Posted on March 31, 2014 by Randall Wood, resident country director, Senegal
If Oumou Khairy Fall and Téty Fall are smiling in this picture, it’s because their lives are already better off—economically and socially—since the beginning of MCC’s investment in Senegal. And the work has just begun!
Both come from the northern village of Mboubéne in the Senegal River Valley, part of Africa’s dusty Sahel but the heartland of Senegal’s rice production zone. Production there is expected to increase by 10,500 hectacres by the time MCC’s five-year, $540 million compact ends in September 2015, and the dramatic improvements to irrigation channels, pumps and water conduits will help local rice farmers plant three crops per year instead of one.
That’s big news in a country that imports nearly 70 percent of its rice, Senegal’s main staple food.
Speaking of rice, Oumou and Téty would like to offer you some. They competed and won the right to manage the cafeteria for local contractor Eiffage Senegal, a contractor involved with the construction funded through the compact's $170 million Irrigation and Water Resources Management Project. It’s hot in Senegal’s north this time of year, and construction is hot, sweaty work that stirs up an appetite in a hurry.
Oumou smiles. “These men are always hungry,” she says. “And they come back and back for more.”
“I think they like our food,” laughs Téty.
Oumou and Téty start serving breakfast while the first rays of the sun are still throwing long shadows and the desert air is cool. The day’s heat will arrive in less than an hour as the Eiffage crew lines up for their first meal of the day. “Coffee,” Téty explains, “with lots of powdered milk, fresh bread and some stew.”
While the crew heads out to pour concrete and lay the iron rebar that will eventually bring the additional irrigation waters over the rice fields, Oumou and Téty begin preparing for lunch. When the sun is overhead, the temperature soars to well past 90 degrees. The Senegal River Valley swelters. The workers come back in for some nourishment, camaraderie—and shade. Lunch is a stew of local red beans in tomato sauce, a specialty of the region.
“It seems like no matter how many beans we buy in the market, we need more,” Téty explains. “These men are always hungry, and food is so important.”
Téty has neatly summed up just one way this project itself is important. When construction concludes in 2015, MCC’s investments in rice production and irrigation will help the Senegalese people get closer to meeting their demand for the staple. But it’s paying dividends already in the local economy. With well over $100 million in construction contracts ongoing in Senegal’s north, MCC’s investments are indirectly generating jobs for many hundreds of laborers, drivers, engineers, surveyors, community interpreters, social organizers, technicians, specialists, and more.
The impact these workers are having on the local economy—from food to gas to equipment to haircuts to lodging and more—is rippling through the Senegalese economy. The beans Téty purchases at the local market are just the beginning.
MCC’s program in Senegal places a special emphasis on gender equality from project design to implementation to evaluation, and these two women are an example of that. MCC’s construction contracts stipulate that women be given opportunities to join the workforce in whatever jobs they qualify for and are willing to do. Women are increasingly taking up positions such as flag person, gas station attendant and warehouse overseer. Moreover, if Senegal has any female welders, they are to be given an equal chance to work.
There are many opportunities for women to benefit from the sudden influx of capital and labor in Senegal’s north. This cafeteria is just one of them.
The compact is expected to benefit more than 1.1 million people over the next 20 years. As I finish my scalding hot glass of attaya—sweet, Senegalese tea—I watch Oumou and Téty manage their kitchen as the lunchtime crew cleans their plates and prepares to head back out for the afternoon’s work. I’ll be proud when this program is complete, and the people of Senegal benefit from this investment. But I’m even prouder to see the impact the investment is already having.
Posted on March 31, 2014 by Christopher Davis, Development specialist, Burkina Faso
Scents of onions, tomatoes and damp earth permeated the morning air as we spoke with representatives of women’s associations in the Dî Perimeter, one of the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s principal investments in Burkina Faso. My colleagues and I were visiting the construction site to listen to community members who received their newly irrigated land last spring.
Located only a few miles from the country’s border with Mali and near the convergence of the Sourou and Mouhoun rivers, the village of Dî and its namesake 5,535-acre perimeter provide the region’s farmers with irrigation all year. In the past, most of these farmers could cultivate only during the rainy season. The women told us they were grateful to finally have the opportunity to farm land of their own.
“Before the MCC project, women [in this area] didn’t have the right to cultivate on their own land unless they were widows,” said Sayibata Ki, president of Association Benkadi No. 3. “We took care of the kids at home, prepared meals and had little work to do outside of market days. Now we can go out to farm our fields and make our own decisions about which part of our harvest we keep or sell.”
MCC's five-year, $481 million compact with Burkina Faso contains four projects: agriculture, roads, rural land governance, and education. In addition to the irrigation of the Dî Perimeter, the compact’s $141.9 million Agriculture Development Project is working with the Burkinabe to improve water management, diversified agriculture and access to rural finance.
