Helping USAID Engage with Audiences Worldwide

Rev 2USAID’s Development Outreach and Communications (DOC) Program, under the leadership of the Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs (LPA), focuses on building the capacity of USAID outreach and communications professionals worldwide to improve their ability to tell the story of U.S. foreign assistance to host country audiences. MSI is proud to have provided communications backstopping to USAID for more than a decade.

A robust, worldwide training program is part of a broader effort to increase awareness of U.S. development and humanitarian assistance activities within host countries and back home. MSI has provided skills-based training through intensive classroom instruction to help Missions communicate development objectives and foreign aid programs, including those that MSI implements.

Most recently, in October 2015, MSI executed a “pilot” training program for a select group of USAID communications professionals. This training focused exclusively on video production and placement.

MSI partnered closely with USAID’s Global Development Lab to develop an agenda that reflected the Agency’s needs. The training included a guest facilitator and technical expert from the Rhode Island Institute of Design (RISD).

The training was split into three distinct parts. The first part focused on pre-production elements of visual content creation process, including storyboarding and equipment usage. The second part included two days of intensive field work in the Botanga region near Tamale, Ghana, focusing on the Botanga Irrigation Scheme, which involves improved fertilizer utilization called Urea Deep Placement (UDP). Students were exposed to and learned about an array of fundamental filming techniques. The final part covered the post-production process. Students worked collaboratively using editing software to review and edit the many hours of footage captured while on the field visit.

Jalaba-SNNPR-Ethiopia-Aug--2010_smallMSI continues to lend its expertise across a variety of digital and multi-media communications outlets, working hand in hand with USAID. Its ability to stay at the forefront of these areas means that it can help to provide staff with the tools and knowledge necessary to tell the USAID story in a number of dynamic formats.

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Tarabot’s Oil Extension in a Global Context

Iraq Oil

The fall in oil prices has profoundly changed the prospects for national oil industries across the world – Iraq is no different. With prices likely to remain low for a number of years, projects have been put on hold or cancelled entirely, and the government forced to reconsider its strategy for the oil sector.

But the realities of low prices and fierce competition for investment are only part of the problem. Obstructive bureaucracy and corruption are pervasive, often competing with efforts to improve operations.

Oil provides 90% of Iraq’s national wealth. If the country is to overcome both economic and political instability, and provide the services the public demand, it clearly has to optimize oil operations, but also address entrenched attitudes to work practices and the nature of public service.

In the summer of 2015, USAID-Tarabot was tasked to carry out an oil sector assessment, and focus its skills on helping the Ministry of Oil towards greater efficiency. Combined with its predecessor project, USAID-Tarabot has more than a decade of experience in Iraq, helping to strengthen public institutions and improve services. Better management systems make for better governance, and reduce opportunities for waste, inefficiency, and misappropriation of funds.

Tarabot’s oil assessment reflected a sector in crisis, with outdated pipelines, terminals, and loading systems; inadequate storage; and refineries with technical and environmental flaws. Basra Port is just one example of this chronic lack of capacity. Lines of tankers wait for up to10 days to load with oil, longer in bad weather. With tanker costs at tens of thousands of dollars per day and rising, the knock-on effect on cost is substantial. Iraq’s export infrastructure simply does not have the ability to keep up with production. It cannot sell let alone store what it can produce, and is losing opportunities for revenue day in and day out.

Less obvious to the outside world was the dire state of the Oil Ministry’s administration systems, especially the procurement, contracting, and project management departments of its state oil companies. Like other parts of the Iraqi government, they battle a culture of top-down bureaucracy, and debilitating corruption inherited from past administrations.

Tarabot’s oil assessment called for rapid intervention as a tactical necessity, with the immediate goal of raising production and increasing revenues. It put forward a variety of interlinked projects in both the export and refining sectors, providing practical and innovative solutions to technical problems, streamlining administrative processes, and modernizing procurement systems. The Ministry of Oil approved, and work began. It was the first success – demonstrating the institutional will for change.

Set in a technically and administratively complex industry, quick wins alone are not enough; the enduring objective of Tarabot’s work in the oil sector had to be the introduction of new ways of working. The civil service lies at the heart of good governance, and bolstered by the checks and balances of modern systems, practices, and technology, it can both fuel national development and stand as watchdog.

In less than a year, Tarabot has helped the Ministry to introduce standard bidding documents to all its departments, and improved the delegation of decision making to engineers and project managers across the country. It has helped arbitrate contractual disputes for major oil projects, reform customs and banking procedures, and solve technical problems such as cutting tanker waiting time, troubleshooting refinery inefficiencies, or rehabilitating pipelines. It also helped to train procurement experts, certify project management, qualify departments for ISO certification, open a public procurement help desk, and get priority contracts moving.

All these steps, some small, others profound, have an impact on the government, the oil sector, and the attitude of the people who run it. The Ministry of Planning Procurement Help Desk is a great example, where Tarabot has helped introduce a system, an entity, and expert staff capable of both running it and training others. The Help Desk deals with dozens of procurement inquiries a month, helping sort out tenders and get projects off the ground; some in the oil sector, others for public services, such as two new hospitals in Najaf and Babil.

It is these civil servants – cost-estimators, project management schedulers, contract personnel, engineers, and administrators – who are reinforcing the veracity of these new work practices; promoting efficiency, tracking, and oversight. They are shedding light, and open Iraq’s doors to the world.

Recent media allegations continue to rightfully point fingers, and demand investigation of corrupt contractors, middle men, and politicians in Iraq and across the world. But this does not detract from, nor should it deny, interventions by development organizations such as USAID-Tarabot, JICA, (the Japan International Cooperation Agency) the UN and others that play their part in indirectly curtailing it.

