Rajiv Shah set to advocate USAID 'talent and innovation' drive

Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Photo by: Center for Strategic & International Studies / CC BY-NC-SA

A day after releasing his third annual letter on the U.S. Agency for International Development’s progress, Rajiv Shah is arguably heading into the lion’s den to present a separate report on aid effectiveness and try to convince the conservatives of the benefits of foreign aid as the budget season gets under way.

In his annual letter that precedes the highlights of the much anticipated progress report, the USAID administrator picked out case studies around the world to highlight USAID’s progress on the way it does its business.

“We’re moving from a traditional model of top-down development to a new model that engages talent and innovation everywhere to achieve extraordinary goals,” Shah said in his letter.

“We’re trying to change the way development works, with new partnerships, a greater emphasis on innovation, and a relentless focus on measuring and delivering results.”

This new model of development is part of the USAID Forward reform agenda that Shah is expected to outline in an event co-hosted by American Enterprise Institute and Center for American Progress tomorrow.

He will report on the gains made in improving implementation and procurement processes, investing in innovation and strengthening USAID capacity to deliver services. Thereafter, Shah will participate in a conversation with Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute and John Norris of the Center for American Progress.

Shah’s appearance at the event follows a list of high-profile appearances with conservative lawmakers, showing his capacity to build alliances to protect USAID at a time of deep cuts and uncertain budgets.

In January, Shah joined a bipartisan group of senators on a trip to Ethiopia to see first hand a project focusing on alleviating famine.

Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said about his trip with Shah: “It was a privilege to meet with Dr Shah and I appreciate [him] taking time out of his busy schedule to visit this organization.”

The trip made Inhofe realize how USAID Forward would help cut red tape by directing aid to local partners.

USAID reform: The outcomes so far

Going local

Three years ago, USAID embarked on a reform agenda, called USAID Forward. The agenda is ambitious, and, by 2015, USAID should invest 30 percent of its global funds in local governments, businesses and nongovernmental organizations. It is expected that Shah will talk in more detail tomorrow about USAID reforms.

As of March 20, USAID’s top 20 biggest contractors received $7 in every $10 of funding. USAID’s biggest contractor, Chemonics International, received $118 million or about 10 percent of the total amount.

About 64 percent of the total amount for grants were also awarded to the top 20 biggest recipients. The biggest grantees, World Food Program and Asian Development Bank each received 10 percent of the total award, according to the latest USAID data.

According to March data, USAID had designated $900 million or 70 percent of the total contract amount through cost plus fixed fee that “provides for a payment to the contractor of a negotiated fee that is fixed at the inception of the contract.”

Driving innovation

USAID Forward also calls for more investments in innovative approaches to development challenges.

Under its Development Innovation Ventures, USAID has granted funding to 38 projects to solve pressing issues on development and has named three winners in its Grand Challenges for Development. These solutions answer problems on child birth, children literacy and agriculture.

Delivering results

The final component of USAID’s three-pronged reform agenda is strengthening USAID’s capacity to deliver results. To do this, USAID plans to develop five-year country strategies, implement rigorous monitoring and evaluation policy, and foster effective talent management.

By end of 2013, USAID plans to complete country strategies in more than 80 missions and publish 250 high-quality evaluations online.

At present, USAID has approved 20 country strategies and USAID missions have submitted 186 evaluation reports.

Last year, USAID accomplished the following:

  • Instituted the Board of Acquisition and Assistance Review.

  • Issued new policies on education, gender equality and female empowerment, and global climate change.

  • Trained 1,400 USAID staff in performance monitoring and evaluation.

  • Created the Office of Budget and Resource Management to coordinate effectively with bureau program offices and State Department counterparts.

  • Implemented the Development Innovation Ventures to identify and test promising solutions and scale proven successes.

  • Created the Center for the Application of Geospatial Analysis.

Just how far the USAID can drive forward its goals this year or next depends on how deep the impact of sequestration on its operations will be and how the FY 2014 budget will be played out in the U.S. congressional plenary in the months ahead.

Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

  • John Alliage Morales

    As a former Devex staff writer, John Alliage Morales covered the Americas, focusing on the world's top donor hub, Washington, and its aid community. Prior to joining Devex, John worked for a variety of news outlets including GMA, the Philippine TV network, where he conducted interviews, analyzed data, and produced in-depth stories on development and other topics.