Posted on March 28, 2008 by Rodney Bent, Deputy Chief Executive Officer
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a per capita income of $260 a person, and a troublesome ranking of just three from the bottom in the UN’s Human Development Index (174 out of 177). Ive just returned from a trip to the country where I represented MCC during the signing of a $23 million threshold agreement. The bulk of the threshold program$18 million or sois to help Niger improve its low rate of girls’ primary school completion. Niger is in the bottom 5 percentile of low income countries and has a bright red score on MCC’s index for this category. Red, in terms of MCC’s “scorecards” of performance, is not good.
The threshold program has been put together with a notion of helping up to 200 schools become more “girl-friendly.” Its one drop in an enormous bucket of educational needs, but the Minister of Education, Monsieur Samba Mamadou, shared with me his excitement about the threshold program. The morning after the signing ceremony, he joined me, the US Ambassador to Niger Bernadette Allen, local USAID representative Mark Wentling, and USAID regional Mission Director Henderson Patrick, who flew up from Accra for the occasion. We set off in a dusty caravan of vehicles for the province of Tillaberi to visit some of these schools and talk to our local partners about their needs and challenges.
We bounced for dozens of kilometers along a mix of paved and sandy roads—a reminder of the overwhelming needs of so many countries where we work. The driver of our car had to flip on the wipers constantly to blow away the dust on the windshield. I asked the Minister of Education about Niger’s education needs during the trip. “Everything” was the short answer to the question, with the most critical component being trained teachers, followed by school buildings, notebooks for students (cahiers), textbooks, blackboards, desks—you name it. We talked at length about the discrepancy between boys’ and girls’ enrollment rates. He cited the reasons as cultural, social, and economic. Many parents need help in hauling water for the families’ use during the day. Other daughters are married when they’re 13 or 14. The minister made it clear that he, like so many others, understands full well the importance of having girls remain in schools and wants to help make it a reality.
After we drove several dozen more kilometers on the western side of the Niger River, we arrived at the first school. The school buildings are one story tall, built of tan bricks. There was no electricity that I could see, but there were dozens and dozens of people, adults, teachers, local officials and three Peace Corps volunteers at this first site. The school rooms I saw were simple, sometimes with a blackboard, but always packed with kids. In one school room, they’re wearing paper hats with Niger-MCC-USA written around the bands. They sang and clapped as we ducked to enter the school room and wish them well. On the black board, in one corner, someone had written the number of garcons and jeunne filles that were in attendance that day. That particular day, in that classroom, the girls outnumbered the boys. This was great news. The governor assured me that the word was getting out to the local officials, tribal leaders and families about the importance of encouraging their daughters to come to school. The need for new classrooms to accommodate the students was evidenced by a lean-to, with a primitive stick roof, that serves as a classroom for 30 or more children, who appeared to be about five or six years-old. There were no chairs and no desks. The head of the school talked to us about the need for latrines, and for places to feed the children. A “cafeteria” would probably be too grand a name for what will likely be a new room for this purpose, possibly with a stove and water. I asked some Peace Corps volunteers, who are working in schools further away from this one, what they needed. Everything again was the simple answer. MCC’s Niger Threshold Program certainly isn’t everything, but it is at least a start.
Selecting the Philippines, Partnering with the Private Sector, Enhancing Communications:All in a Week’s Work at MCC
Posted on March 19, 2008 by Ambassador John Danilovich, Chief Executive Officer
Last week’s MCC Board meeting added a new country to the list of countries eligible for MCC compact fundingthe Philippines. This decision was actually the culmination of a discussion that began during our December meeting, when the Board asked for a deeper analysis of the data before making a final determination. The Board decided that, based on the Philippines’ continued performance on MCC’s indicators, it could now apply for funding for a large-scale poverty-reduction grant. The initial reaction to this announcementfrom civil society and government partnersconfirms that there is a great deal of interest and commitment from various sectors in helping the Philippines maintain its eligibility on the indicators we compile from independent, transparent, non-U.S. Government sources. A number of good ideas on this frontand some important concernswere raised during our public outreach meeting following the Board meeting. It underscored for me that the best way to ensure that the Philippines’ policy-reform agenda continues is to keep it in the public eye. MCC compact eligibility certainly spotlights these efforts. Impediments to economic growth are issues that MCC takes seriously with all our partner countries, particularly corruption which receives special consideration as part of our model. The ball is now in the Philippines’ court to develop a proposal that involves broad consultation with its people and to continue tackling those problems that stand in the way of long-term economic growth.
People from diverse sectors of society continue to talk about MCCs different model as conversations about foreign assistance increase, in communities both inside and outside the beltway. It is clear from these conversations that poverty reduction abroad is not just a ““Washington issue.”” It affects all Americans and was clearly on the minds of the business leaders who I met with at a recent event in Indianapolis organized by the Initiative for Global Development (IGD). An increasing number of companies, large and small, have asked MCC to explain how they can get involved to maximize the positive impact of MCC investments for the people of our partner countries. We view involvement from the private sector as key to our success.
MCC has a great deal to learn from companies who are operating internationally, and we continue to invite development experts, the NGO community, and the private sector to share best practices and discuss concerns with us. While grants from the U.S. Government can help address areas of critical need, they simply cannot provide the full range of technology and long-term market-driven investments that the private sector can. MCC offers the helpful push to spark the interest of the private sector that millions of peopleliving on less than $2 a daydesperately need. The responsible, long-term cooperation of the private sector is what will help these people through the ““finish line”” to experience an end to systemic poverty. (Read a recent Washington Post article that touches on these themes.)
With compacts in 16 countries and threshold programs in 17 countries, MCC’s work covers a broad spectrum of technical and policy areas. We are working to improve the way we communicate the nature of our work and have made recent changes to our quarterly status reports, including a new project timeline and other features. Our hope is that this report can offer a more detailed ““snapshot”” of where we are in our work with partner countries. We are also proud of our groundbreaking use of economic rates of return in our analysis. Weve put this data on the web with interactive features for you to explore. We welcome your feedback, and I invite you to e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas for how we can improve the way we communicate with you as we work together to reduce poverty through economic growth .