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The Unfinished Business of Foreign Aid Reform

April 29th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from MFAN Honorary Co-Chairs former Senator Richard Lugar, former Representative Howard Berman, and former Representative Jim Kolbe. This piece originally appeared on The Hill.

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In 2008 a group of foreign policy luminaries issued a proposal to promote a “fresh, smart approach to U.S. foreign policy and engagement in the world.” As the name of their new coalition implied, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) sought to reform a foreign aid system that was badly outdated and poorly equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century. MFAN offered a set of core principles and priority actions for making foreign assistance more effective, more efficient, and better at serving our national interests. Their ideas inspired each of us to engage in foreign aid reform from our individual leadership positions within and outside of Congress.

Over the intervening six years, notable progress has been made. Both the President’s Policy Directive on Global Development and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review sought to elevate the role of global development in our foreign policy, and to adopt a more evidence-based and results-oriented approach to aid. For the first time ever, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched high-quality, scientifically rigorous evaluations of their work, geared toward identifying lessons that could be applied to future programming. Secretary Clinton committed the United States to participation in the International Aid Transparency Initiative, and in 2013 the MCC was ranked by Publish What You Fund’s Aid Transparency Index as the most transparent donor organization in the world. USAID refocused its work by driving game-changing innovations, using science and technology to solve age-old challenges, creating new and improved partnerships, and rebuilding its own human capital in order to demonstrate real results. And while these changes have not yet been codified, the hard work has been done to prepare comprehensive reform legislation that transforms the unsustainable donor-recipient relationship into one of equal partners working toward mutually agreed upon and beneficial goals.

In light of this progress, and recognizing the many challenges that still remain, this year MFAN has reconstituted itself and is launching “The Way Forward: A Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond” – its vision of the future of foreign aid, and its recommendations for the next steps to get there. As Honorary Co-Chairs of MFAN, we support its sharpened focus on two interrelated areas where progress will have the greatest impact: accountability and ownership.

While these two concepts may not be well-understood outside a small circle of development experts, MFAN’s task will be to broaden awareness of their inextricable links to effective development and to each other. “Accountability” through transparency, evaluation and learning is, in effect, a feedback loop that strengthens public engagement in order to improve program results. By revealing exactly how funds are being spent, aid transparency enables stakeholders to monitor implementation and provide real-time information that can be used to avoid corruption and to better reach those in need. Conducting independent evaluations that not only measure simple outputs (such as number of teachers trained or wells drilled) but actual impacts (such as improved reading skills or reduced disease burden) will help us to determine which programs bring the greatest bang for the buck, and how. The lessons that are learned through greater transparency and rigorous evaluations must then be fed back into the system to guide spending decisions and improve program design.

“Ownership” is both a result of accountability and a pre-requisite for it. Our local partners will not feel responsible for making programs work if they are not part of the decision-making process, and they cannot be part of the decision-making process without detailed information about our aid budgets, plans and activities. Too often in the past, aid decisions were made without considering the views and capabilities of local partners and beneficiaries, and without engaging them in program implementation. Yet if there is one thing that we have learned from experience, it is that doing for is not nearly as helpful as doing with. Ultimately, our goal is for developing countries to become self-reliant, with governments that answer to the people and vibrant economies that expand opportunities and hope for all – especially women and others who have been marginalized and excluded. To succeed in this effort we must heed local priorities, use local systems, and leverage local resources.

Applying the principles of accountability and country ownership to our aid programs will help poor countries to take responsibility for their own development, and will help citizens of our own country to feel confident that their taxpayer dollars are being well spent. MFAN’s new agenda sets out a list of criteria and benchmarks for judging how well U.S. foreign assistance conforms to these principles, and its member organizations will continue to work both at home and abroad to put these principles into practice. We look forward to working together on this new way forward.

Richard G. Lugar, a former Republican senator from Indiana and chairman of the Agriculture and Foreign Relations Committees, runs TheLugarCenter.org. Howard L. Berman, a former Democratic congressman from California and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, serves as a senior advisor at Covington & Burling. Jim Kolbe, a former member of Congress, is a Senior Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund and Senior Adviser at McLarty Associates. The three serve as Honorary Co-Chairs of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN).

Community Shows Broad Support for “The Way Forward”

April 25th, 2014
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Last week MFAN launched a new policy paper, The Way Forward: A Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond, and with it, a newly streamlined agenda focused on two key pillars of reform: accountability through transparency, evaluation and learning; and country ownership of the priorities and resources for, and implementation of, development.

Take a look at what the community is saying about the new paper…

Plan International USA
: The fact is there is mounting evidence that aid, designed and delivered around these pillars, is more likely to have higher impact and deliver sustainable benefits well beyond the original time frame of the donor-funded project.

Oxfam America: The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network’s new agenda focuses the tools that partner country stakeholders need to make smart decisions about their own development.

