Shah Introduces the ‘Modern Development Enterprise’

Yesterday, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah delivered a powerful speech on the future of US development efforts, particularly the future of USAID. Shah made an impassioned argument for adopting a more business-like approach to development and asked that the broader community join him in his efforts to reform. Below are excerpts from his speech that capture his overarching message:

Rajiv_Shah“Earlier this year, we instituted a series of reforms we now call USAID Forward. Thanks to those reforms, our agency is fundamentally changing, becoming more efficient, more effective and more businesslike, freeing our talented staff to achieve great results.”

“We’ve embarked on this effort to transform how development is delivered because development is not and cannot be a sideshow. As the president and the secretaries of state, Treasury and defense have all made abundantly clear, development is as critical to our economic prospects and our national security as diplomacy and defense.”

“That’s why our reforms are not simply trying to update the traditional version of an aid agency. Instead, we are seeking to build something greater: a modern development enterprise.”

“Like an enterprise, we’re relentlessly focused on delivering results and learning from success and failure. Remember, USAID used to be the world leader in development evaluation, creating many of the standards that are currently employed throughout the development community. But we’ve fallen far from that world-class distinction.”

“Today, I’m announcing a new evaluation policy that I believe will set a new standard in our field. By aggressively measuring and learning from our results, we will extend the impact of our ideas and of knowledge we helped generate. Every major project will require a performance evaluation conducted by independent third parties, not by the implementing partners themselves. Instead of simply reporting our results like nearly all aid agencies do, we will collect baseline data and employ study designs that explain what would have happened without our interventions so we can know for sure the impact of our programs. And in the spirit of the extreme transparency I promised when I joined USAID, we will release the results of all of our evaluations within three months of their completion, whether they tell a story of success or failure. We’re going to integrate this project evaluation data into our dashboard.”

“Like an enterprise, we’re focused on delivering the highest possible value for our shareholders. In this case, the American people and the congressional leaders who represent them. We will deliver that value by scaling back our footprint to shift resources to critical regions, rationalizing our operations and vigilantly fighting fraud, waste and abuse.”

“Today, the development community faces a similar crossroads. Our industry is full of incentives designed to prolong our efforts rather than reduce them or enable transitions. As a result, handoffs rarely happen. Projects are extended in perpetuity while goals remain just out of reach. There’s always another high-priced consultant that must take another flight to another conference or lead another training. I say today to all funders and practitioners of development, this practice simply must end.”

“And while USAID can work in active conflict or help countries transition away from violence, the most important thing we can do is prevent violence in the first place. As Secretary Gates himself has said, development is a lot cheaper than sending soldiers.”

“I know that my remarks today reflect a lot of tough calls for change. I know that over the last year and in the coming year, I’ve called for a lot of shifts in how our community and how our agency and how our staff operate. Change is never easy, and I thank you all for the difficult choices you’ve made to usher in a new way of doing business in global development.”

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