One theme received more attention than anticipated during newly-confirmed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – the effectiveness of foreign aid. Over a dozen Senators questioned Tillerson on issues including transparency and accountability as well as specific initiatives like PEPFAR, Feed the Future, and Power Africa.
In response to a question from Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Tillerson specifically expressed support for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and its model of “ownership on the part of the [partner] country.” Indeed, MFAN has long believed that country ownership of the priorities and resources for, and implementation of, development is essential to increasing the impact of our aid dollars. Tillerson’s acknowledgement of ownership is encouraging and an opportunity to further progress on measuring and increasing sustainability.
As Secretary Tillerson and the new administration begin their tenure, MFAN recommends two new resources from MFAN partners – one from Oxfam America and Save the Children, and another from the Center for Global Development (CGD) – which point the way forward on country ownership.
The Power of Ownership, a joint report from Oxfam America and Save the Children, examines USAID and MCC projects in Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, and Rwanda, and, using their own jointly-developed tool called the “Local Engagement Assessment Framework” (LEAF), seeks to determine how country ownership helped: 1) enhance local leadership; 2) improve basic service delivery; and 3) forge new partnerships with the private sector to accelerate economic growth.
Implementing Ownership at USAID and MCC: A US Agency-Level Perspective, a CGD report by Casey Dunning, Sarah Rose, and Claire McGillem, analyzes how USAID and MCC conceptualize and apply country ownership across their programs, featuring field research in Liberia, El Salvador, and Kosovo.
After rigorous analysis, both studies developed comprehensive lists of findings. Here are a few highlights:
- Commitments: Both studies found that USAID and MCC demonstrate a strong commitment to ownership. CGD concluded that while MCC was founded on the principle of country ownership and has developed a systematic approach, USAID continues to work on implementation across the agency. Oxfam and Save the Children observed that ownership-friendly policies set in Washington helped drive ownership approaches in the field.
- Risks: On risks associated with ownership, CGD found that both agencies are attempting to navigate the friction between local priorities and agency requirements. Save the Children and Oxfam discovered that alignment with country priorities “is an ongoing dialogue, not a document review” and that agencies employ various methods to mitigate fiduciary risk.
- Challenges: CGD noted that both agencies are grappling with “whether and under what circumstances improved ownership approaches increase development impact.” Oxfam and Save the Children found that some local organizations need additional capacity building in order to fully partner with the U.S. and many face difficulty finding long-term resources beyond U.S. funding.
Both reports propose recommendations for further integrating country ownership into U.S. foreign assistance, including:
- Swiftly appoint development agency leaders who will champion ownership;
- Systematically measure ownership across U.S. assistance;
- Work with Congress to reduce the burden of earmarks on local priorities and demonstrate progress towards partner countries’ long-term development objectives;
- Develop an agency-wide understanding of the trade-offs between country ownership and programmatic, reputational, and fiduciary risks;
- Incorporate ownership into goals around program quality, results, and value for money; and
- Create a public space for shared learning around ownership practices.
Together, these two reports and their recommendations provide a blueprint for the Trump Administration to build on the progress that has already been made to empower countries to drive their own development.