Episode Seven - Journey to Self Reliance

Monday, September 17, 2018

The new episode of the Administrator’s podcast, USAID Leads, is now live! In this episode, Administrator Green, Chris Maloney, and Save the Children President and CEO Carolyn Miles discuss the vision of the “Journey to Self-Reliance,” which enables our country partners to plan, finance, and implement solutions to their own development challenges.

Carol Han: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the USAID Leads Podcast. Today, we're gonna discuss USAID's vision of the Journey to Self-Reliance, which is how we're working to help our country partners to be better able to plan, finance, and implement solutions to solve their own development challenges. Let's jump right in with Administrator Green and Chris Maloney from our Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning to hear more about this. Administrator Green, Chris, thank you so much for joining us for this discussion.

Administrator Green: Great to be with you.

Carol Han: Administrator, can we start with you? Could you tell us more about your vision for USAID’s Journey to Self-Reliance? How is this approach different from the way we've approached foreign assistance in the past?

Administrator Green: Well, it all goes back to the starting point that we've talked about a number of times. We believe the purpose of foreign assistance should be ending its need to exist. The way that you do that is you help country partners on their journey to getting to that point, and we call it self-reliance. What I've found, first off, is that the aspiration to self-reliance is pretty much universal. In just the last week or so, I've been doing some research for a couple of presentations we're gonna give, and you see that terminology or that notion pop up in just about every culture.

It can be countries that are in the midst of deep poverty and needing a lot of assistance, but it's also in those countries that have recently emerged. Everyone sees this need to be self reliant, to be able to lead themselves. We certainly do; it's cooked in our DNA. What makes this different than what we've done before is that focus, that we are focusing on helping our partners to help themselves.

A lot of what we've done in the past is to measure largely outputs from programs, and it's very useful. It's important information. What we're looking at now are more outcomes, and the outcomes that we're looking at are really the capacity and the tools for countries to lead their own bright future.

Carol Han: Chris

Carol Han: What are some of the metrics we'll be looking at?

Chris Maloney: Sure. So, we've had a long process for almost a year now trying to figure out first, how do you even define self-reliance? How do you unpack it? And for us, we've really looked upon it in two dimensions. In some ways to think about it in a shorthand way, is what are you putting in, and what are you getting out? And so, if you're looking on that input side, this is what we call commitment. It's looking at the choices, it's looking at the behaviors, the informal governance mechanisms, the things that a country is doing that either help or hinder it along its journey.

On the other side, though, we have to look at how far along in the journey the country is, and that's what we call capacity. And there is a relationship there. If you're at low capacity, sometimes it's hard to make the right choices. At the same time, if I make the wrong choices, sometimes it leads to very bad outcomes. So trying to understand this interplay between the commitment and the capacity side of the self-reliance story has been key.

Being able to sort of split the concept onto these two axes has been important for us as we then look at the types of metrics that are available to help us assess commitment on one side and capacity on the other. things like, on the government side, from a commitment side, we look at commitment to democracy. We look at commitment to open government and we think about the people we want to see. What are the choices being made in terms of ensuring inclusive development. When we look at the economic side, what are the economic policy choices that that government is making as well.

And on the capacity side, we're looking again primarily at things that show us how far along on the development spectrum a country has come. How able is it to deliver services? How able is it to deliver quality education, to have low poverty rates, to ensure robust child health outcomes, the structures of the economy, various vulnerabilities therein.

So these are the types of metrics that we've come at on very high level, essentially entry points. There's no way we can have a perfect set of metrics that will show us a perfect picture of self reliance. But we do have a set of metrics that do show us this global view that allow us to basically then plot all of the world's countries along what we're now calling the Journey to Self-Reliance.

Carol Han: You touched on this a little bit, Chris, but there may be some people who feel that the Journey to Self-Reliance may be too much about the metrics, and it can't be just about the metrics, could it?

Chris Maloney: No, definitely not. So the metrics are really the entry point. They are what show us where we need to dig deeper. So I like to say it shows us where a country's relative strengths and relative challenges are. If we understand what's working and what's not, what could we do differently?

And I know the Administrator and I have talked many times about catalyzers of that journey. And I think two things that we're focused on a lot are financing self-reliance, so looking at the ways we can break down the silos to really turbocharge the things we do to support our countries' abilities to finance their own development journeys, as well as the private sector engagement side. How do we change our mindsets, get the right skills in place, and think about new and innovative models to really bring the private sector to this center of how we do development.

