ODA: Don't stop in the Middle

 

                                   

 

 

 

 

 

 

ODA: Don’t stop in the Middle         

 

Introduction

            My friend, a college track star, started off his last race, leading the pack.  His stride and pace were confident. He looked strong, gazelle-like, sprinting, around effortlessly, closing in on a record.

The first three laps were a piece of cake. He easily glided around the track, like a surfer riding a wave. But midway through the last lap, something happened.  It might have been a cramp or a pinched nerve, but he faltered.  His pace slowed, and his breathing was visibly labored. The whole field chased him down, catching, then passing him by. My friend, visibly limping, did not stop, finishing--dead last.  Reflecting on it afterwards, he said, “I guess I started off too quickly, ran too hard and used up all my reserves; I just didn’t have enough steam left to make it to the next level, or the end.”

      Unfortunately, too many, Middle-Income Countries, MICs, are like that runner. They starting off really strong, reducing poverty, but along the way they start running too hard and too fast, exhausting their resources and end up in worse condition than they began. 

           This essay will argue that the question is not whether or not MICs should receive Official Development Assistance, ODA. Instead the questions, I will attempt to address are as follows:

1.     Why do MICs, including such economies as South Africa still need ODA?

2.     How and why should approaches to ODA differ from that for poorer countries? and finally,

3.       What are some strategies or concepts that donors can implement to assist MICs?

Why Middle-Income Countries (MICs) Still Need Assistance

I think it’s counter-productive to end assistance to middle solely based on gross per capita income, particularly when it’s artificially inflated by an extractive industry like oil. A single criterion should not be the sole determinant of progression. That would be akin to telling your children that because they have successfully completed grade school, they are now on their own.   Shaquille O’Neal’s mom did not send him packing, when he had his middle school growth spurt.  Overnight, or so it seemed, O’Neal was bigger than any of his peers, but, despite having the size, he was not yet ready for the NBA.  Likewise, MICs may have moved up to a higher tier on that pyramid, but that seems indicative of a need for different kinds and types of support not cessation of ODA.  ODA must assist from the bottom to the top and must not stop in the middle.

Now let me say confess, I am biased about the middle.  As a middle child, I had to sit on the hump in the car’s backseat, because my siblings insisted on family trips, that we sit in birth order.   I was the one, who couldn’t get to wear the cute stuff her older sister did, because it was too grown up. 

I couldn’t just play and have fun like my younger brother, I had to be more grown up.   Yes, I understand middle child syndrome: MICs aren’t there yet in terms of development, but these countries are too advanced to be, treated like a least developed nation.

ODA for Middle Income Countries

Fifteen years in developing and suddenly middle-income countries has convinced me that ODA needs to be implemented from a tiered approach.  I envision something similar to a tiered chandelier that’s been inverted.  ODA’s approach as in the case of a pyramid will have MICs, striving to reach its peak, like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. At every new level, there need to be specific yardsticks and benchmarks to holistically measure the nation’s development. This in turn would change the development process into a business-minded, success-oriented approach that can be adopted and adapted to ODA for MICs.

Strategies or concepts that donors can implement to assist MICs

To argue this point, this essay will discuss first the state of being in the middle and then how we can, borrow and adapt from the private sector some innovative ways to provide ODA.

Let me tell you how I arrived at this concept.  It was 1998, and my then employer DESA, a small woman-owned business in South Carolina, took myself and five other mangers to Steve Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People training.  In the session, on First Things First, Covey gave an example, which will serve as the uniting string or yarn; by which I am tying this essay together.

 Covey told a story about an expert giving a lecture to a group of high achievers.   The expert placed on a table the following items: a one gallon, wide- mouthed Mason jar, a dozen fist-sized rocks, a dozen or so small sticks, some gravel a cup or two of sand and a handful of grass.  He then asked current learners to break into teams and try to get all the rocks, gravel, and sticks in the jar plus as much as they could of sand and gravel.  None of the teams could get all the items in the jar, our combinations just were not working.  Then the expert showed us how it was done.

