Posted on December 3, 2013 by Carolyn Pryor, Program Officer, Mongolia
As I reflect on the three years that I worked on the Mongolia Compact, I am proud to have been a part of such a significant contribution to the country’s development in several crucial sectors—a contribution that will ultimately improve the lives of millions of Mongolians.
I joined MCC in 2010, shortly after MCA-Mongolia and MCC agreed to add two new projects, with only three years remaining in the compact’s life. The new Energy and Environment Project (EEP) was slated to target ever-growing air pollution in Ulaanbaatar, and the new North-South Road Project would pave a critical portion of highway connecting Mongolia to its key trade partners Russia and China. These two projects were particularly aspirational because there were only two construction seasons and two winter seasons remaining in the compact.
With MCA-Mongolia’s diligence and the contractor’s commitment to complete the project, the road was finished on time and on budget, while adhering to international environmental and social standards. The perseverance and ambition of the project team to complete this very difficult task within an extremely limited time frame, and in the severe construction climate contractors experience in Mongolia, is quite an impressive accomplishment.
Additionally, the EEP was able to subsidize nearly 100,000 energy-efficient stoves in just two winter seasons. I was able to meet several beneficiaries, and every single person spoke of the fuel savings for their families because of the new stoves. I also met a female sub-district leader who was involved with the EEP’s Greening Grants initiative. Her sense of ownership and pride shined through her stories. She said that she had always wanted to grow trees on her plot of land in the impoverished ger district in Ulaanbaatar, but she did not know how to sustain the health of the trees and shrubs in the harsh Mongolian winters. Through the initiative, she was able to learn about proper tree maintenance, while teaching others and keeping track of the neighbors who participated in the program. Not only did this initiative enable this woman to become a leader in her community, it also enabled this impoverished district to plant foliage in a sustainable manner.
During a visit to Mongolia in July, I noticed immediately the change among people working to create a smoke-free environment. At restaurants and countryside ger camps, I saw patrons stepping outside of restaurants to smoke. The Health Project’s involvement in creating smoke free provinces—along with the new Tobacco Control Law— drove this effort, and the change in daily life in Ulaanbaatar and the countryside is evident.
Another aspect of the Health Project that was particularly striking was my visit to Shastin Hospital. The state-of-the-art Stroke and Cardiac Intensive Care Unit established under the compact is a profound step forward in the treatment, management and diagnosis of stroke and cardiac disease in Mongolia. The equipment provided by the compact, coupled with training, will save many lives from these diseases and reduce incidences of disabilities. The rehabilitation unit will help patients suffering from these ailments recuperate more quickly. As a daughter of someone who has suffered from multiple heart attacks, this new unit’s ability to save the lives of Mongolian fathers, mothers, daughters, and sons from one of the most prevalent causes of disability and death in Mongolia strikes a personal chord.
The compact’s involvement in the property rights sector also made crucial progress in bringing economic growth to the most impoverished and vulnerable Mongolians. One beneficiary of the urban component of the Property Rights Project personally told me that the registration process she went through for her plot took her two months; previously, it would have taken her a year. I met with a female herder group leader near Baaganuur, who demonstrated her pride in the investments made in her land plot, including a well and winter shelter area for her cattle. She was working as an interlocutor between other local herders and the dairy market, helping promote sustainable economic growth for her industry as well as the herders in the surrounding areas.
Such investments in infrastructure, health, property rights, and the reduction of air pollution were complemented by the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Project, which trained the leaders of tomorrow in the technical skills needed to properly meet the demands of the growing industries in Mongolia. During my visit to the Zarvkhan Vocational Training Production Center, I learned firsthand about new up-to-date training equipment and simulators that teach students to use heavy-duty machinery properly. Students at this center had high employment rates after graduation and were actually teaching their employers about the newest tricks of the trade!
