By: Joanne Sonenshine, Founder + CEO
According to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), resilience is all of those things, and likely more. Resilience is about systems change, and multi-sector engagement on the ground, especially in communities where conflict, development deceleration and economic loss is most prevalent.
In a panel discussion hosted by the Society for International Development (SID) here in Washington, and populated with leaders from USAID, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Mercy Corps, and Opportunity International, USAID shared an update on its Bureau creation, whereby the existing Bureau for Food Security (BFS) will merge with the water teams currently housed within the Bureau for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment (EEE), and Center for Nutrition, to become the new Bureau for Resilience and Food Security.
The proposed Bureau aims to improve the way the agency helps communities and countries "enhance their well-being, improve water security and reduce hunger, poverty and malnutrition." But what does that really mean? For the new Center, focusing on resiliency doesn't mean an entirely new approach to distribution of U.S. Government aid. It simply means that USAID can better target countries and communities most in need of humanitarian assistance, while eventually saving on U.S. Government costs, by building systems and capacity that allow for the countries to take on their own development in the future.
The three sources of programmatic activity aim to be:
The U.S. Government is right to focus on how its dollars are utilized in countries like Ethiopia, for example, where more than $5 billion has gone to address challenges around drought, food insecurity, and income inequality over the last decade. While Ethiopia has made great gains in its development trajectory, when new challenges come into play (for example the current devastation brought on by locusts or floods, etc.) the country should ideally be able to help itself bounce back over time. The Bureau's aim is to help build local infrastructure, market systems, technical capacity and local collaborations to help countries and communities mitigate, and ultimately adapt, to these crises, without the continuous need of the U.S. Government.
During the panel discussion, a panelist raised this simple, yet provocative question: "We are we still focused on resilience after all of these years?" The answer: We have no choice until we get better at it. USAID will be taking lessons from the successful Feed the Future program, and continue promoting the long term benefit of adoption of farming best practices, climate smart agriculture, better use of soil, income diversification and gender equity to propel resilience measures in places where it invests.
There was much talk about collaboration, and how hard it can be, especially when there are so many different systems, terminologies and approaches used in field contexts. I asked how the U.S. Government is considering its role in managing irresponsible governments and crumbling infrastructure, like bridges and roads, given how much it touts its interest in working with the private sector, and the need for these basics to be in place for effective market-based systems to thrive. Thriving market-based systems lend themselves to longer term development, and resilience, all else being equal. The private sector grows impatient with USAID at times when the urgent need is better governance to promote market-based systems. From the response I got, it sounds like USAID recognizes its importance in facilitating strong government dialogue, and helping governments commit to long term market stabilization, thus encouraging private sector engagement. As an aside, this is also the role the Millennium Challenge Corporation is trying to play alongside USAID.
I was encouraged by the repeated mentions of multi-sector approaches, since to address resiliency in many communities (particularly those in agricultural centers), the community must be at the center of investment, and one sector alone, or commodity, or investor type, or government even, can not solve all challenges without effective collaboration, built from the community up.
In summary, it remains to be seen how effective the new Bureau for Resilience and Food Security will be in truly moving the needle on development challenges in places of highest need, conflict and humanitarian crises. Measuring results around resiliency has gotten easier, but is still incredibly difficult AND takes a lot of time.
In the meantime, our role here at Connective Impact will be to bring together actors that have a vested interest in seeing economic improvements over time, and are patient for results, but believe deeply in the power of markets and private sector-led collaboration to make change.