An estimated 4,500 farmers and their families in Dî are expected to be working in the perimeter by the time the compact ends in July, and the trip gave us an opportunity to talk personally with some of them following their first growing season. Preliminary reports indicate that farmers harvested more than 1,800 acres of corn, soybeans and other legumes on the land on which construction had already been completed.
The project included a strong focus on ensuring benefits reach local women, who are often not recognized as landholders and are therefore last in line to receive land security. More than 130 agricultural associations are receiving land in the Dî Perimeter, composed entirely of women and youth from neighboring communities. Each cooperative member receives a plot of about one-tenth of an acre; last year, more than 2,000 individuals formed organizations to be eligible to receive the land.
Cooperative members are receiving kits containing tools, seeds and fertilizers. MCC is also funding trainings on how to plant and apply fertilizers to maximize yields, efficient irrigation methods and ways to increase soil fertility.
Most of the cooperative members are learning these techniques for the first time.
“We were taught how to make compost in our courtyards with things we can easily find around our village,” Ki said. “I give my children a bit of money to go and search for the supplies and then I use the compost on my land. It is much cheaper than buying fertilizer.”
The association members dug canals to deliver water directly to their parcels and learned that they would manage water resources that feed their canals.
“Mastering the irrigation schedule and working well together was very difficult in the beginning,” said Elisabethe Tiama, a member of the Hérakaura cooperative. “[MCA-Burkina Faso contractors] helped us to get organized and we were able to set a five-day watering calendar based on the rotation of the village markets. They also showed us the best ways to grow our corn and onions.”
All of the farmers we spoke with said they were pleased with their yields and looking forward to harvesting the lucrative dry-season cash crops they planted a couple of months ago. I was most impressed with the initiative and ingenuity some of these entrepreneurs exhibited, quickly solving problems and adapting to a more formal and communal irrigation schedule.
By April 2014, these businesswomen will be joined by their neighbors from throughout the region as the full 5,535 acres are delivered to beneficiaries. Additional plots of land will be distributed via a lottery before then.
Ki can’t wait.
“My husband and I both put our names into the land lottery,” she said. “We are ready for more farmland!”
Posted on March 28, 2014 by Michelle Adato, Director, Social and Gender Assessment, Department of Compact Operations
MCC is marking World Water Day with a blog series on our investments in the delivery of clean water, effective sanitation services and long-term solutions that help build economic growth. This is the seventh and final blog in the series.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation’s $354.7 million compact in Zambia will build water, sanitation and drainage infrastructure in greater Lusaka’s poor communities. The challenge, though, is ensuring that the projected benefits reach the poor. Recognizing that this means addressing the complex social dimensions in those vulnerable communities, MCC is putting great effort and resources into a holistic approach to these projects.
MCC’s Lusaka Water Supply, Sanitation, and Drainage (LWSSD) project must address not only the engineering complexities of building water and sewer networks in dense, under-planned neighborhoods, but also the social and economic complexities of getting people connected, keeping them connected and bringing about the behavior changes necessary to enable and sustain the intended benefits.
The cases of the “white elephants,” as referred to by one Zambian water and sanitation regulator – where water or sewer networks are built but lie unused because people do not connect or stay connected – happen because not enough focus is placed on the importance of social dimensions of planning for water and sanitation service delivery.
A global literature review commissioned by MCC found that the rate of household network connections is significantly increased when infrastructure is combined with well-designed and executed information and education campaigns that address the why and how of connecting, accompanied by policies that make connections affordable, such as pre-financing and permitting repayment over time. A tariff structure that addresses affordability and social equity principles is also important.
The LWSSD project involves mostly infrastructure but is also strengthened on the institutional side with initiatives that improve the long-term ability of the Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company to manage aspects of service planning and delivery. Some of these aspects include developing policies and planning tools that ensure the integration of social and gender inclusion across the utility, and improving the utility’s capacity to design and implement information and education campaigns on connecting and staying connected; household water management; care and maintenance of facilities; hygiene; keeping drains clean and safe; and employment opportunities in the sector. The goal is to support the utility in adopting best-practices, so that Zambia’s most vulnerable populations can access affordable services and be able to rely on these services into the future.
While the challenges are immense, the ultimate ability of the infrastructure project in Zambia to meet its objectives is dependent on addressing these social dimensions.
Posted on March 28, 2014 by Ben Campbell, Director, Environmental and Social Assessment, Department of Compact Operations
MCC is marking World Water Day with a blog series on our investments in the delivery of clean water, effective sanitation services and long-term solutions that help build economic growth. This is the sixth in the series.
Population pressures in Malawi have pushed poor and vulnerable farmers up the steep hillsides where they scratch out a living growing maize. Having grown up an Iowa farm boy, I would have never contemplated planting corn on such steep slopes—but of course, we were nowhere near as desperate for land or production as the farmers in Malawi.
