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Fighting global poverty with locally led strategies

September 26th, 2012
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See below for a guest blog from Matthew Pickard, Save the Children’s Malawi Country Director. This is the fifth post in our field feedback series and the second in Save’s “Aid Reform Stories from the Field” series. Click here to read a post from Save the Children in Guatemala, Women Thrive in Ghana, Oxfam America in Uganda, and Management Sciences for Health in Bolivia.


Lilongwe, Malawi

In 2008 Malita Chimwemwe was six years old living in the remote village of Mayaka. Her family was hit by chronic poverty and HIV/AIDs. Malita was in first grade at the local primary school but was speech-impaired. She was lucky; her village was part of Save the Children’s early childhood development (ECD) sponsorship program and through this program, Malita attended a community-based center where she was given speech training. Government-supported community health workers provided Malita’s family with medical assistance.

In Malawi, needs such as Malita’s are widespread. One child in eight dies before reaching five years due to poor health or nutrition. Most Malawian mothers have to carry their children on their backs for long distances to seek health care. Free primary education is offered in Malawi but face declining standards and high drop-out rates. Malawi’s government needs and welcomes donor support, but U.S. government-funded programs, including those aimed at reducing poverty, have not always aligned with Malawi’s needs at the community level.

Requirements set in Washington—such as congressional earmarks and global targets—have at times constrained the ability of the U.S. government, the national government, and partners in country to address Malawi’s community health and education needs. Over 80 percent of U.S. foreign assistance funds are directed to specific programs before they hit the country level. Pre-determined funding allocations often undermine the ability of the U.S. government and partners to provide assistance when, where, and how it is most needed.

Save the Children Malawi has been involved in a new U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) initiative that is trying to change this and better connect U.S. foreign aid decisions to local needs and priorities. As part of its “Forward Initiative,” USAID is creating a five-year Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) in Malawi to increase country-driven programming. Working closely with host country governments and citizens, civil society organizations, other donors, and U.S. government agencies, CDCSs are being developed at the majority of USAID’s country and regional missions worldwide. A goal of the CDCS process is to actively take into account the rights and interests of the country’s citizens. In Malawi, this means a greater sensitivity to the development needs of citizens at the community level, positively impacting more vulnerable children like Malita. Seventeen CDCSs have been approved so far, with a total of 73 expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

Community consultation is not new to USAID, but what’s different about the CDCS process in Malawi has been the depth and reach of these consultations. For example, earlier this year, USAID partnered with the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College to convene citizen groups across the country at the national, district, and village level in order to capture the voices of a wide range of people. This process is also expected to inform the government of Malawi’s own programs, policies, and services leading to better country-driven development over the long-term.

The CDCS process in Malawi is still underway. If the initiative moves ahead as planned, and the people’s voices are listened to, U.S. development budgets and resource allocations in Malawi will be driven more by localized strategies and plans developed by Malawi’s citizens than by a top-down approach out of Washington. This is not just a matter of principle, but of impact. When local communities and governments have a sense of ownership over development, they invest their own energy and resources to make it successful.

For the CDCS process to accomplish its purpose, CDCS consultations should be broad and deep in all countries and involve communities, government, and other development stakeholders. USAID missions in the other countries must create opportunities for genuine engagement at the community level and potential for influencing national government priorities—as in Malawi.

Aligning the U.S. government’s poverty reduction and community development efforts with the needs and priorities of Malawi’s citizens will lead to better futures for not only thousands of children like Malita, but for the nation as a whole.

In 2008 a Malawi government official said, “If each country was given a chance to really prioritize what it wants, then we could make a difference in poverty”. With this new U.S. government strategic planning and budgeting approach, Malita Chimwemwe and other citizens in Malawi may have a greater voice in their fight against poverty. Today, as Malita moves to grade four, she can look at her future with more hope and confidence that her voice and that of her community will be heard.

