Local Accountability and Transparency… During and Post Project?

 

Local Accountability and Transparency… During and Post Project?

 

Local development partners? Check. Long-term transparent and accountable investments through them as “local solutions” partners? Not so much. While President Obama and former United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Raj Shah promised up to 30% of all contracts would go to ‘local solutions’ that “promote sustainable development through high-impact partnerships and local solutions”, nowhere near that percentage became true then, much less now. While there seem to be good examples such as Haiti [1], Afghanistan is a poorer example. While most international non-profits implement projects through local sub-contractors, certainly building their capacity to manage and account for foreign taxpayer dollars spent, like this MSI in Lebanon example [2], if we extend the measure of ‘success’ beyond our project implementation, policies and programming needs to change to sustain capacity and implementation post-exit (see INTRAC report [3]).

How local partners are presented can appear as somewhat of a shell game. For while Haiti and Afghanistan have been featured by USAID, I have never seen a full inventory of partners for even a handful of the 60+ countries and regional missions that USAID works in. We hear about ‘local solutions’ and undoubtedly USAID’s ‘implementing partners’ do much good using local subcontractors. Yet are the locals winning the contracts these days? USAID posts contracts lists, for instance those who ‘won’ contracts amounting to $4.68 billion in 2016 [4]. The for-profits of Chemonics ‘won’ over $1 billion, then Tetra Tech and DAI got $800 million of contracts each [4]. These three contractors comprised 39% of all USAID obligated contract funding that year, whereas (U.S.) non-profits garnered 13% of the contracts and small and woman-owned businesses 12% and 7% [4]. Only Kenya Medical Supplies Authority, a state corporation, was listed in the top 20, winning a five-year $122 million contract for Kenya [4].  There are no equivalent sub-contractor lists, much less amounts allocated to national NGOs which would prove we are building ‘development’ ground-up.

While I am focusing on USAID, I believe this is true of most bilateral and multilateral donors. For USAID, caveats abound regarding their ability to accomplish local and sustained ‘development’. A 2015 Congressional Research Paper about their Background, Operations and Issues, cites “multiple challenges in the course of fulfilling its mission” [5], including:

  • Local Solutions. Providing assistance to local entities incurs the risk of loss of taxpayer dollars. Efforts to mitigate risk generally require more personnel and consequent funding to monitor local entities and build their capacities [5]
  • Sustainability. ‘Country ownership’ and domestic resource mobilization efforts are two ways the agency has sought to address sustainability, but a clear path to sustainability remains a work in progress [5] …

[Yet] the agency argues that investments are best sustained in the long-term if development is locally owned, locally led, and locally resourced.”

 

For more accurate accountability and transparency for bilateral, multilateral, pro-profit and non-profit implementers, we must look within data underlying the ‘development’ allocations abroad. For instance, the US government’s country-level foreign appropriations overall budget for 2017 (see Table3a) shows that $36 billion funded a variety of branches of the US government’s ‘development’, it would be instructive to see what the amounts of the funders’ award contacts which would be broken down into: what % went to implementers, what % went to national governments or local contractors, and what % was directly used for our participants [6]. Maybe this is a new aspect the industry-standard Charity Navigator can add to its existing Accountability and Transparency criteria. On my repeated wish list for them is to show evidence the nonprofit is systematically doing and learning from post project sustained impacts evaluations. I first asked this 5 years ago 🙂

While I am scratching the surface, at least one private sector Corporate Social Responsibility company seem to have more transparent systems. This balance sheet from Abengoa, a sustainable energy technology company, could be updated with such a breakdown.

[7]

Their website also talks about its 25-year CSR investments (which is an enviable timespan, for most donors have 1-5 year projects) [7]. “Abengoa believes that the good relationship it has with local communities, as well as respect and development in the areas where it operates, reaps benefits, referring to this method as “social licence to operate” [7]. Abengoa’s social engagement aims to further the social and cultural development of the communities where they operate. From 2014 to 2016, the company reported its social performance in line with the criteria proposed by the London Benchmarking Group (LBG) methodology. This model defines a method to measure, manage, assess and disclose contributions, achievements and impacts of the company’s social engagement with the community” [7].

