Millennium Challenge Corporation; United States of America

Q&A with MCC Acting CEO Mahmoud Bah

In January 2021, Mahmoud Bah was appointed Acting Chief Executive Officer of MCC. In more than 10 years at MCC, Mahmoud has occupied various positions, including his most recent one leading the team for MCC’s Regional Portfolio. Previously, Mahmoud spent three years in Côte d’Ivoire as MCC’s Resident Country Director overseeing the implementation of the agency’s $525 million Côte d’Ivoire Compact. We recently had a conversation about his career, his time at MCC, and what celebrations of diversity such as Black History Month mean to him in the context of his work.

Mahmoud Bah has been serving as Acting CEO of MCC since January 2021.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what brought you to MCC?

My family is from Guinea but I was born and raised in Togo. I came to the U.S. for college and ended up staying and becoming a U.S. citizen. I cherish and value the decision I made to become a citizen of this country and am proud to serve it as a government employee. I live in Bethesda, Maryland with my wife and have three children- two daughters, ages 11 and 13, and a son who is 9 years old. I was drawn to MCC because of its mission to reduce poverty through economic growth. MCC does that in a methodical and data driven manner.

What are you most focused on for MCC in the coming weeks and months?

MCC’s underlying value is its mission-driven staff, so my priority is to ensure the team has the support needed to move forward with developing and implementing our core programs around the world. In the current pandemic context, the health and safety of our staff and partners remains a priority, both at home and overseas.

I am also focused on ensuring a smooth transition and setting our new leaders up for success. We have an impressive leadership group joining us from the Biden Administration and I look forward to welcoming other members of our team as they are appointed.

What inspires you as you take on this role?

Our model is built on partnership, and I am inspired by the commitment and hard work our country partners bring to the table. That has been especially true in this past year of the pandemic.

I’m also honored to be acting in a leading capacity at the agency during Black History Month 2021 and in the wake of the Biden Administration’s Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. MCC has always placed great value on diversity and our staff brings a broad range of backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives to the agency. This appreciation for diversity is reflected in our core agency values, which explain how we respect individuals and ideas. It is also reflected in our work with our partner countries—several of which have historic ties to slavery—and in our strong emphasis on country ownership and democratic values, where inclusion extends to the most marginalized and underserved populations.

Black History Month strikes a personal note with me, as someone of African origin who came to the United States as a student. My life was shaped by American values of hard work, freedom, and believing in opportunity for all. Yet, given my close connections to Africa, I am conscious of what it has cost to achieve the freedom that we have today. I know that I would not have been successful without the efforts of Black Americans who paved the way before me. It is important for me to always remember that and pay it forward through acts of kindness and mentoring to help others achieve their own personal and professional goals.

Mahmoud with school children in Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire, during his time there as Resident Country Director.

 

How has MCC changed since you joined 10 years ago?

We’ve seen rapid changes across the development landscape over the years, yet through it all MCC has remained a mission-focused organization. I have seen the agency evolve by consistently strengthening its emphasis on data and innovation, building its focus on key areas such as gender and blended finance, and taking on new challenges such as regional compacts. We’ve enjoyed being a leader in the development space, and value our collaborations with interagency partners, the private sector, the NGO community, and country partners on behalf of their people.

What are you optimistic about for 2021?

MCC and much of the world is adapting to the new-normal, and the fact that we were able to do so smoothly makes me optimistic about our resilience and adaptability. We’ve also managed to maintain strong connections even when not physically at the office. Of course, there have been great challenges, too. The pandemic truly highlighted global inequities. And in some situations, productivity has proven harder.

I am optimistic because MCC has always been a creative, solution-oriented, and innovative agency. By continuing to make data-driven decisions and focusing on the most impactful ways to reduce poverty, we can ensure 2021 keeps us moving forward, not standing still.

Do you have any insights to share about being homebound during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I discovered skill sets that I did not know I had—I never dreamed I would do so many projects around the house! I’ve also learned to be more patient and show more flexibility. When the pandemic started it led to the cancelation of my oldest daughter’s sixth grade musical performance. We decided as a family to adopt the motto they had been using during their preparation for the performance for our own pandemic life- Improvise, Adapt and Overcome. I think COVID-19 has taught us so much about ourselves and our ability to adapt.