Unfortunately, there is a knock-on effect to the poverty-driven hillside planting: Tons of topsoil sediment makes its way into the Shire River, where it flows into and fills the head ponds, damaging the hydroelectric plants. The topsoil’s rich nutrients feed invasive weed blooms which get caught in the turbines, leading to power blackouts all over the country.
The effect represents a real long-term threat to MCC’s Malawi Compact, which includes the rehabilitation of the hydroelectric plant on the Shire River and an upgrade of the electric grid through much of southern and central Malawi.
In response, the project on which we are working in partnership with the Malawians seeks long-term financing to promote better land-use practices in the Upper and Middle Shire Basin, the source of much of the soil runoff. Working with private and government-owned companies, we aim to establish an environmental trust.
These downstream companies that make up the trust—including sugarcane producers, bottlers, water utilities, and the electric company—are affected by the same sediment as the hydroelectric plant. Individually, there is little they can do. Together, though, they can contribute the money needed to provide grants to local non-government and community-based organizations which, in turn, can help farmers improve their methods through conservation agriculture, forestry and soil erosion techniques.
For the farmers, the use of one or all of these practices should lead to improved yields. For the trust companies and the hydroelectric plant, these plans will reduce pressure on the forests and hillsides that are the source of the water.
By linking the land-use interests of the downstream entities with the upstream communities, our project hopes to create long-term funding to support these efforts, even after MCC has left.
Posted on March 28, 2014 by Evan Freund, Deputy Resident Country Director, Mozambique
MCC is marking World Water Day this week with a blog series on our investments in the delivery of clean water, effective sanitation services and long-term solutions that help build economic growth. This is the fifth in the series.
Nacala, home to Mozambique’s deep water port and access point for trade through much of east and southern Africa, is a city whose rapid growth punctuates the entire country’s challenges with access to a clean and reliable water source.
In the towns and villages surrounding Nacala, and in the city itself, the lack of an element so vital for daily life and commerce is a considerable constraint to economic growth.
The road to Nacala’s port is cluttered with new and expanding businesses – many of which are voracious water consumers – and the coast is increasingly crowded with large container ships, transporting the world’s goods into, and out of, the region. The region’s growth is evident at every turn in Nacala.
The MCC-funded expansion and rehabilitation of the aging, inefficient and undersized bulk water supply dam in Nacala – the principal source of Nacala’s water – was an ambitious and technically complex plan which, in part, helps the city meet the growing demand for water. The project also embodied many of the very best characteristics of the MCC model and the necessary characteristics of good project execution: broad engagement and involvement with community entities and people who have a stake in the project’s success, a planning process that included participation by public and private organizations, and country-led solutions.
Piecing together a collaborative and productive partnership between multiple beneficiaries and participants at the international, national and local levels over a three year period prior to construction was critical to ensuring the safe and timely completion of the project. But it was not without its secondary challenges. The announced promise of more water led to understandable expectations of immediate results, especially among the project’s intended beneficiaries. It was important to explain in clear language that considerable front end work on the project would avoid problems on the back end.
So, led by MCA-Mozambique, countless technical meetings, outreach and educational awareness workshops and discussions took place from 2008 to 2011 in order to ensure a project as technically complex and large as this could go forward with as few problems as possible… and that everyone at each level understood what it was going to take.
With a lot of hard work and a little luck, a tight two-year construction period proceeded smoothly and one of MCC’s most technically sophisticated – and one of Mozambique’s most high profile – projects was delivered as planned. The end result is an expanded dam (from 17 to 19 meters) and a reservoir with increased capacity (4.2 million to 6.6 million cubic meters) that now provide a stable foundation for Nacala’s continued development.
Posted on March 27, 2014 by Joana Brito, Deputy Resident Country Director, Cabo Verde
MCC is marking World Water Day this week with a blog series on our investments in the delivery of clean water, effective sanitation services and long-term solutions that help build economic growth. This is the fourth in the series.
How do you take a fragmented, poorly run water and sanitation utility in an extremely dry country like Cabo Verde and make it run efficiently enough to bring high-quality service to a half million people?
This question is moving toward a real solution through the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Project, part of Cabo Verde’s second compact with MCC. At the start of the project’s design, inefficiencies at the utility level were bad enough to pose significant barriers to economic growth. The problems needed to be tackled aggressively and reforms put in place if people were to benefit from a water utility at all.
The WASH Project aims to sustain the long-term delivery of services and goods through a three-pronged strategy: first, motivating reforms at national policy and regulatory agencies so real change can take place; second, operating utilities more efficiently through best commercial practices; and third, improving the quality and reach of the water and sanitation infrastructure through an accountable system for integrated water resource management.
