1. The Challenge of Managing Expectations

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MCA sign, Madagascar MCAM elicits higher expectations than any other donor-funded program in Madagascar, even though the MCC is far from the largest donor. At an average of $27.5 million per year, the MCC comes in as the fourth or fifth largest donor in Madagascar. It falls well behind the E.U., the World Bank and the French Development Agency (AFD) in annual support. Despite this, as the following quotes illustrate, the MCAM has generated mammoth expectations. "Malagasy people expect the MCA to change their lives." "We have worked with a lot of donors and are still poor; this is our big chance!" "The MCAM is the first aid program really committed to rural development." And most dramatically, "In Madagascar the MCA is like Jesus coming back!" Given the number of donors in Madagascar, and the years of their investments in rural development, why are the expectations of the MCAM so high?

 

Reasons for High Expectations

Lots of publicity: The MCC has set high standards for transparency and public participation in the MCA process, but all this transparency has created high expectations. In Madagascar transparency has meant lots of media coverage (television, radio and newspapers) and public meetings at the central and regional levels. It was big news that Madagascar was the first to sign a compact with the MCC, and the $110 million figure was broadcast far and wide. The selection of last three target zones was a nationwide, public process, and the newspapers have been filled with countless advertisements for services needed by the MCAM. All of this public discussion has made the MCAM more widely known than other donor-funded programs, and has contributed to the high expectations that the public and officials hold of the program.

Legacy of past aid programs: In all its hype about the MCA program, the media coverage did not explain how the MCAM differs from what people traditionally expect of donor-funded programs. Madagascar has a history of subsidy-based programs that operate through high-profile handouts to regions, communities and individuals. The MCAM simply does not operate that way, yet people do not know to expect anything different.

Country ownership: When pushed to articulate why they have higher expectations of the MCAM than other donor-funded programs, many people replied, "because of country ownership." This has two aspects. First is the perception that the MCAM programs are more likely to succeed because they were designed by the Malagasy themselves, and are based on national plans and priorities. Secondly, there is a sense of pride and excitement stemming from the fact that the program is being run predominantly by Malagasy staff. For example, one leading donor explained that after a very impressive presentation by an MCAM team, his mission's Malagasy staff exclaimed, "There were no vazaha (white folks) in that group!" While there are several white faces associated with the MCAM, including an MCC resident country director and deputy, all full-time MCAM staff members are Malagasy.

Anticipation of a second compact: A potential phase-two compact further boosts expectations with the prospect of big money. Malagasy officials are watching the MCC sign huge compacts with other countries (notably Ghana's record-breaking $547 million compact, and most recently $460 compacts for both El Salvador and Mali) and foresee similar opportunities for their own country. Among close MCAM observers, especially government officials and Antananarivo-based civil society, the psychological line between the first and second compact has begun to blur. This tends to inflate the expectations of what the MCC and MCAM can accomplish.

 

Risks and Opportunities of High Expectations

The key to managing expectations is to stem the risks caused by incorrect or misplaced expectations, while exploiting the opportunities created by having high expectations in the right areas. The risks of failing to correct misplaced or wrong expectations are needlessly lost confidence in the MCA approach (that would extend far beyond Madagascar into the halls of the U.S. Congress), and in Madagascar's capacity to manage its own development. But these risks can be avoided through a communications and public education strategy that explains exactly what the MCAM does and does not offer, and provides insight into how the MCC/MCAM approach differs from that of other aid programs.

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It is more challenging to manage the risks associated with expectations that are essentially appropriate (i.e., in line with those set by the program itself) but greatly inflated. For example, the MCAM program does include some direct investments at the regional level that will yield the tangible improvements everyone expects from aid programs. But even if all of these program goals are met, they are unlikely to yield satisfaction commensurate with expectations simply because they represent the smallest part of the MCAM budget. Regional level investments such as linking small producers to new markets and granting of land certificates are tiny compared to other program priorities. The big-ticket items are harder to see because they occur at the macro level or behind office doors--reform of the land tenure and finance sectors, modernizing of the national land registry, streamlining the national payments system, etc. This highlights the importance of including short-term, high-profile interventions in a compact heavy on central-level reforms. The MCAM team thinks they have the mix right, and have just been hampered by a slow start on program implementation. Time (and a good communications strategy) will tell if they manage to align public expectations and program achievements.

Part of the problem is that some of the inflated expectations are driven by what might come with a second compact. If a second compact is not forthcoming, Madagascar will have an "enabling environment" to better manage its development but no funding to take advantage of more secure land tenure and better financial services. Why did the GOM subject itself to this risk by creating a two-phase approach to winning MCC funding? Some argue that it was a conscientious calculated risk--to limit the first compact to something commensurate with the country's capacity to absorb and manage the funds, and to acknowledge the need to set the stage from major investment funds to be effective. Others argue that motivations were more political--the President's desire to be the first MCA country; or practical--a decision to avoid big infrastructure investments and their associated, time-consuming environmental impact assessments. Whatever the case, the insecurity about a second compact to fund high-profile investments puts the MCAM in a particularly risky situation when it comes to meeting high expectations.

While these risks are significant, the high expectations of the MCAM also offer opportunities. The most important is the opportunity for the MCAM to change the national mindset about aid and development by showing that its approach can affect fundamental change. Some early doubters are beginning to see the value of the MCAM approach. For example, in the words of the head of one of the MCAM regions, he finally understands that "The MCA is not a product; it is a system." He is starting to understand that the MCAM will not give farmers seeds and tractors, but help link them to buyers for their products, keep their quality standards high, and leverage their land to acquire credit. Others are starting to see that rather than just (unsustainably) providing cash to microcredit institutions, the MCAM will help these institutions to create new financing mechanisms that fit the needs of the rural poor, and to attract new clients, thereby generating at least $5 million in new resources from the market itself.

High expectations also serve to motivate. One senior government official sent this message to the MCAM: "No cold shower!" In its effort to correct expectations of the program, he argued, the MCAM should not dampen expectations too much because they create momentum--people work harder and take more responsibility for program success. Another benefit of high-profile expectations is that the Government of Madagascar has been attentive to MCAM (and MCC) priorities. For example, the government is pushing hard on the policy reforms on which the success of the MCA program (and subsequent disbursements) depend. Senior officials reported that the government is keenly aware of the importance of maintaining MCA eligibility. It has, for example, responded quickly to USG concerns about trafficking of persons with serious crackdowns.

The MCAM knows that it has backed itself into a corner in terms of expectations, and that failure to meet these high expectations could undermine the program. Thankfully the MCAM is beginning to think about how to bring expectations back in line with reality. Key ingredients to realigning (and meeting) expectations are a strong communications strategy, improved mechanisms for public engagement (as discussed in the next section), and effective implementation of tangible programs at the regional and community level while the slower-paced macro-level reforms progress. The MCAM now has a team dedicated to communications and public affairs. Members of the SC and AC acknowledge that they themselves have been guilty of exaggerated expectations. They recognize their role in better educating their constituents about the program approach and goals. But even when expectations are corrected, the MCAM goals will remain ambitious. Ultimately, to prove the importance of creating an "enabling environment," and to meet expectations about its power, the MCAM will have to be successful in translating macro-level policy reforms into improved livelihoods.

Next: 2. Consultation with Civil Society