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USAID’s January Frontlines

FrontLinesRead the latest edition of USAID’s premier publication, FrontLines for these stories:

A farmer in Balochistan, Pakistan, displays wheat affected by wheat stem rust, a disease that can destroy a significant amount of crops. USAID is working in the agriculture sector here and in other parts of Pakistan to prevent the damage caused by the rust. Photo credit: USAID

Read these stories and more in the new issue of FrontLines. If you would like to automatically receive FrontLines every month, you can subscribe here.

In the News (1/18/2011–1/21/2011)

January 18: In a profile piece, The Washington Post highlighted the work of a senior USAID official and his experience in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Burma. The USAID employee stated that he has been “very fortunate to have worked on important foreign policy priorities.”

January 20: In an interview with Reuters, USAID Administrator Shah said he plans to cut millions as the Administration looks to make budget cuts and as the agency seeks to restructure itself. Dr. Shah argued that administrative changes save about $65 million in operating expenses, and added, “We’re actually embarking on perhaps the most aggressive operational reform of a major federal bureaucracy. If we get the support for it, we will save American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over time.”

January 21: UK’s The Guardian newspaper reported that in a major speech given on January 19, USAID Administrator Shah stated that the agency plans on cutting costs and becoming more business-like in an effort to gain public and congressional support for US foreign assistance.

Moving the Business of Development Forward

Guest post from Sara Messer of ONE. Originally posted on The ONE Blog

Sara Messer, ONE’s policy manager for aid effectiveness, had a chance to speak to USAID Administrator Raj Shah about a few new changes at the agency and how ONE members can help. Watch her exclusive interview in the video below.

During an exciting and provocative speech hosted by the Center for Global Development yesterday, (watch the full speech here), USAID Administrator Raj Shah explained how his agency is transforming into a “modern development enterprise.”

Last year, USAID unveiled a slew of reforms, labeled USAID FORWARD, that fundamentally change the way the agency works in order to become “more efficient, more effective and more business-like.” Mr. Shah has already begun implementing many of these reforms, which include a renewed focus on results through stringent evaluations, a change in business and procurement practices to gain efficiency, and a spotlight on science and innovation to create better, more cost-effective development tools.

What is prompting all of these changes? Now more than ever, many realize that development is not just an idealized notion, but “is as critical to our economic prospects and our national security as diplomacy and defense.” At a time when every government agency and program is under scrutiny for their effectiveness and cost savings, Mr. Shah made a compelling case for the continued support of USAID’s mandate. By promoting and supporting economic growth and good governance in developing countries, the US is creating new markets for our exports, strengthening valuable partners in the fight against extremism, and promoting American values of generosity and goodwill. The US cannot afford NOT to lead the way in responsible and accountable global development.

How will this happen? To fulfill this obligation, Mr. Shah announced a number of even newer changes that USAID is making to its workforce, its strategy and its implementation plans.

  • To be accountable to both taxpayers and beneficiaries, USAID is rolling out a new evaluation process conducted by independent evaluators and measured against baseline data with results published within three months on the new USAID Dashboard.
  • To ensure the successful implementation of reforms and signature initiatives like Feed the Future and Global Health, USAID will continue to strengthen its staff and skill-sets, including an increase in mid-level hiring to bring in more qualified technical expertise.
  • To improve efficacy and impact, USAID is making tough decisions on resource allocations, planning to scale back or close missions in countries that are graduating as aid recipients and focusing resources on “critical” regions where needs are greater and impact can be maximized.
  • And finally, to improve efficiency and save costs, USAID is reforming its contract and implementation processes. Administrator Shah was firm in his resolve to demand real accountability from partners and contractors with which USAID works, to increase competitiveness and to fund more local NGOs and entrepreneurs that will ensure sustainability of development investments in the long-term.

Perhaps most telling was Mr. Shah’s recognition that the business of development is to put itself out of business. He acknowledged that “we must seek to do our work in a way that allows us to be replaced over time by efficient local governments, thriving civil societies and vibrant private sectors.” As USAID celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, we all look forward to a future 50 years from now when the agency will have fulfilled its mandate and is no longer necessary.

Week 9: The Modern Development Enterprise

50th anniversary logo

Today, USAID is fundamentally changing—becoming more efficient, effective, and businesslike—which ultimately helps our investment dollars go further.

Our effort to transform how development is delivered reflects the beliefs of the President and the Secretaries of State, Treasury and Defense: development is as critical to our economic prospects and our national security as diplomacy and defense.

