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President Obama’s Economic Strategy for Africa: Aid-Plus but Will It Last?

August 7th, 2012
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See below for a guest post from MFAN partner Sarah Jane Staats, director of the Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance Project at the Center for Global Development. This post originally appeared on the CGD blog.

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The United States’ strategy towards Africa has shifted from “how much aid” to how to attract trade and investment, said White House Deputy National Security Advisor Michael Froman in a major speech (see video below) at the Center for Global Development this week. The standing-room only crowd seemed to welcome the emphasis on aid-plus, or more than aid approaches in Sub-Saharan Africa. CGD President Nancy Birdsall praised the administration’s “excellent vision” around the tough issues of economic growth and equal opportunity. The strategy does a great job of capturing the Obama administration’s efforts over the last three and a half years. But forecasting whether more of the vision (and which parts) can become reality in the remainder of this US presidential term and beyond will be difficult.

Froman, just back from leading a ten-day trip to Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Nigeria began his CGD remarks with a refresher on the Obama administration’s efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa: President Obama’s 2009 speech in Ghana, food security and child survival commitments, the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, and the White House-led Partnership for Growth effort in Ghana and Tanzania.

In his remarks, Froman focused on economic growth, trade and investment (one of four pillars in the administration’s new strategy towards Africa and the result of a presidential policy directive that presumably replaces National Security Presidential Directive 50 signed in 2006 by President Bush). Froman spoke of the difference in the US government’s approach to the region from when he traveled to Africa as a Treasury official nearly fifteen years ago. “If there is one way to summarize the change, it is that the focus has shifted from how much aid will be provided to how best to create the enabling environment for the trade and investment necessary to drive broad-based economic growth—the only true path toward development,” he argued.

CGD President Nancy Birdsall encouraged event attendees to disseminate the “really good vision” embodied in Froman’s remarks, “that development is about more than assistance, it includes assistance of course, but fundamentally it’s about growth, equal opportunity, governance—the tough issues.”  She added her hope that members of the development community will follow the implementation of that vision “independent of what happens in our own elections this fall.” (Birdsall also encouraged Froman to consider two additional development approaches: payments for measured progress against reductions in transit times akin to the Cash on Delivery Aid idea, or direct cash payments–from developing country governments to their citizens–for oil revenues as explained in CGD’s Oil2Cash initiative.)

It’s great to hear more about the Obama administration’s aid-plus efforts towards Africa from a senior White House official, especially given the expectations that a President Obama would do much in the region. And while the move beyond just aid has been a long time coming, it’s good to see it still going in that direction.  I agree with Nancy Birdsall that the focus now shifts to implementation. But I am perhaps a bit more worried about how much time is left in this presidential term to make the good vision a reality, and what happens next.

Here are a few bright spots:

  • The FY13 budget reflects the strategy’s food security and child survival priorities.
  • The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, led by USAID, brokers regulatory and policy reforms to attract private investment.
  • The House and Senate passed versions of a bill (HR 5986 and S 3326) yesterday that extend some African trade preferences under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (and adds South Sudan to the list of countries eligible for AGOA).

But there are some clouds:

  • The House and Senate have already passed a six-month continuing resolution, acknowledging that they won’t make any real progress on the FY13 budget before the fiscal year begins on October 1st.  (For more on the budget, check out USGLC’s excellent new Budget Watch.)
  • We’re still waiting for evidence that the policy and regulatory reforms in the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition take place and that the private sector investments follow. (I’m hoping if I’ve missed something, readers will point me to evidence this is underway!)
  • The good vision isn’t codified or supported by a bipartisan Congress in contrast, for example, to the Millennium Challenge Corporation and President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief created during the Bush administration. (And while it’s a good thing this administration hasn’t set up new agencies–like the MCC and PEPFAR–that would add to the fragmentation and proliferation of aid agencies, the good vision without a clear home can more easily be washed away.)

My hope is that the bright spots and work underway will keep moving the good vision to reality, and that the reality of US politics won’t get in the way. Ideally, the good vision is strong enough to outlive a change in personnel (which will happen even in a second Obama administration) or a total change in administration.