Finally, it is important to note the government’s commitment to sustain the compact’s results. The Ministry of Economic Development and the Cabinet Secretariat have committed to continue managing like MCA-Mongolia—with a program logic based on economic rates of return, projects that uphold international environmental and social standards and diligent monitoring and evaluation.
I congratulate MCA-Mongolia on the successful completion of all the complex compact projects. This impressive accomplishment will benefit Mongolians for decades to come.
Posted on November 22, 2013 by Dr. Adiya Munkhtaivan, MCA Director of Mongolia’s Health Project
I travelled to Washington this summer for a weeklong set of meetings with MCC staff and representatives from all of MCC’s health-focused projects. The week drew Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) representatives from health projects in Lesotho and MCA representatives from other education and community development projects around the world. It provided a wonderful opportunity for us to discuss the challenges and successes we have seen in our projects. We had each developed our own strategies and solutions to address the similar challenges we faced, so we had a unique opportunity to learn from one another through our shared experiences.
I directed Mongolia’s health project, which has spent the past five years fighting the growing spread of non-communicable diseases and injuries (NCDIs) among Mongolians. Our project has had a huge impact on human capital in the health sector. Among its achievements, the project has provided training for more than 18,000 medical and administrative staff from all 21 regions in Mongolia, awarded competitive grants to 219 organizations in the health sector and helped bring the world’s top researchers to Mongolia by sponsoring two international NCDI conferences in Ulaanbaatar in 2010 and 2013—the first conferences of this type in the country’s history.
At the time of the conference, Mongolia’s health project was close to completion—but because several other countries’ projects were just beginning, I was able to share ideas and experiences that they could integrate into their projects from the start. The health project was successfully completed on September 17, 2013.
One of the things I emphasized during the meetings was how well partnerships worked in our project. As part of the project, Merck, an American pharmaceuticals company, donated 14,000 vaccines for human papillomavirus (HPV) to help protect Mongolians against cervical cancer. The partnership helped open doors for further investment in health from the private sector in Mongolia, including by Merck itself.
Through a partnership with The George Washington University, the project supported 35 health care workers in a masters of public health (MPH) program in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital. The MPH program incorporated field practicums in which the students focused on a project in their local health clinic. These 35 MPH graduates will serve as a new cohort of public health and NCDI advocates in Mongolia.
The collaboration and conversations we had during the week were vital. The ideas and strategies born in meetings like this help strengthen our knowledge as health project practitioners, as well as our ability to effectively implement projects to benefit the maximum number of people possible—which is a goal we all strive toward.
Posted on November 18, 2013 by Matt Bohn, Philippines Resident Country Director
On November 8, Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines and devastated several areas, including Leyte and Samar, where MCC is funding projects through its $434 million compact.
I joined a team from the U.S. Embassy that flew to the city of Tacloban last week to assess the scale of the damage and see where we could help. As we surveyed the area around the airport, I was able to see firsthand the true scale of the devastation wrought by one of the most powerful storms on record.
The devastation was unimaginable and heartbreaking. Many villages in Eastern Visayas—particularly along the coast—have been flattened, resulting in staggering losses of human life and possessions. Cities and villages in Leyte and Samar were unprepared for winds that reached more than 150 mph and a 10-15-foot storm surge that leveled homes and buildings where the local population sought refuge.
It is truly a shocking tragedy with profound human impact. However, in the depth of this human tragedy, the goodness and resilience of the Filipino people, the Philippine government, the U.S. Government, and the international community are rising above it all. I am in awe as I witness the rapid and large-scale international relief effort underway with the U.S. Government and U.S. military playing lead roles in coordinating and delivering relief supplies, medical assistance and basic services to affected communities.
I’m also grateful that MCC-funded contractors were able to join the relief effort by quickly clearing an important 222-kilometer road segment in Samar, currently under construction through our compact, so relief supplies can get through to remote villages in some of the hardest-hit areas. I also was heartened to learn that some of the MCC-funded Kalahi-CIDDS schools and day-care centers were used as shelters to protect individuals and families during the storm.
