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The Way Forward: Bringing Accountability and Ownership into Focus

June 4th, 2014
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This past April, MFAN launched a new policy paper laying out a refreshed vision for The Way Forward on aid reform focused on two powerful and mutually reinforcing pillars: accountability and country ownership. Last week, we convened the community for a public event to reflect on why these pillars of accountability and country ownership are central to our agenda and how they are being put into practice.

The event began with a reflection on the accomplishments that have been made to date on improving U.S. foreign aid policy and practice from MFAN Honorary Co-Chair and Former Congressman Jim Kolbe. Kolbe also took the opportunity to stress the importance of codifying the many important reforms that have been made so that progress is not lost with the ushering in of a new Administration.

To highlight the pillar of accountability, we were joined by Samantha Custer and Dina Abdel-Fattah of AidData and Sally Paxton of Publish What You Fund for insightful presentations. AidData highlighted their geocoding work in Nepal to demonstrate how better data can lead to a broader dialogue and smarter decisionmaking, helping to illustrate the fact that accountability and ownership are mutually reinforcing. They also discussed the importance of mapping the universe of foreign aid in order to have greater impact. AidData also stressed the importance of building the capacity of people to actually use the data and how that will help drive the demand for more and better data. Meanwhile, Paxton took the opportunity to offer five key recommendations for better U.S. aid transparency: publishing high-quality data and using it often; sharing our data with the world; promoting the use of the International Aid Transparency Initiative; publish quality, timely, and comprehensive data to the Foreign Assistance Dashboard; and accelerating progress to meet (our already made!) commitments to transparency. You can read about these recommendations in more depth here.

photoFollowing these presentations, MFAN Co-Chair George Ingram moderated a panel discussion featuring Sheila Herrling of the MCC, Tony Pipa of USAID, Asif Shaikh of CSIS, and Ritu Sharma of Women Thrive Worldwide. The panel discussed the importance of – and also the challenges that come with – country ownership. Herrling noted that there is a struggle between managing speed and efficiency with ownership and accountability. Shaikh made the point that ownership needs to be about all actors coming together to shape a vision for self-sustaining development, and Sharma used an example from Sri Lanka to highlight how sustainable development happens when it is demand driven.

Over the next two years we will be periodically taking stock of progress made and where things are lagging in the areas of ownership and accountability. We look forward to continuing the dialogue with the community, the Administration, and Capitol Hill on the importance of these pillar issues to improving U.S. foreign aid policy and practice.

Strength through Development

May 29th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from MFAN Executive Committee Member and Accountability Working Group Co-Chair Diana Ohlbaum.


In his graduation speech at West Point on Wednesday, President Obama laid out a national security doctrine based on partnership, multilateralism, international law, diplomacy and development.  Explaining how democracy, free markets, and respect for human rights abroad benefit us here at home, he asserted: “Foreign assistance is not an afterthought, something nice to do apart from our national defense, apart from our national security. It is part of what makes us strong.”

Development advocates and practitioners have often resisted justifying their work on national security grounds, fearing that development objectives would be sacrificed on the altar of security imperatives.  But now the tables have turned: for the first time, there is high-level understanding that effective development is imperative if we are to meet our security objectives.

The U.S. Global Development Council is perfectly positioned to take advantage of this opening to institutionalize development as a full partner, alongside diplomacy and defense, in our national security triad.  But the President didn’t mention the Council in his speech, and the Council doesn’t seem to have security on its radar screen.

Just over a month ago, the Council held its first official, public meeting, at which it released a document with 7 recommendations for strengthening U.S. development efforts.  Although it met with a few immediate, and largely complimentary, reviews – including those of Nancy Birdsall and Ben Leo at the Center for Global Development, John Glenn of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, George Ingram of Brookings, and Connie Veillette of The Lugar Center– overall, the response was fairly muted.  Given the years of effort that led to its creation, and the two years of work that went into developing the recommendations, this lack of fanfare is discouraging.  What are we to read into the silence?

1)      The recommendations themselves were neither new nor particularly controversial.  The idea of creating a Development Finance Bank was proposed in 2011 by Todd Moss and Ben Leo; the road to harnessing the private sector was paved by USAID through its Global Development Alliances, now expanded into the Global Development Lab; the calls for greater transparency and more rigorous evaluations of impact have been issued by MFAN since Gayle Smith was among its leaders.  The fact that some of these have failed to gain traction with Congress and the Administration ought to have given the Council some pause: what are the underlying obstacles that prevent these ideas from being realized, and how can we, as a Council, work to resolve them?

2)      The purpose and value of the Council as an institution remains unclear.  As John Norris and Noam Unger noted after the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development announced that the Council would be formed, there was little initial guidance about its aims.  Beyond a statement that the Council was to provide high-level input relevant to the work of United States Government agencies”, nothing was said about its objectives or authorities. The Executive Order creating the Council added more details: the Council was to “inform the policy and practice of U.S. global development policy and programs by providing advice to the President and other senior officials,” “support new and existing public-private partnerships,” and “increase awareness and action in support of development.”  All of these functions are currently being carried out by USAID (including through the Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid) and the National Security Council, so what is the Global Development Council’s added value?

