Opinion: As advocates for transparency, we’re owning up to internal challenges

A view of the headquarters of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network. Screenshot from: Google Maps

As the co-chairs of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, we recently wrote a note to our community reflecting on the year in aid reform. We also reflected on MFAN’s 10th anniversary and the successes of the coalition — a bipartisan reform coalition composed of international development and foreign policy experts.

Thanks to our committed partners, congressional allies, and administration partners, U.S. foreign aid is more data-driven, accountable, and efficient than ever before.

The policy victories we’ve had can be attributed to MFAN’s core features: an agile coalition with diverse membership that acts as a rich and productive mobilizer, moving ideas to action and impact. We do not charge membership fees because our community has valued the role of an informal network committed to the principles of aid reform above individual interests.

However, as we celebrated these accomplishments and successes, we were beginning to uncover that the coalition was in financial trouble. MFAN was operating at a significant financial deficit, overextending itself relative to its resources. The coalition was operating at 34 percent over a sustainable burn-rate without the knowledge of the co-chairs or current staff, and financial commitments had been made without the knowledge of the co-chairs, current staff, or the fiscal agent.

Upon examining the accounts in late November, the co-chairs became aware of the situation and terminated the responsible staff person on Dec. 5. Consultations with the fiscal sponsor and funders continued over the next week, followed by a convening of MFAN's Executive Committee on Dec. 14.

We are acting swiftly to manage this situation, and we are making this news public because, as an organization dedicated to transparency and accountability, we feel a responsibility to our stakeholders and partners to be transparent and open. MFAN’s credibility and effectiveness depends on staff and leadership committed to the highest legal and ethical standards.

As co-chairs, we own both the problems and the solutions. For that reason, we, in coordination with other MFAN members, are dedicated to establishing the basis for long-term sustainability.

We are working with our fiscal sponsor to put in place new oversight mechanisms and controls over expenditures and commitments. We are building a financial and fundraising plan to help establish the base for long-term stability. We have named Stephanie Cappa interim executive director through the end of the year, and she will be working with Larry Nowels and the co-chairs to provide leadership.

MFAN was founded in 2008 with the mission of advancing more effective and accountable U.S. foreign assistance. MFAN, and the aid community as a whole, have achieved a number of victories in the past 10 years. In just the past two years, the development community has widely supported MFAN’s aid reform principles, endorsed by over 170 organizations and individuals that have played a role in influencing the Trump administration’s redesign plans. The priorities of the development community were successfully voiced — again, often through MFAN — in order to strengthen the BUILD Act’s development mandate, transparency, and systems of monitoring, evaluation, learning, and consultation.

With structural changes, we can look toward 2019 and beyond as an opportunity to continue this strong policy impact.

This coming year, with a new Congress, plans due for the new U.S. development finance corporation, and USAID’s roll-out of the Journey to Self-Reliance, 2019 will be ripe with opportunities for the development community to engage in improving and modernizing U.S. aid. The 2020 elections present an opportunity for candidates to engage on foreign assistance as well. We believe strongly in the work of this coalition and in the importance of advocating for U.S. foreign assistance reform in the years ahead.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the authors

  • George Ingram

    George Ingram is a co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network and senior fellow at the Brookings Intuition.
  • Lester Munson

    Lester Munson is co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network and a principal at BGR Group, where he consults with foreign governments, corporations, and advocacy groups. Lester joined BGR Group in November 2015 after a 26-year career on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch. He was most recently staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
  • Tessie San Martin

    Tessie San Martin is a co-chair of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network and president and CEO of Plan International USA.