Poverty Reduction Blog Tag: El Salvador
Posted on December 6, 2012 by Howard W. Buffett, Executive Director, The Howard G. Buffett Foundation
The role of philanthropy is changing for the better, and with the October 24th release of its first five impact evaluations, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is helping lead that change. For too long, funding for development – both private and public – has not been held accountable on measuring real impact. There are many reasons for this. It can be challenging, time-consuming and expensive to determine precisely which elements of complex aid packages are reducing poverty, and it can be even more difficult to justify investing in building evidence for what works when resources are scarce and the development need is so great. Any philanthropist constantly faces this tension, and we have found that it becomes tempting to look only at easily measurable activities like farmer training or direct measures of success like improving farmer yields – areas where we can directly observe how we are addressing poverty. The truth is, this approach both inhibits creative solutions and confines long-term decision-making. In the end, until we know what really works and why, we are destined to repeat the mistakes of the past and run the risk of missing enormous opportunities to build support for the real “game changers.”
I learned firsthand about MCC’s work when I served in government, and I often find myself gaining new insights from their experiences. Their recent release of the analysis of their impact evaluation is one of those moments. In fact, of the five impact evaluations just released, The Howard G. Buffett Foundation’s interests overlap with four of them: we also do smallholder farming training in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Ghana. Given the scale at which MCC works, we contacted them to learn as much as we could from their experience.
MCC has some important lessons for the development community – other U.S. agencies, donors, multinational corporations working in emerging markets, and philanthropies alike stand to learn a great deal. In the recently released “Impact Evaluations of Agriculture Projects,” part of MCC’s compelling Principles into Practice series, they have identified five key maxims that should be taken into account by all of us:
- Define early the program logic and objectives of the evaluation, and how to integrate the two.
- Engage early and communicate often.
- Foster joint ownership by aligning incentives.
- Match evaluation methodology and program design.
- Focus on long-term impacts but be prepared to show early results.
Gaining these important insights has taken time, expertise and resiliency. As MCC has been bold to admit, in a refreshingly forthright and transparent fashion, it also takes occasional failures. As our foundation has learned, mistakes are unavoidable, but they only truly become mistakes when you fail to learn from them. Our foundation has spent the last 15 years and over $300 million across more than 70 countries, and we have made our fair share of errors along the way. Without rigorous evaluations to understand why goals are not always fully achieved, we can miss out on learning from those mistakes and miss the opportunity to share that learning with others.
MCC’s first set of independent impact evaluations raises some interesting questions about training farmers and how to measure the most important impact we all want to achieve: fostering prosperity and improving livelihoods. For example, in the three projects where MCC’s investments in training and improved inputs led to increased farmer incomes, these increases did not also result in increased income for the household as a whole. How can this be true? MCC has several theories: small farmer households typically derive income from a number of sources and it may be that increased farm income reduces the pressure to produce income elsewhere; it may be a data collection problem where current measures of household income are not accurately capturing reality; or it may be some other reason. MCC does not yet have a definitive answer, but by identifying the question, they can better guide their analysis of existing data and improve the data collection for the pipeline of project evaluations that are in process to find the answer. This will in turn inform program design, which will help all of us investing in farmer training. MCC’s approach and knowledge base has already encouraged our foundation to make a larger investment in agriculture in El Salvador, and it has informed the design of a new initiative that we are beginning in Ghana.
Learning lessons in the absence of a strong evaluation mechanism is a painful, time-consuming and expensive way to learn, but it is not uncommon in development. By focusing on learning as much as we have focused on doing, we can all become smarter, more efficient and more focused on ideas that actually have more lasting impact in the long run. That’s why MCC’s approach is effective: they invest in accountability and transparency upfront so they can learn faster and improve their work more quickly and cost-effectively over the long-run. By sharing that knowledge with all of us, we all have the opportunity to learn.
This transparency and honesty sets an example for our sector, and we all stand to benefit by being more efficient in our investments. MCC’s first five impact evaluations are a landmark step toward smarter, better and more accountable development around the world –and at a time when it could not be needed more.
Posted on August 3, 2012 by Preston Winter, Deputy Resident Country Director
The event was hosted by Santa Rosa Guachipilín, a small town situated on the newly-constructed Northern Transnational Highway, one of the key projects under the MCC-funded compact with El Salvador. The highway connects remote towns to the rest of the country and provides new economic opportunities for the residents of the Northern Zone. As part of this investment, more than 220 kilometers of road, three large bridges, and 20 smaller bridges have been rehabilitated or constructed in northern El Salvador to help improve connectivity with the rest of the country. Given the mountainous terrain, the highway also happens to be a great place for a downhill skateboarding event, drawing competitors from around Latin America and even the United States.