3)      The public outreach function is at odds with the private advice function.  If the Council’s sole task were to provide advice to the President and senior officials, then it could play an important role in promoting policy coherence and addressing the “hot button” political issues of tax, trade, and agricultural policy that have such important ramifications for global development.  But, understandably, the Administration is reluctant to give outsiders a peek into such sensitive policy decisions.  On the flip side, the fact that the Council makes its recommendations to the President renders it unwilling or unable to conduct its work transparently and with broad public participation, which would be necessary for the Council to serve as a bridge between the public and private sectors.  Sadly, its dual mission has in some ways forced the Council to adopt the worst of both worlds.

Whither the Council?

There is one function that is absolutely essential to the future of development as a central pillar of U.S. foreign policy, and which is not currently being carried out by any U.S. government or outside entity of which I am aware: an exploration of WHY development is important to U.S. national security.  Sure, we all have our slogans and talking points about the relationship between global development and U.S. jobs and exports, conflict and instability, health, migration, climate change, and so forth, but how much of it has actually been quantified through scientific research, or built into a compelling narrative that can be easily explained to the average American citizen?  As anyone who has ever tried to pitch foreign aid to the public surely knows, it’s an uphill battle.  It takes time and effort, and there’s ample evidence that people simply ignore facts that don’t fit within their existing belief system.  But if we’re ever to get beyond the third-class status accorded development and begin treating it as a national security and foreign policy imperative, we need to demonstrate exactly why that’s the case – including, but not exclusively, because it reflects our moral values.  This is a job that the Global Development Council, as a public-private initiative, is uniquely positioned to perform.

To fulfill this mission, the Council would need to take a multi-pronged approach: research, to discover what we know and don’t know about the relationship between development and national security; recommendations to the President about the “spill-over” effects of our non-aid policies (such as trade, energy, environment, agriculture, tax, and arms sales) on global development; outreach and collaboration with the private sector to get the messages out and the policies right; turning the West Point speech and the soon-to-be-released National Security Strategy into actionable steps for development; and bringing the message to the American public through the Presidential Conference on Global Development that the Council has recommended.

That would not only put the meat on the bones of the Obama Doctrine, it would breathe new life into a Council that has otherwise failed to excite.

At Global Forum, Feed the Future Reflects on Progress after Four Years

May 22nd, 2014
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This week USAID hosted the first-ever Feed the Future Global Forum, a 3-day event bringing together stakeholders and partners from around the world to discuss progress made and challenges faced in the fight to end global poverty and hunger.

To coincide with the kickoff of the forum, USAID released the 2014 Feed the Future Progress Report on Monday, which looks at what the initiative has achieved in the four years since it was launched. The report touts that in 2013 alone the initiative reached nearly 7 million smallholder farmers and helped to save 12.5 million children from the threat of hunger, poverty, and malnutrition. In addition, over the last four years Feed the Future has leveraged billions of dollars in investments focused on agriculture and nutrition.

The forum featured addresses from MFAN Honorary Co-Chair and Former U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, MFAN Executive Committee Member and President of Bread for the World David Beckmann, and USAID Administrator Raj Shah. Both Senator Lugar and David Beckmann took the opportunity to discuss the importance of – and urgency for –reforming U.S. international food assistance. See below for excerpts from their speeches.


“I am pleased with the direction and progress achieved by Feed the Future, and applaud your emphasis on such core components as women and smallholder farmers. We will not end chronic hunger without ensuring that women and other smallholders have greater access to technology, credit, extension services, land tenure rights, advanced seeds and other components that large-scale farmers take for granted. But in the context of domestic politics, further thought must be given to improving Congressional support for the program and for global food security efforts, in general. The prospects of any unauthorized program become uncertain with the change of administrations. Moreover, we have seen in recent Congressional actions how vulnerable initiatives that benefit global food security can be. The recent step by the House of Representatives to increase the current Cargo Preference requirement on food from 50 percent to 75 percent could prevent timely food assistance from reaching millions of desperate people. It is important that the Senate remove this provision, both to preserve the lives at risk, and to avoid damage to U.S. leadership on food security.” – Senator Richard G. Lugar (Ret.)

