Episode Nine: Education, Private Sector Engagement, and Effective Partnering and Procurement Reform

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

In this episode, the Administrator sat down with Deputy Assistant Administrator Julie Cram, Office of Acquisitions and Assistance Senior Advisor Randy Tift, and Transformation Task Team (T3) Coordinator Jim Richardson to discuss USAID’s latest on Education, Private Sector Engagement, and Effective Partnering and Procurement Reform.

Carol Han: Hi, everyone, and welcome to the USAID Leads podcast. Today we're going to be discussing USAID's top initiatives on education, private sector engagement, and effective partnering and procurement reform. Joining me are several guests. Julie Cram is a deputy assistant administrator for the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment. Hello, Julie.

 Randy Tift is a senior advisor for the Bureau for Management Office of Acquisition and Assistance. Jim Richardson is the USAID Transformation Task Team coordinator. And of course, we're also joined by US AID Administrator Mark Green.

 Administrator Green, Julie, Randy, Jim, thank you so much for joining us.

Administrator Mark Green: Great to be with you.

Jim Richardson: Thanks for meeting.

Julie Cram: Great to be here.

Carol Han: Administrator Green, USAID has released a new education policy. Can you tell us how you feel USAID's work with education fits into your vision around the Journey to Self-Reliance?

Administrator Mark Green: Well, first let me say that unveiling this strategy, as well as the others that we're going to talk about today, I think are an exciting chapter for the Agency because we're starting to make all of the hard work that so many people have been involved with, we're starting to make it come alive. This is where we start to see what this all means and we translate it from abstract ideas into real operations and real steps. In the area of education, first off it's personal to me. That's how I started in all of this was as a teacher in Africa. But secondly, our vision as you know is to help countries on their Journey to Self-Reliance. We want to help countries to be able to lead themselves. Of course, we know that means that you simply cannot get there without a strong educational system. A system which helps people provide opportunities for their young people, everything from the kinds of workforce skills they're going to need to be able to compete in a very competitive world, but also the basic education skills and experiences that connect them to the outside world. And that's particularly important in a time when we have so many displaced communities. Education is an irreplaceable part of the journey to self-reliance. And so it's great that the education strategy is coming forward at this moment, because again I think it really makes key aspects of the journey come alive.

Carol Han: Julie, you wear two hats at the agency. Besides being a USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator, you were also appointed by the president as a Senior Coordinator for International Basic Education. Can you tell us a little bit about this role and what you do exactly to coordinate the US government's work with international education?

Julie Cram: You bet, Carol and again, thanks for having me to talk about such a exciting initiative for the Administrator and for the agency. So in my role as Senior Coordinator, I've had the pleasure of working across the US government, ten agencies and departments, to ensure our work is really better aligned overall, and that we're being as effective and efficient as possible with the taxpayer dollar. And so we developed a road map that looks at the objectives that we've all agreed to so that we actually achieve results. And while much of the planning and the leadership might be happening here in Washington, the real impact is going to be on the ground in our partner countries and in our missions.

Carol Han: You actually sit in a really unique place, because having both roles I think enables you to see What's happening at USAID and how it would plug into the larger initiatives.

Julie Cram: The process has been across US government. It also allows USAID as the lead coordinating agency to bring interesting initiatives, interesting opportunities, and interesting ideas, both at the leadership level here in Washington, but also at the mission level. And I've seen firsthand in some of my recent travels how that coordination is happening both amongst the US government, as well as across the entire education sector in a country, donor countries, multilateral organizations such as GPE, ECW, and UNICEF, as well as of course other US government agencies.

Carol Han: Administrator Green, what's different about USAID's new education policy?

Administrator Mark Green: The role that we play in the lead on this I think is in and of itself setting that's new that everybody at USAID should be very, very proud of. In terms of substance, there are a couple of areas that I’d focus on. I'm very pleased with the focus that we have on education in crisis settings. As we've talked about many times before, we have 70 million displaced people in the world.

We have families on the move. We have children being born in camp and captive settings. And we have kids who are disconnected from either the communities from whence they came or the communities to which they're going. And so providing some kind of experience that connects them in a civic sense but also gives them the basic literacy and numeracy skills that we all know that they'll need. This education strategy puts an emphasis on that and I think that's exciting. And I think it shows that USAID is staying very much connected with the challenges that are facing not just American foreign policy, but the entire world right now at this very important time.

Carol Han: And ultimately as you were saying it really does come down to the children.

Administrator Mark Green: This is about the next generation. In many of the countries where USAID does a lot of our work, they're a young country demographically. The median age of Uganda is something like 16. And in many parts of Africa that's the case. Not just in Africa, but in Africa in particular. And so the well-being of the world in many ways is at stake here. Are we going to help this young generation, which is full of ideas, enthusiasm, and idealism? Are we going to find ways to be able to capture what they know and what they dream and put it to work? Or do we see them as a problem, something to be avoided, which is what we see taking place in too many parts of the world? So it is, this is something that matters. You cannot accomplish any of the other things that we want to see in the world if we aren't doing this well and doing it properly. Right now what I worry about is that we have too many settings where these young people, let's be honest they're being written off. They're being either assessed as a problem or they're simply being ignored. And not only is that immoral in my opinion, but we do it at our own risk 'cause I think if we're not careful we're laying the groundwork for trouble in the future.