Carol Han: Administrator Green, what do you think is the greatest benefit for these roadmaps?

Administrator Green: A conversation. That's the purpose of these road maps as they go out. It becomes a great tool for a focused discussion between us and our partners on how we can be most helpful, on what it is that we can do to help countries reach their aspirations. We have to go in with humility. We have to go and say “look, we don't have all the answers, but we've made a lot of mistakes along the way. We've learned a lot along the way. We get to help you not repeat the mistakes that we've made.”

I think that that's the posture we go into. When you go in with a sense of humility plus hard numbers in a common framework and common terminology, I think you have great discussion. I think the discussions that we have with our partners will be more productive than ever before, because it's based upon a common approach.

Carol Han: How does the Journey to Self-Reliance link to our broader national security interest and the administration's policies?

Administrator Green: Well look, American leadership in the world is based on a lot of different pieces. Part of it is economic leadership. We want to help countries be stronger, more self sufficient, and economic partners to us. We want to create more trading partners. We want to create more people who are linked to the markets-based orientation in the world as opposed to the old line state managed economic framework.

Just governance and getting at those democratic values that are an important expression of America's place in the world, and how we view what's necessary to rise and what's universal.

Carol Han: Last question, or almost last question. Chris, I'll start with you, and sir, if you could have the last word. If you could look in a crystal ball and look down five, ten years down the line, what is your hope that the Journey to Self-Reliance has become? Chris?

Chris Maloney: I really hope this is getting us to a place of smarter development. I think we've come to a place where, particularly in the development community at large, I'm not speaking of USAID, but just in general is, we're very risk averse. We have limited resources. This is an anchoring tool that again is using objective data that helps us see where we need to truly focus if we want to try and make a difference.

Carol Han: Sir?

Administrator Green: What I think it does for us, and will continue to do in the more obvious way, is show that the bargain we offer our partners, which is strengthening their pursuit of market-based, private sector-oriented economic growth, utilizing technology, that that is the wiser choice to rising as a nation and providing for people than the alternative model, which China, but not just China, seems to be driving. A command and control economy in which government makes decisions for you.

I am a conservative in that I am a great believer in the power of the individual in an individual-centered approach. That's what I think this provides. I think it creates an alternative model that experience tells us is more sustainable and more effective. But also I think it does the most to lift the human condition and allow people to aspire and to dream.

Carol Han: Administrator Green, Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to join us and to speak to us about this new initiative.

Chris Maloney: Thank you.

Administrator Green: That's great. Thank you. 

Carol Han: Now let's continue the conversation with Chris Maloney and welcome the president and CEO of Save the Children, Carolyn Miles. Thank you for joining us today, Carolyn.

Carolyn Miles: Thanks Carol, good to be here.

Carol Han: Carolyn, we just heard Administrator Green talk about his vision for ending the need for foreign assistance through the Journey to Self-Reliance. Now, I know you helped lead this new metrics effort through your work on USAID's Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Assistance (ACVFA), as well as through Save the Children's role as a USAID implementing partner. How do you think this approach will be received in the development community especially with implementing partners?

Carolyn Miles: Well, I think Save the Children in particular is really excited about the launch of the Journey to Self-Reliance, it sits really well with the way I think we think about development and I think ACVFA played an important role in providing early input to help lay the groundwork for this journey. So the input on metrics for example, provides a valuable perspective on the need for metrics on things like inequality, in particular, in which really reflects the growing inequality between and within countries. It’s really important to measure as we go forward. And we worked, I think, really closely with other development partners to consult with USAID on this new approach through things like the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, InterAction, and the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

Carol Han: Have you been getting any feedback already on how the rollout has been going and also hearing from other implementing partners?

Carolyn Miles: One is that we want to make sure things are driven by country priorities. Save the Children is very much on the ground in many of the countries where we work together with USAID and country partners really want to see this drive toward sustainability. This idea that they can be in charge of their own development. And we also, I think want to make sure that it’s seen as a way to maximize impact. So those are things that we’ve heard so far from our partners, particularly on the ground.

Carol Han: Chris, what are your thoughts on how the larger development community can best engage with us on this Journey to Self-Reliance and the Country Roadmaps?

Chris Maloney: We see the coming year very much as a sort of V 1.0 learning year. We don't know what we don't know what we don't know. So first engaging with our country partners on the ground in terms of seeing how the concept of self-reliance and these Roadmaps resonate, the choices of the metrics -- should we be refining them? Are there other options out there that we should be looking at?

