Is Effective Messaging for Development More Critical than Ever?

With the international affairs budget facing a proposed 32% reduction from FY17 and little understanding among the American public that it is less than 1% of the federal budget, the Society for International Development – Washington (SID-W) recently convened a panel of communications experts to consider the importance of communications. In particular, the panel looked at how to frame international development successes and challenges, the need for more robust outreach, and the success of education efforts with members of the U.S. Congress and how it might be translated to a wider American audience.

The panel was moderated by MSI Vice President for Public Affairs, Ellen Yount, who also serves as a senior advisor to USAID on their overseas communications efforts. She was joined by Former Deputy Assistant Administrator, USAID’s Bureau of Legislative & Public Affairs, Stephanie Bluma; Lester Munson, Vice President, International, BGR Government Affairs; and Moira Whelan, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Digital Strategy at the State Department and currently a partner with BlueDot Strategies.

“Many of us in the international development community have long understood not just the importance of effective project implementation, but as importantly, communicating the results and impact of our work,” said Ms. Yount. “But in today’s climate, it’s more important than ever that we not only show the very real human impact of our work, but also show how our modest investments in development alongside diplomacy and defense, help us advance America’s interests at home and abroad.”

MSI has a strong focus on strategic communications both as a partner to USAID on its flagship Development Outreach and Communications (DOC) Training Program – which has helped Missions successfully raise awareness and understanding of foreign assistance among host country audiences – and by offering specific assistance to USAID Missions. MSI has also worked directly with government bodies and officials, to help them to improve communications and increase transparency.

In addition to Ellen Yount’s participation in the Annual Conference, MSI President Emeritus Larry Cooley was recently elected to serve as president of SID-International, after 13 years of service in various SID leadership positions.

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Is Civil Society Healthy in the Middle East/North Africa?

A robust civil society is a crucial element of inclusive and transparent democracies. Civil society organizations (CSOs) can help foster civic engagement, ensure greater government accountability, and increase inclusivity by amplifying marginalized voices. With this in mind, MSI worked alongside partners from USAID, The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, the Aga Kahn Foundation, and regional CSO experts to complete the 2014-2015 CSO Sustainability Index for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The index tracks trends affecting CSOs in several key MENA countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the West Bank and Gaza, and Yemen. Drawing upon the expertise of local practitioners, the report scores the CSO sector in each country based on dimensions such as organizational capacity, financial viability and advocacy. This research provides development practitioners, donors, and policymakers with a better understanding of the unique challenges facing CSOs, while also illuminating opportunities for regional partnerships and increased sustainability.

From 2014 to 2015, CSOs faced challenging operating environments due to the spread of militant groups, severe humanitarian crises, mass displacement, and economic downturn. Increased Islamic State activity also intensified security concerns, causing many governments to clamp down on CSOs in the name of combatting terrorism.

In spite of these serious challenges, the index documents how CSOs in MENA are finding ways to adapt, create new coalitions and build upon growing public support. Nevertheless, instability and political stagnation continue to threaten their viability. They require increased support from local governments, private sector actors and international donors. Access the full report for further insight and country-specific analyses.

MSI works with local civil society partners to fight corruption and increase government accountability in the Middle East, Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America. Learn more about our work.

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U.S. Ambassador Recognizes Lebanon Community Resilience Initiative

U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard, praised the commitment of youth to drive positive change in their communities after visiting MARCH, a Lebanese NGO promoting conflict resolution and peacebuilding through the performing arts among youth in Tripoli.

With support from MSI and the USAID Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), MARCH worked with youth from two rival neighborhoods in Tripoli to craft an interactive play about their daily lives and struggles. The play and subsequent documentary, Love and War on the Rooftops, toured Lebanon and were met with standing ovations all over the country.

The national and international success of this work allowed MARCH to leverage funding for the construction of the Ahwetna Café, a dual purpose coffee house and performance venue situated on Syria Street, the former front line for clashes between rival neighborhoods in Tripoli. With support from USAID/OTI, the Ahwetna Café, now provides youth workforce development training in hospitality management, bookkeeping, inventory management, marketing, and graphic design.

MARCH’s youth performers welcomed the U.S. delegation to Ahwetna Café with food, break dancing and free style performances. Ambassador Richard reaffirmed the U.S. Embassy’s commitment to continue investing in the youth of Lebanon.

USAID/OTI’s Lebanon Community Resilience Initiative program aims to capitalize on windows of opportunity to strengthen resilience in Lebanese communities so they can more effectively cope with destabilizing factors of the Syrian crisis. Started in September 2014 and ending in September 2017, the program seeks to strengthen the most vulnerable Lebanese host communities by promoting peaceful alternatives to violence and reducing marginalization and isolation of community groups. USAID/OTI strengthens youth empowerment and civic participation, increases moderate space, and supports moderate actors. Together, these outcomes promote increased resiliency and community stability.

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Integrating Science, Technology, Innovation and Partnership into USAID’s Work

On April 11-13, MSI hosted the USAID Global Development Lab’s pilot training on integrating science, technology, innovation and partnership (STIP) into USAID’s work. This new course, co-designed by MSI and Lab staff, introduces USAID staff to STIP principles and terms, and familiarizes participants with STIP tools and resources. Participants shared examples and learned from USAID’s rich experience applying science, technology, innovation and partnerships to develop solutions to global development challenges.

Enjoy these photos from the training:



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Study Reveals How Organizations Can Improve Performance

MSI Technical Director, Suzanne Bond Hinsz, is helping USAID rethink its approach to capacity development and sustainable performance improvement. Ultimately, this could help USAID achieve greater results.

MSI recently completed a large-scale study, From Capacity Development to Sustainable Development, for the E3 Bureau. This study has implications for USAID management and staff, as well as for development practitioners and funders globally. This research revealed that small, low-cost changes in the way practitioners approach performance improvement can help them achieve far greater results.

Organizational development helps organizations, teams and individuals increase their impact and effectiveness, even in the face of unexpected challenges. It is a difficult task in the best of circumstances, made even harder for institutions working in complex environments. After two years of evidence-based research, the study uncovered 50 Promising Practices to create sustainable, long-lasting results.

Hinsz will present an overview of the study findings at the International Society for Performance Improvement conference in Montreal later this month with Jeff Shahan, Human and Institutional Development (HICD) Advisor at USAID. The presentation will make the linkages between sound organizational development practices and USAID’s HICD approach. To view a preview of their presentation, watch the video below.

To learn more, read this article highlighting the study findings.

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