            He put the biggest items, the rocks in first, next he put in the gravel, then the sticks.  He then poured in the sand and pressed in the few blades of grass.  He then asked if it was full.  The class, scared of being wrong, finally said no, and he then grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until it was filled to the brim. “The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all."  (Covey, 1989)

Covey taught and wrote in many of his books that you have to put first things first. Just as you must sharpen the saw before cutting down a tree, you have to build some roads, in the U.S. case, some railroads, to connect the country and to allow goods and services, as well as people to commute easily, before you can truly feed, heal and educate. Most MICs have income, but according to World Bank, the 86 countries that fall into the middle-income range are characterized by being:

  • ·       Home to almost half the world’s population;
  • ·       1/3 rd of people living on less than $2/day;
  • ·       Wide range of incomes;
  • ·       Highest income MIC has a per capita income 10 times the lowest

 

Partnering

So starting with the first things first, let’s talk about creating a new framework for the ODA funding mechanisms based on the concept of partnering.  But before I tell you what that is let me tell you what it isn’t by describing my first job, from 1983-1988, as a Marketing and Advocacy Specialist for a non-profit organization, the Central Savannah River Area Business League. The CSRA Business League was a trade group for business people in the geographical area, in and surrounding Augusta, Georgia. This was a membership organization, a chapter of the National Business League, and was designed to foster networking, peer review, and mentoring. As the organization grew, and its assistance became more popular, it sought to find funding to sustain its staff and allow it to continue to fulfill its mission to assist minority firms.  No doubt there was synergy between the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business development Agency, originally founded in the 1971, by Executive order by President Nixon to promote and develop black business.  However, despite not operating under a contract, but instead via a cooperative agreement, the relations between the funding organization and the recipient seemed even to me as a novice in the field, to be more adversarial than friendly. Instead of truly working as if on the same team, to assist the designated beneficiaries, the funding agency acted like the border patrol.  This “gotcha” type monitoring and evaluation seems to me to only create mounds of paperwork.  Taking both time and capacity, away from serving the indigenous base, and increasing labor costs, to prevent having to explain operations and budgets to auditors.

            I must confess, during my five –year tenure, I worked with one Project monitor, now retired from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bill Brewster, who was a notable exception.

.  Bill not only said he was our partner, but he acted like our partner: providing contacts, information and generously telling and showing us how to comply with federal monitoring and evaluation paperwork demands.

In U.S. federal procurement today, partnering, is championed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, USACE, because it saves money, reduces project time, and gives the customer, whether a state or local water agency, such as the levee project in the city of New Orleans, ‘the best bang for the buck.’ Meeting the numerous objectives on a construction project is now a shared value and not a game of one-upmanship.  Before partnering, some Corps district offices, particularly at lower levels of the chain of command, seemed to delight in pouncing on small engineering and contracting firms, especially minority ones, and say, “gotcha.”  I speak from experience, my husband owned and I jointly operated just such a small business in the late 80s and 90s, for more than ten years.  In this era, before partnering, for a minority firm trying to conduct business with USACE, was like being George Foreman, having to fight Ali in Zaire – a losing proposition.

From partnering, U.S. federal procurement has gained not only been able to implement Deming’s philosophies on total quality management, but has gone from dictating and prescribing construction that may be impractical, to purchasing best values, and design build.  Partnering, done upfront with the aid of a professional facilitator, and yes I have co-facilitated such sessions, create a mutual plan, with schedules, deliverables and reporting processes all agreed to in writing, even how disagreements will be handled. I suggest that the same concept would work with ODA.

Changing Terminology

In order to become partners, we need to eliminate the use of the term, stakeholders, because just like in the old west, a stakeholder is someone making a claim on the gold.  Yes they all have a vested interest and you can get all the parties to a meeting, but they come in separate with different agendas and leave the same way. True partnering is akin to the first thanksgiving holiday in the U.S.; everyone brings something to the table, and shares in the same meal.

 

 

National Priorities

Partnering that allows for true conversations, where a donor to could inquire about utilization of funds and the recipient, in the case of a national government in particular, could justify its expenditures, even if it were for such intangible assets as inspiration, or even to motivate the citizenry.

