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Local Ownership: Who, What, and How

August 15th, 2013
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See below for excerpts from a piece by Melissa Kaplan, advocacy manger for aid reform and effectiveness at InterAction. Kaplan writes about local ownership and the recent report from Mercy Corps that uses extensive field research and interviews to examine how local ownership is being implemented–ultimately providing recommendations to USAID for how the agency can improve its efforts. This post originally appeared on Devex.


“It was noted that while the United States can deliver “stuff” to poor people around the globe, it cannot deliver what is most needed: power and accountability. Local people and local civil society need to have a real stake in and ultimately be responsible for their community’s own development. This is what local leadership needs to be about.”

“Another idea that emerged is that it’s important to think about a whole-of-society approach for building local ownership. It isn’t enough to build the capacity of a few local organizations — efforts should be put into building vibrant local civil society platforms. There is also a need to help foster better enabling environments in places where space for civil society is restricted. However, while we should engage with new and emerging local actors, it was pointed out that we should keep in mind that the “usual suspects” do bring a lot to the table, including political accountability that may not always exist with others.”

“Local ownership is critically important in order to improve aid programs’ effectiveness and to give local people a voice and a stake in their own future. It is essential not to view local ownership solely as engagement between the U.S. government and foreign governments, but to encompass the whole of local civil society. USAID Forward is making progress in this direction, and the Mercy Corps study shines a valuable light on what gaps still remain and some steps the U.S. government and our community could take to more fully realize the goal of local ownership.”

USAID Adds Financial Transaction Data to Dashboard

July 30th, 2013
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The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) today announced the latest addition to the agency’s contribution to the Foreign Assistance Dashboard, going live with a new set of over 50,000 financial records. Only USAID is currently reporting transaction data to the Dashboard.

As part of the Obama Administration’s push for greater transparency in foreign assistance within his “Open Government” initiative, the Dashboard was created in order to make accessible data spread across the 20 government agencies involved, in one way or another, with development and humanitarian aid. This past May saw the addition of data from the Department of Treasury and the Department of Defense, on top of information already posted by USAID, the State Department, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. These five agencies comprise about 86 percent of total foreign assistance spending, but a number of other notable departments and agencies have yet to participate—Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and Human Services, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and Peace Corps, to name a few. The development community has applauded the steps taken by the Obama Administration in increasing transparency, while continuing to track current progress and push for further additions.

The information that has recently been posted is referred to as “financial transaction data”—data regarding disbursements including vendors, locations, award titles, etc. While all USAID data previously published on the Dashboard is aggregated, the new, disaggregated records contribute greatly to the depth of information available within certain countries and sectors.

The information from the posted records is visualized on the website according to seven criteria (fiscal year, sector, country, title, vendor, obligated, and spent). All records can be searched using four of these criteria (fiscal year, sector, country, and vendor) as well as a search bar that can effectively search for keywords through all the data fields on the record. Each record has 30 fields that can be viewed online or downloaded in XML (a computer-readable format that allows data to be extracted and presented in a comparable and accessible way) or Excel formats, but the Dashboard can only search using the four criteria listed previously. According to USAID, these 30 areas comprise over 90 percent of the data required by the White House executive order OMB Bulletin 12-01 on data accessibility issued across government last fall, and 70 percent of the data required by the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), a global aid registry to which the U.S. Government subscribed in 2011 and 160 organizations now publish data.

USAID’s financial records do not yet include food aid data in Food for Peace (Title II, PL 480), and these records will not represent all “open awards” until the fourth quarter of the current fiscal year, or Q4, is closed out. However, a system has been put in place to update these records on a quarterly basis going forward within 45 days of the close of the quarter.

There are also no plans to work backwards and include data from prior years, so the baseline is FY2013.

These records can be accessed through the USAID agency page on the Dashboard by selecting the “Transactions” tab below disaggregated data. The data can then be searched using the seven criteria outlined above. In the resulting records, all 30 fields of information can be viewed by clicking the (+) on the left hand side of the entry and can be downloaded via a button above the listed entries. Note that this data is not searchable under the Dashboard’s interagency search function, only by going through the agency page.

Also appearing today, the Treasury Department has posted data on $23 billion spent on technical assistance in FY2012. The data can be downloaded in IATI format and analysis from the Center for Global Development’s Sarah Jane Stats—an MFAN Principal—can be found here.

MFAN Statement: Sharp Differences in House and Senate Spending Highlight Threat to Critical Foreign Assistance Reform Efforts

July 26th, 2013
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July 26, 2013 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann, George Ingram and Jim Kolbe:

We are greatly concerned that a decade’s worth of measurable progress on foreign assistance – marked by millions of lives saved, landmark systemic reforms, and bold programmatic innovation – is at risk in the current FY2014 appropriations processes underway in Congress. While the Senate Appropriations Committee proposal for funding international affairs protects the core of programs considered vital to our national security and foreign policy, the House Appropriations Committee has adopted a proposal that would drastically reduce funding for these same programs and reorder priorities in a way that would severely undercut U.S. global leadership on development. This is unwise at a time when our diplomatic and development programs are key levers of influence amidst turmoil in the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe.

Specifically, the FY2014 spending bills released by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are nearly $10 billion apart on funding for U.S. global health and development programs.  The spending plan for State and Foreign Operations (SFOPS) approved Wednesday by the House Appropriations Committee includes huge and strategically damaging cuts. Multilateral assistance, which is a cornerstone of our cooperative engagement with allies to build self-sufficiency and ownership in developing countries, would be cut 61 percent. Our international disaster assistance, which is the lynchpin of the global response to unforeseen humanitarian crises, would drop 40 percent. Our development assistance, which funds programs that are successfully helping the world’s most vulnerable people overcome debilitating poverty and deadly diseases, would be slashed 26 percent.