There are about 19 small utilities spread throughout 22 municipalities of the nine inhabited islands of Cabo Verde, each serving a few thousand people in a population of a half million people. These small utilities, called SAASs, suffer from significant bureaucratic interference by municipal authorities, are over-staffed, have a shortage of technically qualified staff, and are not financially sustainable.
The proposed approaches will make the utilities more efficient and more financially sustainable. These include:
• Grouping nine of the small operators of the island of Santiago, Cabo Verde’s biggest island, into a single corporatized, commercially run operator shielded from political interference;
• Improving operations and management by adopting business practices used by commercial entities; and
• Extending service coverage by decreasing the loss of water through leaky pipes and pumps and making sure the most vulnerable people get service.
This, coupled with a strong public information campaign, will increase awareness of the health benefits of better water and sanitation services as well as hygiene practices. Together, it will prompt consumer willingness to pay for good service.
By focusing on transforming the utilities and the way they do business now, the people of Cabo Verde will enjoy increased access to water and sanitation, with reliable service and improved quality… keys for healthy living.
Posted on March 26, 2014 by Cassandra Q. Butts, Senior Adviser
MCC is marking World Water Day this week with a blog series on our investments in the delivery of clean water, effective sanitation services and long-term solutions that help build economic growth. This is the third in the series.
In the fight against poverty, investing in innovative approaches, enhanced technologies and new techniques to improve development outcomes or reduce costs are essential. Partnerships between the public and private sectors are not new, but they are key to reaching people with new technologies and models for services, often with greater efficiency and impact than what could be achieved working alone.
I recently traveled to Zambia’s capital of Lusaka to participate in the public launch of an exciting program that will leverage public-private partnerships to better support access to clean water, reliable sanitation and services to improve the functioning of Lusaka’s drainage system, especially in the city’s poorest areas.
The Innovation Grant Program intends to confront pressing issues affecting Lusaka’s water sector and limiting economic growth in Zambia. Through calls for proposals to introduce improved technology, best practices and targeted services, the grant program aims to decrease incidences of disease spread through contaminated water as well as reduce the cost of sanitation services and business losses from flooding. With improved service delivery in targeted areas, people will spend less on health care, be more productive in their work and abilities to care for their families, kids will miss less school, and businesses will not have to close as often during the rainy season. New models of service delivery can also create new employment opportunities, support entrepreneurship in the city and empower women and youth.
This program will offer the private sector, universities and other organizations in Zambia, the United States and throughout the world, an opportunity to compete for funding in a transparent manner to complement and supplement the other investments in infrastructure and institutional strengthening being carried out through Zambia’s five-year, $355million MCC compact. Together with the Government of Zambia, the Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company and the Lusaka City Council, MCC’s investment will impact more than one million Zambians.
The promise and potential of the Innovation Grant Program will serve the most vulnerable members of society, ensuring that women, children, the poor, and other disadvantaged groups are able to benefit from access to clean water and sanitation services.
Stay tuned: MCA-Zambia will soon announce when it will start accepting proposals. I am excited to see these advances in action!
Posted on March 25, 2014 by Sheila Herrling, Vice President for Policy and Evaluation
The Center for American Progress recently published a paper exploring the potential benefits and costs of expanding MCC compact and Threshold Programs—which currently focus at the country level—to a regional level. The paper is a welcome contribution to conversations about what’s next for MCC, giving some great food for thought on some of the legislative and operational issues that would be involved in MCC working regionally.
It’s easy to imagine cases where working regionally could indeed bring economic benefits beyond what could be accomplished by working in a single country. The most obvious example is probably transportation infrastructure, where making sure roads connect across borders to promote effective trade and transport would benefit all countries involved. In addition, working together on transportation projects across borders would allow for countries to find efficiencies by standardizing customs procedures or aligning cross-border trucking regulations.
Putting the principle of a regional approach into practice, however, would need to be done in a way that respects key foundational elements of MCC’s model—country selectivity, evidence-based decision making and country ownership. Not to say these are insurmountable challenges, but let’s consider them together:
Country selectivity: While a regional approach might be appropriate in cases where MCC works with countries that border one another, MCC is legally prohibited from doing more than one compact in a country at the same time. Given MCC’s extremely selective process for selecting countries, the CAP authors are right to suggest that it would be difficult for MCC’s Board of Directors to select groupings of neighboring countries that do not already have compacts under way or in development.
MCC also requires countries to maintain good governance standards throughout program implementation or risk suspension and/or termination. Therefore, what happens if conditions in one country within the regional block decline precipitously?
Evidence-based decision making: Even if our Board picked several bordering countries at the same time that did not have compacts under way, how would our current evidence-based approach apply when it came to developing the compact? Specifically, since MCC tailors its investments to address the binding constraints to economic growth in each country—a process that takes place after a country is selected—a regional approach would require constraints to be uniform in the region.