It was a joy to see so many Salvadorans, both young and old, enjoying the event. More than 45 skateboarders flew down the course at up to 45 mph. The highway, smoothly paved and ideal for such an event, overlooks the green mountains of the Department of Santa Ana. In between heats, we also enjoyed a variety of pupusas, local versions of shaved ice and other food that local vendors offered.
The mayor was very pleased to have such a strong turnout. Before the construction, it would have been rare to have a gathering of Salvadorans from various parts of the country, including many who had never before seen the town. Now it is only a short drive from nearby towns and major highways, opening up opportunities for visitors to enjoy the natural beauty that this region has to offer and attend unique events like this one.
Posted on October 14, 2011 by Tanya Young, Program Officer, El Salvador
Despite progress made in recent years, development in El Salvador’s northern zone has been hampered by gaps in education and training. The Education and Training Activity in the Compact between the Government of El Salvador and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) aims to address some of these limitations. However, increasing the quality and capacity of formal and non-formal vocational programs only partially addressed some of the impediments to poverty reduction in El Salvador. MCC and FOMILENIO, the entity the Government of El Salvador created to implement the Compact, recognized that it would also be necessary to link students to the workforce in order to promote economic growth.
Recently, MCC’s Deputy Resident Country Director, Kenneth Miller, and FOMILENIO’s Executive Director, José Angel Quirós, were joined by Minister of Labor, Humberto Centeno, and a large audience of mayors, government officials, teachers, and students at the launch of the Sustainable Entrepreneurship and Labor Insertion Plan Program (also known as “PILAS”). The PILAS Program is an innovative approach to improving the incomes and real employment opportunities for 9,000+ participants in FOMILENIO’s Education and Training Activity.
By the end of the Compact, MCC expects to have invested over $30 million to promote quality education in the northern zone of El Salvador. To date, the infrastructure of 20 schools has been rehabilitated, a new state-of-the-art technical & vocational facility, the Technological Institute in Chalatenango “ITCHA,” has been built, over $3 million in scholarships has been awarded to over 3,000 deserving students, 500+ instructors have been trained and schools have been equipped with learning tools such as computers and software. To complement these efforts, the PILAS Program aims to link students and trainees with employers and opportunities for entrepreneurship. The $2 million dedicated to supporting this job placement initiative is expected to help ensure the sustainability of the education and training activity. Working together with local employment service agencies and regional NGOs, FOMILENIO has begun to connect the large youth population of the region with employment opportunities across the country.
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 April 21, 2010 by Daniel W. Yohannes, Chief Executive Officer
This trip to El Salvador has been tremendous. Without a doubt, one of the most moving moments was witnessing the laying of the first kilometers of asphalt on the Northern Transnational Highway, parts of which are being constructed with MCC compact funds. Salvadorans have heard promises of the road surface being laid for about 50 years. And, now, through the MCC-El Salvador compact, they can see the road with their own eyes. As the Salvadoran Minister of Public Works said, the work on the compact’s Northern Transnational Highway project proves that “el sueño es posible” – the dream is possible. It is truly wonderful for MCC to be part of such a historic advancement for this country, especially one that was brought about by the vision and hard work of Salvadorans themselves and through the generosity of the American people.
We also met with members of FOMILENIO’s Board of Directors, whose commitment to the program is evident and has been critical to the compact’s progress. We then proceeded to Chalatenango for the groundbreaking on the community college that will be constructed as part of the compact program. After the celebration at the school site, I had the pleasure of meeting with civil society representatives and 20 mayors from the Northern Zone, many of whom serve on FOMILENIO’s advisory council, which provides local oversight of the compact projects and meets regularly with FOMILENIO’s board and senior management. Such model civil society and local engagement goes a long way to promote the accountability and transparency essential for the compact’s success.
The teamwork and dedication I have seen over these past few days have been incredible, and certainly have been the driving force behind the great progress being made on El Salvador’s MCC compact.
The Government of El Salvador is committed to the compact and to performing well on MCC’s policy indicators. Of course, in the final two and one-half years of the compact, there remains much work to be done. The government must continue to focus on policy performance and on effective project implementation. I look forward to returning to El Salvador in the future to see the road and other unfinished projects when they are completed.
I am confident that the fine team at FOMILENIO, led by Technical Secretary and Board Chairman Alexander Segovia and by Executive Director José Ángel Quirós, will deliver results on MCC’s investments. As I shared with those gathered at the Northern Transnational Highway ceremony, the people here are laying a strong foundation for El Salvador’s future by creating an environment for opportunity and sustainable growth.
