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U.S.-based NGOs Applaud Passage of Coast Guard Legislation that Maintains Efficiencies in U.S. International Food Aid Program

December 19th, 2014
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The organizations listed below strongly support the exclusion of harmful provisions for U.S. international food aid programs from the recently passed Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014. The amended legislation sustains recent efficiency gains in U.S. international food aid programs. Provisions included in the original legislation would have negatively impacted crucial U.S. international food aid programs and their beneficiaries.  Thankfully, these provisions were not included in the bill that ultimately passed the House and Senate.

Section 318 of the original bill, H.R. 4005, would have increased from 50 to 75 percent the portion of U.S.-sourced food aid commodities that must be transported on privately owned, U.S.-flagged commercial vessels, increasing transportation costs by $75 million. Sections 316 of H.R. 4005 and 321 of H.R. 5769 would have allowed the Secretary of Transportation to apply cargo preference rules on international food aid programs run by other departments and agencies without their expert consultation, severely limiting transparency and oversight of cargo preference enforcement.

The exclusion of these harmful provisions from final legislation preserves recent improvements in U.S. international food aid programs, ensuring at least 2 million vulnerable people will not lose access to life-saving food aid from the United States. Additionally, it ensures departments and organizations implementing food aid programs will continue to be consulted on application of cargo preference rules and allowed to provide valuable insight on how those rules might impact program implementation.

The organizations listed below thank all members of Congress who worked to exclude those provisions that would have been harmful to international food aid programs. We thank the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate Commerce and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committees for moving forward with legislation that does not negatively impact lifesaving food aid programs.

We extend a special thank you to food aid champions Senators Corker and Coons, and Representatives Royce and Engel, for their continued, tireless work to ensure international food aid programs reach the maximum number of people in need in the most effective way possible.

With 805 million people around the world going hungry every day, every dollar of food aid must be used responsibly and effectively. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress to strengthen U.S. food aid, sustaining the United States’ leading role as a compassionate provider of international food assistance to those in need around the world.

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MFAN Welcomes David Ray, VP for Policy & Advocacy for CARE USA, as the Newest Executive Committee Member

November 21st, 2014
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November 21, 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 David Ray, Vice President for Policy & Advocacy for CARE USA and Managing Director of CARE Action Now, as the newest member of the Executive Committee. Ray brings with him more than 25 years of advocacy, constituency building and campaigning experience, including 19 at CARE alone, which will be a huge asset to the committee.

CARE has expressed strong support for MFAN’s reform agenda and a commitment to adding their experience and expertise to our network. CARE’s work spans the globe, and the organization worked in 90 countries in 2014. We look forward to CARE’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.

MFAN Congratulates MCC on Its 10th Anniversary

November 18th, 2014
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November 18, 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

The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network congratulates the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) on 10 years of fighting global poverty and delivering foreign assistance in an innovative, transparent and results-oriented way. MCC has been an important partner in driving U.S. foreign assistance reform, especially in MFAN’s priority areas of accountability and country ownership.

Throughout the past 10 years, the MCC has been committed to delivering smart, effective foreign assistance by focusing on partnerships, country-led solutions and implementation, accountability and results. MCC has put a strong emphasis on policy performance, which has had a positive impact on generating country-led policy reforms in partner countries – known as the “MCC Effect.”  The agency has also been a global leader when it comes to aid transparency and the top U.S. agency in sharing timely and quality data about its work. In 2013 and 2014 MCC was rated first and third, respectively, on Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Index, a ranking of more than 60 of the world’s leading donors.

We once again extend our congratulations to the MCC and its 300 dedicated employees on a decade of pioneering reform and look forward to continuing to work closely with the agency to make U.S. foreign assistance more effective and accountable.

The 114th Congress and Prospects for International Development

November 14th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from George Ingram, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and MFAN Co-Chair. This piece originally appeared on the Brookings blog on November 13.

***

Conventional wisdom has it that foreign assistance is best supported by a Republican president and a Democratic Congress—Democrats are generally supportive of foreign assistance and a Republican president can convince his party’s legislators to support his foreign assistance programs. Add to that the dysfunction of recent congresses and the continued heightened partisanship, and the prospects for the newly elected 114th Congress taking constructive action on foreign assistance would appear dim.

For three reasons, I believe this pessimistic structural assessment does not reflect current reality, though it’s true that funding levels will remain a struggle and could be a target of a future budget battle.

International Crises Remind Us of the World

Turning to the old adage of “never waste a crisis,” the inward-looking turn reflected in opinion polls at the beginning of the 2014 election cycle was reversed by early fall—likely due to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and Ebola, which, by reminding the body politic that we ignore the world at our own peril, returned the American public to its more historical position of supporting international engagement. Further, as analyzed by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, “isolationism” was the big loser in the campaign. While there candidates advocating for retrenchment from international affairs, few of those articulating a “closed door” were elected and a number of the new members have international experience through the military, business, and other venues (full disclosure: I serve as honorary chairman of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition).