As a case in point, I can’t find where anyone suggested that because there were riots, assassinations of a President, key civil Rights leaders, such as Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. that the U.S. must only focus on ending poverty and human development. 

As a child in rural Georgia I saw hundreds of neighbors, relatives and friends with no indoor plumbing, little if any electricity, living on unpaved roads. There was no minimum wage, so they probably made less than a dollar a day.  Their homes were almost identical to tin lean-tos dotting the landscape, even in MICs like Ghana and Kenya, as well as the New Republic of South Africa.  But, I also saw this same rural area transformed by investment, from new industries that provided  jobs and in utilities such as electricity, telecommunications, and infrastructure services to maintain roads.  (They were dirt until I was in my mid-thirties.)  So I know firsthand that helping those who are in the middle to reach the next level, can work. 

            It means that ODA providers have to stop seeing their recipients as just beneficiaries or victims. Instead, they must be seen as partners, with whom, even expenditures on a Space Program, can be freely and openly discussed. 

            Let the MICs set their own priorities.  It is their country and their culture and if their citizens want a better airport so they can more easily make their annual trek to the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, ODA should not reject that project.  It is their Mason jar.

                        To demonstrate this point, consider this example: I was meeting with local farm families in Sub-Saharan Africa, SSA, and they told me that they had been offered funds to raise pigs.  They didn’t eat swine and had no who would buy it; because they resided in a predominantly Muslim area.  Still, the farmers signed up for this program, because it was what they could get money to do.  The donor’s representative said its board had decided to make pork a priority. 

Disconnected, dictates and other such decisions, like this are part of the reason Dambisa Moya’s 2009 book, Dead Aid, had so much traction.  I believe she’s on target  that developing countries particularly MICs can take the lead and finance their own development,  but LDCs may still need to have the assistance described in Jeffery’s Sach’s, The End of Poverty.

What’s more important, due in part to the Millennium Challenge, MICs, have examined

poverty, within their borders and worked to reduce it.  That’s more than can be said for the U.S.,

when the year before President Obama took office, there was a reported 39.8 million Americans living below the poverty line.    

What’s even more laudable is that MICs are using their windfalls, from oil or diamonds or

Coltan, (the material in cell phones) to create and implement plans to diversify their revenue streams.

It’s all about getting those big rocks, in that Mason jar, prioritizing national needs on such critical problems such as health care. Again, an example from the business arena, is worthy of note.  After buying out the exploration company, in Africa’s only Spanish speaking country, Equatorial Guinea, Marathon Oil found it had also one of the nation’s leading health problems – malaria. In 2002 when it had expanded its operations to the mainland part of the country, Bioko, (population 250 -300,000), Marathon took the lead with its partner, Noble Energy, investing 12 million on a combination of pesticides for home spraying of mosquitoes, sanitation of breeding areas and tracking types of mosquitoes. The National government of Equatorial Guinea, through its Ministry of Health, funded the latest in health care treatments. Local citizens were trained to do everything from recording information on handheld devices, linked to Marathon’s satellite imagery equipment to spraying pesticides and collecting samples. By 2006 the rate of malaria parasites in the blood of children aged 2-15 had dropped from 45% to 26%, with rates of infection in Marathon employees declining from 20 to 30 a month to two or three.

Inclusion and Integration

Marathon’s approach to improving the health of its young target population is particularly pertinent, since the African continent is currently home to 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, and expected to have the largest global workforce by 2040. 

We must recognize that most of the MICs have created not only their own colleges and universities but technical institutes that focus on STEM, science, technology, engineering and math. We need to work with these organizations in a cooperative manner, expanding student exchanges, and joint projects, which can even be done remotely.   One of the more interesting projects, I became familiar with while at Georgia State University’s Center for Trade was the American University being created in Cote d'Ivoire.  GSU, was a lead participant in this school, which is now operational in Abidjan. That’s right despite civil war, which was raging during at least two of my visits to the “Paris of Africa,” (This is true Abidjan looks so much like Paris, particularly landing at night, it is truly also a city of lights.) the University was completed

This is why a program such as President’s Obama’s Youth to African Leaders Initiative, YALI, is so vital.  I served as a reader to review some of these applicants and was amazed by the breadth and depth of insight, as well as active involvement and creation of social enterprises,  self-help programs and associations to reach back and help pull up their peers.  These youth have viable, fundable activities in progress for education, health and alternatives to drug use and violence.  ODA looking for an alternative to funding public projects need look no further that the project pool from YALI.