Photo credit: MacPherson Mdalla


Mark Your Calendars — Week of September 24

September 20th, 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 See below for a list of MFAN Partner events:

MFAN Statement: Development Must Play a Larger Role in QDDR Legislation

September 19th, 2012
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September 19, 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 the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for taking the first step toward enshrining the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) into law through the passage of S. 3341. However, we remain concerned that the QDDR, while a valuable exercise in determining the scope and trajectory of U.S. diplomacy and development efforts, fails to give the USAID Administrator a clearly defined leadership role in shaping the development portfolio. We understand that the Secretary has the ultimate authority over the QDDR, but failing to give a co-equal voice to what the President Policy Directive on Global Development refers to as “the U.S. government’s lead development agency” will undermine the goals set forth in the bill and walk back any gains made in elevating the role of development.

In its first iteration released in December 2010, the QDDR strengthened development as a core pillar of U.S. foreign policy; put development experts in the lead of marquee Obama Administration initiatives; sought to improve monitoring, evaluation, and transparency; and emphasized country ownership as a cornerstone of the U.S. approach to development. Critically, the USAID Administrator served as a co-chair of the review, ensuring that development concerns would have a voice in the dialogue shaping U.S. policy. The Administrator’s absence from S. 3341 sets a troubling precedent for future reviews.

Specifically, MFAN calls for:

  • USAID Administrator to serve as co-chair for the process;
  • The State Department and USAID to consult with other relevant development agencies to ensure a comprehensive assessment of USG development policy; and
  • A joint State-USAID office for the QDDR, rather than an office solely at State to reflect both components of the review.

While S. 3341 rightly seeks to codify a review of U.S. diplomacy and development programs every four years, the lack of emphasis on a strong and independent development voice implies backsliding in our prioritization of U.S. development efforts. The QDDR’s important assertion that “diplomacy and development must be mutually reinforcing” is not well served by the legislation in its current form.


MFAN Statement: Lugar-Rubio Bill Signals Commitment to More Transparent, Accountable Foreign Assistance

September 19th, 2012
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September 19, 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:

In a period of intense political polarization, MFAN is pleased that members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee came together to pass The Foreign Assistance Transparency and Accountability Act of 2012 (S. 3310) earlier today. This bipartisan legislation demonstrates broad agreement that the U.S. has an important role to play overseas and that we can drive better development outcomes with these critical reforms.

S. 3310 was introduced by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking (SFRC) Member Richard Lugar (R-IN), with the support of SFRC member Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), as a companion measure to H.R. 3159, a bipartisan bill introduced by Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX) and Howard Berman (D-CA) that has garnered 55 cosponsors in the House. Both bills would improve the overall transparency of and accountability for U.S. foreign assistance by establishing a common standard for measuring the performance of programs across every federal agency that administers foreign aid and ensuring that such evaluations and reports are made publicly available to American taxpayers.

S. 3310 builds on bipartisan legislation sponsored by SFRC Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and Ranking Member Lugar in the 111th Congress (S. 1524)—and approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—that sought to increase the accountability and transparency of U.S. foreign assistance. It also reinforces important efforts by the Obama Administration to improve aid transparency, including creating the Foreign Assistance Dashboard to collect comprehensive reporting from each agency engaged in overseas development.

The U.S. approach to development must be a partnership between the executive and legislative branches, and we believe the passage of S. 3310 in SFRC is a strong indication of greater cooperation in the months and years to come. We urge the full Senate to approve this bill before the end of the 112th Congress and look forward to working with members of both the House and Senate on its passage.


New ONE Campaign Takes on Malnutrition

September 17th, 2012
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On September 13, ONE kicked off a new campaign aimed at reducing chronic childhood malnutrition. The campaign—which will run through World Food Day in 2013—calls on world leaders to agree to a commitment that would reduce malnutrition for 25 million children by 2016. It is estimated that a billion people suffer from chronic malnutrition and more than three and a half million children will die this year as a result.

The star of ONE’s campaign is the sweet potato. Why? As Roxane Philson, ONE’s global creative director, explains, sweet potatoes “have the power (or shall we say “superpower” since we’re talking about heroes, here) to provide much-needed nutrients like vitamins C, A and B6 to undernourished children, helping to avert stunting and ensuring proper growth. On top of that, sweet potatoes are relatively cheap to produce and easy to grow in uncertain conditions, perfect for regions prone to drought and famine.”

Here is how you can get involved:

The first major day of action is World Food Day, October 16, 2012. Stay tuned as the campaign unfolds!