Posted on April 20, 2010 by Daniel W. Yohannes, Chief Executive Officer
Yesterday, I participated in a ceremony inaugurating a high school in the San Ignacio municipality of El Salvador, one of 20 middle technical schools that has been rehabilitated with funds from MCC’s compact with El Salvador. MCC’s compact with El Salvador. I was honored to meet Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, Vice President Sanchez Ceren, and El Salvador’s First Lady Vanda Pignato. President Funes spoke eloquently at the ceremony about the need to provide El Salvador’s youth with hope and possibilities for a brighter future.
I was most moved by a 15-year old student at the San Ignacio Institute by the name of Andrea. She shared with the large crowd in attendance how important the improvements to the school are to her and her classmates. She promised that they would make the most of the new opportunities before them and that they would exceed even our highest expectations. Andrea is enrolled in the Institute’s new program for alternative tourism, which is one of two new curriculums—the other is technical civil engineering—developed as part of FOMILENIO’s education program.
As I have said since joining MCC, I am keenly interested in ensuring that MCC programs create opportunities that enable citizens in partner countries to pull themselves out of poverty and advance the economic growth of their communities. When Andrea shared that, for herself and her classmates, the MCC-funded works and programs at San Ignacio would “fulfill our dreams of becoming professionals and of being entrepreneurs of our own development,” I was extremely heartened. This eloquent, confident young woman captured the heart of MCC’s work in El Salvador.
Posted on January 25, 2010 by Vince Ruddy, Resident Country Director, El Salvador, and Rebecca Tunstall, Associate Director for Monitoring and Evaluation
In December, 1,000 students in El Salvador were assigned scholarships for the 2010 school year. The scholarships will provide money for students who attend technical schools for books, uniforms, room and board, and transportation. These scholarships are designed to keep teenagers in school when they cant afford it on their own. This program is especially important for students in the Northern Zone of El Salvador since the average level of schooling is only 4.3 years, which is more than 1.5 years lower than the rest of the country. Plus, a technical education is estimated to increase students employability and raise their incomes by more than 30 percent.
FOMILENIO (the entity managing El Salvador’s $460.9 million MCC compact) started publicizing the scholarships and recruiting students months ago. Almost 1,900 applications were received. Of those, 1,500 applicants met the minimum requirements, but FOMILENIO could not provide all of them with scholarships. Therefore, it was decided that the scholarship recipients would be selected randomly at a public event. By selecting students to receive scholarships randomly, every student had the same chance of being selected through this fair process. By conducting the selection publicly and providing an internet link for remote viewers, FOMILENIO’s process was both open and transparent. The final list of selected scholarship recipients was handed out to school directors and published on FOMILENIOs web site.
In addition to the benefits of fairness and transparency, a random selection of scholarship recipients allowed for a rigorous evaluation of the programs impact. The students who were not selected will be tracked and compared with the students who were selected. Because the students were selected at random, the two groups should be the same on average now and any change in their future income can likely be attributed to the scholarship. This type of evaluation methodology is considered a best practice and one that MCC is using in a variety of programs and countries around the world to assess the impact made to promote sustainable poverty reduction and economic growth.
Posted on November 16, 2009 by Van Crowder, Director of Education
International Education Week 2009 (Nov 16-20) is an occasion to celebrate the benefits of worldwide learning and exchange. International cooperation prepares citizens in every country to live, work and compete in the global economy. MCC is working with partner nations to improve their education and training systems so that students learn the skills to get good jobs and boost economic growth in their countries and communities.
Youth development is central to a healthy, skilled and productive workforce. Investing in human capital through education and training is critical for improving productivity and economic growth and for reducing poverty and unemployment. About 36 percent of MCCs $358 million direct investment in education is focused on youth development through technical and vocational education and training (TVET).
In El Salvador, working through FOMILENIO (which is the government entity accountable for compact implementation), MCC is helping to renovate 20 middle technical schools, revise curricula, train instructors, and provide scholarships to deserving students, who will get jobs in agronomy, tourism and information technology—all areas crucial to the development of the country’s northern zone.
In Mongolia, MCC’s investment is helping to reform the TVET legal and policy framework so that schools are financially sustainable and can respond effectively to labor market demand. Competency-based curricula are being developed in key sectors like mining and construction. Selected schools are being renovated and equipped with modern technology and teachers trained in its use.
In Namibia, MCC supports community-based resource and study centers to provide basic job skills and information services for unemployed youth and low-skilled adults. Also, the MCC investment is helping the National Training Authority develop demand-led programs, and a National Training Fund will ensure that the TVET system is financially viable.
In Morocco, TVET focuses on key artisan trades (leather, wood, metal, pottery, and textiles) whose products are in demand in the home, export and tourist markets. About 15 schools will be renovated and equipped with facilities to teach students the skills needed by employers and the market.