The one shortcoming I see in YALI is that it focuses too much on what DuBois, termed the “talented tenth.”  DuBois posited that this select group, the talented tenth of most educated and skilled would create the type of leadership developing countries needed. He not only talked the talk but walked the walk, moving to Accra, Ghana. There he served as an adviser to Kwame Nkrumah, President of Ghana, which became the continent’s the first independent nation in 1950. 

The adoption of DuBois’ ideology is still present among the political elites, ruling in many countries. I’m not questioning whether wealthiest and best educated, who often are the country’s most profitable business owners, may need to lead in the formative years of a nation, they certainly did in the U.S.  We call them the “founding fathers.”

DuBois’ ideological opponent, Booker T. Washington, argued in favor of investment in indigenous people, particularly those in trades like carpentry, in his 1895 speech at the annual national cotton exposition.  That speech entitled “Cast down Your Buckets where you are,” is in effect arguing that local content, be considered for jobs and buying opportunities.  Washington also advocated self-help, when he said “No people ever got upon their feet and attained the respect and dignity of the world that did not lay a foundation in successful enterprise.” 

In 2000,  I and my colleague, Pablo Memba, a native of Equatorial Guinea and principal of an international advisory firm, Group Memba Limited, GML, were in Bamako, Mali discussing  with a male group their efforts to pooling their resources and launch a beverage company. Today, that company, Nouvelles Brasseries Bamakoises, NBB, not only produces a cola drink, but fresh and concentrated juice beverages and purees.  The US Trade and Development Agency, judiciously invested funds in a feasibility study in 2005, helping to foster the kind of self-help assistance that Washington advocated. African Americans have had similar experienced as evidenced by John Sibley Butler’s 2005 classic, Entrepreneurship and self-help among Black Americans:  a reconsideration of race and economics.  

 I believe sincerely that having survived the institution of Slavery and overcome U.S. “Jim ‘crow” those of us in the Diaspora, largely ‘Africa’s stolen tribes’ have some “communities of practice and lessons learned that could be adapted, adopted and customized, particularly to a Sub-Saharan African environment. However, when it comes to development, African Americans are notable by our absence.

Consider the fact that the U.S. government created through the Equal Opportunity Act, Community Action Agencies, CAAs, as they are known today, or Equal Opportunity Agencies, as they were originally called.  These organizations, many minority controlled and operated, have 40 years of experience in fighting poverty, but have never been given an opportunity to discuss if the lessons learned are applicable in an African context.

            I remember sitting down for the evening in Lagos with some women, and being utterly amazed by how much, my southern rural roots and upbringing gave me a familiar context to engage with them, on commerce. I knew firsthand about pumping and toting water, feeding chickens and digging for worms to go fishing.  I shared with them that my grandparents couldn’t afford refrigerators either and had built root cellars.  That’s essentially a hole in the ground, which you can line with a plastic bag (yes I know there are liners, but I’m talking about how it was done) and then would place their canned foods in there, until winter or whenever it got cold, or the trees were no longer in bloom.  I was amazed at having to explain canning: about mason jars, lids and boiling and cooking food.

Growing and processing food local is one of those efforts that  can have a multiplier effect, it spreads everywhere, and it adds security for women and children. Women’s self-help is critical, as Oberlin College alum and former Spelman College President Joneta Cole, puts it, “when you educate a man, you educate an individual, but when you educate a woman you educate the nation.”

Equally significant, from my point of view is the story of Madame C. J. Walker, who developed her own hair care products then created an international firm, with distributors around the globe.  (Bundles, 2001). Furthermore, inasmuch as the African Union, in 2011, recognized the African Diaspora as the 6th Region of the continent, ODA providers should follow suit.