U.S. Global Leadership Coalition: Much has changed in the world since 2009, and these two issues offer a smart focus on where progress could be made. They reinforce the recognition that private sources of capital (investments, remittances, private philanthropy) into the developing world have grown over the last forty years to dwarf official assistance, which now must leverage rather than substitute for private capital.

ONE: These reforms will ensure that US development will be more effective and more efficient, ensuring that the money we spend to fight global poverty is making developing countries’ systems more sustainable, and governments, both here and abroad, more accountable.

Save the Children: U.S. foreign aid to developing countries is vital in the effort to save lives, fight famine, put kids in schools, and respond to disasters. But, our help will be even more impactful and lasting if designed and implemented in true partnership with developing country governments and citizens, in ways that strengthen their own efforts, and that they can build on.

The Hewlett Foundation: If the world’s biggest bilateral donor puts partner country priorities at the top of the agenda, invites their citizens to the table, and opens its books about how much it spends and what it does (or doesn’t) achieve, this sets a standard by which other actors, including partner countries themselves and private investors, are held to account.

The Lugar Center: These two priorities will form the core of MFAN’s work over the next two years. During this period – as our country enters the next presidential election cycle — it is critical that we solidify progress that has been made on foreign assistance reform and build a consensus for a deeper reform agenda.

Bread for the World Institute: MFAN emphasizes that development and development co-operation need to promote inclusive, accountable partnerships that support country-led processes that will improve the lives of hungry and poor people.

Devex: The next two years are an important window of opportunity for U.S. aid reform. The midterm elections in 2014 are certain to shake up the membership of Congress. In 2015, the Millennium Development Goals will expire and a new global development agenda will take its place. And 2016 will bring with it the end of the Obama administration.

Inter Press Service: U.S. foreign aid is becoming increasingly outdated, analysts here are suggesting.
Rather, reforms to U.S. assistance need to focus on issues of accountability and country ownership, according to a policy paper released this week by Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a prominent coalition of international development advocates and foreign policy experts.

Politix: While both the Obama administration and the Bush administration before it have taken important steps to push the ball forward, there are still a number of reforms that would make a big difference in getting the best value for our money and helping move more people out of poverty, more reliably. These are outlined in MFAN’s new policy paper, The Way Forward: A Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond, which reflects on past achievements and describes the path ahead.

President’s Global Development Council: Fine Work But Now What (and When)?

April 24th, 2014
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See below for a post from Connie Veillette, Senior Fellow for Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness at The Lugar Center and MFAN Co-Chair.

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The President’s Global Development Council (GDC) released a much awaited report (Beyond Business as Usual) April 14 calling for a focus on the private sector, innovation, transparency and evidence, climate smart food security, and global leadership. Many of its points coincide with current thinking in development quarters, one of which is the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network’s (MFAN) new policy paper.

The wait for a GDC product has been exceedingly lengthy. The Council was born out of the President’s Policy Directive on Global Development issued way back in 2010. I should note here that many of us hailed the PPD for its emphasis on transparency, country ownership, and even more selectivity and focus in funding choices. One can see many of its principles reflected in U.S. development programs, although not to the level that many of us expected four years hence. From 2010 until GDC members were named in 2012, the development community waited. Once the members were named, a new waiting game began for what the council would do and how it would do it. But two years later, they have issued a fine report.

Now what? The GDC was created to “provide high-level input relevant to the work of United States Government agencies.” The report notes that it “will also explore other areas moving forward.” This is a good thing for a number of reasons.

First, while I agree that the GDC focus areas are important, and some are downright crucial, I would suggest that the Council left out a particularly difficult but nonetheless critical issue, that of country ownership. The vast majority of the development community believes in the value of building local capacity and in engaging governments, business, and civil society in creating and implementing development strategies. However, there is considerable disagreement on how best to do this. There is even disagreement on such an elementary question as what country ownership means. MFAN has formed a working group on this very issue. Our goal is to help inform this dialogue within the administration, Congress, aid implementers, and the public.

Second, time is running out. A GDC goal is to help institutionalize many PPD principals within government agencies. It is quite conceivable that GDC can continue into the next administration, but there are no guarantees. GDC should be operating within the premise that its work is done by the end of 2016. Given the administration’s track record in getting the panel named and up and running, and then the fits and starts of the Council over the last two years, my concerns seem merited.

Third, do we really need another conference? And who is the audience? And will the administration want to lead an effort that would require huge investments in stature, planning, funding, partnerships, etc. in order to have much of an effect on U.S. public opinion? (Are we talking about annual Farm Aid concerts that have raised public awareness of the value of American farmers?) Such an event may be fun for attendees, but better value may be found in working on identifying best practices and helping U.S. agencies implement them. As the report notes…”The Council will place particular emphasis on identifying successful approaches to inclusive and sustainable development and will be open about those approaches that don’t work.” Hallelujah.

