Posted on May 29, 2014 by M. Thomas Duggan, Peace Corps Response Volunteer
This story is cross-posted on the Peace Corps Passport blog.
In December 2013, after three immeasurably rewarding years serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines, I closed my service. I thought it was time for a healthy dose of rest and reflection, but I found rest impossible. Just a few weeks earlier, the country I had come to care so deeply about had been ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan, and I found the idea of leaving my newest friends behind in such a time of need completely unfathomable. So two weeks after ending one form of Peace Corps service, I began another when I was sworn into the Peace Corps Response program to assist with the rehabilitation efforts being made by the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
Since signing the Compact in 2010, MCC’s five-year, $434 million compact has been providing the Philippines with financial assistance for several projects, including one to train select communities in a variety of disciplines related to development. One of the three projects is the $120 million Kalahi-CIDDS community-driven development project. In this project, after various social preparation activities where communities assess and prioritize their greatest need and develop a proposal for a sub-project to address that need, the community puts their new knowledge into practice by designing and implementing a project, usually a small, basic infrastructure project, depending on their development priorities. This can be anything from a farm to market road or a rural health center, to a three-classroom school building. On the morning of November 8, 2013, Haiyan severely damaged the fruits of so many communities’ learning and labors.
My current role is to help guide and inform the process behind MCC’s rehabilitation of these essential community facilities. By utilizing my educational background in visual arts, my camera equipment, and the knowledge of local dialects and geography that I acquired during my three years of Peace Corps service, I can capture the experiences of Filipinos and share it with those who need to understand the damage and the incredible resilience of the affected people.
For every perceived win, there is at least one challenge to complement it and vice versa. Instead of hand-washing my laundry outside of my bamboo hut, I was wearing a headlamp inside of a cramped, electricity-free hotel room. My daily commute is no longer a few minutes on a bicycle; now it’s five-hour van rides to different islands or two-hour hikes in tropical heat to remote communities where people, who know nothing about me other than that I am trying to help rebuild their children's school, display rare, unheard of forms of kindness. After hours of teeth-grinding efforts to translate sentence after sentence of a survivor’s interview, I can play it from the beginning and hear a full story of perseverance, familial compassion and hope.
I hope that MCC will be able to use my documentation as a tool to rebuild infrastructure and support communities following calamities. In the process, I know that I am learning more about the power of photography. Images have the power to illustrate people's needs, to be a tool in the generation and distribution of aide, to provide voices for those who need most to be heard but don't have a soapbox from which to speak. As a result of my experience, I vowed here to dedicate myself to sharing stories and hope in this way.
Posted on May 28, 2014 by Dana J. Hyde , Chief Executive Officer
Last Friday afternoon, as most of us were preparing to observe our Memorial Day traditions, I was officially sworn in as MCC’s next CEO. As someone who has admired MCC’s work for some time, I am honored and excited to be here. And as someone from a small town in eastern Oregon, I can tell you that the chance to lead this groundbreaking organization is truly a dream come true.
It’s also an incredible opportunity to make other people’s dreams come true too. MCC is doing that by helping to create meaningful livelihoods that allow families and communities around the world to pull themselves out of poverty, thrive and grow. And it’s not just our overseas partners who benefit. Strong and stable markets around the world, that respect the rule of law and good governance, are places where U.S. companies can do business and trade, creating opportunities here at home as well.
I want the American people to always get their money’s worth from everything MCC does on their behalf. That means collaborating with key stakeholders, federal agencies and private sector partners to maximize our impact here and abroad. That means deepening MCC’s commitments to transparency, rigorous analysis and data-based decision-making through our distinct approach to global development. That means investing in learning and continuously improving as we take stock of what does and does not work. In these ways, we can build upon MCC’s business-like approach to development and chart a course for the agency’s second decade and continued success.
In the days and weeks ahead, I look forward to meeting and talking with the many people and groups who follow our work and share our goals. Let’s begin a conversation on how we can come together to make our efforts as effective, sustainable and impactful as possible for both the world’s poor and the American people.
Posted on May 5, 2014 by Forrest McKennie, Director of Finance, Investment and Trade
For a rural bank, switching from paper to computerized transaction processing and record keeping isn’t just a leap forward in technology. It also cuts costs, improves security and more quickly puts money in the hands of customers.
As part of the recently completed five-year, $547 million compact with Ghana, MCC helped digitize over 600 branches of 130 banks in remote communities throughout the country through the Ghana Compact I Rural Development Project’s Financial Services Activity. MCC’s $27 million investment in this particular activity provided the necessary infrastructure to enable internal transaction processing and reporting. In addition, the investment funded the installation of satellite dishes and rented satellite space to help banks improve headquarters-to-branch communications, communicate electronically with the national regulator and connect to the country’s payments grid.
MCC also funded the creation of a central data center at the national regulator and a remote disaster recovery site to ensure records and other data wouldn’t be lost.
Many of these banks serve farming communities, the core group who benefit from Ghana’s MCC compact. Bank customers have already seen the average time needed for a check to clear drop from seven days to two, and banks can offer a wider range of services including handling direct remittances and wire transfers.
The Government of Ghana can also more effectively distribute pensions and payments for the goods it purchases from farmers, like cocoa.
MCC’s investments are a win for the banks, too. Before, a disaster could wipe out most of their records, but the new system includes redundancies that more effectively protect data. Banks can also now more effectively access centralized information like credit reporting.
Strengthening rural financial institutions to provide services that complement agriculture and agribusiness is an important step in helping these farming communities across Ghana reduce constraints to economic growth and reduce poverty. By increasing access to more efficient finance, MCC is partnering with Ghanaians on ways to more effectively manage their money now and plan for the future.
Posted on May 5, 2014 by Tom Haslett, Program Officer
Last month, President Armando Guebuza led inaugural ceremonies to celebrate four infrastructure projects in Nampula province: a rehabilitated dam in the booming city of Nacala, an improved water supply system in the city of Nampula and two rehabilitated roads that total 157 miles and form a vital part of Northern Mozambique’s transportation network—all major efforts of the country’s five-year, $507 million compact and a symbol of MCC and a partner country working together to achieve common goals.
These investments will benefit almost 1.3 million people in the region through reduced transportation costs, better access to employment and economic opportunities, increased supply of reliable water, reduced costs to access clean and safe water, and improved health benefits through reduced water-borne diseases.
Local communities celebrated these achievements under sunny skies at a program that included speeches, singing, dancing, and tree-blessing ceremonies. The enthusiasm and joy on display during these events made it easy to forget the hard work required to make these major infrastructure projects a reality. It’s worth recognizing that the Mozambique Compact—which ended in September 2013—saw more challenges than most, from a slow startup to implementation challenges that delayed work. But whenever an obstacle arose, dedicated efforts from the teams at MCA-Mozambique (the local organization implementing the compact) and MCC were essential to pushing forward to fulfill the compact’s goals.
As a result of these coordinated efforts, the Nacala Dam was completed on time and a final push brought the Nampula water supply system and the two roads to near completion. MCC is prohibited from spending funds on projects after five years—but the Government of Mozambique stepped in and spent $25 million of its own money to complete these projects after the compact ended. This represents a substantial commitment that clearly demonstrated the government’s dedication to realizing the compact’s promise for the Mozambican people.
So when President Guebuza, U.S. Ambassador Doug Griffiths, MCC Resident Country Director Steve Marma, and the staff of MCA-Mozambique gathered to inaugurate the projects, they weren’t just celebrating new infrastructure. They were also celebrating a partnership—and that’s what the MCC model is all about.