Carol Han:  Jim, in recent years we've seen a shift in the approach to development. There seems to be an increased focus on how donors can better engage the private sector to achieve greater impact and scale. Administrator Green recently released USAID's new private sector engagement policy. How do you feel this policy helps align USAID with this bigger shift that's going on?

Jim Richardson: This is a really important milestone for the agency. This is the first ever agency-wide private sector engagement policy and really sets the tone for how we're going to help countries achieve self-reliance. We know the reality. Businesses create jobs; jobs are essential for lifting people out of poverty and sustaining development impact. So if we care about development, if we care about making sure that there are resources for the education policies that we put forward or resources for healthcare, we absolutely need to make sure that we have a vibrantly strong private sector. But we want to make sure that we understand that our typical five-year approach to project timelines and strategies just don't line up with the way that the market works and that how we need to be thinking about accessing the market. So we have really tried encapsulate all of this under something we call enterprise-driven development. So that we are focused on not just looking for ways for the private sector to give us money to do what we want to do, but really trying to attract private investment and facilitate inclusive market growth so that countries will be able to see a lasting development result at scale, which is what we're all interested in seeing.

Carol Han: There might be some people out there that are wondering does this policy mean changes for the way USAID teams do their job?

Jim Richardson: As the Change Guy, I am keenly aware that change is hard. And we have to accept that and we have to accept that it is learning to do something, being asked to do something differently is hard. But I always go back to the number one fact that we learned out of the listening tour that happened almost two years ago, which was that our agency is passionate about development. They are passionate about their mission. And if you are passionate about your mission, you want to do it even better. What the private sector engagement policy does is it allows you to have greater impact, more impact, to have a more lasting impact. And isn't that why we're all here?

Carol Han: Julie there are some linkages here I believe between the private sector policy and also with education policy. Could you talk a little bit about the linkages in between those two?

Julie Cram: You bet. And I'm sure you're hearing a sense of urgency from both the administrator and my colleague Jim on the innovation that the private sector can bring. That also applies to the education sector as well. And so we understand that non-state schools and the private sector can deliver that innovation and fill that void in a way that we can't. So how do we better look at leveraging those dollars and leveraging our technical capability towards broader goals and really closing that gap. And so this new policy really highlights how USAID can engage with new partners again in the non-states areas as well as the private sector to ensure that all children, all youth including girls, have the opportunities to learn and succeed and then we're not leaving any tool on the table to ensure that they're getting educated as quickly as they can and in as safe an environment as they can.

Carol Han: Engagement with the private sector isn't just owned by one office, one group. Clearly, from what you're saying Julie, private sector engagement is also critical for USAID's education programs as well.

Julie Cram: There's no question about that. In fact, we know that faith-based organizations as an example, in many of the countries in which we work particularly the crisis countries, really fill a void. And so encouraging our missions and encouraging our colleagues across the entire education sector both at the global level as well as in country, that we're leveraging those innovations, that we're engaging with them in smarter, more strategic ways, and that we're able to deliver and bring faster, better, more efficient results in a sustainable way and to scale.

Carol Han: Anything to add, Randy?

A final thing I would say is that USAID is looking again, at how it can use its convening power as an effective way of promoting development outcomes. It's not always a transaction. Our engagement may not always lead to an award, a grant, or a cooperative agreement, or a contract. It may actually mobilize a host country partner with an international actor like a private sector actor to engage in a new kind of partnership, an innovative approach to achieving outcomes.

Carol Han: So if I could ask you, change isn't always easy. So what would you ask Administrator Green, of USAID staff, in implementing this new private sector engagement policy?

Administrator Mark Green: Well, so change may not be easy, but in this case this is an opportunity to do really cool things. So when we talk about private sector engagement, one of the reasons that we want to be able to do this is to be able to unlock the ingenuity and innovation that is inherent in private enterprise. Private enterprise the pressures of the markets force private enterprise to be constantly cutting edge. We have cutting edge challenges. We have deep challenges. We have challenges that are evolving by the day. This is an opportunity for everyone at USAID to partner with some of the emerging technologies and ideas, capture them, adapt them, apply them. You know, I've always said the greatest thing about working at USAID is we're mission driven. Everyone knows when they come to work in the morning there's a cause. This will allow people to keep pursuing that cause in ways that they could not before and could not otherwise. So everybody should be excited because you get to keep doing the great stuff you've been doing and taking on those challenges, but you get to bring others into it. You get to bring in private sector thinking and ideas and technologies to be reinforcements for the work that you're doing. What we're looking for people to do, when we talk about change as much as anything, is just stop for a moment to think about the possibilities. Every day with everything that people do they should be thinking about the opportunities to bring in others and to tap into those great ideas. So it is change, but this is a change that is a force multiplier for us. So, you know, as we've talked about many times this is the world's premier development agency. It's going to get a lot better. We're going to be better than ever.

