This is a joint post with Miriam Temin.
In keeping with a women-centered approach to development, Hillary Clinton recently announced the Secretary’s International Fund for Women and Girls, “a State Department-led public-private partnership that aims to provide flexible, rapid, targeted and high-impact grants to NGOs working to meet critical needs of women and girls around the world.” The fund, managed by the Office of Global Women’s Issues (OGWI) intends to make women and girls a priority in everything from global health to climate change. It’s thrilling to see greater emphasis on women and girls, but in the absence of the long-awaited U.S. global development strategy, the announcement looks a lot like yet another new administration initiative to add to our fragmented aid system. Our hope is that there are clear plans for how the fund will prioritize women and girls across the wide range of U.S. development efforts—including the $63 billion Global Health Initiative (GHI)—to achieve broader foreign policy goals of global prosperity and security.
Aside from how the new fund fits in to the foreign assistance puzzle, there are a few other questions that potential investors will ask of the fund managers:
1) Will the fund develop a set of evidence-based criteria against which grantees will be selected? The fund’s commitment to “high-impact grants to community-based organizations” is to be commended. But too often community-based work is often not assessed for measurable outcomes and impact. How will this new fund’s managers determine which programming approaches get the biggest bang for their buck, in terms of both programmatic and cost effectiveness?
2) Is there a risk that the fund’s broad approach will spread its budget too thin? Development experience has shown time and again how major investments in a small number of priority actions can be most effective at bringing about sustained change (for example, eliminating polio in the Americas; increasing contraceptive prevalence in Bangladesh). The goal of fundamentally changing societies in the way Secretary Clinton envisions may be better served by this focused approach. Would it make sense to identify a set of program areas (say those of the six topics that are least addressed by existing funding?) to support NGOs that are already making some innovative strides ahead?
3) How will the impact of these investments be assessed? One of the best ways to leverage these investments will be to ensure well-conducted, well-documented evaluations of the programmatic approaches that receive grants from the fund. By filling the evaluation gap, Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Verveer can prove not only that investing in women and girls is important, but that thoughtful, strategic investments can have measurable impact on broader development goals.
These are clear signs that this administration’s women-centered foreign policy approach is slowly shaping up, but from the outside (of the administration) it’s hard to see how these pieces are connected to form a broader U.S. global development strategy. We agree--“investing in women is not just the right thing to do – it is also the smart thing to do.” So let’s also be smart with our investments: let’s ensure that they are part of (rather than instead of!) a cohesive U.S. global development strategy designed and implemented to maximize impact for girls and women, AND that the impact will be measured so that we can learn more about what works for women and girls. We can’t afford anything less.