A Time for Reflection, and Thinking Forward

Rodney Bent visits a family in Nicaragua who benefitted from the resettlement program associated with rehabilitation of two roads (Somotillo - Cinco Pinos and Villanueva - Guasaule) in the Department of Chinandega. For construction to proceed, MCC required a socially conscientious resettlement program for families living along side or in the path of the road rehabilitation work. MCC funded the building of modest new homes for those displaced by road construction in order to ensure that the living conditions for individuals and families are maintained as part of the program.

As I end my tenure at MCC, its gratifying to see just how far the organization has come over the past five years. The MCC has evolved from concept to reality, with a few dings and dents to prove how real we are. We’ve come a long way in five years, and the commentary about us reflects that evolution. Leading development experts from the Brookings Institution to Oxfam America offer excellent perspectives on our work.

MCC is a tangible, measurable way the U.S. Government is helping partners create conditions for sustainable growth. By training farmers and increasing their agricultural productivity and food security, by opening schools and immunizing children, by building roads that connect communities to markets and citizens to vital services, by securing land and property rights for the poor, MCC is making a difference on the ground. We expect MCCs $6.4 billion in worldwide commitments so far will raise incomes by $8 billion over the life of our current investments, benefiting more than 22 million people. Our tenacious focus on measuring results through a comprehensive system of monitoring and evaluation means that we can make fairly accurate projections of our intended impact, and this is one way we are making a difference in Washington as well.

In addition to progress we have seen (and can measure) to date, I am encouraged by how an agency like MCC is able to affect the conversation about development assistance—both within the U.S. Government context and among other donors. The core MCC principles of partnership, accountability, transparency, and responsibility are the very principles espoused by the Obama Administration and by many of the leading thinkers on foreign assistance reform. As House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman remarked recently, A lot of the ideas of MCC, to me, are a prototype for what should sort of take hold in our whole foreign assistance program. So not only is this important in terms of what it’s doing in the countries it’s now active in, but as a good indicator and a good instructor of directions we might go in with the whole foreign assistance program.

Now, well into a new administration and era, I am encouraged by the level of support MCC has been given by Congress and senior government leaders. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, chair of MCCs board, confirms, President Obama supports the MCC, and the principle of greater accountability in our foreign assistance programs. The Secretary herself has referred to Millennium Challenge grants as a very important part of our foreign policy. It is a new approach, and its an approach that we think deserves support. Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew has said, MCC is getting off the ground and making real progress.

At the same time, I want to say that proud as I am of our accomplishments, weve taken some deserved knocks. Our approach can only work in concert with other U.S. Government agencies and with other donors. We’ve learned to under-promise and over-deliver.

In Ghana, an MCC partner country, President Obama spoke of replacing perpetual aid that helps people scrape by with partnerships that build the capacity for transformational change. He called for partners taking control of their destiny, and making change from the bottom-up. MCC is already engaged in partnerships like these. Our commitment to country-sourced, country-led, country-implemented development solutions translates into highly-focused, targeted programs that reflect the priorities of countries and their citizens. We believe that the future of our partners is up to them, not the external prescriptions of others.

As most readers of this blog are well aware, MCC has signed 18 compacts to date that reflect country-owned development priorities, and is planning many more. Our approach is certainly not easy, but its essential if we want to create opportunities for growth and poverty reduction. Admittedly, good governance—and all that entails—is not a light responsibility. As MCC looks ahead, we must continue carrying the burdens of good governance and challenge ourselves as an organization, the countries that seek to work with us, other U.S. and international donors, and both our critics and supporters to recognize and realize the highest standards of partnership and transparency if we are to truly make a sustainable difference in the lives of the worlds poor.