We really want to make sure that we're continuously improving this tool and this approach and this concept, and that's only really going to come as we begin to roll this out. And, in particular, not just with our country partners but with our implementing partners and our other development partners in the donor community and elsewhere.

Carol Han: This is a question for both Carolyn and for you, Chris. Carolyn, we'll start with you. As USAID reorients around this data-driven, country-centric approach, are there any areas of concern that you feel we need to keep in mind, and if so, what are they? How do we address them?

Carolyn Miles: Sure well I think there are a couple of things to keep in mind. One is how important it is to ensure that staff understands and communicates the limitations of the metrics and acknowledge that in some cases we are going to need additional data and analysis, particularly from local sources. It’s going to be important to account for time lags and data quality issues. You know in a lot of places where we all work it's hard to get good data. So I think being able to take what we have and use it the best we can but understand that there are going to be quality issues at times.

And on both the Roadmaps and the secondary self reliance metrics, I think the U.S. needs to reach out and engage civil society organizations, particularly those that are advocating for women and youth and other really marginalized populations. So making sure that these groups can also look at the data and kind of verify that it looks right based on what they know from their work on the ground. And, then finally USAID needs to communicate a clear vision for how those metrics are going to support the countries in their own planning. And making sure they have those dialogs again at the country level. 

Carol Han: You bring up some good points, Carolyn. Chris, anything to add there?

Chris Maloney: Yeah, I think I couldn't agree more. I think this is why the ethos we've had behind this, the Roadmaps in particular, and the metrics specifically is that they need to be seen as entry points. There's no way that with a set of 15 to 20 metrics that you can paint a perfect picture of self-reliance in a country. We're always going to have to bring quite extensive qualitative and quantitative information to bear from civil society, from other donors, from other data sources that may be very good regionally but we haven't used them at this global level. We always have said that we need to see these as entry points and we shouldn't see them as monolithic as well.

Carol Han: There will probably be some naysayers to this. Carolyn, what do you say to the naysayers regarding the Roadmap and the journey to resilience... to self reliance?

Carolyn Miles: Well, I think that, sure. I mean, I think this is a journey. I think that's a good name for it. And we all believe in self reliance so we're all focused on making sure that eventually the need for foreign aid goes away. So, I think the naysayers, I would say, you are not going to see progress unless we get started and so I think thinking about it as a journey with different, I guess, lengths of the road, if you will, for different countries is the way we think about it. And for some countries it’s gonna take, I was just in Somalia, you know it's going to take a really long time in some places, but in other countries it should be a much shorter road but we have to get started on the road in order to get there.

Carol Han: Chris, what do you say to the naysayers of the Journey to Self-Reliance?

Chris Maloney: To me, the big thing is why do we want to shy away from objective and transparent data? What's scary about it? These are all very well-known third-party sources and we should use them as a way to have conversations. One of the things I've heard from many folks has been, well, should we be shying away from having a tough conversation about democracy or corruption or the inability to deliver a rule of law, things like that. If we're not having those frank conversations then how are we sure that we're doing the right things? That our interventions are focused on the right areas? We need to have these tough conversations. We need to hold ourselves and our partners accountable and this is a great transparent and objective way to do that. And so, I would just ask what the alternative is. If we really are trying to end the need for foreign assistance then we need to have a touchstone like this.

Carol Han: Carolyn, you brought up a really good point in your last comment how it can't be a one-size-fits-all approach, correct? I mean, the journey will be shorter for some and longer for others. I mean, those might be good words to put forward to people who may have some questions about this.

Carolyn Miles: Yeah, that's right. I think, and again, one of the most important things about this is that things are rooted in the country's perspective and what's actually happening at a country level and that's why some of those journeys are going to be long and some will be shorter. And I think that's where we really have to really drive this use of metrics and the transparency as Chris said. It’s really important particularly at that local level. And at the end of the day when you get governments and local civil society, and actors like Save the Children and others, and USAID all looking at the same data, right? We'll have a much better idea of how we're going to get to our goals together. And I think that starts by really getting people involved and engaged at that local level, which I think is important.

Carol Han: Time to roll up the sleeves.

Chris Maloney: Exactly.

Carol Han: Carolyn, Chris, thank you so much for taking the time for a great discussion. To our listeners out there, thank you for joining us. And be sure to follow #USAID on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. This episode, and more, are available in the App Store; just search for USAID Leads. Until next time…

Last updated: September 21, 2018

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