10 Years, 10 Lessons: How to win the fight against global poverty

Oxfam America reported last month that eight in ten Americans believe that we have “a moral responsibility to work to reduce hunger and severe poverty in poor countries.”

For over four years, I’ve had a front row seat on just how the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. Government agency committed to fighting global poverty, has been fulfilling that responsibility.

MCC’s approach should give Americans confidence that their tax dollars are being invested in ways that deliver concrete results for the world’s poor.  As MCC marks its 10th anniversary, it is time to take stock of a new approach that demands greater accountability and transparency. The lessons are clear:

Partner with countries with common values. Countries that show they share our values—by respecting democratic rights and the rule of law and by changing ineffective policies that stand in the way of growth—make engaged partners who get the job done.   

Start and finish with the poor. Solutions need to be indigenous. We’ve learned that listening to the poor results in targeted, tailored programs that provide tools that lift the poor out of poverty. That is why our consultations focus on dismantling barriers blocking the path to greater economic growth and opportunity.

Solutions need to be homegrown. Development strategies that work can’t be imposed from Washington. Rather, they must come from the countries we seek to help. They should reflect input not just from the poor who will benefit but also from civil society, businesses and local governments who can contribute to the success of the strategies.

There’s no place for corruption. A repressive tax on growth that robs people and their communities of essential services, corruption is a deal-breaker. Working with countries willing to do what it takes to fight corruption will, ultimately, create more favorable conditions for economic growth to take root and flourish.

Women are economic actors. Sustainable development must include all economic actors, and that means respecting the rights and role of women and girls.

Trust the data; embrace the evidence. There is nothing more powerful than making decisions—from what countries to work with to what investments to fund—based on hard evidence and solid data.

It can’t be done alone. Development is not a solo act. Success depends on forging strong partnerships with countries, nongovernmental organizations, foundations, and private businesses that bring their own expertise to the challenge of effectively and efficiently ending global poverty. 

Exits are essential. Knowing that investments are not open-ended and come with expiration dates keeps partners accountable for and focused on reaching targets. That’s why MCC’s multimillion dollar investments are limited to five years.  

Be transparent about successes.  Tracking progress is so important to families and communities who want to see promises fulfilled. The tangible proof of farmers trained, roads built, safe drinking water flowing, health clinics and schools open means real change in the lives of the poor in real time.

Be transparent about failures. Assessing what does not work is equally valuable. It provides a critical feedback and learning loop that inspires corrections and improvements.

Lessons like these that have defined the last decade of MCC’s work prove that there’s a right way for fighting poverty through robust standards of accountability and transparency. While Americans care about the plight of the world’s poor, they also care about not wasting money. Merging such values and interests is imperative for the world of prosperity and progress we all seek. 

Yohannes is the chief executive officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation.