Posted on October 16, 2014 by Steve Felton, World Wildlife Fund
Asser Ujaha remembers when wildlife roamed free across the whole of northern Namibia—as did people, tending their cattle herds.
“We were chased out of the park,” says Asser, thinking back to the days of apartheid after the creation of Namibia’s Etosha National Park. Wildlife was fenced in, and people were moved to barren areas to make way for white settler farmers. “But now, we are back.”
Asser takes pride in this last statement. Members of the Ehi-Rovipuka Conservancy now guide tourists into Etosha National Park, an 8,600-square-mile expanse teeming with wildlife that draws tourists from across the world. Central to this effort is building a lodge the community hopes will draw more tourists to the region and ultimately more income for local families.
This link between increased tourism and higher incomes is at the heart of the Tourism Project, part of MCCs five-year, $304.5 million compact with Namibia. The project aimed to improve the management and infrastructure of Etosha National Park, enhance the marketing of Namibian tourism and develop the capacity of communal conservancies to attract investments in ecotourism and capture a greater share of the tourism-generated revenue.
For the residents of the Ehi-Rovipuka Conservancy, the new Hobatere Roadside Lodge will be a source of jobs and income. It will have 20 bedrooms overlooking a valley. Visitors will have access both to an area where local communities plan to display Himba and Herero culture and to a watering hole that attracts wildlife.
During a visit earlier this year, Asser pointed down to the drinking point from one of the stunning rock outcrops around which the lodge and campsite are situated. A herd of 40 rare black-faced impala were running by.
“There is everything here,” he said “One day, I saw 12 lions just walking through in a row.”
He expects the upgrades to have a ripple effect throughout the conservancy.
“We are not just upgrading the campsite,” he said. “We are upgrading the community. With money from tourism, we hope to no longer have to sell livestock to send children to school.”
Asser has two children, aged 9 and 6. He believes they will have a bright future.
“When they grow up, they will no longer look after the goats,” he said. “They will go to college.”
Posted on October 14, 2014 by Catherine Marschner, MCC Data Program Manager
What is data?
Data is raw information. When you collect all kinds of data on all kinds of different things, you can put it together to provide reliable information. This structured data can help partner country governments plan the best use of their resources, and it can help the people hold their governments accountable.
Collecting data in a standardized way makes the data even more reliable. In the case of foreign assistance, it leads to transparency, which is a priority for MCC.
So what have we done about it?
Our data team at MCC has worked hard over the last year to improve the quality of the data we share with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), an international registry that tracks the level of transparency in stakeholder-produced data on foreign aid. We have also made our efforts to produce data more efficient and sustainable. So while we are certainly proud to have been ranked among the top three donors in the 2014 Aid Transparency Index, we are even more proud—and committed to—the substantive improvements we have made and continue to make.
The quality of our data is better because we have added new data and functionality to our programmatic management information system and we’ve added detail for a number of IATI data fields: In our XML file users will find useful information now on
- planned disbursements by year for our compact programs,
- descriptions of our programs and their associated activities,
- and on the results of our work.
In fact, MCC’s data on performance was higher than any other donor ranked in the ATI – in part because we provide results descriptions, performance indicators and links to materials from our independent evaluations.
MCC has also built a more streamlined process for producing our data. We have an integrated team with expertise on the policy, data analysis, finance and technical sides. We also have an ability to pull data from different systems in order to build out an integrated data set in XML that meets the reporting requirements of both the Foreign Assistance Dashboard and IATI.
As we continue to build out our internal data systems, we are paying careful attention to how we link different pieces together. For example, our IATI file this year includes links back to our Evaluation Catalog, where MCC makes all the metadata and microdata from our independent evaluations freely available to the public.
All these strides forward have netted a dataset with a lot of richness – and some very interesting and high quality data! Yet at MCC, we also realized that it was not enough to just put this out there in XML: a format that is far from “human-readable.” Our team knew that for our efforts to become sustainable, we also needed to create an internal demand for this kind of data from our own staff. So we built a tool that visualizes the data so that MCC staff can use it to help them in their everyday work. The response has been enthusiastic so far, and we look forward to building additional analytical components, learning about staff demand, and reporting back on what we are learning!
We would love for all of these efforts to become more demand driven – so we welcome your thoughts and feedback on what we ought to prioritize as we strive to continually improve the quality and quantity of information MCC makes available to the public.
Posted on October 10, 2014 by Tom Kelly, Acting Vice President for Policy and Evaluation
At this time each year, with the announcement of the results of the Aid Transparency Index (ATI), major aid donors all over the world await their relative rankings from Publish What You Fund’s careful exercise to evaluate the quality of information provided to the International Aid Transparency Index (IATI). In this regard MCC is no different. Having ranked #1 in the world in the 2013 Index, we were in the enviable position this year of having no place to go but down!
Because MCC values transparency, we spent the last year making careful improvements to our IATI data. We also worked closely with the State Department’s Foreign Assistance Dashboard to develop a USG XML format based on the IATI standard allowing MCC’s higher quality data to be published to the IATI Registry. We worked alongside other donors to try to figure out how IATI data can be linked with country budget information. We published our own IATI implementation schedule to inform our data users about our data definitions and future publication plans. And we put lots of time and thought into how to best represent our results within the IATI data standard. Because of all these efforts – and in spite of fierce competition – MCC was able to score above 85% and remain among the top three donors worldwide. It hasn’t been easy, and we are proud of this.
