October 5, 2021 (WASHINGTON) – This statement is delivered on behalf of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN) by Co-Chairs Lester Munson, Larry Nowels, and Tessie San Martin.
The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network expresses its appreciation to Chairman Castro, Vice Chair Jacobs, Ranking Member Malliotakis, and the members of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee for International Development, International Organizations and Global Corporate Social Impact for organizing a hearing on locally-led development in U.S. foreign assistance.
The goal of the hearing, entitled, “Shifting Power: Advancing Locally-Led Development and Partner Diversification in U.S. Development Programs,” was to examine ways to improve the impact and sustainability of U.S. foreign assistance programming through locally-led development and the barriers that prevent its implementation. In a bipartisan voice, subcommittee leaders noted the benefits of local ownership in implementing foreign aid to improve both outcomes and sustainability of taxpayer investments and highlighted the importance of evidence, monitoring and evaluation in measuring impact, all key reform priorities of MFAN.
The hearing’s four witnesses included the following:
1. MFAN Member and Senior Research and Policy Advisor at Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Meghan Armistead, who provided her organization’s experience in working with and investing in local partners who have transitioned to become leaders of their own projects. In her remarks, Armistead highlighted CRS’ lessons learned which encompass several of MFAN’s localization priorities including the need to invest in local capacity, to address the many enduring challenges with the mechanics of aid, and to increase aid transparency so that funding aligns with localization goals.
2. Mr. C.D. Glin, Vice President of the PepsiCo Foundation and Global Head of Philanthropy. Previously, Glin served as President and CEO of the U.S. African Development Foundation. He provided a private sector perspective of partnering with local citizens in their projects and business projects.
3. Ms. Degan Ali, Executive Director of Adeso, in Kenya; and
4. Mr. Ali Mohamed, Program Director of GREDO, in Somalia.
The latter two witnesses, who represented local NGOs, testified virtually from their offices in East Africa about their organizations’ experiences and barriers to working with USAID. All four witnesses shared common themes including the importance of working locally to ensure local engagement in a project, the need for local capacity building, and the burden that small, local organizations face in working with USAID.
“The subcommittee hearing represents an important step towards developing a better understanding of the positive results of foreign assistance programs that are locally-led, as well as the barriers to transitioning from large US-led projects to smaller, locally-led projects for greater impact. We commend the subcommittee leadership for including representatives from developing countries in the conversation,” stated Lester Munson, MFAN Co-Chair and Principal at BGR Group.
While Ms. Ali noted the inefficiencies in large USAID contracts that include layers of bureaucracy in the system, she also called attention to the difficulty that USAID staff faces in working with local partners when they are already “understaffed and overwhelmed” with their current portfolios.
“Investment in USAID staffing and training is a priority for MFAN through its annual appropriations request to Congress, and Ms. Ali highlighted the importance of addressing investment in USAID contracting officers and other staff if USAID is to achieve a greater diversification of local partners,” noted Larry Nowels, MFAN Co-Chair.
Mr. Mohamed explained that “to be effective…you need context specific knowledge and local people on the ground willing to take leadership and risk,” and that “true locally led development can happen and that it needs the willingness to trust and experiment locally driven approaches and ideas.”
“Mr. Mohamed succinctly shared why locally-led development is key to foreign aid effectiveness, and MFAN applauds the subcommittee members for their attention to this important topic and the challenges of easing U.S. government restrictions and funding burdens that prevent locally-based, grassroots organizations from becoming U.S. development partners. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress and USAID to address these challenges,” concluded Tessie San Martin, MFAN Co-Chair and CEO of FHI 360.