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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.

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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.

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“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

AidData
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

And

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

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Please RSVP to Jill MacArthur, jmacarthur@modernizeaid.net 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.

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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.

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).