“U.S. food aid does huge good in the world, but you all understand that we are wasting a lot of taxpayer dollars by requiring that nearly all the food come from this country and that it be shipped by a few U.S.-flag shippers. We won some reform in this year’s farm bill, but in other legislation the subsidized shippers managed to increase their subsidies. The net effect is that 1.4 million fewer people every year will receive U.S. food aid. These are among the most desperate people in the world. The House’s version of the Coast Guard bill would give these few shippers yet more money and take away food aid from another 2 million hungry people. This is outrageous, and we need to act together – right now – to roll back what Congress has done and instead achieve reform along the lines of what the President or the Royce-Engels bill have proposed. Those proposals would get food assistance to more hungry people, improve the nutritional quality of the assistance, and provide additional support to farmers in low-income countries – all at zero cost to U.S. taxpayers.” — David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World

“Feed the Future was not just the commitment of money, but of a new approach. Instead of merely providing food aid in times of crises, we were applying a new model to turn agriculture into a business—one that especially worked for women. Instead of trying to work everywhere at once, we chose partners selectively, based on their own commitments to policy reforms and willingness to invest in agriculture. In fact, since 2010, we have phased out agricultural programs in more than 30 countries to focus on just 19 where we can have the biggest impact. Four years later, I am proud to join you today to launch the 2014 Feed the Future Progress Report that delivers on the President’s commitment to the world.” — USAID Administrator Raj Shah

MFAN Event: Accountability & Ownership: The Way Forward for U.S. Foreign Assistance

May 21st, 2014
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Please join the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) for a discussion on how the Administration
and Congress can advance the effectiveness of U.S. foreign assistance through
targeted action in the areas of Accountability and Country Ownership.

Thursday, May 29, 2014, 10:00 – 11:30 am
The Polaris Room of the Ronald Reagan Building
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004

Opening Remarks by

The Honorable Jim Kolbe
Former U.S. Congressman and Senior Transatlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund

Followed by presentations from

Samantha Custer, Director of Communications and Policy Outreach
Dina Abdel-Fattah, Project Manager
who will share a simulation of their innovative work geocoding development programs across
the globe


Publish What You Fund
Sally Paxton, U.S. Representative
who will explore how best to publish aid information to the Foreign Assistance Dashboard and
IATI Registry as the U.S. works to fulfill its commitments to transparency and open data

Concluding with a panel discussion featuring

Sheila Herrling, Vice President for Policy and Evaluation, Millennium Challenge Corporation
Tony Pipa, Deputy Assistant to the Administrator for Policy, Planning and Learning, U.S. Agency for International Development
Asif Shaikh, Senior Adviser, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Ritu Sharma, Co-Founder & President, Women Thrive Worldwide

Moderated by
George Ingram, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution

Please RSVP to Jill MacArthur, or 202-776-1586.

A Framework for the Future – putting an end to extreme poverty for good

April 29th, 2014
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See below for a guest post from MFAN partner Save the Children.


2015 could be a momentous year in human history. It could be the year that governments across the world put a deadline on their longstanding commitment to end extreme poverty, agreeing on a new global development framework to ensure that no child dies unnecessarily, every child gets a quality education, and every child is protected from violence.

Since they were agreed at the turn of the century, the Millennium Development Goals have provided an international road map for the global fight against poverty, helping to spur significant breakthroughs for children. Compared to 1990, 14,000 fewer children die every day, and 50 million more children are now in primary school. 700 million fewer people live in absolute poverty.

This progress is incredible, and has brought us to a critical juncture. For the first time ever, an end to extreme poverty is in sight. The new post-2015 framework must therefore take the global fight against poverty to the next level, finishing the job that the MDGs started. It must be bold, inspiring and ambitious, galvanising the international community to take focused and coordinated action to end extreme poverty. The aim must be to ensure that every single child has the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential in life – no one must be left behind.

This week, Save the Children is launching a new report, Framework for the Future, presenting our vision of a framework that would be capable of bringing these aims to fruition. Our proposals include twelve concrete goals with associated targets that, if achieved, would see an end to extreme poverty within a generation.

The goals are feasible but ambitious. As we have demonstrated through previous research, they won’t be achieved unless the international community steps up in the fight against poverty – tackling persistent inequalities that are trapping children in poverty, boosting government accountability, and building fair and robust global partnerships for development. And, importantly, the new framework must integrate human development with environmental sustainability. If we continue to diminish the world’s natural resources at current rates, we run the risk of reversing the achievements of recent decades and plunging millions back into poverty.

To support international progress toward faster and more sustainable development pathways, we offer a number of innovative measures in our proposed framework. These include:

• Interim ‘stepping stone’ targets to ensure that goals are pursued by reaching those who are furthest behind first, and that gaps between the world’s haves and have-nots are closing.
• The criterion that no target is met unless met for all – rich and poor, advantaged and disadvantaged alike – a proposal first put forward by the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on the post-2015 agenda last year.
• Measures to promote an integrated approach to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development, including ‘target links’ to harness synergies and highlight the interconnectedness of the goals.

Framework for the Future develops and refines the original proposals that Save the Children put forward in January 2013 at a time when the post-2015 process was just gaining momentum. We’re now presenting this updated edition at a critical juncture in the post-2015 process, as the international Open Working Group, with a mandate from the UN General Assembly, is shaping its recommendations for the new framework. These recommendations could be pivotal in determining whether the new framework is fit for purpose, capable of inspiring and uniting the international community.

As the contours of the new framework start to take shape, governments must keep levels of ambition high. Now is the time for bold and visionary leadership to build a strong framework for the future – one that is capable of ending extreme poverty for good.