Posted on January 30, 2008 by Ambassador John Danilovich, Chief Executive Officer
It was a thrill for me personally, and a great honor to the MCC, to see more than 400 people pack the prestigious Russell Senate Caucus Room of the U.S. Congress today to celebrate MCCs fourth anniversary. The standing-room-only event among MCC friends on Capitol Hill where MCC was brought into existence through an act of Congress in 2004 was tangible evidence of the strong bipartisan support that our work enjoys.
It was particularly important that some of MCCs friends from the Congress, including Chairwoman Nita Lowey, Congressman Jim Knollenberg, and Senator Norm Coleman, made time to attend the event, as well as MCC Board members Ken Hackett, Henrietta Fore, and Alan Patricof.
MCCs main message for today was that in four short years we have accomplished an astonishing amount. I am proud to tell people that what started as a great concept has become, in the span of four short years, a great reality. What was once a group of eight people in borrowed offices is now a first-rate organization with a robust portfolio of work. We are not only one of the newest, but with fewer than 300 staff, we are definitely one of the smallest U.S. government agencies. And yet, with $5.5 billion committed in 16 compacts worldwide, we are moving ahead at great speed with much more on the way.
Events like this one today are not only a chance for us to show our progress, they are also an opportunity for us to listen to our colleagues. We want to know about their experiences, challenges, and successes in the countries where we are presently working or might work in the next few years. It is an opportunity to listen to how our programs might benefit from the insight of other groups or how together we can leverage private sector resources to build another kilometer of road, provide additional infrastructure, or strengthen community services for the poor of our partner countries. I took part in some of these conversations today and observed scores more of them taking place. People who follow MCC are, for the most part, not shy about sharing their ideas. These are often constructive inputs which we welcome and many times they are stories of success that we are achieving together.
Africa in particular has been an important theme this week. The Africa Society hosted its Andrew Young Lecture Series on Tuesday, where I was pleased to deliver the keynote address. Other presenters spoke at length about how more than half of MCCs compacts and resources are dedicated to Africa. This should come as no surprise given the amount of need on the continent and the range of partners who are willing to enact policy reforms in order to secure MCC funding. I answered some tough but thoughtful questions during the event. They gave me reason to reflect on how the organization, moving from a focus on compact development to compact implementation, has a responsibility to help African countries build capacity to complete the complex task of putting MCC resources to work.
On Monday night I was also on Capitol Hill this time as a guest of the First Lady during the Presidents State of the Union Address. I was happy to hear the prominent mention of the MCC in the Presidents speech and, like many of you, noted his call for full funding of the MCC program. The applause came from both sides of the aisle for good reasons. There has been a great deal of comment on the MCC and its work since this remark and I welcome the chance to talk about our programs to those who may not have been aware of MCC before the speech. On a night when all parts of our government come together united in purpose, the State of the Union underlined what I have known since joining MCC: this work matters to America. It matters to our partners. It matters to the taxpayer, and MCC will help shape the future of our countrys credibility and legacy overseas. Even though many of the people who watched the State of the Union will never visit our compact countries, the work of poverty reduction is relevant to each of them. Poverty anywhere threatens security and prosperity everywhere. This is why MCC matters and why I am proud to be a part of these short four remarkable years
Posted on January 26, 2008 by Ambassador John Danilovich, Chief Executive Officer
I can now give it my best and reach the goals I set for myself. These were the words of Jennifer, one of the students who today received a scholarship for technical and vocational education in El Salvador. I was pleased to be part of this ceremony and watch as these teenagers were recipients of something more than money for school today they received a chance to succeed. This pilot scholarship program for youth in the impoverished Northern Region is just one aspect of a broad initiative on education that MCC is proud to fund as part of our $461 million compact with El Salvador.There is a clear link between education and economic development in El Salvador, where human capital is one of the countrys more promising and precious resources. Infrastructure improvements are greatly enhanced by our sustained investment in the Salvadoran girls and boys that will be shaping the economic and social future of their country. The scholarships that we awarded today underscored this link and pointed to a visible commitment by the government of El Salvador to invest in the education of its people. President Saca and I discussed this issue at length during our trip to and from the events today in Chalatenango.Another issue at the forefront of my meetings in El Salvador was the environment. Working in developing countries, MCC recognizes our responsibility to help partners prioritize social and environmental considerations within their compact design and implementation process. Many people are aware of the environmental indicators that are already part of our selection process. Fewer people know, however, of the environmental impact assessments and other considerations that are an integral step in our ongoing work with MCC partner countries.In the case of El Salvador, the environment is the subject of the countrys first-ever strategic environmental assessment. I was presented with a copy of the report this morning as part of what has been a very public discussion of the issue here in the country. A product of MCCs collaborative relationship with the World Bank, the report takes a hard look at both the individual and cumulative environmental impacts of development projects in the Northern Region where MCC and other donors work. This has enabled identification of key opportunities for strengthening the framework for social and environmental sustainability, and filling gaps in the institutional structure at both the local and national levels.This is the sort of cooperation that makes MCC a sound investment in these partner countries, and a good investment of U.S. taxpayer dollars. Our assistance is helping make our neighborhood in this case the Western Hemisphere a more democratic, more prosperous, and more stable place.