Country ownership. Finally, our emphasis on country ownership would require each country to prioritize regional work more than—or at least as highly as—work focused on their own country priorities. While there are often economic incentives to cross-border cooperation, it is also common to find countries competing with one another.
As I said, none of these challenges is insurmountable, and the idea of regional work is well worth considering, particularly in the spirit of maximizing growth impact. At MCC, we are always interested in engaging new ideas, especially those that offer potential for us to enhance our impact. I would like to commend CAP on this thoughtful report.
I would also like to hear from you. What do you think about CAP’s proposal? Do you have any other ideas to help make MCC more efficient in the fight against global poverty?
Posted on March 25, 2014 by By Erin S. Ansell, Associate Director for Infrastructure, Department of Compact Operations
MCC is marking World Water Day this week with a blog series on our investments in the delivery of clean water, effective sanitation services and long-term solutions that help build economic growth. This is the second in the series.
Most people have a passing familiarity with what is known as the hydrologic cycle. For those who don’t know the term, it’s the process by which water falls to earth as rain, drains to streams and rivers and eventually makes its way into surface water bodies such as lakes and oceans. From there, water evaporates and makes its way back into the earth’s atmosphere, and the process begins again.
But this process only describes the hydrologic cycle in nature, in areas devoid of human dwellings and influence. In fact, most water is used in some way by humans during this cycle, mostly in urban areas. There is, one might say, an urban hydrologic cycle through which potable water from groundwater wells, desalination plants, reservoirs, or other sources, is transported into homes, businesses and industries, where it gets used. From there, it is piped into a centralized wastewater collection system where it heads to a wastewater treatment plant and is discharged back into the natural system. In water-poor countries, such as Jordan, using water efficiently during this urban hydrologic cycle is critical to making the most of a limited natural resource.
Jordan is a highly urbanized Middle Eastern country of some 6 million people and, because of its limited access to surface water or naturally recharged aquifers, ranks among the world’s five most water-poor countries.
MCC’s compact with Jordan addresses the entire urban hydrologic cycle in a heavily populated, poor region of the country called Zarqa Governorate. First, the compact focuses on increasing the effective supply of potable water by repairing and rehabilitating the pipes and pumps in the potable water network that reaches end users.
Once the water is used at household or commercial levels, expansion and repairs in the wastewater collection system network make it possible to increase the quantity of wastewater that is sent to the As-Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant, the largest in Jordan. The plant itself is also being expanded to accommodate the increased volume. This, in turn, generates additional supplies of high-quality treated water appropriate for use in irrigated agriculture in the Jordan Valley, which allows more freshwater to be diverted to higher-value uses in urban areas.
When that treated wastewater is used for irrigation in the Jordan Valley, the same amount of freshwater can be diverted to higher value uses in the urban areas. This arrangement effectively allows two uses for each unit of water. In this way, the compact is designed to enhance economic growth by increasing the availability of fresh water for individual households, small businesses in urban areas and the vibrant service sector, including tourism facilities. It also reduces the need to develop increasingly expensive sources of water, decreases unsustainable off-take levels from Jordan’s aquifers and eases pressures that could erode household and business incomes over time.
Finally, the program helps poor households get more water through the water distribution network at reasonable prices. By designing a program that addresses each phase of the urban hydrologic cycle, MCC and Jordan are working holistically to protect and preserve a limited natural resource.
Posted on March 21, 2014 by Deborah von Zinkernagel, Acting U.S.Global AIDS Coordinator, and Daniel W. Yohannes, Chief Executive Officer
Today, our agencies opened a new collaborative chapter by signing a memorandum of agreement to advance the sustainability of PEPFAR (the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) programs. This agreement launches a three-year partnership between the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the State Department’s Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, which manages PEPFAR, that will tap into what we each do best.
MCC’s experience with country-owned assistance programs together with PEPFAR’s excellence in providing support to national programs will come together to help evolve and enhance how PEPFAR resources are planned strategically together with partner countries, with the aim of making real and impactful progress toward an AIDS-free generation.
What does this mean, and why does it matter?
It means strengthening partnerships between the United States and PEPFAR countries built on mutual responsibility, accountability, transparency, and leadership. To be sustainable, it is critical that partner countries increasingly lead, manage, and implement their own HIV/AIDS response. These solutions must truly be national and include stakeholders across government and party lines, civil society, faith-based organizations, the private sector, and donor partners. This level of engagement captures homegrown expertise and builds on it, giving countries a huge stake in delivering the results. As countries take the reins, they move toward greater self-sufficiency. Simultaneously, scientific evidence and proven programmatic approaches must continue to inform our efforts.
Guided by science and the principle of country ownership, our collaboration will allow us to learn from one another. It will deepen our knowledge, advance best practices and add to the growing body of evidence about what makes foreign assistance successful.
