|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.