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.