Strong Leadership on Committees to Continue

The congressional committees with jurisdiction over international affairs are likely to be under the leadership of committed internationalists who understand and support foreign assistance. Where the leadership will change in the Senate, the incoming chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, Senators Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham, are strong supporters of foreign assistance and they and their staffs have demonstrated interest in legislation to modernize foreign assistance policy and programs. Their predecessors, Senators Bob Menendez and Patrick Leahy, respectively, also are strong supporters of foreign assistance and likely to serve as the ranking Democrats on the committees. In the House, Nita Lowey is slated to retain her position as the ranking Democrat on the State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee and the candidates to succeed subcommittee Chair Kay Granger also are supporters of foreign assistance. On the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Chairman Henry Royce and ranking Democrat Elliot Engel will retain their positions.

Less Partisanship, but Resources Remain in Jeopardy

Most of the current issues involving foreign assistance fly under partisan radar. Sure, there will be the perennial contest around family planning policies and struggles around funding for a few less favorite accounts like the United Nations and the multilateral banks. Members will disagree on the nature of and how exactly to confront the Islamic State and Ebola, but at the end of the debates they will support U.S. policies and resources to confront these two scourges.

Just as the Obama Administration has supported and continued key Bush Administration initiatives—notably PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief) and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)—so, too, has the Republican Congress generally supported Obama initiatives in the foreign assistance realm.

There are ongoing and new efforts to write some of the initiatives into law, specifically in three areas. There has been strong support for legislation to authorize Power Africa; the bill has passed the House and has good support in the Senate. In recent months Obama’s Feed the Future has been the subject of serious administration/Congress/civil society deliberations to draft implementing legislation, and those discussions are expected to result in a bill with strong bipartisan support. The Foreign Assistance Transparency and Accountability Act would write into law the Administration’s policy initiatives on data transparency and evaluation. It has bipartisan support and is the subject of discussions to move the current bill in the lame-duck session or a revised draft in the new Congress. That consideration of moving the legislation to the next Congress conveys legislators’ comfort with the idea that bipartisan cooperation is possible.

There is reason for concern on the matter of resources. Not from immediate action, as both House and Senate appropriations committees have marked international affairs for fiscal year 2015 at $49.9 billion, just below the FY 2014 level of $50.6 billion and $1.6 billion shy of the administration’s request of $51.5 billion for FY 2015. The current continuing resolution is actually at $50.4 billion. And the Congress is likely to support most or part of the administration’s emergency request for Ebola of $6.4 billion.

The greater concern is for FY 2016 and 2017. Sequestration kicks back in next year and there will be efforts to protect defense, possibly at the expense of non-defense accounts. And, while the appropriators will remain advocates of foreign assistance funding, the House and Senate budget committees have traditionally not been so supportive. Incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Jeff Sessions is in keeping with this mold. Back to not wasting a crisis—Ebola, the Islamic State, and the continuing uncertainty through much of the Middle East should be enough to keep members focused on the importance of the ability of the U.S. to be an active participant in world events.

The Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation

Two related international affairs matters to keep an eye on are the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank (EXIM) and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). EXIM does not traditionally fall under the development rubric, but the export finance agency is slated under the administration’s plans to provide $5 billion of the $7 billion of U.S. government funding for power projects under its signature initiative Power Africa. Over the past several years EXIM has been a prime target of conservative Republicans. Rejecting the arguments that it creates jobs, levels the playing field for U.S. exporters, and pays its own way, they attack the agency as corporate welfare. Anticipating Republican control of the Senate in the new Congress, they orchestrated a temporary extension of EXIM’s authorities to June 2015, so reauthorization of EXIM will likely be a donnybrook battle for the new session.

Reauthorization of OPIC is less controversial. A temporary extension is in the continuing resolution and will be carried forward in whatever replaces the continuing resolution (it expires December 11), either a new continuing resolution into early next year or an omnibus appropriations bill for the entire fiscal year 2015. A permanent reauthorization has been part of the Power Africa legislation and could be carried there or in other legislation.

Engage the Congress

Bottom line: it’s worth our time to engage with the 114th Congress, as there will be opportunities to improve our foreign assistance policies and programs and funding levels will need our support.

What Teach a Woman to Fish Can Teach Us

November 4th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from George Ingram, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and MFAN Co-Chair. This piece originally appeared on the Brookings blog on November 3.