Signing the memorandum between our two offices is a promising start. What is key now is turning that promise into convincing proof that country-designed and country-driven strategies—grounded in science, shared responsibility, accountability, and transparency—can most sustainably provide prevention, treatment and care for those living with HIV/AIDS and contribute, ultimately, to an AIDS-free generation. We look forward to seeing that future unfold.
Deborah von Zinkernagel is the Acting U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, and Daniel W. Yohannes is the Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
Posted on March 21, 2014 by Stephen B. Gaull, Senior Adviser, Finance, Investment and Trade Team
When it comes to water, there is universal agreement that it is vital for life. It is also an essential element for key economic production activities such as power, agriculture and industry. Yet, the reality is, the world’s water supply is scarce – only 2.5 percent of the world’s water is fresh. It is unevenly distributed across and within countries. And it is often poorly managed and inefficiently used. Still, the demand for water is increasing while competition for its finite supply intensifies.
In observance of this year’s World Water Day, MCC will kick off a blog series starting next week, illustrating what we are doing with our partner countries to improve access to clean water and sanitation services, and secure the sustainability of resources into the future. We hope you’ll find these stories as interesting and illuminating as we do …
Water needs for domestic, agricultural and livestock uses create acute sustainability pressures. Climate change and urban sprawl worsen the environmental pressures on water and sanitation supply and quality. All of this creates the need for greater efficiency, management and use of water services.
At MCC, we are keenly aware of these challenges and the imperatives for improved stewardship of this precious resource. We also view water as more than a molecule, and recognize it’s an economic good, whose cost of production requires appropriate pricing to ensure sustainable, high-quality service levels. We also realize the critical social and gender dimensions that must be factored into program designs to achieve the intended goals.
Since 2004, MCC has invested more than $2.1 billion in water. This includes drinking water supply, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); water resources management; and improved water productivity. Our programs have all been defined as priorities by our partner countries, who poignantly understand the challenges and opportunities that water availability presents for economic development and human health. Indeed, we have seen a significant uptick recently in countries requesting MCC assistance with water management, including Cabo Verde, Jordan and Zambia. Countries currently developing MCC compacts are also considering investments in water. In addition to its investments, MCC is playing a leadership role in the development of the U.S. Water Partnership, a public-private platform that mobilizes the best of U.S. expertise to work on global water issues.
Please bookmark this space to read our upcoming blog series on how MCC is partnering to improve water-related services around the world, including at the critical water-energy nexus.
Posted on March 17, 2014 by Maisa Tawil, program assistant, Jordan, and Alex Russin, resident country director, Jordan
How do you help promote safety and awareness when you are building hundreds of miles of new pipelines through dense urban areas? We decided to educate and involve dozens of local students and ask them to talk about what they learned with their parents, schools and the community.
MCC and MCA-Jordan, the local organization implementing the country’s five-year, $275 million compact, recently hosted a community outreach event to discuss the upcoming improvements to the country’s water and wastewater treatment systems. We spoke with about 100 teenage girls from Zarqa Governorate whose families will soon benefit from MCC’s investments.
MCC is funding the construction of almost 500 miles of new drinking water pipes and more than 100 miles of new wastewater pipes to improve water-use efficiency in one of the world’s driest countries. Speakers discussed the water crisis in Jordan and MCC’s approach to address these challenges—including the role of women, measures to protect the environment and health and safety concerns.
Following the presentation, the girls were appointed junior ambassadors of the compact to talk about MCC investments in Jordan. Each girl received a backpack filled with educational materials about MCC and MCA-Jordan. Our request to them was simple: Be aware of the construction in your neighborhood, share safety tips with your family—and go spread the good news about what MCC and MCA-Jordan are doing in your community.
Posted on March 14, 2014 by Cynthia Berning, program officer, agriculture and land
Developing a clear and well-defined program logic—the chain of events by which a given project is expected to lead to increased household income—is a crucial step in designing MCC projects. The clearer a project’s program logic, the easier it is to design activities, implement them, monitor them, and evaluate results.
As MCC assesses its portfolio from its first 10 years, what’s clear is that projects without well-defined program logics are much more difficult to implement and evaluate.
We also learned that having a clear program logic makes it a lot easier to explain:
- Why we are doing this project?
- What are the results we expect?
- What are the benefits of those results?
- What do we need to do to get there?
When a wide range of stakeholders understand a project and its intended outcomes, they are likely to be more engaged in implementing it and delivering results.
When decision-makers and stakeholders understand “why”, they can better explain the project to others, becoming more supportive advocates and champions. Finally, when decisions need to be made along the way due to budget or timeline issues, the program logic helps the team determine how proposed changes might affect achieving key outcomes and, ultimately, income growth.
