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Posts Tagged ‘foreign aid reform’

MFAN Statement: USAID Administrator’s Tough Speech Heralds New Development Business Model

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011
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Raj Shah

MFAN Statement: USAID Administrator’s Tough Speech Heralds New Development Business Model

January 19, 2010 (WASHINGTON)This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chair David Beckmann:

In an extraordinary and hard-hitting speech today, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Raj Shah laid out the clear progress that is being made in changing the U.S. approach to development and reforming his agency, which has been a target of strong criticism in recent years.  The reform agenda is essential and timely, because helping struggling people build livelihoods and escape poverty has never been more critical to our success in battling extremism, opening new markets for U.S. products, and strengthening America’s allies around the world.

Administrator Shah’s message was unmistakable: America needs to take a more business-like approach to development, and everyone involved in the enterprise must be more focused on results and hold themselves to a higher standard of accountability.  While emphasizing that development “is as critical to our economic prospects and our national security as diplomacy and defense,” he explained that these reforms “are not trying to build an updated version of a traditional aid agency… we are seeking to build something greater: a modern development enterprise.”

He hammered home this message and echoed President Obama’s vision for development with perhaps the most important idea in the speech: that over time, our foreign assistance will create “efficient local governments, thriving civil societies and vibrant private sectors,” thereby making countries more accountable to their citizens while helping them “graduate” from U.S. assistance.  Administrator Shah also helped put the issue in context for the American people, noting that our long-term competiveness and global leadership is contingent on how well we reach and sell products to the world’s fastest growing economies in places like Africa.  Development is a key ingredient to helping these markets stabilize and grow, when used effectively in tandem with diplomacy and trade, among other things.

We were pleased that Administrator Shah did more than simply reiterate a vision in his speech; he actually detailed the steps that USAID will take by:

  • Making sustainable economic growth and empowered local citizens core goals across all USAID development efforts;
  • Moving to save hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years by consolidating staffing, administrative, and program management activities globally;
  • Accelerating negotiations to graduate as many as seven countries from U.S. assistance by 2015;
  • Creating a new evaluation framework that will help USAID make decisions on what programs to continue, while also communicating results to the American people through the new USAID Dashboard;
  • Unveiling a new procurement system that will increase competitiveness; and
  • Establishing a new taskforce to prevent waste, fraud and corruption.

Taken together, these reforms will bring U.S. development efforts firmly into the 21st-century and help strengthen USAID as the effective leader of those efforts.  We urge Administrator Shah to remain laser-focused on this reform agenda, including by reaching out to bipartisan Members of Congress to develop legislation that will enshrine this new development business model in law in order to drive long-term results.

For additional information, please contact Sam Hiersteiner at 202-295-0171 or

From Paper to Product: Key Benchmarks for Effectively Implementing the President’s Development Policy

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010
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obama-signs-billWith his speech laying out a new U.S. approach to development at September’s UN Millennium Development Goals Summit, President Obama has outlined a future in which development serves as a core pillar of U.S. foreign policy, delivering greater results for people in poverty around the world and for U.S. taxpayers.  The President’s policy provides a long-overdue roadmap for more strategic, effective, accountable U.S. foreign assistance, and puts forward a mechanism for regularly refreshing our development approach through the establishment of a U.S. Global Development Strategy.

As with most ambitious policy pronouncements, the true test will come with implementation.  We are pleased to see explicit mention of the President’s commitment to “working closely with Congress to establish a shared vision of the way forward on global development,” including a desire to be given more flexibility for funding allocations in exchange for greater accountability to Congress.  It is now time to delineate a clear mechanism for doing so.  MFAN continues to believe that the only durable vehicle for this “grand bargain” is new legislation to replace the outmoded Foreign Assistance Act, now 50 years old and trapped in the Cold-War era.  This bargain should reflect a shared vision of the management of U.S. foreign assistance and a balance between granting the Executive Branch authorities that it needs to respond to a rapidly changing world and securing the rightful role of the Congress as a partner in setting national priorities and ensuring accountability to American taxpayers, with special emphasis on poverty reduction and economic growth, greater transparency and effectiveness, a strengthened development agency, and greater participation by civil society in developing countries.  Done purposefully, inclusively, and transparently, a modern, up-to-date legislative framework that reflects current global realities and challenges would reestablish confidence in foreign assistance as an indispensible aspect of the U.S. approach to global development and foreign policy at a time of constrained budgets.


MFAN Principal Talks about the Future of Foreign Aid in Devex

Monday, December 13th, 2010
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Noam UngerAs part of Devex’s 40 Under 40 Development Leaders in DC, the outlet featured MFAN Principal and Brookings Institution Fellow and Director of the Foreign Assistance Project Noam Unger. In the interview, Unger discusses new trends in foreign assistance incorporated into the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development, the forthcoming Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), and USAID Forward reforms; examples of these trends include a focus on development outcomes and partnership and coordination across sectors. The piece recognizes Unger’s work in the development community, including with MFAN. Read the full piece here and see excerpts below:

“Fundamentally, revamping the U.S. system for supporting development outcomes is important to me because it presents a real opportunity to help poor people globally who stand to gain from improved efforts by the world’s largest aid donor,” he said. “The U.S. public will also benefit from smarter global development policies and a more effective foreign assistance system that advances American values, economic interests and security.”