Fall 2012 Interns — Apply Now!

August 6th, 2012
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The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) – a coalition of foreign policy experts, international development practitioners, and NGOs dedicated to effective foreign assistance programs – is seeking a motivated intern for the fall. MFAN’s learning internships offer an opportunity to explore the nuances of foreign aid reform and U.S. government advocacy. Internships are unpaid but include a travel stipend.

Intern duties will include:

  • Attending congressional hearings and community events, and providing summaries to MFAN staff
  • Tracking relevant news stories and partner publications
  • Assisting with event planning
  • Data entry and other administrative and support duties as needed

Interns will gain:

  • Exposure to international development and foreign assistance reform
  • Knowledge of U.S. government affairs and processes
  • Relationships within the NGO community

Qualifications:

  • Rising junior or higher in college
  • Background or demonstrated interest in political science, public policy, international affairs, development, or related field
  • Experience in an administrative setting
  • Ability to work independently
  • Courteous, professional demeanor
  • Eagerness to learn and help

Interested candidates can submit their resumes and cover letters to Amy Polglase at apolglase@modernizeaid.net.

 

MFAN Statement: Chabot-Isakson Bill Highlights Critical Role of Private Sector in Effective Development

August 2nd, 2012
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August 2, 2012 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs David Beckmann, George Ingram and Jim Kolbe:

MFAN applauds Representative Steve Chabot (R-OH) for introducing H.R. 6178, which calls for the U.S. government to establish a more effective working relationship with private sector companies that are making critical investments in alleviating poverty, fighting disease, and bolstering economic growth in developing countries. The bill already has bipartisan cosponsors in the House, and companion Senate legislation (S.3495), introduced by Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), has gained support from members of both parties as well.

Both the Obama Administration and the George W. Bush Administration have made positive changes in U.S. global development policy to leverage the private sector’s expertise, resources, and reach, but more needs to be done to fully realize the promise of a closer and better coordinated partnership. Congressman Chabot’s bill drives significant progress by calling for the establishment of a centralized point of contact for companies that are working on development issues, while also mandating more consistent engagement on the ground in emerging markets. These steps would remedy problems of coordination and communication that have existed for decades.

At a time of economic challenges when funding from many donor countries is stagnant, we must establish a stronger partnership on development with the private sector. We look forward to working with Congressman Chabot, Senator Isakson, and other supporters to successfully pass the House and Senate bills.

 

Women Thrive’s IPR Fact Sheet

July 30th, 2012
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Back in May, our partner Women Thrive Worldwide hosted a gender roundtable on the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) implementation and procurement reform (IPR) agenda. What came out of that meeting is a smart one-pager—or fact sheet—that explains why IPR is central to building capacity and ensuring development solutions are country-led. “All Development is Local: Making U.S. Assistance Work for Women” provides recommendations about how these reform efforts can meet the needs and garner the expertise of local communities, both women and men, around the world.

Thrive’s recommendations include:

  • Work with a broad range of local actors. Specifically, Thrive hopes that USAID “conducts meaningful consultations with a variety of stakeholders before project planning begins.”
  • Facilitate an enabling environment for local NGOs to engage in development.
  • Offer alternative grant models, such as multi-year grants, small grants for small organizations, and umbrella grant models.
  • Improve transparency by identifying all implementing partners, grant and sub-grant recipients, as appropriate, and making selection processes competitive and transparent.
  • Do no harm. Thrive writes, “It is critical that development interventions are informed by the local context and avoid causing harm to the very people they are intended to protect.”

MFAN agrees that it is important to bring all stakeholders into the planning process early. To read more of MFAN’s recommendations to ensure sustainable, country-led development, click here.

 

Mark Your Calendars — Week of July 30

July 27th, 2012
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Every Thursday, MFAN will post a list of upcoming events for the following week. For more information about each event and to RSVP, click on the links below. If your organization is hosting an event next week and you don’t see yourself on the list, please email info@modernizeaid.net.

See below for a list of MFAN Partner events: