Posted on December 9, 2014 by Molly Glenn, Deputy Resident Country Director, Senegal
I am often asked by colleagues, contacts, friends, family, former university classmates, and many more, “What exactly do you do in your job?” There is not always a simple, straightforward response. Foreign assistance encompasses many things and even more so at MCC, given our unique and innovative country-ownership model used to implement large-scale international development programs.
My response to the question ranges, from “MCC’s mission is poverty reduction through economic development,” to “we build roads, bridges and irrigations systems,” to “I work for the U.S. Government on a large-scale, $540 million program that will change the lives of many Senegalese in a multi-faceted role as a diplomat, project manager, communicator, steward of taxpayer money, cultural interpreter, face of the American people, and much more.”
It is the aspect of changing people’s lives that is so rewarding in the work we do at MCC. On October 28, I attended the Ndioum Bridge inauguration in northern Senegal. I joined President Macky Sall; Sandra Clark, the Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Dakar; MCC and MCA-Senegal teams; many local authorities; and, most importantly, hundreds of citizens of Ndioum.
It is at such joyous ceremonies that you see all the facets of what MCC does in countries like Senegal: cross-cultural diplomacy, results, impressive infrastructure and economic potential for many and their future generations. At the ceremony, Senegalese of all ages were present. The crowd was lively and pleased to showcase the bridge. Many American and Senegal flags were waiving. Legendary Senegalese singer Baaba Maal performed songs specific to the region, including one previously written about the division of the people of Ndioum created by the Doué River—a divide that the MCC-funded bridge is helping to connect.
The people of Ndioum and the Island of Morphile have long been separated—physically and economically—by the Doué River. They have waited 70 years for this bridge. MCC’s $20 million investment in the bridge is a beautiful splendor of infrastructure, 160 meters long with two access roads totaling 1,300 meters.
But like all of MCC’s projects, the bridge is notable for how it can help improve livelihoods in local communities. The span now connects a fertile agriculture area to the primary road network and opens up greater economic potential for efficiently, safely and cost-effectively transporting goods and people. It also provides better access to post-primary education. This is life-changing for local communities, who previously could only access the mainland via unsafe large canoes or small-scale ferries.
This is why there were so many smiling faces, proudly worn MCC T-shirts, dancing through the night, a renowned Senegalese singer, and a presidential visit to inaugurate the Ndioum Bridge. This is how MCC is changing lives.
Posted on December 9, 2014 by Randy Wood, Resident Country Director, Senegal
I’ve been traveling regularly to the Ngalenka area for four years now, starting in 2010 when the Senegal Compact entered into force and the first design and engineering studies of our irrigation and water management project began. But this time it was different.
In 2010, the soil at Ngalenka was brown and dry; local farmers eked out crops in small plots poised among the scrub brush, watering them with buckets carried laboriously from the Ngalenka Estuary of the Senegal River again and again – work that often fell to the women and girls to do. But over that time, design studies became finalized plans, plans became contracts, and the contracts led to a steady flow of workers, equipment and professionals that made the plans into reality. So imagine my joy and pride this time as we drove out into the center of the Ngalenka irrigated perimeter to see for the first time that the whole site was green with rice!
We lined up on the embankment by the inflow pumping station as President Macky Sall’s convoy arrived. The evening air was finally cool, and the people of Ngalenka and Podor had turned out en masse, dressed in their finest, to celebrate the completed project. Construction of the 1,112-acre system was finished earlier this year, and the farmers had been settled onto their allocated plots and begun farming.
Furthermore, the construction was matched by an ambitious, $4.1 million land tenure program that codified existing occupants’ rights and ensured they would be the ones to benefit from the newly improved lands. That four-year consensual process wasn’t easy, but it led to full agreement on how the land would be shared and managed as well as a community-led decision to attribute 10 percent of the land to women’s groups. It ensured fairness and equity of access to land across multiple family lineages and ethnicities. But despite the difficulty, anyone would agree it was worth it!
Much of northern Senegal experienced a drought in 2014. The surrounding countryside looked parched to me, but the fields of Ngalenka were thick with green blades of rice. And they’ll stay that way through rainy seasons and dry seasons for many years to come.
President Sall threw a lever, and water began to pour from the pump’s gates and flow through the network of canals that nourishes the fields as the people applauded. I thought back to the early days, when MCC’s investments were being chosen and prioritized. Tests had shown the land was fertile and could be used to grow rice – Senegal’s staple crop and the basis of any Senegalese traditional meal – if enough water could be brought onto the fields for irrigation. In fact, the lowland of Ngalenka was just one of five sites identified and studied. Now that Ngalenka has been built and is fully functional, the remaining sites can be easily developed by the Senegalese government and other partners.
Ngalenka is just a small part of a much larger investment in irrigation systems in Senegal’s northern Delta breadbasket. As the water began to seep through the roots of all that rice, it was easy to be excited about just what the $170 million investment in both the Delta and Ngalenka mean: the impact it could have on the estimated 1.2 million beneficiaries who look forward to a meal of warm rice every evening with their families and for whom this project aims to increase food security and open new opportunities to participate in Senegal’s rural economy and reduce poverty.
Posted on December 5, 2014 by Dr. Minarto, MCA-Indonesia Community-Based Health and Nutrition to Reduce Stunting Project Director
Last month’s Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Global Gathering and the Second International Conference on Nutrition provided unique learning experiences. The SUN Global Gathering reflected on the accomplishments of the SUN movement in various countries to improve nutrition around the world. It has worked with various stakeholders—on global, regional and national scales—to make nutrition a priority on their development agendas. Malnutrition, especially stunting, is understood to be a common nutritional problem that must be addressed, not only because of its prevalence in many countries but also because of its negative impact on quality of life and public health.
Part of the discussion centered on what kinds of investments we need more of to boost nutrition. One major area of importance is hygiene and sanitation; poor hygiene and sanitation are major contributing factors to undernutrition and stunting.
Another area of importance is the role men play in household decision making. Because stunting occurs at the household level, working with men and women will help families make better decisions about allocating resources and caring for pregnant women and children.
A third important area is support for academia. Success at the local level requires the use of scientific evidence to formulate policies at the local level. Academia can help deliver the research results to improve policy and programming.
All of this is relevant to the Community-Based Health and Nutrition to Reduce Stunting Project, which I manage as part of my country’s compact with MCC.
This project is specifically designed to reduce the prevalence of stunting among children under age five. It is the main vehicle for SUN implementation in Indonesia. Together, MCC and MCA-Indonesia are working to improve nutrition by empowering communities through knowledge and local capacity building. This involves increasing the capacity and skills of nutrition and health care providers to provide better quality services. It also involves improving communication to help change nutrition-related behaviors.
Learning from the SUN Global Gathering, we believe there are four ways we can make the project even more effective:
- Finalize and strengthen the design of hygiene and sanitation investments. All health workers—especially midwives, nutritionists and sanitation officers—should be able to describe the importance of good hygiene and sanitation practices and provide counselling on how to achieve them.
- Develop a clear agenda to improve the role of men in household decision making and empower both women and men to improve nutrition, hygiene and sanitation.
- Strengthen a monitoring and evaluation system to generate timely reporting on selected indicators from all project locations.
- Effectively design the Private Sector Response Activity to avoid conflict of interest issues.
The project in Indonesia is off to a great start, and because of lessons from SUN across the world, it’s now poised to be even more effective.
Posted on December 5, 2014 by Dr. Michelle Inkley, Director, Human and Community Development
Last month, I had the immense honor of representing the U.S. Government as a member of the delegation to the United Nations Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) and the pre-conference Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Global Gathering in Rome. To me, it’s quite telling that 22 years have passed since the First International Conference on Nutrition. As a result of the lack of global attention, malnutrition—which includes undernutrition, overnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies— is at crisis levels. The paradox of nutrition in our world is that there is too much for some and too little for many; there is enough food for everyone and yet not everyone can eat.
Nearly half of the world’s population suffers from malnutrition, which costs an estimated $3.5 trillion annually. No country is unaffected. Take, for example, a common consequence of malnutrition: Stunted growth (defined as being more than two standard deviations below the median population height) causes devastating and life-long physical as well as cognitive consequences. Recognizing that an estimated 162 million children throughout the world are stunted, this loss of productivity is astounding and, in a world of plenty, is completely unacceptable.
For MCC, with our mission on poverty reduction through economic growth, investments in nutrition fit perfectly within our model because nutrition is a key driver, and according to some, the key driver of economic growth. Every dollar invested in nutrition interventions results in an average $16 return.
And so the world descended upon Rome last month to give light and voice to the invisible and often voiceless crisis of malnutrition with its myriad overwhelming consequences on individual lives and worldwide economic productivity. The more than 2,200 participants representing 178 countries—including the Pope, the King of Lesotho, the Queen of Spain, the Princess of Spain, the First Lady of Peru, the Vice President of Tanzania, 85 ministers, 23 vice ministers, and many other distinguished and passionate advocates—gathered to collectively communicate that inaction in nutrition is no longer acceptable and to establish the Rome Declaration and Plan of Action.
According to Jeffrey Sachs, the renowned development scholar and conference participant, less than 1 percent of development funding goes to nutrition, even though nutrition is the underlying cause of all health and development problems—but, of course, that’s part of the problem; it’s been underlying. At the conference, Sachs further stated that “the interconnectedness of the nutrition sector is absolutely profound.” As a result, hunger and malnutrition cannot be addressed in isolation but require a multi-sector approach and a comprehensive framework anchored in action and accountability.
The critical importance of creating an enabling policy environment across ministries (health, water, sanitation, hygiene, agriculture, education, trade) and building capacity, governance, leadership, and ownership at all levels cannot be overstated. Nor should one overstate the importance of action and involvement of all actors, including the private sector—those who produce the food and nutrition-associated products consumed by the world—as well as civil society. We must be inclusive and empowering. We must include women and the most vulnerable. We must use evidence and be results oriented. We must work in a multi-sector setting and not isolate nutrition into sector categories.
And so the table is set for a Decade of Nutrition. Look to see nutrition as a key element of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Post-2015 Framework for Action. The U.S. Government Inter-agency Nutrition Working Group, together with mirrored groups throughout the world, have been hard at work for more than a year to make the inclusion of nutrition a reality.
Werner Schultnick, Director of Nutrition from UNICEF, summed up the conference proceedings eloquently when he said, “By working on nutrition, we can actually tackle poverty.”
Posted on December 3, 2014 by Alicia Phillips Mandaville, Chief Strategy Officer
It’s funny how unrelated events conspire to make you introspective. Today the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on the Data Accountability and Transparency Act (the DATA Act). That hearing followed quickly on the heels of MCC’s Monday announcement that we had formed a new partnership with PEPFAR, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, to launch country-driven local data hubs.
The proximity of the two events got me thinking along two lines.
Today, much of the commentary around the DATA Act reflects lessons and questions that MCC grapples with when pursuing an open data agenda. At the launch of any data commitment, spirits are high—it feels good to commit to being open! I have been part of those announcements, and it’s as if you can already feel the sunshine through all that transparency. The hard work of delivering on those commitments is where the lessons come in. It takes a plan, solid management and realistic application of human resources to move data into the public domain in a way that can be repeated. So as I hear the echoes of questions on how to measure or capture progress on implementing the DATA Act, it drives home the idea that for all the mythical characteristics we attribute to data, the process of making progress is just that—a process.
But even more than the lessons we’ve already learned, this hearing got me thinking of some of the deeper questions that I feel like I still grapple with. If you believe in data as a public good, how do you ensure the public can actually use the data you publish? We all know that "if you build it they will come" isn't an open data strategy—that’s not news. And we can understand intellectually that the solution is to work directly with the communities that you think will use the data to ensure it meets their actual wants and needs. But for foreign assistance organizations and agencies, navigating the competing priorities of communities that can and want to use our data is complicated. Getting our head around how to make data useful for the “last mile of analysis”—whether public sector decision making, public accountability or sector research purposes—is an area where we still have tremendous progress to make.
But for all of this introspection, I also come away proud that MCC continues to push itself and its data forward. The agency started publishing the policy indicator data we use to make decisions about where MCC should invest in 2005 long before #opendata became a thing. And since then we have taken steps to generate out and submit a full IATI file, roll out data from our impact evaluations and generally continue to push ourselves to the next level in the interest of transparency.
With new data hubs over the horizon, I look forward to the next set of lessons.