Posted on October 29, 2009 by Ken Hackett, Member of MCC's Board of Directors and President of Catholic Relief Services
As I complete my service on the MCC Board of Directors, many thoughts go through my mind. I think of the early days when, with personnel numbering in the dozens, MCC was bubbling with the energy and enthusiasm of a start-up enterprise. I think of the initial commitment of Secretary of State Powell and senior administration officials in launching this grand experiment, and the solemn responsibility to which I, and my fellow private sector board member, Christine Todd Whitman, took in ensuring that the voice of civil society and beneficiaries were represented. I think of how MCC matured under the steady leadership of Ambassador John Danilovich and how the Board really came into its own under Secretary Rice, providing guidance to MCC management and upholding the MCC model through country selection, compact approval, and in the rare but unfortunate cases, suspension.
I think of the camaraderie that I have built with my fellow private sector board members, Mssrs. Craner, Patricof, and Frist, and am especially pleased that our work during the transition to a new administration has paid off with the full support of Secretary Clinton and the incoming Cabinet members. In a few short months, the Obama Administration has developed an appreciation for the value of an independent Board that serves as a model for inter-agency cooperation, drawing upon the experience and perspective of external stakeholders. I wish CEO nominee Daniel Yohannes all the best in maintaining this model while placing his and the administrations personal stamp on the agency, should the Senate confirm him.
When I see how far the MCC has come, particularly in beginning to realize its vision as an ambitious initiative emphasizing the principles of country ownership, the host country governments accountability to its own people through democratic reforms, a commitment to fight corruption, and investments in the social well being of its citizens, I think further back—to the time when I first started in development over thirty years ago. When I was stationed overseas on the front lines of this work, my colleagues and I used to gather after a day’s work—around a fire in some small village or back at the hotel bar in a bigger town—and talk about what development should look like, imagining beneficiaries deciding what assistance they would need to earn a livelihood and then playing an active role in developing and delivering that assistance. Little did I realize that three decades later, the U.S. Government would embrace these basic development principles: local ownership and community participation. And furthermore, that I would be asked to take an advisory role in the development of this concept.
MCC has come far in its five years. While it pursued an ambitious path, it also responded to the concerns of many in the development community to incorporate much of the valuable knowledge and best practices already present. MCC has taken great strides in working with USAID, collaborating through the Threshold program, communicating with the field missions, and heeding the counsel of the USAID Administrator, who plays an active role on the MCC Board. From my personal visits to MCC programs and the reports Im hearing from the field, MCC is achieving progress. Projects are moving forward and the MCC Effect is having a continued and sustained impact, not only within MCC’s current partners, but also in countries striving to undertake valuable reforms to obtain eligibility. On the Board, we’ve come to realize that for many countries, demonstrating accountability to ones people serves as a valuable signal to donors, investors, and the community at large, increasingly viewed as a form of currency that extends beyond simple eligibility for one form of U.S. foreign assistance.
One thing is clear—and this is reflected in the important dynamics of the public-private makeup of MCCs Board—is that civil society has an indispensible role to play in development. No matter how dedicated governments are to uplifting the poor, their actions will never succeed unless businessmen, church leaders, community organizers and the like are active participants in the planning, design, and implementation of programs. MCC has succeeded admirably in incorporating the views of civil society through initial consultation and project monitoring. As the civil society Board member, I was able to draw upon an extensive field network of development practitioners, who combined technical expertise with a strong understanding of community needs and the cultural context so critical to successful development. I hope that my successor on the Board shares this perspective. I have great confidence that my colleagues on the Board will uphold MCC’s tradition of ensuring that the needs of the beneficiaries are addressed through the robust participation of civil society.
I am going to miss MCC, but I leave knowing that it is in good hands and headed in the right direction, which is confirmed by the positive results we are already starting to see.