Ownership and Sustainability are Foundational in USAID’s Policy Revisions

On September 7th the US Agency for International Development (USAID) released full revisions to the Automated Directives System (ADS) chapters 200 and 201. For those unfamiliar with the ADS, it articulates USAID’s policy and procedures on a wide range of topics. From USAID’s hiring process to how Missions negotiate and develop multi-million dollar bilateral agreements with foreign county governments, the ADS contains all the rules of engagement. These recently updated chapters provide policy for USAID’s internal policy development process, as well as strategic planning, project and activity design, monitoring, evaluation and learning.

For the average American, the ADS revision might not be the most exciting reading material. While policies and procedures can be boring to read, putting them into action is not. New policies will give USAID Missions and their staff the authority to improve development practice and make lasting change in countries around the world—something the average American can get excited about.

A topic that is foundational to the revised policy is promoting sustainability through local ownership. Local ownership is vital for effecting enduring change. As the Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia and the former Philippines Mission Director, I fully recognize the importance of local ownership, sustainability and systems strengthening.

During my time in the Philippines, I encouraged my team to embrace local ownership and change the way we work with Filipinos. There is significant capacity in the Philippines to achieve lasting development results, and USAID should continue to look towards local actors to drive development. The commitment of local CEOs under a partnership that we had with the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) resulted in a collaboration between local businesses and the academe in transforming the relevance of university curricula. This has significant implications for fostering inclusive growth by addressing the phenomenon of “jobless growth rates “in the Philippines.

While many Missions around the world are already supporting local ownership, the revised ADS will formalize existing efforts and require all Missions to change the way they work. A few highlights from the new ADS can illustrate how shifts in policy may change the way USAID operates around the world.

Per ADS 200, USAID development policies should now be grounded in four principles: evidence-based, inclusive, sustainable, and coherent. While all are important principles, I can’t stress enough the importance of inclusive and sustainable. Our programming should always encourage participation of local actors, including those often marginalized, and give them decision-making power. This inclusiveness can help ensure that our programming is sustainable and valued by the citizens of partner countries.

Revised guidance for Program Cycle Operational Policy, reflected in ADS 201, also lays out four foundational principles for successful program implementation, one of which is to “Promote Sustainability through Local Ownership”. The principle goes on to say:

“The sustainability and long-term success of development assistance ultimately requires local ownership and strengthening the capacity of local systems to produce development outcomes at the regional, national, sub-national, or community levels, as appropriate. USAID should seek out and respond to the priorities and perspectives of local stakeholders, including the partner country government, beneficiaries, civil society, the private sector, and academia. These processes should be inclusive of the poorest, most marginalized populations and women and girls. USAID assistance should be designed to align with the priorities of local actors; leverage local resources; and increase local implementation to sustain results over time.”

According to the new ADS, the existing Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) process continues to serve as the platform for implementing development policy in the field. CDCS’s must “Promote the principles of aid effectiveness, including partner country ownership, strategic alignment with partner country or regional development priorities, harmonization with other donors and mutual accountability”. This will continue our efforts to build strategic plans that align with citizen’s needs and achieve results that stand the test of time.

Having worked many years for USAID, I can say we have come a long way. Over 10 years ago, donor countries and developing countries met in Paris and committed to supporting local ownership of development. Agreements in Accra and Busan deepened and strengthened that pledge. However, those commitments made by the US government, and many other donor countries, lacked a tangible accountability mechanism. The revised ADS 200 series illustrates how those high-level commitments are trickling down to where it counts- the operational level where real change happens. And that is absolutely something to be excited about.


This is a guest post from Gloria Steele, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator, USAID. This piece was originally featured on the Save the Children blog.

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