“A good leader in this field,” said Unger, “understands the complexity of development politics, policies and operations, and applies that knowledge and experience to navigate the inherent challenges, influence key stakeholders, and deliver results.”

Chairman Berman Says It’s Time to Finish Foreign Aid Reform

Thursday, December 9th, 2010
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In a new piece in The Washington Times, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) calls for Congress and the Administration to complete and institutionalize their work to make foreign aid programs “more effective, more efficient and more accountable.”

HCFA_April 222009_042209 Hillary and BermanBerman applauds the initiative of the Obama Administration in pursuing two separate reviews of foreign assistance – the Presidential Study Directive that produced America’s first-ever government-wide global development policy, and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) led by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development that is due out next week.  He cautions, however, that the “real challenge…will be to use the results of this review to implement meaningful reforms with lasting impact.” He goes on to say, “That’s where Congress comes in.”

The authorizing committee chairman points to his own efforts this Congress to rewrite the outdated, now 50-year old Foreign Assistance Act, and urges the both the Executive and Legislative branches of government to come together to enact “common-sense reforms.”

Here are the excerpted principles Berman lays out to ensure durable reform:

“Foreign assistance programs not only reflect American values and principles but serve as essential means for protecting U.S. economic, foreign-policy and security interests,” Berman concludes. “Only by mandating the new structures and processes in law can we establish the level of bipartisan support and executive-legislative consensus that will guard against backsliding and retrogression.”

To read the full article, click here.

Save the Children Releases Recommendations on Local Consultation and Engagement

Friday, December 3rd, 2010
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In a new policy brief called “Consultation & Participation for Local Ownership: What? Why? How?,” MFAN Partner Save the Children examines how to make the Obama Administration’s emphasis on “country ownership” a successful model for stakeholder participation in development programs.

Through two major initiatives on global food security and global health (Feed the Future and the Global Health Initiative, respectively), as well as his new global development policy, President Obama has established country-led approaches as a core principle of effective development practice, so that U.S. assistance is more responsive to recipient-country priorities.  This brief makes suggestions for how the U.S. government can best strengthen its own models of engagement and consultation, while also providing support to national governments and civil societies “to make their own processes more inclusive, more fully owned, and ongoing rather than one-off.”  As Save points out, “When done well, wide stakeholder consultation and participation in program design and implementation lead to mutually reinforcing benefits, encouraging the local ownership of development resources and activities.”  These benefits include increased sustainability, better targeting of resources, and greater accountability among all stakeholders.

logo_stcSpecifically, Save suggests three overarching strategies to facilitate effective and meaningful engagements with local governments and citizens:

  • Tailor participatory requirements to country-specific contexts;
  • Give equal emphasis to both the quality and quantity of engagement; and
  • Equip U.S. policies and bureaucratic structures with adequate country-level flexibility.

According to the brief, minimum standards for engagement “should not be overly prescriptive.”  Guidelines should instead allow for U.S. government personnel and other in-country experts to identify opportunities for meaningful host country participation according to each country’s institutional capacity and political culture.  To do this, Save offers the following:

  • Establish levels of and approaches to engagement tailored to each country’s circumstances: The processes and approaches used by the U.S. and national governments to conduct their consultations should be selected according to the capacities and willingness of governmental and non-governmental actors.
  • Consider different modalities to institutionalize stakeholder engagement: Depending upon the capacities and willingness of host governments and nongovernmental stakeholders, there are a variety of institutional structures and modalities that can be used to promote the ongoing and quality engagement of stakeholders with each other around development policies.
  • Establish transparent selection procedures for nongovernmental representatives to improve the quality and diversity of participation: Those organizing consultations or other events to engage public stakeholders should publicize their events widely and appropriately, also actively seeking the inclusion of organizations working for the poorest and most marginalized. If the consultation process cannot be open to all, nongovernmental groups should be relied upon to select their own representatives according to a transparent system devised by themselves.

The brief also highlights bureaucratic obstacles in our foreign assistance structure to sustainable, locally-owned development, and applauds the efforts of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for undertaking reforms to address some of them in what they’ve called USAID Forward.  In addition, Save makes the following recommendations:

  • Reduce earmarks and directives on foreign assistance and increase country level flexibility to program resources: In many countries, earmarks are prohibitively high, restricting the ability to reprogram funds if circumstances change and preventing U.S. government personnel from responding to the outcomes of discussions, analysis and consultations with stakeholders.
  • Augment USAID’s staff numbers and supplement mission operating expenses: Throughout its research, Save the Children has heard the frustrations of USAID personnel about their transformation from direct practitioners of development programming to contract managers.  In countries like South Sudan where security concerns and transportation costs are burdensome on budgets, staff often felt they were overly confined to mission compounds and restricted in their interactions with beneficiary communities of U.S. assistance.

Click here to read the report and here to learn about other work by Save the Children on aid effectiveness.