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Final Paper Reviewing U.S. Pledge to GPE Examines U.S. Support to Local Institutions

January 24th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Tony Baker, Education for All Campaign Manager at RESULTS, about their recent paper analyzing progress made by the U.S. to the Global Partnership for Education. This piece originally appeared on the RESULTS blog.

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In November 2011, the United States made a series of commitments in its pledge to the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), the world’s only multilateral partnership exclusively devoted to ensuring a quality education for all children, everywhere. Part of this pledge was a $20 million commitment to the GPE Fund (see “Discussion Paper 1 of 3: The U.S. Commitment to the GPE Fund”); another part reaffirmed goals of the USAID Education Strategy (see “Discussion Paper 2 of 3: The USAID Education Strategy”). A further component of the U.S. pledge to GPE concerned aid effectiveness measures of USAID Forward, the agency-wide reform agenda, particularly around closer collaboration with local actors.

With input from visits to Liberia, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia, the third and final installment of Towards Collaborative Support to Global Education: A Review of the U.S. Pledge to the Global Partnership for Education takes an in-depth look at USAID Forward, with a particular focus on progress USAID has made towards meeting its goal to provide more direct investment in partner country governments and local organizations and businesses.

Throughout RESULTS’ visits to Liberia, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Zambia, the majority of development actors consulted were not aware of USAID’s intentions to increase direct partnerships with local institutions and host country governments, though they responded positively upon learning about the initiative.

Only one of the 12 basic education projects surveyed by RESULTS has a local entity as the prime implementing partner, and only one out of every 25 dollars USAID invested in education in Africa in 2012 went to a local institution.

If it is to achieve the sustainable development outcomes underlying USAID Forward’s local investment objectives, USAID must:

  • Foster partners, not just implementers, by soliciting participation from host country governments and local organizations to establish priorities and develop them as institutions in their own right.
  • Build host country government capacity where assessments reveal national systems too weak for direct partnership.
  • Coach local NGO communities, by offering organizational feedback and routine guidance on USAID procedures to local communities of practice.

Strengthen government systems through increased partnership with the Global Partnership for Education, whose systems approach to education development builds the very environment

Something Rotten in the State of Denmark

January 14th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from MFAN Principal John Norris, Executive Director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress. This piece originally appeared in Foreign Policy.

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Maersk Group is Denmark’s largest company, making up more than 15 percent of the country’s GDP. The shipping firm employs more than 121,000 people worldwide, operates in 130 countries, generated $59 billion in revenue last year, maintains a fleet of 600, and announced at the end of 2013 that its full-year net profits would be $3.5 billion, up from the previous forecast of $3.3 billion. Maersk has also proudly declared itself a good corporate citizen, stressing a theme of “constant care” with a dedication “to promot[ing] the health and safety of our employees and others in the industry and in the world around us.” The company is a member of the United Nations Global Compact, which encourages companies to embrace a set of core values in the areas of human rights, labor standards, and the environment. Indeed, in many ways Maersk prides itself as the face of Denmark’s modern economy: diversified, humane, and enlightened.

Why then is the company, through its U.S. subsidiaries, aggressively fighting common-sense reforms that would help deliver desperately needed food assistance to millions of hungry people everywhere from Syria to South Sudan?

The answer traces back to the ongoing battle in the United States to reform international food-assistance programs, a battle currently playing out in the debate over the farm bill. The United States has a proud tradition of delivering food to some of the world’s poorest people living under the most harrowing of conditions.

This food has sustained millions when their lives have hung in the balance. But the process of acquiring and delivering food aid is deeply flawed.

Currently, the vast majority of food for U.S. government relief and development programs is purchased in the United States and then shipped thousands of miles overseas, often at great cost. Such a system is great for the bottom line of large shippers, like Maersk, but not for people in need or for taxpayers. In cases where U.S. food aid is “monetized” by humanitarian organizations receiving U.S. commodities, the sales of U.S. crops can depress prices in local food markets, making it harder for local farmers to flourish and for poor countries to end their dependence on aid. That is why most other major donors, including the World Food Program, procure food through local and regional systems, recognizing that it is more cost-effective, more efficient, and more sustainable to buy food closer to where it is needed.

Just how inefficient is the U.S. system, which was created decades ago to help find a way to dispose of government-held stocks of agricultural commodities? More than half of every dollar spent on U.S. food programs currently goes to shipping and transportation costs, rather than to lifesaving food, which means that a great deal of that money is ending up in coffers of companies like Maersk. The obvious waste inherent in such a system has only become more and more apparent with rising fuel costs over the last decade.