Local Voices and Resources Are the Ultimate Answer in the Fight Against Poverty

April 18th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children and MFAN Co-Chair.

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This week, the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) released a policy paper – The Way Forward: A Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond – urging the U.S. Government to work more closely than ever before with our partner countries and their citizens to improve the way in which our aid dollars are planned and spent. The paper highlights MFAN’s new agenda and makes clear why country ownership and accountability are powerful and mutually reinforcing pillars that will make U.S. aid more effective in helping leaders and citizens in developing countries drive decisions about their own development.

U.S. foreign aid to developing countries is vital in the effort to save lives, fight famine, put kids in schools, and respond to disasters. But, our help will be even more impactful and lasting if designed and implemented in true partnership with developing country governments and citizens, in ways that strengthen their own efforts, and that they can build on. A frank conversation between our government and the people we want to help is necessary to address the inefficiencies in our aid system that often delivers aid piecemeal and is not integrated with local efforts.

Save the Children is a leading voice in MFAN, driven by the belief that U.S. foreign assistance needs to focus on fostering local partnerships and creating relationships of mutual accountability. In countries where we operate, Save the Children works in partnership with national and local governments and communities on programs that we know are working for children and that are helping to bring about more of their government’s investment in the long run. In Nepal, we have joined forces with district governments, each providing half of the funding needed to create a Child Endowment Fund that allows caregivers of vulnerable children to receive consistent support.

In addition, we have just launched a pilot program in multiple countries to identify and support local advocates for children in their efforts to secure a fairer share of public resources from their governments for the care, protection and development of their children. Foreign aid is certainly helping achieve these outcomes, but the foundation for continued care for these children lies in our partner countries’ own commitments to the cause. This commitment can be demonstrated in effective, child-focused policies and programs, and growing shares of public funding for childhood care and development.

The U.S. Government is already committed to engaging citizens and governments in developing countries to inform the planning and delivery of our aid programs. It is in America’s own interest to ensure that our aid dollars are integrated with the efforts of these governments and local citizens, and that we’re helping to prepare them for a day when foreign aid is no longer needed. MFAN and its members, including Save the Children, want to see this commitment translated into greater action, and stand ready to help the Obama Administration put local institutions in the driver’s seat and equip them to bring about a permanent end to extreme poverty for children and families across the world.

Charting A Way Forward on U.S. Development Policy

April 16th, 2014
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See below for a post by MFAN Co-Chairs George Ingram, Carolyn Miles, and Connie Veillette.

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The U.S. has an important leadership role to play when it comes to supporting development and reducing poverty around the world. Foreign assistance serves our national interests by enhancing national security, expanding global economic opportunities, and promoting American values. In 2008, MFAN was established because of the growing recognition that U.S. foreign assistance and development policy needed to be strengthened and modernized in order to confront today’s challenges and bring about a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Since MFAN’s founding we have seen the Administration and Congress take actions to improve development policy and practice and make U.S. assistance dollars work smarter. Today, with the launch of our new policy paper, The Way Forward: A Reform Agenda for 2014 and Beyond, we both reflect on past achievements and humbly recognize there is much more work to be done.

MFAN’s new agenda outlines two powerful and mutually reinforcing pillars of reform – accountability through transparency, evaluation and learning; and country ownership of the priorities and resources for, and implementation of, development. These pillars are vital to building capacity in developing countries to enable leaders and citizens to take responsibility for their own development.

We applaud the many actions that have already been taken or put in motion to advance accountability and country ownership. For the Obama Administration, these include the commitment to fully implement the International Aid Transparency Initiative, USAID’s Partnership for Growth and Local Solutions initiatives, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s commitment to transparency reflected by its top ranking on the 2013 Aid Transparency Index. In addition it is particularly encouraging to see that transparency is embedded in the recommendations of the Global Development Council that were released this week. Congress has also taken up the reform cause with the creation of the Congressional Caucus on Effective Foreign Assistance, the introduction and reintroduction of the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act, and recent efforts to improve the efficiency and responsiveness of international food aid.

These next two years are an important window of opportunity for U.S. aid reform. The midterm elections in 2014 are certain to shake up the membership of Congress. In 2015, the Millennium Development Goals will expire and a new global development agenda will take its place. And 2016 will bring a new administration and further changes in Congress.  We urge the Administration and Congress to work together to institutionalize the important reforms that have already been introduced and continue to push forward on strengthening country ownership and accountability. The profound changes in international aid globally make the focus on these changes even more important to ensuring US aid effectiveness.

We will be tracking progress made on the key reform actions we outline in the paper and sharing our thoughts with the community, the Administration, and Congress. We invite – and look forward to – the dialogue that these recommendations will generate.