Posted on September 29, 2010 by Ambassador Hugo Llorens, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras
Hispanic Heritage Month offers a unique opportunity to reflect on the culture and contributions of Hispanic-Americans. As a Cuban-American serving as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, I can appreciate not only the drive of Hispanic-Americans to create a better life for themselves and their families in the United States, but also the determination of Hondurans who are optimizing U.S. assistance to pull themselves out of crushing poverty once and for all. If we need one more milestone to celebrate during Hispanic Heritage Month, we can celebrate the achievements in Honduras through the U.S. Government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant of $205 million dollars.
This September, Honduras became the very first country in the world to complete a five-year partnership with MCC. This partnership was designed to reduce poverty in Honduras through sustainable economic growth. This is no small accomplishment, given MCC’s performance-based model for economic development that provides the financial resources but also expects, in return, that the recipient country own the process of designing and implementing its own projects. This partnership has been a true commitment to empowerment and accountability—through MCC, Honduras has built local capacity, strengthened institutions, and proved to Hondurans that they themselves can meet challenges they never did before. Honduras effectively addressed their constraints to growth—even in the face of political transitions.
This can-do mentality unleashed by the MCC model has brought about real change and new opportunities for the poor in Honduras. Training programs and access to credit have triggered a new spirit of entrepreneurship, helping farmers transition from the traditional production of beans and maize to the modern production of higher-value crops that generate more income. With more income, Honduras farmers are investing in their land and in their families—homes, schools, healthcare. By taking on projects as their own, Honduras developed new standards in transparent procurement processes, responsible resettlement, and effective gender integration. By including civil society and private sector members alongside government officials on the Honduran-based board of the local entity responsible for managing the implementation of the MCC grant, the Honduran people learned best practices in local decision-making. And, by improving roads with MCC funds, Hondurans have created new opportunities for greater trade and for easier and faster ways to reach markets, schools, and health clinics.
I have seen, first-hand, that farmers along the improved road are getting their fruit to the markets quicker and without the damage often caused by big potholes. These roads are attracting tourists and tourism revenue—improved areas host attractions such as the Lenca Trail (the Lencas form the largest indigenous group in Honduras). A new bus route now exists between San Sebastian and Tomala thanks to the road improvements, which have made it safer for bigger buses to transit frequently. Now, this new route will open access even as far to El Salvador, cutting travel time from three to two hours.
Americans can be proud that their investment in Honduras delivered results and established a platform for growth that Honduras can harness for even greater poverty reduction. This is an efficient use of American tax dollars, creating a more prosperous neighbor in the hemisphere. Having seen the work of MCC, I can say with certainty that there is no more effective way to sustainably reduce poverty and promote economic growth than by empowering countries and their citizens through partnerships that deliver tangible results. Such is the Millennium Challenge Corporation model.
A native of New York, Ambassador Llorens has been serving as U.S. Ambassador to Honduras since 2008.
Posted on September 24, 2010 by Daniel W. Yohannes, Chief Executive Officer
As world leaders gathered this week in New York City for the United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the United Nations General Assembly, MCC’s mission and work took center stage.
I listened to President Obama unveil the first-ever development policy issued by a U.S. president. His groundbreaking MDG Summit speech outlined development’s heightened role in U.S. global engagement as a strategic, economic, and moral imperative. The President emphasized that economic growth is the centerpiece of his new development policy, because growth is the fundamental force that will transform the developing world and eradicate poverty. He talked about empowering and partnering with countries committed to taking responsibility for their own development. And, he stressed that America’s development investments can have maximum impact in partner countries that set in place high standards of transparency, good governance, and accountability.
I am proud that MCC is already putting the President’s core development principles into practice, like investing in economic growth, promoting country-led development, demanding accountability, and focusing on transparency and results. MCC’s experiences have informed many aspects of the President’s new policy. We are integral to the policy moving forward by sharing what we have learned, including our leadership on rigorous evidence-based evaluations to drive policy decisions and ensure aid effectiveness.
The principles of effective development outlined in President Obama’s policy were repeated by the presidents and prime ministers from a number of partner countries I met with this week to discuss progress on the implementation of their MCC compacts. They spoke about reforming their policies, building homegrown capacity and more responsive institutions, and delivering the results their citizens expect. These themes were also featured at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting. I was particularly struck by CGI’s emphasis on strengthening market-based solutions and empowering girls and women, which are also clear priorities for MCC’s work in partner countries worldwide and for achieving the economic growth underpinning the Obama administration’s global development policy.
Moreover, the President’s development policy embraces partnership as essential to success, and each MCC event in New York sought ways to mobilize the power of partnerships. I met President Benigno Aquino to sign a $434 million MCC compact with the Philippines. This compact will fight corruption by streamlining processes at the Bureau of Internal Review; strengthen local accountability through the Kalahi-CIDSS rural development program; and improve access to markets and community services through the construction and repair of 220 kilometers of Samar Road. The Philippines’s MCC compact is another example of how we partner with countries committed to sound political, economic, and social policies vital for sustainable development to deliver the progress and results the poor expect.
To further engage with the private sector as vital partners in development, Cape Verde’s Prime Minister José Maria Neves, the Executive Vice President and CEO of the International Finance Corporation Lars Thunell, and AES Corporation’s Global Chief Operating Officer Andres Gluski joined me in addressing a private sector gathering. These gentlemen shared their first-hand perspectives on the power of private enterprise to augment and accelerate public efforts to stimulate economic growth. Businesses, foundations, NGOs, and partner countries discussed strategies to align their activities with sustainable development objectives. One of my top priorities at MCC, like the President’s policy advocates, is to increase development impact by broadening our partnerships with the private sector and non-traditional actors, such as philanthropic foundations.
MCC also partnered with other leaders in the field for a breakfast roundtable on gender. The discussion was co-hosted with the White House Council on Women and Girls and highlighted ways we can effectively integrate gender equality in development plans to ensure long-term sustainability. We recognize that expanding opportunities for women and girls in developing communities reduces poverty. MCC Senior Advisor Cassandra Butts spoke more about MCC’s gender policy at a high-level luncheon with heads of state later that day.
Now, we will build upon the conversations, relationships, and partnerships we forged and deepened this week to further MCC’s mission. MCC’s policies, practices, and results will continue to contribute to President Obama’s vision for development and serve as critical building blocks for a new era of global poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth.
Posted on September 23, 2010 by Cassandra Butts, Senior Advisor
The Obama Administration is deeply committed to MDG 3—promote gender equality and empower women—as evidenced in the remarks from Tina Tchen, Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-At-Large for Global Women’s issues. Both noted that the empowerment of women and girls is very much a part of the U.S. Government’s national security strategy and foreign policy objectives.
Other participants included the First Ladies of Lesotho and Malawi, Congressman Russ Carnahan, and prominent representatives from the private sector, NGO, and donor communities.
The roundtable discussion centered on “gender integration in practice”: How do we move beyond describing how gender differences and inequalities shape development opportunities to ensuring that we actually are achieving gender equality outcomes?
Representatives from the private sector called on the “convening power of government” to foster cooperation in achieving gender equality goals through partnerships with civil society, private firms, and government entities.
Participants noted the challenges of changing institutional cultures and of “living up to our own rhetoric.” Some noted that we must ensure that our attention to gender equality is not limited to “boutique projects” and, although there has been much progress in targeting issues that deeply affect women and girls, the challenge remains of mainstreaming gender analyses across development initiatives.
MCC’s corporate values of focusing on results and country ownership were acknowledged as core to achieving gender as well as other goals. MCC noted our engagement in ensuring that leadership, mandate, capacity, resources, and accountability are incorporated in our operational attention to gender.
MCC CEO Daniel Yohannes opened the roundtable discussion, which I had the pleasure of moderating subsequently. MCC was also represented by our gender and social assessment practice lead Virginia Seitz. This engagement further demonstrates MCC’s high-level commitment to well integrating our much-noted gender policy into MCC operations and working collaboratively across the U.S. Government to keep the empowerment of women and girls at the forefront of the international dialogue on development assistance.
Posted on September 23, 2010 by Sheila Herrling, Vice President for Policy and Evaluation
Today I witnessed an historic moment. To a hushed United Nations Millennium Development Goals assembly of world leaders, President Obama unveiled the U.S. Global Development Policy, the first of any American administration. In his speech, he also addressed head-on what is likely on the minds of many Americans: Why, during difficult economic times at home, should we have such a policy? The answer: Investing in global development is not just a good thing; it’s a strategic and economic imperative.
The President emphasized the fundamental tenets of sustainable development: Partner with select countries willing to take the lead and invest in broad-based economic growth through transparent and mutually-accountable ways that tap the talents of all their people and unleash transformational change. And, he defined “development” as more than just aid, which, while an important ingredient, won’t drive sustained growth as much as trade and investment. The speech is a bold call and now, collectively, U.S. Government agencies, working with partners in the private sector and nongovernmental community, need to respond.
I am extremely excited that MCC’s work is a key part of the Obama administration’s action plan on global development. As the President said in his speech, “Building in part on the lessons of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, which has helped countries like El Salvador build rural roads and raise the incomes of its people, we will invest in the capacity of countries that are proving their commitment to development.” MCC has six years of experience testing and implementing the principles at the center of the President’s policy: investing in economic growth, promoting country-led development, demanding accountability, and focusing on transparency and concrete results.
President Obama made it clear that the United States will be a global leader in international development in the 21st century. I am thrilled to be part of an administration and U.S. Government agency that recognizes that America’s security and prosperity are inextricably linked to the security and prosperity of all countries, particularly the world’s poorest. MCC has contributed, and will continue contributing, to this leadership agenda, sharing what it has learned, forging smart and deliberate collaboration with others, and pushing the boundaries of innovative development assistance.
Posted on September 22, 2010 by Frances Reid, Senior Investment and Risk Officer
On Monday night, MCC hosted a reception that brought together leaders from small- and medium-sized businesses, donors, the U.S. Government, and foreign governments to share ideas on ways in which we can partner to deliver sustainable solutions to the developing world. The event, “The Role of Business in Sustainable Development,” was held as heads of state, development leaders, and policymakers arrived in New York to start the Millennium Development Goals Summit, the Clinton Global Initiative, and the UN General Assembly meetings.
As the new investment and risk officer, I was very pleased to greet old friends and meet new and hopefully future partners. What I truly enjoyed was the conversations that I heard around the room. Whether it was Prime Minister Jose Maria Neves of Cape Verde and Lars Thunell, CEO of IFC, discussing the microfinance program in Cape Verde, or AES Corporation Chief Operating Officer Andres Gluski explaining the benefits of his company’s public-private partnership with MCC in El Salvador, guests were attentive and eager to build on the work they are doing to spur economic growth in emerging economies.
MCC CEO Daniel Yohannes issued a clarion call to our guests at our reception, “Let us forge strong partnerships for progress that will benefit our missions and interests as well as the lives of the world’s poor.” I hope that the conversations started this week will indeed forge a stronger partnership between the private sector and the development community.
Posted on September 20, 2010 by Daniel W. Yohannes, Chief Executive Officer
On Friday, September 17, I joined Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to celebrate the end of the MCC compact in Honduras. MCC’s press release tells the story of this event, but what the press release can’t convey is the instructive story of country ownership that led to successful program completion. From the poorest farmers to the highest levels of government, there has been an incredible commitment by Hondurans themselves to achieving and sustaining results, embracing transparency, and applying lessons learned throughout implementation.
Hondurans designed the program with an integrated approach to maximizing project impact and sustainability. They knew that farmers trained in new techniques also needed linkages to buyers, access to credit, and improved roads to get their goods to markets while still fresh. MCA-Honduras, the team of dedicated and passionate Hondurans, implemented the projects on a daily basis for five years, with transparency and technical effectiveness. The national congress passed laws in the financial sector, road maintenance, and resettlement to increase the impacts and sustainability of the compact investments. Honduran civil society helped anchor the program with support through three government administrations. Such collective effort means that they all have pride in the accomplishments and a personal investment in continued success.
Azucena Urquia, one of the herb growers I met Thursday, shared her story with us at the compact closeout ceremony. She said she never imagined she would be a farmer, know how to plow a field, or how to sell her goods to big grocery stores. She is very proud of her accomplishments and her community in Cantoral, Honduras.
I also had an opportunity to learn more about the 15 grants that promoted innovation in agricultural technologies; these technologies are now reaching farmers all over Honduras. For instance, three biological pest controls were developed to help farmers fight some of the most critical pests plaguing crops without chemicals. MCC will conduct impact evaluations to understand how these innovations translate into increased incomes and into real learning. I also tasted berry wine that is now being sold in markets. Like the berry wine producers, over 15 other entrepreneurs received intensive training on product development to increase their competitiveness.
As I walked by the stands of the agriculture fair at the closeout event, beneficiaries, private sector, government, and civil society alike greeted me with warm smiles and words of deep gratitude to the people and government of the United States. In addition to their gratitude for the generosity of the American people, they too deserve to feel pride in what they have done with this American investment, and how they have ensured that this poverty reduction grant from the United States will produce real results in the lives of Hondurans.
Posted on September 17, 2010 by Daniel W. Yohannes, Chief Executive Officer
It’s not every day that a bowl of soup for lunch is an inspiration. But the “sopa de gallina” that we enjoyed with farmers in Ocotal, Honduras was tremendously inspiring.
I arrived in Honduras yesterday to see the early results of the MCC compact and to participate in the closeout commemoration. On my first day here, I had the opportunity to meet farmers, see their crops, hear about their experiences with MCC-funded technical assistance, and then enjoy a soup made out of the vegetables and herbs (yucca, squash, coriander, basil, garlic, tomatoes, and onions) harvested from the fields we had just walked through.
Mrs. Consuelo, the Honduran woman in the accompanying pictures, prepared the soup using all local ingredients that she and fellow farmers produced. She is part of a group of women who received MCC technical assistance and now grows aromatic herbs, such as basil, coriander, and lemongrass, that are in high demand in supermarkets. The group’s inspiring story shows the power that training and collaboration can have in the daily life of citizens, especially women.
One of the farmers I spoke with, Juan Carlos Urquia, is a successful young farmer in his 20s who is now harvesting six times a year, compared to only twice annually before receiving compact assistance. He told me of Ocotal, “MCC’s investments have revolutionized this area.” He says he never imagined growing crops based on market demand and learning techniques like the use of drip irrigation systems. Some of the farmers also have learned how to use the internet to research markets, new seeds, and methods for protecting crops from infestation.
The stories that Mrs. Consuelo and Juan Carlos shared with me are just samples of early compact results here in Honduras. As project work ends, the results phase is just beginning. And so, we embrace the hope and inspiration of these celebratory days, of the delicious “sopa de gallina” and the success it symbolizes. We move forward committed to carefully monitoring and assessing the results of our MCC investment in Honduras and to sustaining the advancements for years to come.