MCC’s develops a program logic by:
Step 1: Defining the problem
Farmers’ incomes might be low, land rights might be hard to define or enforce, or rural populations might have limited access to irrigation or financial services. It is important to define the root causes of these problems and the economic challenges they create. For example, why are land rights difficult to enforce? What behaviors are affected by insecure land tenure? Do people invest less in their agricultural production than they might if they were more confident that they would reap the eventual gains? Do they spend an excessive amount of time resolving land-related disputes or attempting to complete land transactions?
Step 2: Identify the links between these problems and incomes
For MCC to make an investment, we need to demonstrate how it will result in higher incomes for beneficiaries. Determining the specific pathways through which incomes will rise is the tricky—but important—part. For example, do we hope that registering property rights will make landholders more secure? Do we envision then that they will make longer-term investments in their land through irrigation equipment, improved tools or perennial crops like fruit trees, increasing their land’s productivity and their incomes? Are there other ways to provide landholders with the security of ownership that might be less costly than registration? Or is the reason people aren’t planting perennial crops related to poor land-use planning in their village rather than insecure rights? Sector experts and economists at MCC and in partner countries must probe questions like these. .
Once we have defined the outcomes that lead to increased income, we must think strategically about the activities that will produce those outcomes. This means focusing on the outcomes that are essential for increased income and avoiding funding activities that matter less. For example, stakeholders might identify lack of credit as a constraint to increasing land productivity; however, the data does not link resolving land tenure problems to resolving the credit problem because there might be other reasons why access to credit is limited. In this example, a credit activity or credit-related outcomes may not be included among the proposed pieces of the project in the program logic.
Step 3: Use program logic to track progress toward results
MCC then uses program logic diagrams as guides in tracking progress on outcomes. The logic diagram will help the team select indicators to monitor throughout the compact and set realistic targets based on assumptions of how long it will take for certain activities to produce outcomes and for those outcomes, in turn, to produce increases in income. By returning often to the program logic, project teams and evaluators can make sure to ask the important questions, measure the right things and gather evaluation data at a time that makes logical sense.
Does your organization use a similar approach—or a completely different methodology—to define program logic and ensure that projects and activities lead to measurable results? Any suggestions to improve MCC’s approach?
Posted on March 12, 2014 by Alicia Phillips Mandaville, Managing Director of Development Policy
Yesterday, the Center for Global Development published a data-savvy critique of MCC’s control of corruption selection indicator. They bring to bear some serious empirical analysis, and after reminding the reader that the indicator is a hard hurdle that acts as the sole difference between passing or failing the MCC scorecard for some countries, they raise a number of tough questions about why we use the data that we do. The authors point to the difficulties in measuring corruption accurately, empirical work that shows weak correlation between corruption and development outcomes and the indicator’s slow, opaque relationship with policy reform efforts—and conclude that MCC should deeply question how it can rely on this data as a hard hurdle.
I love this. Seriously.
In January, I promised I would discuss what constitutes a responsible use of data for development or foreign assistance purposes. This is a perfect opportunity to talk about the most fundamental principle: know thy data.
The CGD paper is constructive because it unpacks what is actually rolled up in the data that we rely on for the corruption hurdle—and it does so objectively and with no assertion that this is particularly unfair to any individual country. Rather, they are talking about fundamental data content and behavior. It's technical and it's detailed. It requires math. It’s the stuff most people would prefer to skip over.
But if decision making about a country rests on that data, and if you care about real progress on the measured issue itself, the math matters.
I have been working with this data for years now, and understanding what is and isn't measured—what annual composite data can and can't tell us about any one country—has been a critical part of building a holistic approach to investigating and briefing MCC’s Board of Directors on anti-corruption and accountable governance in candidate countries. That’s not unique to this dataset. What we do now is something we would need to do for any new or improved indicator measuring corruption or accountability.
Which is another reason I am glad to see this paper: It suggests alternative data sources we could look at and is upfront that none of the suggested data is yet available for every country. That isn't just a problem for us. For MCC to use a data set as a hard hurdle—or for others to seriously consider using a data set to measure progress against global development goals—that data set must actually cover all low and lower middle income countries at a decent (preferably annual) frequency. At present, very few anti-corruption measures or proxies do. That's a subject that—as people debate the possibility of a governance-focused goal on the Post-2015 Development Agenda—the world needs to come back to: Why do we still have the same predictable gaps in governance data? And it's a topic you'll hear more about from us.
In the meantime, we have built a practice around making sure MCC remains a responsible user of development data. If you look at the annual Selection Criteria and Methodology Reports, you will see that the section on supplemental information has grown over time. In 2012, we introduced a public guide to supplemental information that includes reference to country performance on international initiatives (like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative or Open Government Partnership) that weren't fully operational when MCC got started. And if you look at our on our approach to corruption, you will see we've built a thoughtful methodology for tracking corruption concerns.