MCC’s compact with the Philippines will now take on even greater significance in the affected areas, particularly in Leyte and Samar. MCC-funded infrastructure such as roads, schools, day-care centers, health stations, and water systems will contribute to the long-term reconstruction and prosperity of the region.
The humanitarian response of the United States provides a beacon of good news amid the fog of wreckage. And while the damage left by Haiyan is difficult to describe, my MCA-Philippines colleague Andy Saracho said it best: “We are wounded. We are down. But as a nation, we will rise again.”
Posted on October 25, 2013 by Sheila Herrling, Vice President for Policy and Evaluation
Yesterday I was part of a panel discussion to launch the 2013 Aid Transparency Index. The Index, published each year by Publish What You Fund, is the only independent assessment that rates aid organizations on how transparently they do business. And this year, the rankings show great progress across the U.S. Government in terms of aid transparency, with five of the six U.S. organizations evaluated improving their rankings.
The quantity and the quality of information being made available by U.S. foreign aid agencies increase every single quarter of reporting. This year’s Index shows the United States making considerable progress in balancing the need for coherence across government agencies, as well as progress with the timeliness and accuracy of data.
This year, MCC is being recognized as the top-ranked organization among the 67 assessed. We are all very honored by the ranking and continue in our commitment to making transparency a core business practice. And, truth be told, we are also humbled as we see agencies and organizations that have and will continue to inspire in this space now lower in the rankings despite their truly transformational efforts.
There is so much to learn from one another as we all seek to advance transparency and open data in order to find greater efficiencies in our business models, enhance citizen accountability over aid investments and maximize development impact. Just a few examples are here and here.
I thought it might be useful to share some of my reflections on the journey that got us to the top this year:
- Commit unequivocally and be persistent. Forging internal consensus is a critical first step. On the path to securing that consensus, be prepared to work through a “psychology of fear” that is perfectly understandable but must be overcome. It means believing firmly that the risks of more information in the public domain are worth taking in the pursuit of greater business efficiency and greater impact on the ground. And it means taking a leap of faith that your stakeholders will appreciate the risk and join you in a spirit of partnership.
- If you thought step one was hard, wait ’til you see what comes next. It is extremely important to make a strong business case for opening data to clearly show how the investment is going to bring a return to your organization, as well as to have the patience required to reach proof of concept on that business case. Tremendous hard work is required to deliver quality data. Be prepared to invest a lot of time and energy—largely manually—to organize disparate data and get it to a place where you can have a single authoritative source with multiple end-uses. The process requires a heavy lift on the front end—but as the data production becomes increasingly automated over time, costs will decrease dramatically while the benefits steadily rise.
- Put together a crack team that partners policy and technology. Part of doing it well requires a task-oriented team with a mix of policy-minded and technology-minded people. The technology-minded types need to learn not to roll their eyes at perceived bureaucratic hurdles and process/structure issues thrown up by the policy types, and the policy types need to acknowledge that there is room to loosen some controls and crowd-source the effort.
- Stay ambitious. Complacency in this space should not be tolerated. Continue to examine the demand side of the equation to make sure you are producing the right data in the right format for your various stakeholders. Continue to stay in touch with other organizations that are also driving forward in the field to learn and share and leapfrog each other’s efforts.
And to give folks a preview of what’s on the horizon at MCC as we seek to maintain that top spot:
- Revamp of data.mcc.gov: A revamp of our open data hosted at data.mcc.gov will include building a high-quality API file to allow a whole new world of stakeholders to access our data. We will continue to publish data in a range of formats, and the new interface of data.mcc.gov aims to make our data more easily discoverable and accessible.
- Release of 10-20 evaluation survey data sets: By June 2014, MCC has committed to publishing 10-20 of the survey data sets that have been collected as a result of our independent evaluations. We are in the process of preparing the data for release and presenting it for clearance to our internal Disclosure Review Board, which has been formed to ensure that MCC upholds high legal and ethical standards throughout the release process. In the future, we expect a steady stream of data sets to be made available because we are also reengineering our evaluation process with the end goal of data release in mind. This should speed up the process considerably.