International Education Week is a great moment for MCC, partner countries and agencies to highlight the strategic importance of youth development. The links between education and economic growth, income distribution and poverty reduction are well established. Income, productivity and growth are closely linked to educational opportunity. Strengthened TVET programs are particularly valuable for developing countries with large youth populations in need of the skills that lead to decent jobs, which in turn drive growth and reduce poverty.
Posted on June 2, 2009 by Vince Ruddy, Resident Country Director, El Salvador
“As chair of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, it is wonderful for me to see the results of our work and our investment,” shared Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last Sunday as she toured MCC projects in El Salvador that are improving the lives of the poor. I felt honored and proud to show Secretary Clinton just how MCC’s $461 million grant is reducing poverty and stimulating economic growth here in El Salvador, where a new president has just taken office following a remarkable democratic election. As the Secretary met with Salvadorans benefiting directly from MCC projects—from students to farmers to families assisted as electricity finally comes to their homes in the country’s Northern Zone—we see tangible proof of U.S. commitment to the region, and the effective role MCC’s smart assistance continues to play in changing the lives of the poor of El Salvador.
It was especially gratifying for Secretary Clinton to witness the signing of a public-private partnership (PPP) that will leverage MCC resources with those of the private sector and provide sustainable benefits for the poor. This contract is a true milestone, as it represents MCC’s first financing of a public-private partnership in infrastructure and serves as a model for similar partnerships in other MCC partner countries. By combining funds from MCC, the Government of El Salvador, and the company AES, this partnership will construct 1,300 kilometers of rural electrification lines, connections, and extensions to existing lines in the Northern Zone. This innovative PPP transaction will provide access to electricity for over 30,000 poor families in El Salvador’s Northern Zone.
In these challenging economic times, when every development dollar must count, MCC understands that we can do more by working with partners who share our vision for economic growth and prosperity for the world’s poor. Today, we all join Secretary Clinton in applauding how the private sector and MCC are setting an example in El Salvador by working together to benefit the poor in sustainable ways.
Posted on April 16, 2009 by Vince Ruddy, Resident Country Director, El Salvador
Holy Week, or Semana Santa, is normally a quiet time for most countries in Latin America. This week-long celebration of Easter brings families together, while closing most government offices and businesses, as people enjoy much-needed vacations or time to attend religious ceremonies, rest, and reflect.
El Salvador is usually no exception. However, last Monday, FOMILENIO was abuzz with activity as the very first road construction contract was signed for the Northern Transnational Highway. High-level officials, including the Technical Secretary of the Presidency, the Minister of Public Works and Transportation, and FOMILENIO’s Executive Director, interrupted their vacations to meet with representatives of MECO S.A., a Costa Rica-based construction firm, to celebrate the long-awaited initiation of this historic project. The conference room was full of television, radio, and newspaper reporters.
At the press conference, the participants provided the media and the public at large the details of this important project. Spanning about 290 kilometers (180 miles), the Northern Transnational Highway is slated to extend from the Guatemalan border in the northwest corner of El Salvador, all the way across the northern part of the country to the Honduran border in the east. For more than 50 years, Salvadorans have dreamed of having this strategic transport corridor, necessary to link small towns and cities throughout the Northern Zone, and also to link them with the rest of the country. These goals seem all the more important when one considers how the Northern Zone suffered disproportionately during El Salvador’s civil war, not only in terms of physical infrastructure development but also in terms of human and social development. In many ways, the Northern Transnational Highway is a symbol of peace, and a concrete example of how MCC funds can be used to stimulate economic growth and poverty reduction.
This is why news of the first road construction contract made local headlines and nightly news programs. The first 23 kilometer road segment covered by this contract includes two important bridges, including one of approximately 150 meters, or 460 feet, over the Río Lempa, the largest river in the country. This segment stretches from the bustling border town of Metapán to Santa Rosa de Guachipelín, a small municipality on the shores of Río Lempa. The ability to cross this river quickly and safely from Santa Rosa Guachipelín to Metapán year-round, instead of having to travel a far longer and circuitous route (see photo), is a major benefit.
Several reporters directed their questions to the topic of job creation-a high priority given the challenges confronted by El Salvador and others in the region experiencing the aftershocks of the global financial crisis. In addition to estimates of over 300 jobs on this first segment, Mr. Denis Monge, a representative from MECO, talked about opportunities for women. He indicated that MECO would make hiring women a priority. He pointed out that this goal is particularly important in the Northern Zone, since women are heads of households and principal income earners in a disproportionately high number of families, a result of decades of emigration, where many people, especially young men, have left the country in search of greater economic opportunities.
Stay tuned for news about the groundbreaking on this first road segment, scheduled for later this month.
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