I confess that I found a few African-American led non-profits, such as  organization, the Atlanta-based Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which encourages pooling of resources and shares best practices in addition to other technical assistance  to farmers and cooperatives, has participated as a subcontractor on some USAID projects.(www.federationsoutherncoop.com).  But far more participation is needed, to create an inclusive, truly integrated approach, including gender.

Lend-Lease Program

Speaking of farmers, another idea may be for ODA to help establish a new lend-lease program for agricultural, medical, educational and other supplies and equipment for MICs. Unlike in 1941, when the U.S. passed legislation, enabling it to aid Britain, China, the Soviet Union and France, by providing suppliers and military equipment, this new program would be aimed at helping the MICs fill those Mason jars. MICs are saying to us, what Churchill said to FDR, “Give us the tools and we’ll finish the job.” 

  One of my clients, from Early County, Georgia, Progressive AgCo, specializes in peanut production from field to factory.  For the last five years, Progressive, has been successfully refurbishing surplus agriculture equipment for export.  Their success is due in large part to the fact that being farmers and producers they could easily relate to Latin American farmers, overcoming language barriers.

This is what I mean about involving real practitioners, like Progressive in development.  I have a PhD so I recognize the value of having academicians, including scientists and engineers.  On the other hand, to solve the intractable issues of poverty, we need to include real people as some of the providers.  That’s how you put the rocks in first and then the gravel, pour in the sand and grass, and even add water to fill that Mason jar.

National Governments

            I’d be remiss if I did not say, that this topic’s queries suggest a real mistrust of national governments in the MICs.  It brings to mind being in a marriage ministry workshop and the speaker asking a room full of wives how to get the love feeling back? She said it was simple, “love”.  She reminded us that love is both a noun and a verb. To get love you have to give love. Remember the lesson from the Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast; the beast could only be transformed, not only by learning to love, but by having Belle love him in return.  Simple lesson: treat the national governments in MICs as equal partners and I think the response would exceed expectations.

             My first work tour to Africa in 2000, was on a project that necessitated, working with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, MOFA of Ghana was not only helpful on the African Growth and Opportunity Act related project on cotton development.  MOFA opened every door: coordinated meetings and allowed us to maximize the time we could afford to stay there.  Similarly, two years later, when working on a USTDA funded feasibility study in KENYA, our partner, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, MOTI, gladly provided similar assistance. In particular, they helped make contact with indigenous groups, especially those including women and youth.  No foreign assistance can come into the U.S. without at least a nod to the national government, and we should treat MICs with the same respect for protocol.         

Criteria

ODA for many middle income countries is definitely still needed, but the definition of what ODA is may need expansion.  Because we are talking about MICs, their needs will probably not be as much about capital. Instead, like a middle school latchkey kid, they may only need discussion about the rules of the house—the parameters, a set of chores to complete, and the freedom to manage being self-directed enough to complete his or her own homework assignments, subject to review and approval.

MICs need to be allowed to develop their own rules of the road regarding qualifications and limits even determining the tools they need financial and otherwise.  ODA should take an advisory role, providing experts in professional and technical assistance, technology, innovation and intellectual capacity to assist National governments, as well as foster engagement and partnering with subnational entities.

We have many schemes from cooperative agreements to contracts, even block grants that could work, depending on the situation.  These leveraged funds or matching grants, where donors and national governments share the costs, can be recaptured and utilized again in future projects.

 Look at the community development grants or the urban redevelopment grant programs from the 1980s and 1980s. In Augusta, where I was living at the time, such funds went to large economic and infrastructure developments, but as these largely private sector firms, repaid the low interest loans, the money lost its federal identity and became local funds.  A portion of these were given to my employer, a non-profit organization to create a revolving loan fund for small and medium sized minority owned firms, also offering them low interest loans.  This is how as former UN Ambassador Andrew Young loves to say, “the more you slice the pie, the bigger you make it.” You get the money to turnover in the community multiple times.  Beyond that revolving loan and development loans funds, such as the one established by billionaire, Robert Johnson in Liberia, LEDF, allow for real financing of growing indigenous firms.  Since interest rates in MICs can be as high as 30% or more, capturing repaid funds from big industrial projects and transferring it to local or sub-national government units, or even NGOs, to fund financing small and medium-sized enterprises, which is being done but not nearly at the levels needed to rapidly develop and allow those surviving from subsistence farming to move up to making a livable income.