- A new disclosure policy: We are putting the finishing touches on our new disclosure policy, which will guide staff in implementing transparent practices around the release of information collected in the course of MCC business. The policy aims to empower staff to release more information, consistent with the presumption of disclosure.
- Elevate our Open Government Plan: While the disclosure policy will serve as internal guidance to our staff, MCC is also planning to revise our Open Government Plan by June of next year. This plan will serve as the public-facing MCC document on access to information. In the process of revising this plan, MCC will seek active participation of stakeholders throughout the policy making process.
- Enhance and evolve the Dashboard: MCC continues to work with the Foreign Assistance Dashboard to continue to improve our own data on the Dashboard and to begin submitting data in XML format. We will make our XML code open code so any agency that wants to publish to XML can use what we’ve already produced.
- Pilot IATI XML generators in some MCAs: MCC will begin to explore how we can support our Millennium Challenge Accounts—the implementing organizations in partner countries—in reporting to IATI. As we build out new business systems for MCAs to use for financial, procurement and reporting functions, we will explore how to build IATI file generators into these systems to facilitate the process of including this information in the IATI Registry.
Trust that MCC will always seek to push the boundaries on transparency and open data because we believe so firmly that it leads to better programs, better understanding of what we do and better results. We take our No. 1 spot in the Aid Transparency Index with great pride, humility and a sense of sincere responsibility to keep evolving our efforts in this space for ourselves and others.
Posted on October 11, 2013 by Cassandra Butts, Senior Advisor
In Burkina Faso, girls will celebrate the second annual International Day of the Girl Child by attending school thanks to a groundbreaking investment by the Millennium Challenge Corporation in the BRIGHT (Burkinabe Response to Improve Girls’ Chances to Succeed) program. The United Nations determined that this year’s day will focus on “Innovating for Girls Education,” and innovation is at the heart of the BRIGHT program.
To improve educational outcomes for all children in rural villages with low school enrollments, particularly girls, the BRIGHT program was implemented in 132 rural villages throughout Burkina Faso. Each village received primary school construction and an innovative suite of complementary interventions for students, parents and teachers to encourage school attendance and enhance educational environments.
For students, the interventions included school meals, take-home rations for girls, school kits, and textbooks. Parental and community interventions included adult literacy training for mothers, community information campaigns on the benefits of education, especially the education of girls, and community capacity building on the importance of sustaining educational assets. Teachers also benefited through better school facilities including teacher housing, the recruitment of additional female teachers and gender sensitivity training.
The evidence shows that the BRIGHT program’s innovation is producing results. A recent analysis of the program published by economists Harounan Kazianga, Dan Levy, Leigh L. Linden, and Matt Sloan in the July 2013 issue of American Economic Journal: Applied Economics found that the BRIGHT program increased enrollment by 19 percentage points and increased test scores by 0.41 after 2.5 years. The findings also identified BRIGHT success in targeting girls for enrollment, with an increase of 5 percentage points more than boys. And when comparing the BRIGHT “girl friendly” interventions to a regular school, the findings identified an increase in enrollment of 13 percentage points above a regular school’s effect.
Achieving results is at the core of MCC’s model, and the results of this independent analysis are consistent with what we see on the ground. The BRIGHT program is changing the lives of communities, families and girl children throughout Burkina Faso.
Aisattou Hamidou Diallo and Fatimata Yanta (pictured) are two such girl children who participated in the BRIGHT program and came to Washington, DC in 2011 to share their stories of challenge and achievement. The many memories of their visit include meeting First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House to celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month. Aisattou and Fatimata have gone on to secondary school, where they continue to achieve and build on their BRIGHT experience.
Results like these should be celebrated every day and particularly on the International Day of the Girl Child.