Their website also describes current events. “A flagship initiative of the company is the PE&C (People, Education and Communities. Committed to Development) programme.… is now present in nine countries (Argentina, Peru, Brazil, India, Mexico, Chile, Spain, Sri Lanka and Morocco), [but] currently, the complex situation that the company is undergoing and the severe limitation of financial resources in recent months has meant the gradual and temporary reduction of the contributions made to social projects in the different regions. As part of the restructuring plan agreed with creditors and in order to limit the social engagement items based on the resources available in the different business units, each company has assessed its capacity to fund social development projects, maintaining, in some cases, their commitment to certain local social projects. In an effort to avoid the negative impact on these communities and disadvantaged groups, the company has worked hard to find partners and collaborators who could provide continuity to these projects until Abengoa can recover a solid economic position that allows it to continue working and giving support to them” [7] (which their Press Room tells us they have in 2018).

Sharing “achievements and impacts of the company’s social engagement with the community”, “find[ing] partners and collaborators who could provide continuity to these projects” is not often done in bureaucratically time-fixed global development [7]. For too rarely do the fixed timelines and budgets, inflexible metrics and demanding deliverables enable true partnerships. Save the Children’s 2008 brief on aid modalities for country ownership includes a vital point, which is willingness. “The United States lags behind other donors in its willingness to use all the aid mechanisms that would build capacity, such as channeling aid through host countriessystems”, including where only “1 percent [of aid] was passed through projects directly implemented by the host government” [8]. At least US funds were aligned with national government priorities in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Malawi and in Liberia the US partnered with UK’s DFID for community infrastructure. Nonetheless, even aid to governments must be as locally transparent as possible for true accountability. “Local NGOs are a key actor in holding host governments accountable for the delivering meaningful results, and should increasingly be an important link between government and community through communications and provision of services” [8] … So why aren’t we funding more? We dont know, dont much data how well we are, but unless we start with accountability to the country nationals we are ostensiblydeveloping’, sustained success will not ensue.

 

The scant number of post project sustainability evaluations have shown how rarely our international donor funded partners return to partners and participant communities to see what they could self-sustain after our projects ended.  So much for accountability to our true clients! Public and private sector needs to turn away from being data extractors aiming at shortterm results, and rather turn to being led by sustained partnerspriorities and myriad voices. Private sector companies may have lessons to teach, for would they stay afloat if its investors did not learn how well their product worked by not returning to ask after the sale assess client satisfaction?

We don’t have a moment to waste.

Thoughts? Questions? Look forward to your comments.

PS – There are surely 500 sources I didn’t find in time to include, including this blog regarding Cambodia and aid, huge numbers of organizations focused on capacity building and also thanks to Abu Ala Mahmudul Hasan for a Pelican online discussion that spurred this. We hope to create a podcast this spring, so stay tuned…

 

 

Sources:

[1] USAID Haiti. (2017, March). Local Solutions: Building Up Haitian Organizations (Fact Sheet). Retrieved from https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1862/FINAL_Local_Solutions_Fact_Sheet_March_2017.pdf

[2] MSI, A Tetra Tech Company. (2013, December 17). USAID/Lebanon BALADI CAP Overview w/ Dr. Fares El Zein. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzHvbDuekLI

[3] Hayman, R., & Lewis, S. (2017). INTRAC’s Experience of Working with International NGOs on Aid Withdrawal and Exit Strategies from 2011 to 2016. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 29, 361-372. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11266-017-9901-x

[4] Devex. (n.d.). Top USAID Contractors for 2016. Retrieved from https://pages.devex.com/rs/685-KBL-765/images/Devex_reports_USAID_Top_Contractors_in_2016.pdf?aliId=2107099003#:~:text=Chemonics%20reclaimed%20its%20position%20as,the%20contract%20funding%20from%202015.