Carol Han: Can you talk to us a little bit about what changes are in the works for effective partnering and procurement reform? Why are these changes needed?

Administrator Mark Green: Well, lots of reasons you could point to. So among other things, just as with private sector engagement the world's changed a little bit in the last 60 years, We have now many more businesses in particular interested in and engaged with the developing world than before, which presents opportunities. But I think more than anything else because of that what we need to do is to be better in how we interact with our partners. And I think through the acquisition reform that we're talking about we will be building new relationships that once again will be a force multiplier in the work that we do. So we always begin by saying what this is not. We're not ending contracts and we're not ending grant making. We will keep doing contracts. We will keep doing grant making, but what we will do more than ever is we will engage in true collaboration. And that's why as we walk through the details of this new strategy with traditional partners and explain to them that we need them more than ever. We've seen a lot of excitement. So and I think there was a perception before we began the outreach process that we were somehow ceasing the way we did work. And then as actually people realized what it is that they're going to be tapped into for and asked about, we've seen a lot of excitement. This is one of those areas that is probably just obscure to the American public, but quite frankly reforming how we do our partnering is as important as anything else we will do at this agency. I think it will have the longest lasting impact. So this is an opportunity to get new partners, to revitalize current partnerships, and really boost our work.

Carol Han: Randy, could you outline for us exactly how procurement reform is going to better diversify our partner base? And why is this so important?

Randy Tift: Well, the administrator said it well, it's not only about diversifying our partner base, it's also about diversifying our approaches to partnerships and the accountability we expect our partners to have in the relationships they have with their sub-award partners. Often those local partners that have staying power for the long term development challenge. But despite advances in engaging new and underutilized partners, including through the development innovation ventures program in recent years, direct USAID funding has remained within a small circle of traditional partner organizations. So in FY17 60% of acquisition and assistance funding went to just 25 partners. And the administrator has testified about this, 80% went to just 75 partners. So this concentration of our portfolio in so few hands just doesn't adequately serve us. And I know the administrator sees this as an issue of competition. We need to enhance competition by getting more partners in play so that we reflect the real development landscape. So USAID will create opportunities to forge new partnerships, and that includes leveraging private sector resources, tapping innovative solutions that will expand our approaches, lean effective program models that are out there that we may not have visibility on right now. We will support those models, not only to accomplish our immediate mission, but supporting these partner countries as they continue their long term Journey to Self-Reliance. Those partners are the ones that are going to be mobilizing resources and innovations long term, probably beyond our presence in some of those countries.

Carol Han: We have hit a lot of topics today. Education, private sector engagement, effective partnering, and procurement reform. Anything to add?

Jim Richardson: These things are as you've heard the conversation, these things are so interconnected. One piece is building on another and it is such an exciting way. We've had almost 900 people, over 900 people, USAID staff participate in parts of transformation. Building the USAID of tomorrow. And as we're starting to think about the structural enablers for all of these reforms, it's a good reminder that we have tried to build these new bureaus and these new structures talking about the center for private sector engagement, the center for education policy, trying to make sure that our structures are enabling these really exciting new policies, not just that we're talking about here but things yet to come. Our financing self-reliance and all these other pieces that are pulling together to ultimately hopefully to end the need for foreign assistance, which is the administrator's number one priority.

Carol Han: Julie, Randy, anything else to add?

Randy Tift: So the message we hope goes out loud and clear is that we expect both ourselves and our traditional partners to work differently and we've outlined a lot of that here today. Collaborative partnering approaches is one of the major changes that we hope we'll see and the agency has adopted a goal of increasing the use of its collaborative and co-creative approaches by 10% over the coming year. So we have a hard metric by which we're going to measure progress in this area.

Julie Cram: To build on what Randy was saying, I think the message that I would love for our missions to hear in particular is how to take what Randy and Jim and everybody's doing and then apply it to the more pillar bureaus, to the technical capacity. And really use the convening power in addition to the tools that these policies allow us to bring others in and be creative, innovative, and think differently.

Carol Han: Administrator Green the last word?

Administrator Mark Green: As we discussed when we began, this is when redesign and transformation start to become real. This is where we start to see across the agency what all of these principles actually mean in action. With this we're challenging ourselves to take that great knowledge based skills, the experience that we have and apply them in new ways towards a purpose that I think brings us to work each day. And end the need for foreign assistance, helping countries on the journey to self-reliance.

Carol Han: Administrator Green, Julie, Randy, Jim. Thank you so much for a great discussion and to all of 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.

Carol Han: Thank you everyone. This was a great discussion. It was a new format and it was nice to meet all of you and learn about all these exciting things.

Last updated: July 07, 2020

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