We have an obligation to make sure our reform efforts go beyond building an updated version of an aid agency. We are seeking to build something greater—the world’s first modern development enterprise.

Executing a Clear and Focused Strategy. Like an enterprise, we are developing and executing innovative and focused strategies across our areas of excellence.

We recognize the enormous development progress the world has made in recent decades. But we also realize that more has to be done, and more of the same will not be enough. We must embrace a spirit of innovation to change the way we work.

  • Food Security. Instead of merely providing food aid in times of emergency, we are helping countries develop their own agricultural sectors so they can feed themselves.
  • Global Health. We will transition away from a scattered approach that fights individual diseases one at a time; we are pursuing an integrated approach that will generate efficiencies and strengthen health systems.
  • Disaster and Crisis Response. Based on lessons learned in Haiti and Pakistan, we’re reforming our approach to disaster assistance to speed the time between response, recovery and long-term development.
  • Economic Growth. We are rejecting the traditional assumption that a series of development projects alone will lead to growth and are instead developing partnerships for growth with countries committed to enabling private sector investment.

 

  • Democracy & Governance. Instead of merely paying to hold elections, we are now funding new open government technologies to quickly and significantly increase transparency, so citizens can hold their own governments accountable.

We are bringing a similar spirit of innovation, science, technology and strategic thinking to areas such as education, water, and climate. In each of these core areas, we have already or will soon release comprehensive strategies that detail how we can achieve development gains faster, more sustainably, and at lower cost so more people can benefit.

Measuring and Evaluating Our Work. Like an enterprise, we are relentlessly focused on delivering results and learning from failures. USAID used to be the world leader in development evaluation, but we have fallen from that distinction.

We are working to ensure we’re spending American taxpayer money in the most responsible way possible. To help meet this goal, we’ve introduced an evaluation policy that will set a new standard in development. This policy includes:

  • Independent third-party evaluation of major projects;

 

  • Baseline data collection and study designs to measure our actual impact in the field; and

 

  • Public release of evaluations within three months, whether they indicate success or failure.

Delivering Shareholder Value. Like an enterprise, we are focused on delivering the highest possible value to our shareholders—the American people and the Congressional leaders who represent them.

We have created a suspension and debarment taskforce to monitor, investigate, and respond to suspicious behavior among our contractors and partners.

We will also deliver savings by reducing our footprint in countries where development successes have created the conditions where American assistance is frankly no longer necessary. By 2015, we believe USAID can graduate away from assistance in at least seven countries, starting with Montenegro in 2012.

Serving Our Customers. Like an enterprise, we are listening to and improving the way we serve our customers—in our case, the people of the developing world.

We seek to do our work in a way that allows us to be replaced over time by efficient local governments, thriving civil societies and vibrant private sectors. We have launched aggressive procurement and contracting reforms, and to improve competition, we’ve announced that no contract extensions in excess of $5 million will be non-competitively granted without the personal clearance of the USAID Administrator.

As USAID approaches its 50th anniversary this year, we are reflecting upon about the ultimate benefits we’re delivering. We’re not only helping the people we serve, we’re creating jobs for Americans, helping keep us safe at home, and reflecting our core American values.

We create economic opportunity by helping develop strong trade partnerships in countries that will be the growing markets of tomorrow—relationships that create jobs here at home.

We keep America safe by playing a direct role in national security—working directly with the military to help stabilize volatile regions like Afghanistan and Pakistan, or preventing conflict in Southern Sudan.

And our work reflects our American values—working with students, families and communities of faith to address the needs of the developing world.

Ultimately, creating the modern development enterprise will help advance prosperity and security both in the developing countries that need it most, and within our own borders. This reflects the beliefs of both President Obama and Secretary Clinton—that together we have the power to create the world we seek if we have the courage to embrace the opportunity.

Now is the time to invest in USAID’s capabilities, so we see the day when our assistance is no longer necessary.

If you missed the speech, you can see it here.

Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. with a Day of Service

On MLK day a number of USAID employees decided to heed the President and First Lady’s call to a day of service and got out and help volunteer with local organizations.

The Administrator and a team went to a service event hosted by the Youth Services Opportunity Project at the Church of the Epiphany in Northwest DC.  They got on their aprons and helped to bake lasagna, make salad, and serve iced tea and lemonade followed by ice cream and cupcakes to about 40 homeless individuals.

The Administrator, his son and USAID staff help serve food at Church of the Epiphany. Photo Credit: YSOP

The Deputy Administrator worked with his team to clean up part of the Potomac river – removing old bicycles, tvs, chairs and multiple broken bottles – while filling in potholes in under 30 degree weather.