[5] Congressional Research Service. (2015, July 21). U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID): Background, Operations, and Issues. Retrieved from https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R44117

[6] US Department of State. Congressional Budget Justification, Foreign Assistance: Summary Tables FY17. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/252735.pdf

[7] Abengoa. (2016). Annual Report 2016. Retrieved from http://www.abengoa.com/web/en/accionistas_y_gobierno_corporativo/informes_anuales/2016/

[8] Save the Children. (2010, May 27). Aid Modalities for Country Ownership. Retrieved from https://www.savethechildren.org/content/dam/usa/reports/advocacy/aid-modalities-for-ownership-2010.pdf

 

Impact Investing – International Development’s New Holy Grail?

 

Impact Investing – International Development’s New Holy Grail?

 

There are so many things I love about the private sector such as Forbes 18 Dec Quote of the Day: “You’re going to be wrong a fair amount of times. So the issue is, how do you be wrong well?” asked Ray Dalio, Founder of Bridgewater Associate. This is a key issue for impact investors and international ‘developers’ alike.

International development suffers from the myth that failure must be downplayed. Too often only success is highlighted, whereas project shortcomings are framed as: “less successful” “numerous issues affected a less optimal…” Yet by downplaying the less great (Aka awful) results we miss vital learning that private sector expects, learns from and integrates toward the greater success. Why? Many in foreign aid believe (rightly?) such admissions might endanger winning more funding for more projects. Even as recently as 2014, U.S. foreign aid industry websites such as DevEx are still posting: “One can be forgiven for forming the impression that our development efforts are nearly perfect if typical annual reports, scientific conferences and event social media content are the basis for information. Successes are proudly packaged in glossy formats and heavily disseminated, whereas any objectives not achieved are relegated to the obligatory, and typically short, lessons learned section. This practice does not accurately represent an important reality: development efforts do in fact fail” [1].

Admitting failure, posting failure reports are awfully rare in international development, but how bad is it? The Asian Development Bank wrote in a large overview of the sustainability of post-project results, “Some early evidence suggests that as many as 40% of all new activities are not sustained beyond the first few years after disbursement of external funding” [2]. A 2017 Cambridge University study found that “using an original database of over 14,000 small development projects in Ghana, I estimate that one-third of projects that start are never completed, consuming nearly one-fifth of all local government investment” [3]. Even when they do start, complete, and even have salutary results at the end of the project, Valuing Voices research shows quick declines toward failures in as little as two years post exit, such as these post-project results at the AEA 2017 conference. The foreign aid industry is so focused on showing results while conditions are (relatively) conducive, that far fewer than 1% of all projects are evaluated for what was still standing in as little as two years after project closeout, and those are mostly those projects expected to be successful. Sustainable, long-term results suffer from what CGDev researchers are concerned “that pressure to demonstrate results in the short term may undermine efforts to ensure any impact is sustainable….Unfortunately, the pressure to show immediate results can encourage pursuit of agricultural investments unlikely to be sustained” [4]. Luckily there’s a place to go. DevEx reminds us that “Venture capitalists and corporate investors understand that less than 20 percent of new businesses will succeed,” hence my love of the private sector’s admitting, learning and improving that ‘aid’ needs [1].

As a former investment banker (Solomon Brothers) and management consultant (Price Waterhouse & Coopers and Lybrand), I know that the corporates care for results, and do not shy away from pulling money from where things don’t work and put it where they do. 30 years in international development showed me that rigid bureaucracies and fixed ‘project cycles’ and an industry focused on ‘getting money out the door’ lead to a focus on accounting for all funds, but not for changing lives over the long term. Virtually no one calculates return on (our) investment compared to the cost of projects, especially including the value of what projects generate and participants can sustain.