In addition to the gutting of overall foreign assistance programs, the House budget contains substantial, ill-advised cuts to the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the Operating Expenses budget of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The MCC, a bipartisan effort launched under President George W. Bush, has embodied many of the reform principles we are now seeing take hold across government as part of President Obama’s first-ever U.S. Global Development Policy, including a clear focus on broad-based economic growth achieved through country-led plans, evaluation of results, transparency, and policy reforms in partner governments. Meanwhile, Operating Expenses at USAID are supporting an agency-wide reform effort that has restored much-needed accountability, expertise, and capacity after years of steady decline.

Taken together and if passed, these cuts would represent a nearly full repudiation of the idea that the U.S. must lead the world on development. In contrast, the Senate’s FY2014 proposal for State and Foreign Operations maintains essential funding for USAID’s Operating Expenses and the MCC, as well as funding for international organizations—such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization—where the U.S. exercises a key leadership role.

Encouragingly, both Chambers have addressed initiatives to encourage more local procurement and we look forward to working with Congress to ensure that USAID and other agencies are given the flexibility they need to work through local partners in order to maximize development effectiveness and build sustainable local capacity.

As the appropriations process moves forward, we urge Congress to follow the Senate’s lead to maintain these smart investments in our nation’s security, prosperity, and leadership around the world.


Pledge Guarantee for Health: Working Better, Faster and Smarter

July 17th, 2013
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See below for a guest post from Ariel Pablos-Méndez, Assistant Administrator for Global Health at the U.S. Agency for International Development. The piece outlines the Agency’s new pledge guarantee to speed the delivery of health commodities. The original post appeared on USAID’s Impact blog here.


As we enter the last 1,000 days of the Millennium Development Goals we need to make every dollar we spend go further. But we cannot continue to conduct business as usual. The Brookings Institute estimates that the volatility of development aid costs as much as 28 cents of every dollar spent -impeding our ability to deliver results for those in need.

Instead, we must work better, faster and smarter. By using new and groundbreaking tools that can improve the efficiency and predictability of donor financing, we can ensure that life-saving goods arrive in time to save lives. Pledge Guarantee for Health (PGH) is one such simple, yet innovative tool that can help speed the delivery of critical health commodities by 6-8 months.

PGH provides countries with working capital to help smooth over any delays in donor aid disbursements, giving them time to plan their procurements. Better planning enables countries to get more value for money by negotiating better prices with suppliers and reducing the cost of shipments. Most importantly, countries are able to accelerate delivery of, and access to, necessary health commodities.

PGH already has a proven track record for delivering results: in Zambia, PGH worked with the World Bank to facilitate an innovative financing solution that helped accelerate the delivery of bednets before the start of the rainy season. The end result: the bednets arrived on time averting an epidemic AND due to incentives built into the partnership, the World Bank worked with the Government of Zambia to ultimately provide one of their fastest disbursements ever.

USAID, in partnership with Swedish SIDA, is proud to help support and scale up PGH by providing a $50 million credit guarantee using USAID’s Development Credit Authority (DCA). This co- guarantee will allow PGH to access up to $100 million of credit from commercial banks. This $100 million of credit can “revolve” up to 10 times, meaning it has the potential to generate up to $1 billion of transaction over the five year guarantee period.

USAID’s participation in this effort is through a partnership between the Development Credit Authority (DCA) and the Bureau for Global Health’s Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact (CII). DCA has successfully used similar risk-sharing mechanisms in 72 countries around the world, and has unlocked $2.7 billion in credit for developmentally-important projects and businesses. CII uses business-minded approaches to address key bottlenecks in the development, introduction, and scale up of global health technologies and interventions.

USAID’s support of this initiative reflects the Agency’s effort to utilize innovative financing mechanisms to leverage private capital to stretch limited aid dollars further. We are committed to working with our partners in the international development, financing, and supplier communities to ensure that we maximize the value of every dollar spent, ending preventable maternal and child deaths and changing the face of poverty forever.


Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability: It’s Something We Can All Agree On

July 15th, 2013
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Melissa Kaplan, advocacy manager for aid reform at InterAction, wrote about the recently introduced Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act in an op-ed in CQ. See an excerpt of the piece below.


“The world we live in today is more tightly interconnected than it has ever been. It’s not a question of whether foreign assistance is necessary, but rather how we can best utilize this important tool to reduce extreme poverty as a prominent signal of America’s moral leadership. President Barack Obama recently completed a high-profile trip to Africa — a continent that has suffered greatly from war, poverty and disease but also a place where U.S. foreign assistance has had a real and positive impact through programs such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (an HIV and AIDs initiative that has provided anti-retroviral treatment, care and other support to millions around the world). At less than 1 percent of the federal budget, foreign assistance represents a tiny sliver of U.S. spending, but the dollars invested in the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development can do an enormous amount of good even on a relative shoestring.”

“Many problems facing Congress today seem intractable, and our legislative branch is often stymied by partisan rancor that prevents the implementation of much-needed solutions to pressing problems. The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act represents a chance to break through this logjam and enact common-sense legislation that will enable our foreign assistance programs to work better. It’s no wonder that this legislation has drawn such strong bipartisan support among those who believe in the good foreign assistance can do, and want to see that it’s carried out as effectively as possible. Despite its unanimous approval by the House of Representatives, time ran out last Congress before the Senate had a chance to vote on FATA. Now that it has been reintroduced, with additional, stronger language on monitoring and evaluation, I am confident that it can and will pass in both chambers this year.”