Be Awesome

Look, our forefathers died for the "pursuit of happiness," okay? Not for the "sit around and wait of happiness." Now if you want, we can go to the same bar, drink the same beer, talk to the same people every day or you can lick the Liberty Bell. You can grab life by the crack and lick the crap out of it.
--Barney (HIMYM)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Administrator Shah with Liberian President Sirleaf

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and USAID Chief Economist Steve Radelet

On Friday, I attended a Development Forum event featuring a discussion between the USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah with the President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

This was a great event and opportunity to learn about the development challenges and successes in Liberia and Africa.  President Sirleaf gave a brief history of some of the struggles Liberia has gone through in the past three decades and then spoke of how far they have come.

In terms of development assistance, she mentioned the need for direct foreign assistance into host country systems.  Essentially, this means we provide funding directly into the host countries Ministry budget to support their programs and operations.  USAID would then provide some stipulations and guidance on using that funding.  So it would be like another government giving our Department of Education funding to increase teachers and training, or something like that.  The idea behind this is that in countries where the host government systems are capable of managing this assistance money, then investing in their systems and government would then be a more effective way to build their own capacity and develop their countries.

On Thursday, I attended a discussion with the Mission Director of Tanzania Robert Cunnane.  He mentioned that USAID's push to do more direct assistance, like what President Sirleaf suggested, was how many other development programs of other countries used to be done while USAID in the past preferred implementing and controlling our own programs.  And now, other donor countries have begun moving the other way and now USAID is switching.  The controversy behind this type of foreign assistance is that it's difficult sometimes to trace exactly how funding is used (making it more difficult to show the development outcomes to Congress or your home constituents) and you must be able to have good confidence in the host country.  So this has to be carefully implemented but the sustainable impact can be much more profound when done right.

Another intriguing comment that President Sirleaf said was that a goal she has set for Liberia was graduating from any foreign assistance in 10 years and becoming a "middle income" country in 20 years.  Liberia still is a relatively impoverished nation but I find it inspiring that they are taking stretch goals to improve.  I think it would be fantastic if they truly can achieve foreign assistance independence in the time frame she set.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Complexity of Development

International development is a very complicated profession.  Over the past two weeks, interspersed with OTJ training, online training, and formal class instruction, it's really starting to dawn on me the many challenges in the development arena.

Some classes I've attended, in particular, have shown me the complexity of the challenges to come.  In the class for USAID's Project Design Workshop, there are many considerations involved to develop a program that leaves a sustainable, meaningful, lasting impact in the communities in which they are implemented.  I've learned a lot regarding what and how to design a results framework and logical framework.  It's amazing how much thought and planning is necessary!  And that's not even getting to considering the monitoring and evaluation aspects of the program required to really understand whether the development goals of the project are successful.

I also attended a course on Environmental Compliance.  Now, I came into this class especially skeptical of what it would be about because, of course, I figured, our efforts shouldn't pollute or whatever.  However, this viewpoint was greatly corrected as I learned USAID environmental compliance is not just following federal regulations to not break the law, but much, much more.  An environmental analysis for planned projects is actually to examine the big picture of a project and how it might affect the society, the environment, and how it will contribute to the development objectives.

For example, a project to do something like teach farmers in Western Africa to grow cocoa in order to stimulate economic growth would seem fairly harmless and innocuous.  What environmental considerations really need to be considered??  Well....Considerations would have to include where they plan to grow cocoa, how will this affect the mix of the current crops, is there a demand for this crop, is there buy-in/ownership by the receiving community, what pesticides or pest control will be used for the crop (will they need to be trained on how to handle and incorporate the pesticide), how does this affect the land and surrounding area?  And then other considerations like where will this crop be sold, is there infrastructure to transport, how will this program affect the interactions of the community and the families, is there support by the host government and how will they contribute, how might climate change affect the ability to grow this crop in the future, how will this program be sustained after the program ends and no longer receives donor support?  With so many considerations, this original plan to teach cocoa might need to be accompanied with a variety of mitigating activities and may even need a fundamental change to ensure a program's success and sustainability.  You can't do things with a narrow focus and you have to really analyze and consider all variables and possible impacts and work to mitigate risks.  Do all this while potentially facing pressures from the Ambassador, the Mission Director, a General, or Congress to obligate funds and put out results.

Challenging work, indeed.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Waiting for a Post

Work continues with training classes interspersed through the month.  Another email came out today with updated postings for the DLI classes.  At this point, about half of my class now has received their postings.  My roommate got a great post and is going to Nepal.

I'm still waiting for my assignment.  Contracting Officers have typically been the last to receive postings due to delays in finding appropriate Contracting supervisors overseas and the extensive training and on the job experience they want us to have before going overseas. 

The initial posting is a "directed assignment" so the coordinators make the decision on where to send each JO.  However, they do take into consideration family situations and, to a lesser extent, preferences.  It seems so far they are working with me on my preferences due to my personal situation, but I'll really have to be patient and see how everything ends up.

In the meantime, I can continue to look at the globe on my desk and dream about where I might be next year...

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