I am quite fervently hoping Impact Investors focused on financial ROI to firms and investors as well as Social Return on Investment will step in, fund gathering and learning from the whole range of ‘returns’. Will they share both financial profits/ losses and feedback from the whole social ‘value chain’ of stakeholders of those involved on what succeeds and fails? Will investors learn from national partners and participants on what should be done better? If yes, all of us will win. I am heartened by cautiously optimistic statements such as Next Billion’s “a core characteristic and challenge of impact investing is the measurement and management of social and environmental impacts alongside financial returns. Development cooperation and impact investing communities can build on their respective experience in results measurement and learn from and with each other” [5]. We can IF we are going to the same place.

 

 

From my early look at impact investing, it is a ‘game changer’ with $250 billion in assets looking for a profitable home [6]. UBS Asset Manager Baldinger says “In the past you sold products to your client, now you empower your client to create a desired impact. As an industry, we’ve had to rethink everything we do — impact and sustainability is the Silicon Valley of finance and we want to be the Google” [6]. These are happy words to someone focused on sustained (and emerging) impacts but among impact investors, so far, ‘impact’ seems to be thrown about as specifically as ‘results’, and GIIN ‘sustainability’ metrics are so wide ranging as to illuminate less quality than quantity. So far, much of their metrics look more like outputs relevant to companies (‘clients served’, ‘new investment capital’) that results of SROI. While there is something to be said about measures of ‘organizations trained’, ‘poverty assessments’ done, at least as a start, yet does ‘gross profit’ indicate that corner of the world is better off (and does this measure the investment into the enterprise, or is this of the investment fund itself)? Does ‘communities served’ and ‘social impact objectives’ illuminate the quality of the impact on lives changed? Is anyone asking how long-lasting, and sustained these investments, measuring what I call SUStained Return on Investment (SUSROI), will be after these investors leave (which is what I suspect most investment participants and millennial investors think they’re buying)?

This is the start of a series of blogs exploring how we who care about generating and evaluating sustained impacts can learn from, inform, (gasp) shape impact investing’s gargantuan footprint in international development. Powerhouses such as the Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation and Soros are looking, teaching, investing, and all public and private equity as well as a whole range of other investors now invest in this new hybrid [7][8]. Who else is? What can we learn to make the world better? What do you think: Is impact investing development’s holy grail?

 

 

Sources:

[1] Petruney, T. (2014, December 12). Facing global development’s fear of failure. Retrieved from https://www.devex.com/news/facing-global-development-s-fear-of-failure-85078

[2] Asian Development Bank. (2010, October 31). Post-Completion Sustainability of Asian Development Bank-Assisted Projects. Retrieved from https://www.adb.org/documents/post-completion-sustainability-asian-development-bank-assisted-projects

[3] Williams, M. J. (2017). The Political Economy of Unfinished Development Projects: Corruption, Clientelism, or Collective Choice? American Political Science Review, 111(4). Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/american-political-science-review/article/political-economy-of-unfinished-development-projects-corruption-clientelism-or-collective-choice/1351C9A6EB64B39B0D3A2B0A2D748412

[4] Elliott, K. A., & Dunning, C. (2016, March 1). Assessing the US Feed the Future Initiative: A New Approach to Food Security? Retrieved from https://www.cgdev.org/publication/assessing-us-feed-future-initiative-new-approach-food-security

[5] Next Billion. (2017, November). Financing Global Development – Leveraging Impact Investing for the SDGs. Retrieved from https://nextbillion.net/calendar/financing-global-development-leveraging-impact-investing-sdgs/

[6] Kennedy, E. (2017, December 18). Impact investing: A $250 billion game-changer for finance. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/27/investing/impact-investing-wall-street-banks-asset-managers/index.html

[7] Ford Foundation. (2017, April 5). Ford Foundation commits $1 billion from endowment to mission-related investments. Retrieved from https://www.fordfoundation.org/the-latest/news/ford-foundation-commits-1-billion-from-endowment-to-mission-related-investments/

[8] Karabell, S. (2013, August 14). Impact Investing, Soros-Style. Retrieved from https://knowledge.insead.edu/responsibility/impact-investing-soros-style-2576