To correct this problem, Congress is currently considering reforms as part of the farm bill that would make food aid more flexible and efficient by purchasing a higher percentage of food closer to where it is actually needed. The reform proposals have generated significant bipartisan support, and a range of humanitarian groups, including Oxfam, Care, and Save the Children, have spoken out strongly on their behalf. It is no wonder: Experts at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) indicate that they could feed an additional 4 million people annually with the savings from these reforms. Other outside analysts have put the number as high as 10 million people.

Yet Maersk, along with U.S. maritime and agricultural unions, has mounted a ferocious attack on the reforms, with Maersk’s U.S. subsidiary often cloaking its concerns in naked economic terms. For instance, a group of companies and unions has said, “Growing, manufacturing, bagging, shipping, and transporting nutritious U.S. food creates jobs and economic activity here at home” and has made wild, unsubstantiated claims that food aid reform could cost 44,000 American jobs. Andrew Natsios, the USAID administrator under President George W. Bush, has called claims that food-aid reform would be bad for exports “ridiculous,” pointing out that aid accounts for only about half of 1 percent of U.S. food exports.

Maersk and others seem to have lost sight of the fact that the point of international food assistance is not to create inefficient, subsidized jobs for any company — in the United States or anywhere else. Rather, the point is to save lives. And, for the record, the actual number of U.S. maritime jobs potentially affected by reforming American food aid would be small: A Defense Department analysis found that even the administration’s more sweeping reform proposals would only “affect 8-11 vessels — all non-militarily useful — and roughly 360 to 495 mariners.”

Maersk and the Moeller family, which founded and still runs the company, are well known for their philanthropic contributions, ranging from donating the lavish Copenhagen Opera House to the state of Denmark to providing emergency container schools after the Chinese earthquake. Denmark, meanwhile, has long dedicated one of the highest international percentages of GNP in the world to official development assistance and is known as a leader in the development field. It is thus all the more a shame that Maersk’s lobbying is standing in the way of the United States, long the world’s largest provider of food assistance, delivering more aid to more people at a time when every single newscast seems to bring more stories of people in need.

The time is ripe for Maersk to do the right thing.

Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan Makes the Case for More Flexible Food Aid

November 20th, 2013
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See below for a guest post from George Ingram, senior fellow at Brookings and MFAN co-chair. Ingram writes about how current reform proposals to international food aid can increase flexibility in emergency situations. The original post can be found on Brookings’ Up Front blog.

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Philippines On November 7, Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan hit the Philippines, affecting 9.7 million people, displacing 3 million, killing 3,637, and destroying 384,000 acres of rice, corn and other crops worth $105 million.

Congress, through the House/Senate farm bill conference, once again has the opportunity to provide the U.S. international food aid program the flexibility that is essential for our help to be effective in responding to life-threatening disasters.

Look at how the U.S. has responded in the days following the devastation by Yolanda/Haiyan. USAID’s Office of Food for Peace committed $7.75 million from the International Disaster Assistance account to the World Food Program to purchase food in the Philippines and neighboring countries. Fifty-five tons of nutritious emergency food products were airlifted from the U.S.  One thousand one hundred tons of rice, prepositioned in Sri Lanka for just such an emergency, is en route and should arrive around December 2nd. These limited actions ensure that the U.S. is able to provide immediate relief to those in dire need.

U.S. food assistance resources are restricted to the purchase of U.S. grown commodities that then have to be shipped across the ocean.  An expedited procurement of U.S. rice would arrive in the Philippines in late January or early February at the earliest. That is 10-12 weeks after the typhoon hit, which can help relieve medium-term food needs, but does nothing to address the hunger and starvation in the days and weeks immediately following the destruction and devastation.

And one might say the Philippines is lucky as the typhoon struck at the beginning of the U.S. fiscal year so resources are available; if such a disaster strikes in July or August, the limited cash is likely to have already been spent responding to earlier crises.

The United States is the number one responder to humanitarian crises around the world, and the 60-year old food assistance program is at the center of that capability. Food aid is an important tool of U.S. smart power. It reflects the humanitarian streak that runs through the American people and at the same time enhances our image and influence in the world, such as the overwhelming appreciation by the people of Indonesia for our helping in the recovery from the 2010 tsunami.

In certain circumstances, and for the medium term to relieve food shortages, shipping commodities from the U.S. makes sense. But not allowing the resources to be used to procure food in the nearest and most efficient market constrains U.S. responsiveness and does not reflect well on the generosity of the American people.

This crisis should not be wasted by allowing the United States food aid program to continue along lines that were relevant in the 1950s and 1960s but not in the 21st century. The U.S. government needs the flexibility to purchase food commodities in the most efficient market, which sometimes will be the U.S., sometimes the country affected, and sometimes neighboring countries.  This flexibility will allow more efficient use of U.S. taxpayer resources and better reflect American values. The reform of the program proposed by the Obama administration earlier this year would allow the same dollar value to reach 4 million additional people. That proposal lost on the House floor by only 17 votes. My guess is, if it were put to the House now, in light of Yolanda/Haiyan and the recent evidence that purchasing food locally is the only way to get food to those in need in Syria, the reform would pass.