Posted on January 25, 2008 by Ambassador John Danilovich, Chief Executive Officer
My schedule today began in Nicaragua and ended in El Salvador—two very different countries that nonetheless brought to the forefront one common concept: country ownership of MCC projects. Those who follow the MCC and our compacts in 16 countries worldwide know that we talk a lot about this principle. Today in El Salvador, meeting with the men and women of FOMILENIO (the Salvadoran entity charged with the implementation and monitoring of our $461 million compact with the country), I re-emphasized the important role this concept plays in our efforts to fight poverty.
Country ownership is a fundamental part of the MCC process from beginning to end. It is not a solely academic concept or intangible idea it is one of the driving forces behind MCC programs. When creating a compact, negotiating it, and implementing it, the countrys government, civil society, and ultimately those who benefit from our assistance, must be fully invested in the programs. They need to be the ones participating in oversight of activities to ensure results are achieved. This is definitely the case in El Salvador. During the in-depth conversation this afternoon at FOMILENIO headquarters about the status of the El Salvador compact, it was clear that the Salvadorans are aware of the challenges and tangible benefits of carefully designing projects that will benefit the country in the long term, projects that will reduce poverty and sustain economic growth.
El Salvadors MCC compact, four months since entering into force, is in the early phases of implementation. I want people to understand, as I have come to appreciate, what exactly goes on in our partner countries during this phase. The Salvadorans who are implementing this program are setting up the structure that will make the roads, water, rural business development, education, and rural electricity programs planned for the next five years work effectively. They are working with a firm to manage procurements efficiently and transparently. Over the next six months, they are purchasing over $150 million worth of goods, works, and services that will make these MCC projects a reality. They are putting out advertisements (locally and internationally) for the very best experts who can design and carry out these projects. As is required with any solid business plan, they are mapping out in a detailed and professional way the sequence of events that will maximize the investment that comes from MCC, which is the investment of precious American taxpayer resources.
The more I talk to the people on the ground who are designing and implementing MCC projects in our partner countries, and specifically today here in El Salvador, the more I am struck by the professionalism of the teams implementing these programs. They are experts in their field, and are people whose backgrounds match the task at hand implementing the largest MCC compact in this region. I told my friends at FOMILENIO that I was encouraged by their attention to detail and their focus on efficiency. Finding the right balance between responding rapidly, yet responsibly, to poverty reduction is the only way to ensure that the results will stick and the benefits will last.
Speaking of details, the MCC is currently looking at ways to better present and communicate details of the implementation of our projects, to the U.S. taxpayer. Transparency is our responsibility at MCC as much as it is the responsibility of the entities working in our partner countries. I welcome feedback on how we can better communicate the progress and successes in our compact countries, many of which I have seen first-hand in my travels. (Feel free to contact MCC at firstname.lastname@example.org at any time.)
FOMILENIO shared some powerful images with me, of a few of the projects underway in the northern region of the country that so desperately needs infrastructure improvements to stimulate its economy. I am attaching a few of them here so that you can see the current appalling condition of a sampling of the roads that will be rebuilt and the river crossings that are in desperate need of bridges.
While the day ended with a discussion of progress on the ground in El Salvador, it began with an exciting, momentous day in the history of U.S.-Nicaragua relations. I was honored to be able to preside at the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Managua. Together with Ambassador Paul Trivelli and an impressive array of representatives from the full spectrum of Nicaraguan society, I was pleased to participate in the official opening of an impressive, efficient, and beautiful new structure that is a worthy symbol of the U.S. governments constructive engagement in that country.
Posted on January 24, 2008 by Ambassador John Danilovich, Chief Executive Officer
The scene tonight in the plaza of Chinandega was truly remarkable. Thousands of people packed the town square to celebrate the positive cooperation that takes place when two countries work together to combat a common enemy—poverty. President Daniel Ortega, the directors of MCA-Nicaragua, local mayors, and government ministers joined me in awarding land titles to over 700 Nicaraguan families in the northwestern region of the country. These households now have full land titles, can tap into much-needed credit, and fully enjoy the security that comes with property ownership.
Property rights are a key element to reducing poverty, especially in regions that depend on agriculture for their economic livelihood. I am proud that MCC, working with the people of Nicaragua, local NGOs, donor organizations, and the private sector, have already helped provide legal and secure land titles to nearly a thousand people in this country, and in other countries where we are implementing compacts globally. Thousands more titles will be distributed this year alone.
Today I was able to officially launch the rehabilitation of the Villanueva-Guasaule road that connects Nicaragua with neighboring Honduras. This 17-kilometer stretch of the Pan-American Highway network has long been neglected and its poor state has impeded access to markets, basic social services, and the untapped economic potential of international commerce. By reconstructing this important paved artery, Nicaraguans and Central Americans will be able to take full advantage of free trade by getting their goods to market in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Increased exports will mean increased income for Nicaraguans, and these roads are a critical part of that effort.
This evening in the city of Chinandega, President Ortega and I toured an agricultural fair where local farmers talked to us about how improved roads, irrigation systems, and innovative methods for commercializing their products are increasing their crop yields and incomes. It is always reassuring to hearrepeatedlythank you, MCC from grateful beneficiaries. What was even more rewarding tonight, however, was to hear of their big plans for expansion. These farmers want to pull themselves out of poverty, and they are doing it with the help of MCC. They prove the old adage that there is no such thing as a small entrepreneur, but rather an entrepreneur with a small business. MCC wants to help these rural entrepreneurs take full advantage of their resources and talents to work in a smarter, more profitable, and environmentally friendly way for Nicaraguas future.
These are the results that MCC is seeing on the ground in places such as Nicaragua. We are helping people help themselves. We are facilitating a dialogue between rural populations and their local leaders. We are creating a space in which we can collaborate in a constructive way with governments despite political differences. We must look forward to the 21st century in places such as Nicaragua to fight a common enemypoverty. President Ortega ended his speech this evening in the plaza of Chinandega thanking the United States government and American people, proclaiming Viva los Estados Unidos!. Quite a milestone. These are the results of the careful investment of taxpayer funds in programs like the MCC. Stability in this region is a tangible benefit for the people of the U.S. and I am proud that MCC is leading this effort in the Western Hemisphere and around the world.
(Note: Ambassador Danilovich will preside at the inauguration of the U.S. Embassy in Managua on January 24. He travels to El Salvador to review implementation of MCCs $461 million compact. Check back for new blog entries.)
Posted on January 23, 2008 by Ambassador John Danilovich, Chief Executive Officer
I want to take advantage of my current trip to Central America to launch the MCCs latest initiative to better communicate with our stakeholders in the U.S. and abroad the CEO Blog. This is intended as a direct channel of communication to offer my first-hand perspective of our programs and the results that our assistance to partner countries is producing on the ground for the benefit of the worlds poor.
Todays itinerary in Nicaragua has achieved significant milestones. I was pleased to meet with the MCA-Nicaragua government board members and discuss how to best support the $175 million compact currently in its second year of implementation. We talked frankly about ways to maximize the resources that are part of the compact, even in a world where the dollars rate has dropped sharply and where the rising costs of oil are making large-scale infrastructure projects more expensive than ever. Our conversation confirmed what I already knew the MCA-Nicaragua board and foundation staff are professionals who are dedicated to this process and who are committed to implementing the best possible project that will benefit Nicaraguans in the northwestern region and the country as a whole.
My meeting with President Daniel Ortega was cordial and productive. His comments to the press following the meeting underscored his appreciation for the impact the MCC is having on the people of this country and their long-term prospects for real economic growth. I was pleased to hear him state to the national press that, even though he had first expressed doubts about the program, he was now more engaged with the program and aware of the time and complexities involved in the construction of durable, high-quality roads and other infrastructure improvements. I pressed the president to continue to advance the reform agenda that will ensure Nicaraguas continued eligibility for MCC assistance. He and the ministers who were in attendance demonstrated an active engagement with the MCC program. This sort of country ownership of the implementation process is needed at all levels of government and civil society in all of our partner countries, and I am happy to report that there is strong evidence of it in Nicaragua.
I impressed upon President Ortega that, despite our occasional political differences, the Millennium Challenge-Nicaragua program represented a way our two countries are cooperating in a constructive and beneficial way. The compact with Nicaragua offers a vehicle by which the U.S. government, through the generosity of the American taxpayer, can engage constructively with Nicaragua on an issue that matters to all of us: the reduction of poverty through economic growth in an environment of political stability.
Ambassador Trivelli graciously opened his home to our delegation from Washington this evening so that we could meet with government, business, civil society, and political leaders (representing all parts of Nicaraguas political spectrum). These events always offer a casual atmosphere where we can have a discussion about the compact, the local political situation, and the progress of our poverty reduction programs. One thing was clear from my conversations with Ambassador Trivellis guests: There is a deep commitment to the success of the MCC-Nicaragua program within all parts of society. As I stated to one journalist this evening, I believe firmly that poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere. Together we are facing, and countering, that threat.
Tomorrow I will help distribute land titles and inaugurate the rehabilitation of the Villanueva-Guasale road in the north of the country. Read about the events here tomorrow.