My colleagues and I sincerely welcome the questions raised by this paper and look forward to participating in the conversation.
Posted on March 6, 2014 by Cassandra Q. Butts, Senior Advisor
Gender is one of MCC’s top priorities and for good reason. Creating better opportunities for women and girls is not only the right thing to do—a core value we share with our partner countries across the globe—but also because inequality can stifle a country’s fight to lift its people out of poverty.
My role at MCC is in part to prioritize MCC's gender work to ensure that women and men are equal beneficiaries at the forefront of our approach to development.
On March 8—International Women’s Day—MCC is partnering with Devex and other development leaders on a month-long campaign called She Builds that highlights the role women play in building communities, economies, innovations, and the future.
Together, we will unveil a series of stories and videos of women who have seen their lives change through gender inclusion projects, as well as profiles and interviews of female Millennium Challenge Account CEOs who are leading the charge in implementing MCC-funded programs. From Burkina Faso and Cabo Verde to the Philippines and beyond, these stories will describe how our partnerships are making a positive impact across the world.
We’re also excited about our participation in the White House Council on Women and Girls’ celebration of Women’s History Month, which will highlight some of our achievements in ensuring women and girls benefit from our projects.
But that’s not all. Today, MCC is presenting the latest issue of Milestones, which focuses on our approach to gender. And later this month, I will be sharing my experiences from a recent trip to Malawi.
MCC’s gender investments are paying off, and I am proud of the strides we have made toward greater gender equality. Together with our partner countries, we are helping ensure a better future for all by standing up for women and girls.
Keep checking mcc.gov throughout March to read more about MCC’s progress on advancing gender equality.
Posted on March 4, 2014 by John Underwood, MCC chief economist
MCC watchers pay a lot of attention to how our Board of Directors selects countries. Performance-based selection is one of our signature features—but it’s just the first step in an exacting process that MCC and partner countries undertake before taxpayer money is ever spent in the country. The process isn’t easy, and money doesn’t always flow at the end of it. But as MCC’s chief economist, I see it as a real strength of the institution.
This is what happens after MCC’s Board selects a country as eligible for assistance—based on a commitment to good governance and investing in sound economic and social policies—but before we fund projects:
1. Undertake a joint search for the most likely binding constraints to private investment and economic growth. I lead our team of MCC economists who, together with our partner country colleagues, undertake a constraints analysis. The results, informed by and tested through broad in-country consultations, enable us to jointly select activities that are most likely to promote sustainable poverty-reducing economic growth. The binding constraint in many MCC countries is in infrastructure, particularly transportation and energy. Governance issues are also common. Education comes up in several cases, notably in countries in the lower middle income category, representing situations in which countries will at best only slowly move further up the income scale and create what people want—jobs—without addressing education quantity and quality. The table below shows MCC’s country-by-country constraints analysis findings to date:
Along with the constraints analysis, countries conduct a social and gender analysis and look for private sector investment opportunities. Both contribute to the constraints analysis findings. In addition, the social and gender analysis looks for barriers that may inhibit groups from benefiting from the proposed investments. The investment opportunities analysis explores possibilities to directly or indirectly leverage private sector investment. Both provide valuable data for the next step.
Identify a program to address one or more binding constraints. The partner country, with MCC collaboration and further in-country consultation, undertakes further work to get at root causes behind the binding constraints to growth. The aim is a coherent program logic that explains how policy and institutional reform and investments will help address the constraint. MCC uses cost-benefit analysis to measure the likely impact of proposed projects. It’s a straightforward comparison of costs and benefits; the costs are the MCC-funded grants and related costs funded by the country or other donors, and the benefits are increases in incomes of the country’s targeted households and firms. MCC analyzes proposals as investments, with payoffs going to households and firms. We only include benefits when there is evidence to support the logic and look at who benefits across the income spectrum.
The cost-benefit tool allows a back and forth between country project teams and MCC to improve the cost-effectiveness of projects, notably by looking for cost savings while retaining the benefits. MCC expects projects to pass a “hurdle rate” of at least a 10 percent expected economic rate of return (ERR). As part of project preparations, the country works with MCC to set out the framework for monitoring and evaluation to help keep projects on track during implementation and for careful independent evaluations after completion.
The rigorous combination of the constraints analysis, social and gender analysis, investment opportunity analysis, program logic development, project cost-benefit analysis leading to an ERR, and planning for monitoring and evaluation helps ensure that MCC will support countries doing the right things and doing them the right way.
Selection may be the most well-known way we use evidence in our decisions, but the demanding, data-driven project development process is just as much a part of MCC’s DNA. I hope it will get the attention it deserves and ultimately benefit from receiving your input on how it is working.
Thanks to Sandra Ospina and Natalie Kottke for contributing to this post.