Yet as the ATI comes out in its 4th year in 2014, we are surveying the broader landscape and are concerned about the performance of the donor community as a whole. We are concerned that so many donors will fall far short of their Busan commitments, and concerned that data quality will therefore not improve to a point where country partners will find it useful. Among 68 donors ranked, only 15 score in the “good” and “very good” category. The average score in the Index this year is only 39%. Clearly, major progress will have to be made by the end of 2015 to deliver on the promises of Busan.
In this context, people ask us all the time what’s the way forward? Setting aside some peculiarities that make it easier for MCC to do this (as a young, small agency with transparency in our DNA), here are a few of the things we have found most useful:
- Demonstrate political will and leadership on transparency at all levels – so staff are incentivized to work hard at solving the multitude of problems that will inevitably come up;
- Give a strong mandate to a small team that includes policy, data analyst, technical and finance staff – so that together they can resolve most of the issues and tee up the important points effectively for senior staff decisions;
- Don’t try to build a single system to meet IATI reporting requirements – instead develop a strategy for continual progress. Think through how you can pull data for each of the required fields from existing systems, and use your tech people to link them up into your XML output. Start with the fields where you already collect information and work steadily on improving quality of this data. Then make plans to do what’s required to collect and report on additional information over time;
- Keep talking to stakeholders and data users to better understand – and to stimulate – demand; and finally…
- Open up your data to your own staff – leverage IATI efforts to build more robust internal systems to share and use data. As staff see the benefits to their own work, support for the work of data teams will grow, and internal demand will make the system sustainable.
MCC will soon be launching a Principles into Practice paper detailing these and other lessons from our work on transparency and accountability. We hope many of you will join us in upcoming conversations so that we can learn together how to move this field of practice forward. We believe that it is possible for donors worldwide to jump forward in 2015, and we look forward to doing our part to help to drive the broader agenda for transparency.
Posted on October 9, 2014 by Geroldine Sicot, Program Officer
Tourism offers a key to Namibia’s future prosperity—and this concept is being embraced at national and local levels.
Because of its jaw-dropping beauty and abundant wildlife, the Government of Namibia recognizes the importance of creating jobs and attracting investment through tourism, especially in the country’s vast rural areas.
As part of MCC’s five-year, $304.5 million compact with Namibia, which successfully ended on September 16, 2014, the Government of Namibia opened three new roads that go through a number of communal conservancies. The new routes intend to boost tourists—and tourism dollars—to communities that need the income and jobs.
Emily Kandjaba, the coordinator of Omulunga Palm Route, believes the new route will go a long way to promote tourism in northern Namibia.
“This is a vehicle to steer our economic sector into the direction of alleviating poverty and creating wealth for this motherland,” she said, adding that many tourists are interested in seeing unspoiled nature in northern Namibia.
Heinrich Hafeni, managing director of Namibian firm Hafeni Tours and Travel, said he is already seeing a positive change in the way conservancies view their natural resources.
“If you look at the bigger picture, the compact’s Tourism Project has been immense because it has educated local people about tourism,” he said. Part of this education is working with local communities to conserve wildlife, giving future generations of tourists a reason to visit Namibia.
Namibian Environment and Tourism Minister Uahekua Herunga believes tourism will continue to play a major role in Namibia’s economic future.
“The Namibia Compact was a true smart partnership between the people of Namibia and the people of the United States of America,” he said.
Posted on October 8, 2014 by Prabhat Garg, Procurement Practice Leader and Senior Director
Almost 40 procurement professionals from 15 partner countries came to MCC last month with one goal in mind: ensure the goods and services we buy in the field deliver the biggest bang for the buck.
Attendees at MCC’s third Procurement College focused on creating a networking and learning environment so participants from around the world could share their experiences and lessons.
One of the group’s mantras is that procurement—the contracts and grants that turn plans into concrete programs—is a driver of development. MCC was built on best practices that emphasize the importance of how development is delivered effectively, and procurement is no exception. This year’s college was held at a time when MCC is also marking our 10th anniversary. We reflected on lessons from a decade of significant accomplishments, during which MCC disbursed more than $6 billion and currently has more than $1 billion under active contracts
The conference allowed us to explore ideas that are relatively new in the field of public procurement, including inviting contractors to provide feedback on donor procurement practices and using social media to strengthen collaboration. We also hosted an event for American businesses, during which more than 70 private sector representatives learned about upcoming business opportunities and networked with potential clients from MCC partner countries.
The discussions over five days focused on, among other topics, sharing lessons from recently closed compacts, improving MCC guidelines and procedures for compact implementation and assessing trends in procurement from industry experts and academia. All this provided an opportunity for us to learn from each other.
In their feedback, participants expressed appreciation for the helpful insights that reinforced the importance of procurements in implementing MCC’s compacts within our five-year timeline.
As one of the participants summarized, “We developed more efficient use of the currently available tools, identified the need for new tools for further improving our efficiency and also learned how procurement is becoming a strategic function in any organization.”