability. Quick but rootless gains will be exposed and practices that strengthen local systems will be favored. The axiom that what gets measured gets done mandates that if sustainability is the goal, then ex-post evaluations must join baselines, mid-terms, and finals as a standard part of USAID and PEPFAR’s program designs.