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Ritu Sharma, founder and CEO of Women Thrive, recently published Teach a Woman to Fish. The book centers on her experiences working beside poor, women-led families in four developing countries.

The book is much more than just a nice, interesting, feel-good story about the lives of strong women in poor villages. It is a tapestry woven from a medley of threads—human interest stories, political and social analysis, economics, history, development policy, grassroots organizing, how to influence government, and policy prescriptions—all at a very close and personal level. The book “humanizes” development, bringing the lives of real people to what too often are sanitized statistics and policy papers. Teach a Woman to Fish is a series of real human stories interwoven with brief wonk-free tutorials on important policy issues.

For 17 years Ritu has been a force leading Women Thrive, which in turn has been a key driver behind the Washington policy community’s growing acknowledgement of the critical role of women and the importance of taking a gender approach to development.

The Teachers are the Poor, Not Us

For me, the overarching message of the book is that the poor have the solutions to their problems. Our western answers often are not the only, nor the best, solutions. But those struggling to improve their lives, and their country’s future, can use our support and understanding in helping them unlock those solutions.

There are many local organizations—companies, NGOs, grassroots networks, government—that are helping to create those opportunities. External donors and other development actors should be seeking out these local organizations and supporting them in their efforts to empower and unlock opportunities for the poor. This is the fundamental rationale that underpins the priority USAID and the development community put on local ownership. The book offers real examples and explanations of why this policy is the right approach. Local ownership is not a silver bullet for development, nor is it the sole approach, but in many instances it is the right approach.

This fits with how Ritu sees poverty: “…poverty is not about having no money; it’s about having no power to change your own circumstances.”

The “Girl Effect”

If you have ever wondered about the “girl effect” and why education is so important—not just for its direct impact on girls and women, but also its contribution to moving entire communities and countries out of poverty and onto sustainable patterns of prosperity—read this book. There are entire books devoted to the role of education in development, but in just a few pages Ritu gives you the basic course and makes it alive with real people. She explains why education is more than just teaching in the classroom, and why food, nutrition, and health are all critical for children to be able to focus and learn. She explains why education is not achieved simply by getting children into schools, but that they must actually learn to reap the benefits, to achieve the girl effect.

She describes the nature of discrimination against women and why we should all stand up to end this all-too-prevalent practice. She confronts us with the reality of violence against women, including sexual violence. She explains why child marriage disempowers and harms girls.

Ritu introduces the reader to small-scale farming and why the practice of prohibiting women from owning land—the very land they farm—discourages efficient and productive farming and must be overcome. This is happening in some countries, although much too slowly.

Influencing Government

Teach a Woman to Fish is a tutorial on how to accomplish practical goals. Do you want to know about networking, organizing, and advocacy? Ritu explains how these work at the grassroots and the national level and why they are powerful tools for empowering the poor. She explains how village-level women’s networks function and what they can accomplish; how women’s groups organized at the national level to influence a government’s request to the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and even circumvented their own government to go directly to the U.S. Congress and the MCC; how Women Thrive mobilized to influenced the MCC to adopt a gender policy, and not just a notional one but a strong one, and then to hire a gender expert to make sure the policy was implemented; how Women Thrive worked the halls of Congress in pursuit of legislation on violence against women; and what you can do to influence your representative in Congress.

And then there is Fair Trade and the power of the purse—how we can influence corporate behavior simply by our purchasing decisions.

Role of Foreign Aid

Ritu explains why foreign assistance is important for U.S. interests in the world.  She advocates using assistance to promote poverty reduction and the rights of people, and warns against cutting off assistance as the unintended consequences of that action may adversely affect the very people we seek to help.

The stories provide an insight into how the American aid agencies—USAID and the MCC—sometimes get it right in improving the lives of individuals and communities, but not always.

The book introduces you to village heroines: Irangani, Malini, Maria, Carmen. Ritu tells us about a few heroes named Kepali and Mahesh. And she even introduces some U.S. heroes and heroines: a corporate hero by the name of Ed and two Congressional heroines named Nita and Beth.

Who Should Read This Book

  • Development policy experts who know the theory and policy of development but not the reality on the ground
  • Field-grounded implementers who know what happens in villages but not how to communicate that to policymakers and translate that experience into policy
  • College professors teaching an introductory course in development, international economics, international relations, and global women’s studies
  • Regular people who want to understand how others live and how we can make a difference

What comes through in Ritu’s stories is her admiration for village women who are sustaining the lives and livelihoods of their families. She is humbled by their stamina and fortitude, their good sense and good humor, and their kindness and generosity. She relates how much she has learned from them.

Ritu, I thank you for this essay and sharing with us your experiences at the village level and your well-reasoned policy prescriptions.

Thank you for teaching us.