There was a group that went to Takoma Educational Center in Columbia Heights, to help refurbish the school which had been horrifically damaged in a fire – that had caused the kids to double-up on classrooms and look at empty blackened walls. The USAID team chose to paint an underwater themed mural (believe it or not some budding artists work at AID – who can draw phenomenal sea creatures) in order to brighten up the classroom for the second graders.

Even though we were all only taking a day out of our lives to work at these organizations, I am sure a number of us will be going back –But we’re reminded that employees at USAID do this at a much greater scale everyday – helping countries to avoid hunger by working on strategies for food security, “cleaning” up the environment through interagency councils working on water coordination and climate development, and rebuilding education for those in need.

Our policies and missions require that every day is a day of service. We want to thank the employees at USAID for what they do – every day.

Happy Martin Luther King day!

Supporting U.S. Global Development Objectives through Private Sector Partnerships

By: Matthew Corso, USAID

USAID recently released the 2011 Global Development Alliance (GDA) Annual Program Statement (APS).  The 2011 GDA APS captures and conveys the Administration’s commitment to partnering with the private sector in support of U.S. global development objectives.

The intention for this APS is to encourage conversations between the private sector and USAID that may produce innovative, sustainable partnerships around the world to meet both business goals and USAID development objectives.  Since 2001, USAID has cultivated over a 1,000 public-private alliances with over 3,000 individual partners contributing billions of dollars in combined public-private resources in most of the 90 countries in which USAID operates.  In fact, on average, every dollar USAID commits to partnerships leverages nearly three and half private sector dollars – a significant return on taxpayer’s investment in a time of tight budgets.

USAID is committed to continuing to improve the ways in which we implement our foreign assistance mandate through broader collaboration with new partners.  No longer are governments, international organizations, and multilateral development banks the only assistance donors.  The U.S. Government recognizes an exciting opportunity to enhance the impact of its development assistance by improving and extending collaboration with a range of private sector partners, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), private voluntary organizations (PVOs), cooperatives, faith-based organizations, foundations, corporations, financial institutions, the higher education community, and even individuals (including remittances from Diaspora communities).

Potential alliance partners are expected to bring significant new resources, ideas, technologies, and/or local partners to address significant development challenges in the countries in which USAID is currently working.  Innovative GDAs in support of Agency-wide initiatives such as food security and nutrition, global health, global climate change, water, science and technology and innovation are especially encouraged.

USAID has much to offer to its partners, with its unique mandate within the U.S. Government and long-term experience with, and access to, host-country governments and economies. The Agency is able to capitalize on its extensive field presence and network of local development partners and technical expertise to convene, catalyze, integrate, coordinate, promote, facilitate and invest in public-private alliances. However, such alliances have the potential for not only mobilizing additional resources for development worldwide, but also promoting greater effectiveness and impact on the problems of poverty, disease, and inadequate education, depletion of natural resources, crime, and limited economic opportunity throughout the developing world.

USAID’s Evaluation Policy: Setting the Standard

By: Ruth Levine, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau of Policy, Planning and Learning

In a major address today, Dr. Shah will announce USAID’s new evaluation policy, evidence of the renewed emphasis the Agency is placing on evaluation, measuring and documenting program achievements and shortcomings, and generating data on what works to drive decision-making.

The policy marks a significant change from current practice, yet builds on the Agency’s long and innovative history with evaluation.  It seeks to redress the decline in the quantity and quality of USAID’s recent evaluation practice.

And it is my pleasure to offer you a sneak peek. Key points include:

1.       Defining impact evaluation and performance evaluation and requiring at least one performance evaluation for each major program and any untested and innovative interventions, and encouraging impact evaluation for each major development objective in a country program, especially for new or untested approaches and interventions:

2.       Calling for evaluation to be integrated into programs when they are designed;

3.       Requiring sufficient resources be dedicated to evaluation, estimated at approximately three percent of total program dollars;

4.       Requiring that evaluations use methods, whether qualitative or quantitative, that generate the highest quality evidence linked to the evaluation questions and that can reasonably be expected to be reproducible, yielding similar findings if applied by a different team of qualified evaluators;

5.       Building local capacity by including local evaluators on evaluation teams and supporting partner government and civil society capacity to undertake evaluations; and

6.       Insisting on transparency of findings with the presumption of full and active disclosure barring principled and rare exceptions.

This policy – which you will find here – sets a new standard for evaluation practice. Thank you to those who informed its development. Watch this space for updates on how the Agency implements its renewed commitment to evaluation.