Forgiveness of Debt

These new middle income countries, MICs have little chance of stabilizing and maintaining their status, or even growing to higher income countries, as long as HIPC is the only debt solution option. HIPC, an initiative for heavily indebted poor countries to reduce their debt, was created by World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in 1996.   Still today, some MICs still are paying almost 50% of their gross, not net revenues, on debt servicing.

Obviously, this is untenable.  If this situation is not changed, these countries will end up like the runner at the beginning of the essay, running out of resources, before the race is over.  And if this happens, they will be in worst shape than any other least-developed country, LDC, or before their resources were discovered, as nations like Benin, can attest.

 Not assisting MICs and only assisting LDCs could have a deterrent effect on progression, remember climbing up that pyramid or inverted chandelier. It gets steeper and narrower the higher you climb a mountain.  Going from an LDC to MIC requires a lot of work and commitment, as well as the time to make mistakes, regroup and learn from the experiences. Instead, there’s a rapid growth while the oil, gold, diamonds or whatever resource lasts, but when it ends inflation, lack of diversity in income, unskilled workforce and lack of infrastructure send these countries spiraling back into poverty, like a climber falling off the mountain.

Let’s break the cycle.   Europe got a Marshall plan after WWII, which not only rebuilt the bombed-out countries, fed the people, and provided medical, educational and financial assistance, but for all practical intents and purposes, forgave the war debt. Similar efforts should be made to keep MICs status sustainable.  Forgive the debt on a graduated scale as progress is made towards holistic development.

Matching Fund Debt Reduction Strategy

Let’s create an investment matching program for debt reduction.  This would be a scheme

That for every dollar, a MIC invests in its national big rocks: education, healthcare, housing, clean water, electricity, voter education, regular elections and freedom of media, that $10,000.00 dollars in debt relief are given.  This ratio would be an incentive and reward for doing the right thing.  It’s at least worth a shot.  In fact, what I am suggesting is a variation of the Home Safe program, created by the Obama Administration to subsidize home-mortgage payments, or reduce interest rates and restore value.

I am convinced that freed from debt, these countries will start adding to that Mason jar, more rocks, marbles, sand and grass filling to the brim, even with the addition of water, there will be no room left. 

And when the quality of life and the ability for each citizen to have a viable existence are present, there will be little chance for extremist ideology and movements to get in the jar.  As the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, said, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” He determined from observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if it is colorless and odorless air.  Leaving more than half the world’s population, trapped in poverty, breeds terrorism. That’s the view of my father, a career Marine.  His boots were on the ground in Korea, Vietnam, as well as temporary assignments in Djibouti and Mombasa Kenya, allowing him to observe conflict conditions first hand.  That’s a fundamental reason for debt forgiveness and smart ODA. 

Yes, freed from debt has led to some inappropriate spending but that was again, due to ending assistance to the countries. Assistance and ODA should not just be thought of as money but capacity building, intellectual development and management training.  There needs to be room to allow sovereign nations to have some projects that make them feel like competitors in global markets, unique to their own countries.  But with assistance, MICs can develop strong governing teams, who recognize that vibrancy and income generation at all levels of the economy lead to safety and growth for the entire population, not just some elites.

Conclusion

ODA can’t get stuck in the middle of the race, but should instead adopt Andrew Carnegie’s philosophy “Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.” 

 

As the late, great Michael Jackson sang, “we are world….we world…. We are the ones who make a better day so let’s start giving, there is a choice we’re making we’re saving our own lives."  Finally also according to Michael, ODA must “change the world, make it a better place for you and for me and the entire human race.”

 

 

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