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What a thrill to take to the stage and look out and see a standing-room-only crowd at CGD's MCA Monitor: What's Next for the Millennium Challenge Account?. The crowd was a great mix of people from NGOs, the diplomatic community, the academic world, the Administration, the Hill and the MCC itself -- a reflection of the broad interest in (and scrutiny of) the MCA as an innovation for aid delivery. A few highlights of the afternoon were:

  • MCC CEO Paul Applegarth's frank assessment of lessons the MCA has learned in its first 15 months, including the struggle to balance guidance and country ownership. He also invited ongoing scrutiny and described how he would like to see the MCA evaluated. Read Mr. Applegarth's opening remarks.
  • A raging debate about the relationship between poverty reduction and economic growth -- a discussion that has been central to NGO and Congressional scrutiny of the MCA -- came to a head when Steve Radelet practically leapt out of his chair to say that it "drives me crazy" that this debate is still going on. "You cannot separate poverty reduction and economic growth in developing countries," he said. The ingredients for each are the same: investments in health and education, a robust private sector, and good governance. Read what CGD fellow Peter Timmer and I have to say on this issue in our brief "Connecting the Poor to Economic Growth: Eight Key Questions".
  • There was much discussion on the scale of the MCA -- how big and bold does it need to be to be truly innovative and to create incentives for policy reform? While there was no agreement on how big is big enough, there was consensus that the MCA has thus far fallen short of its bold vision.
  • Callisto Madavo offered a view from the recipient countries. They may well be skeptical of the MCA's call for "country ownership" given the track record of donors to ask countries to identify priorities just to override them with their own.

The event set a standard for MCA Monitor activities going forward -- frank discussion, multiple perspectives, and concrete suggestions. We definitely need a higher standard on fostering audience participation, though. The packed schedule meant we squeezed out the open deliberation among a broad range of MCA observers that is so vital. I am hoping that participants who didn't get the chance to speak up will do so on this blog. Submit your comments, join the debate, let of steam, and pose tough questions. That's what the blog is for.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.