In the News: 1/10/2011–1/14/2011

January 11: The Washington Post published a story that while many lives were saved after the Haiti earthquake, one year later, many Haitians remain impoverished. However, USAID’s $19 million cash for work program employed 350,000 people after the earthquake.

January 11 : AP and The Seattle Times wrote that the Gates Foundation and USAID have partnered to offer a $2.5 million prize to Haitian cellular operator Digicel, the first company to launch a service for Haitians to do banking by mobile phone. According to USAID’s Haiti mission director, “the project already has increased significantly the number of Haitians with access to banking services.”

January 11: The LA Weekly blog reported that according to a State Department fact sheet, food security in Haiti has improved due to the work of USAID. Before the earthquake, about 80 percent of the Haitian population was living below the poverty line. But in three months after the earthquake, USAID’s emergency food relief found its way to 4 million people.

January 12: AOL News reported that while more than $1 billion has been spent in Haiti since the earthquake, only about 1,000 permanent houses have been built to replace the ones that were destroyed during the quake. Meanwhile, USAID continues to receive emails daily from organizations seeking funding.

Read the rest of this entry »

Afghan Partnership Opens Modern Carpet Processing Facility

By: Robert Sauers, USAID Afghanistan.
Originally posted in DipNote the U.S. Department of State Official Blog

Afghan carpet seller

Afghan carpet seller watches pedestrians as he waits for customers in Kabul. October 21, 2007. AP File

The Paiman Atlas Group celebrated the opening of its new modernized carpet processing facility yesterday in Dasht-e Barchi, Kabul. Supported by a public-private partnership facilitated by USAID’s Afghanistan Small and Medium Enterprise Development (ASMED) project, Paiman can now produce up to 100 square meters of carpet per day, a 120 percent increase from its previous capacity.

With revenues of more than $150 million in 2009, carpets are Afghanistan’s leading export. However, the current lack of large-scale processing facilities in Afghanistan results in more than 80 percent of Afghan carpets being shipped to Pakistan for finishing. These carpets are then exported with “Made in Pakistan” labels, resulting in a loss of opportunity for Afghans to capture the full value of their products. With the new machinery, Paiman’s processing complex will enable Afghan carpet producers and traders to export their products directly under the “Made in Afghanistan” label.

Paiman is a partnership of six Afghan carpet producers and exporters whose vision is to create domestic processing and finishing services for Afghan carpets. The new carpet finishing complex will help Paiman export Afghan carpets directly through Turkey to U.S. and European Union customers and will encourage other Afghan producers and exporters to explore direct export opportunities.

Speaking at the event, Deputy Minister of Commerce Ailaqi remarked that Afghanistan’s “carpet industry is the outcome of hard work, creativity and art of Afghans with endless dedication and a rich history that creates jobs for more than two million men and women. It is a great source of income for people and for the country.” Paiman Chief Executive Officer Hasmatullah Haidar, and representatives from the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, Export Promotion Agency of Afghanistan, Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Afghan Carpet Exports Guild also attended the opening celebration.

Through its ASMED project, USAID seeks to improve private sector productivity and increase employment opportunities in Afghanistan. The project encourages the development of Afghan businesses through support for capacity building, technology transfer, and investment, including public-private partnerships.

2010: A Year in Review

With 2011 on the horizon, USAID looks at back at its accomplishments in 2010. Among them:

  • Supported the game-changing CAPRISA study, which in July provided the first ever proof of concept that a vaginal microbicide could safely and effectively reduce the risk of heterosexual transmission of HIV from men to vulnerable women. Science Magazine recently named the CAPRISA study one of the top ten breakthroughs of 2010.
  • Piloted a groundbreaking mobile banking technology to increase Haitians’ access to much-needed financial resources following January’s devastating earthquake.
  • Provided shelter, food and medical supplies for the more than 20 million people affected by the floods in Pakistan this summer.
  • Assumed leadership of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s signature food security initiative, in December. USAID quickly established the Bureau for Food Security committed to addressing chronic hunger.
  • Announced the first recipients of Development Innovation Ventures (DIV) funds that will, among other outcomes, improve rural solar access and produce affordable, fuel-cell powered bicycles. The DIV promotes innovative and scalable solutions to core development challenges.
  • Launched a country-based strategic planning approach, with 20 Country Development Cooperation Strategies (CDCS) already underway. The CDCS will help the agency make evidenced-based decisions, prioritize investments, and hold itself accountable for results.

For more about USAID, please visit www.usaid.gov.

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