See below for a guest post from Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children and MFAN Co-Chair.
Throughout my life, and particularly in my work with Save the Children, I have seen examples of where aid has made a powerful difference in helping to transform people’s lives; and I’ve seen it fail.
When it works, whether it comes in the form of health, nutrition, or humanitarian projects that prevent thousands of deaths or in education that provides children the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty, aid can play a crucial role in meeting the needs of billions of children and families around the globe and literally changing the future.
And when it fails, its impacts range from insignificant to actually leaving communities worse off in a range of ways.
Because of this, an important part of our advocacy at Save the Children is directed at improving the way aid is delivered to maximize its positive impact. Research has shown time and time again that foreign assistance is more effective and sustainable when those local governments and communities on the receiving end have a strong voice in deciding and developing the relevant projects, using their vast local knowledge and skills. When developing countries are in the driver’s seat and leading the design, implementation, and management of development activities we are closer to achieving country ownership.
Country ownership has become an increasingly important aspect of U.S. development projects. In 2010, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched USAID Forward, a set of policy reforms, to strengthen the agency and restructure its approach to aid. The Local Solutions initiative is a key aspect of USAID Forward that focuses on bolstering local capacity, promoting country ownership, and increasing sustainability of program results. The initiative has the potential to transform the way aid is administered, implemented, and ultimately the effects it has on millions of lives in developing countries.
However, the initiative currently uses a single indicator to track progress – percentage of USAID Mission funds provided directly to local institutions. This single measure is insufficient to evaluate such a multi-faceted effort.
Save the Children has recently released a report entitled, Tracking USAID’s Efforts on the Local Solutions Initiative: A Review of Select Procurements in Six Countries. For this research, Save the Children looked at the procurement documents that so often shape how policies at the headquarters level translate into programs in the field. Based on the content of these procurements, our researchers scored USAID’s efforts to promote county ownership across the six countries. They found that in all six countries reviewed, USAID integrates country ownership principles satisfactorily. Moreover, USAID collects a wealth of data through its programs that could be analyzed to assess its multi-faceted effort more comprehensively and used more strategically to inform its operations – particularly its engagement with local institutions.
The report recommends three action for USAID: 1) conduct a more comprehensive review of efforts across all countries implementing the Local Solutions initiative to report on progress and identify and scale up promising practices; 2) adopt additional standardized indicators to complement the current single indicator and expand the agency’s ability to track more broadly its efforts to promote country ownership; and 3) pay more attention to the local institutions working on agency-funded activities as sub-grantees or sub-contractors.
Effective tools to evaluate country ownership can impact the way USAID does development and could shift the entire sector towards practices that advance countries’ local priorities and ownership over decisions about their own development. Similarly, adopting a consistent set of indicators would ensure that all USAID Missions around the world “speak the same language” and learn from each other.
The procurements reviewed show that USAID is prompting movement in the right direction with the Local Solutions initiative. In Uganda, USAID is emphasizing the need for its projects to be measured against the goals of the Government of Uganda, not just its own goals. Furthermore, USAID is recommending that monitoring and evaluation of project activities be carried out with participation from local organizations.
Country ownership – and USAID’s Local Solutions initiative – can transform the way aid is delivered while upholding human dignity and supporting people to become agents of their own development. Save the Children’s report attempts to fill crucial information gaps in the implementation of USAID’s Local Solutions initiative and draw the aid community’s attention to the urgent need for a comprehensive progress update as the initiative enters its fifth year of implementation.