The House/Senate conference on the farm bill should adopt not just the modest change of 20 percent flexibility found in the Senate bill, but allow up to 30-40 percent, or, even better, 50 percent of our food assistance to be used for local and regional purchase if that is the most efficient and readily available source.

Last week I was in North Carolina meeting with a farm organization representative and asked what the position of the organization and its members on the administration’s food aid reform proposal was. His response was that the issue was not high on their agenda but that farmers object to the notion of giving cash to corrupt governments. Not an unreasonable attitude. So I then asked what the response might be if they were told the cash did not go to governments (as it does not), but instead to the World Food Program and U.S. non-profit organizations (Mercy Corps and Catholic Relief Service) that have a long track record of effectively purchasing commodities on local and regional markets. He said, in that case, their response probably would be different.

Why has every other country moved to providing cash rather than home-grown commodities? For the simple reason of efficiency and responsiveness. One would think that the United States, seen around the world as the champion of free enterprise and market-based solutions, would see the logic in purchasing emergency commodities in the most efficient market available!

 

Open the books on foreign aid

November 19th, 2013
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See below for excerpts from an op-ed by Albert Kan-Dapaah, co-founder and executive director of Financial Accountability & Transparency-Africa and former Ghanaian minister and parliamentarian. This piece originally appeared in the Hill’s Congress blog.

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“Civil society in recipient countries must fight for accountability and transparency of poverty reducing aid in their respective countries, but we can’t do that without timely and comprehensive data on where U.S. aid dollars are going in their country.”

“Some donor agencies, including USAID and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, do provide much needed information and data.  Unfortunately the publicly available information, in most cases, is not detailed enough nor released in a timely enough manner to be relevant for citizens in Ghana. And for civil society activists, like myself, in order to do our work to ensure foreign aid transparency and accountability, that information is power.  And such information is not always readily available within our own governments—indeed most times we are denied access to such data, making the data released by donors agencies the only information available to us.”

“Informed citizens, both here in the U.S. and in developing countries, can hold their government accountable on how foreign aid funds are spent. Organizing and providing data to meet the needs of civil society activists in their quest to monitor, evaluate and pronounce on the effective use of foreign assistance is key.”

Development Community Shows Broad Support for Bipartisan Aid Transparency Bill

November 15th, 2013
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This week the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took an important step towards strengthening U.S. development programs by unanimously passing the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act of 2013 (S. 1271). This bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) would improve accountability, transparency, and overall effectiveness by requiring the President to establish uniform interagency guidelines—with measurable goals, performance metrics, and monitoring and evaluation plans—across all U.S. foreign assistance programs.

This move to advance the legislation in the Senate was met with broad support from across the development community. In addition to MFAN’s statement, found here, below you will find excerpts from supportive statements from our partners:

  • “This legislation goes a long way to strengthen U.S. development programs despite recent efforts to cut spending and reduce the overall budget. Directing U.S. foreign assistance agencies to develop better and more transparent monitoring and evaluation systems will lead to better use of taxpayer dollars and ensure that we are getting the most return on our investments.” –  Tom Hart, U.S. Executive Director, ONE
  • “The Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s approval today of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act is an important step for strengthening the accountability and effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance programs. The USGLC commends Senator Rubio and Senator Cardin – and House sponsors, Representatives Poe and Connolly — for their leadership on this bipartisan legislation. It builds on the important reforms being undertaken by USAID and those modeled by the Millennium Challenge Corporation to ensure the highest standards for transparency and results for international affairs programs.” – Liz Schrayer, Executive Director, U.S. Global Leadership Coalition
  • “We thank Senators Rubio and Cardin for their leadership and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for its passage of this important, bipartisan legislation. It will enact common-sense reforms to improve transparency and accountability in U.S. foreign assistance programs. I look forward to the full Congress passing it.” – Samuel A. Worthington, President and CEO, InterAction
  • “We are delighted that this landmark, bipartisan piece of aid transparency legislation passed unanimously through committee. Given its broad support, we hope that it moves forward so we can continue to improve the effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance.” – Rev. David Beckmann, President, Bread for the World
  • “Congress should increase aid transparency and accountability and provide USAID and other agencies with the necessary acquisition and other resources to effectively plan, award and oversee development implementation by international development companies. Advancing this bill—and the companion House bill—should strengthen the federal agencies’ efforts in transparency and accountability.” – Stan Soloway, President and CEO, Professional Services Council