The current economic environment, brought about by low oil prices, offers an opportunity for the Iraqi government to refocus their efforts on defining a mandate that supports their national vision and priorities. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has pledged this. Quick wins like Tarabot’s initiatives are helping solve an immediate fiscal crisis, but the knowledge and skills that they impart will reinforce the future, one where opportunities are for all, and not the few.

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Supporting USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment

MSI is the lead implementer of the E3 Analytics and Evaluation Project, which supports USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment (E3).

Around half of the Project’s portfolio centers on conducting rigorous impact and performance evaluations around the world to support learning efforts in E3 technical sectors.

The project has recently submitted the design of the first large-scale, live effectiveness study to assess whether an integrated Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) and nutrition evaluation demonstrates greater health outcomes than either intervention type alone.

In addition, during 2016 the project team will continue its three-year performance evaluation of the joint USAID-NASA SERVIR Program. The SERVIR Program assists in delivering satellite-based Earth observation data and science applications to assist developing nations reduce disaster risks and improve environmental decision-making.

The project has also advanced a methodology for monitoring progress towards improving the reading skills of 100 million children around the world, which is Goal 1 of  USAID’s Education Strategy.

Another activity of note was the E3 Sectoral Synthesis of 2013-2014 Evaluation Findings – an in-depth review of 117 evaluations related to E3 technical sectors. This synthesis was recently featured in an Agency publication highlighting the 5th anniversary of the USAID Evaluation Policy, which noted that the E3 Bureau “pioneered the practice” of synthesizing evaluation findings which can “provide a useful overview of what has been learned and can also help inform USAID strategy, project, and activity development” (USAID 2016, p. 22).

Finally, recognizing that study findings are only utilized if they are properly disseminated, the Project has conducted findings validation workshops, out briefs, training sessions, and other efforts to encourage stakeholder buy-in, learning, and knowledge sharing for the evaluations and research it supports. USAID’s recent Strengthening Evidence-Based Development publication highlighted impact evaluation clinics, which the Project has supported, as a means to assess gaps in the evidence base and design impact evaluations that addresses these gaps (USAID 2016, p. 18). Accordingly, the Agency is expecting to broaden these types of activities to more fully empower its staff.

In the second half of the E3 Analytics and Evaluation Project, the MSI team looks forward to supporting the realization of this goal.

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Understanding The Causes & Costs of Corruption in Vietnam

In an attempt to increase Vietnamese citizen’s understanding of the causes and costs of corruption, MSI/Coffey awarded research grants to Vietnamese think tanks and consulting groups. The grants were issued under the DFID Anti-Corruption Strategic Fund (ACSF) in Vietnam.

Vietnam-Anti-Corruption-Research-Symposium-370x298The research program showed evidence about the negative consequences of corruption for progress in Vietnam. However, the analysis by itself was insufficient to yield action, therefore several opportunities for disseminating the research effectively were produced. These opportunities promoted dialogues and debates within and among Government Agencies and civil society and helped increase the pressure for reform.

sixIn general, as a result of the ACSF program researchers have analyzed corruption and have developed an informal network of researchers that will continue to promote and keep active the study in this field.

The studies will be featured in a thematic issue of a major International peer-reviewed academic journal on corruption issues, Crime, Law and Social Change, in the May 2016 issue. The articles are available on the publisher’s website, or read more on

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Tetra Tech is helping women in Afghanistan become future leaders

Afghan women and girls have achieved significant gains in education, business, and politics over the last decade. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has been supporting their advancement. Today, girls account for more than one-third of school children compared to nearly none in 2002. More than 120,000 young women have finished secondary school, and 40,000 are working on university degrees. More than 3,000 businesses are woman-owned, and women make up more than 25 percent of the Afghan parliament.

To continue and expand on this progress, USAID is funding the largest women’s empowerment program in its history: Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs (PROMOTE). PROMOTE is a 5-year joint commitment by the U.S. and Afghan governments focusing on education, promotion, and training of 75,000 Afghan women between 18 and 30. Tetra Tech is working with USAID to prepare a new generation of highly skilled, talented, and educated women to take leadership positions in the life of their country.

Tetra Tech’s aim through its involvement in the Women’s Leadership Development (WLD) component of PROMOTE is to empower Afghanistan’s most talented young women to become future leaders in government, business, and civil society. Over 5 years, 25,000 women with exceptional leadership potential and commitment to positive social change will be recruited and enrolled in the program.

Tetra Tech is conducting activities with two groups. The primary group—comprised of 18,000 educated women—focuses on advanced management and high-level leadership skills that have immediate practical application. To achieve program objectives, Tetra Tech is using a capacity building approach based on experiential learning to train Afghan women in leadership development. To effectively represent all women, participants will undertake research and make study visits to villages and rural areas to learn first-hand women’s needs, challenges, perspectives, and aspirations while further disseminating the skills they have learned.

The secondary group, which includes 7,000 women, is focusing on building skills and self-confidence while preparing participants for careers and leadership roles in their communities. These young, educated women will participate in events and activities that will broaden their outlook and view of the world as well as provide opportunities for personal and professional growth.

To ensure buy-in, Tetra Tech and the WLD team are collaborating on program activities with Afghan government agencies and membership organizations, including the Ministry of Higher Education, Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Ministry of Education, Afghan Women’s Network, and Afghan Women’s Educational Center. Through these partnerships, Tetra Tech is ensuring that the WLD participant selection process and implementation of program activities are best suited to Afghanistan’s young, educated women and will have a lasting impact.

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