A Peek Inside the Obama Administration’s MDG Strategy

The UN Development Program held a panel discussion in the Millennium Development Goals at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC this afternoon.  What made this gathering particularly interesting was the presence of two representatives from the USAID, Thomas Beck and Leonardo Martinez-Diaz, who in their opening remarks gave the audience a peek inside the yet-to-be-released Obama administration strategy for meeting the MDGS by 2015.  

Some background: When Obama addressed the General Assembly at the UN summit last year, he pledged American engagement at an MDG summit that will be held at the UN in September, saying: ” We will support the Millennium Development Goals, and approach next year’s summit with a global plan to make them a reality. And we will set our sights on the eradication of extreme poverty in our time.”

Those lines set into motion an inter-agency process to create the “global plan” that the president promised he would bring to the summit.  That process picked up in earnest this spring, and it is now expected that the administration will release its MDG plan very soon. 

The two USAID representatives have been close to the formation of this policy and treated those of us in the audience to something of a preview.  Beck and Martinez-Diaz said that the policy will be guided by what it called “the four imperatives.” These are: innovation, sustainability, tracking outcomes, and transparency. They explained what they meant by each.

1) Innovation.  Some of the easier goals have already been reached or are on their way to being reached, said Beck. He described innovation as a “force multiplier” that ought to be leveraged for some of the harder to reach MDGs. “Innovation” means putting more resources behind new technologies and new methodologies.

2) Sustainability.  Making this strategy sustainable means approaching the MDGs as a broad-based development strategy, not simply as humanitarian relief.  Beck outlined five ways that sustainability will be built into the U.S. MDG strategy. 1) promoting broad based economic growth; 2) nurtuting good governance; 3) empowering women; 4) building sustainable “service delivery systems” like heath, sanitation and education services. 5) mitigating shocks like conflict or natural disaster.

3) Tracking Development Outcomes. Over the past few years, there has been tremendous progress on the kinds of analytic tools that researchers and governments can use to test if their development projects are actually working.  (E.g. see this recent New Yorker piece).  Martinez-Diaz said that USAID is looking to incorporate better capacity to evaluate its own programs and strategies, and also do a better job of collecting data and testing results.

4) Enhancing Mutual Accountability.  This means increasing both the transparency of aid commitments by the United States and the transparency of aid flows in the receiving countries.  Martinez-Diaz said that USAID is planning a few pilot projects in which they will test methods to do things like find the best way to release data and to find new ways to make sure that resources are managed responsibly and transparently. 

The USAID reps did not say when the policy review will be formally unveiled. But they did say it will happen “soon.” In the meantime, delegates at the UN are already in the process of negotiating a summit outcome document.  The sooner the Obama administration completes its review, the sooner American diplomats can show the rest of the world what they will bring to the table.