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A standing room only event hosted Wednesday by Oxfam America explored a new working paper and issue brief from the MCC, outlining their approach to country ownership. Although often touted as the ideal for international development aid, “country ownership” is often not well defined, nor do guidelines exist for best practice. The MCC has settled on the following definition:
Country ownership of an MCC compact occurs when a country’s national government controls the prioritization process during compact development, is responsible for implementation, and is accountable to its domestic stakeholders for both decision making and results.
This definition seemed pretty well received at the event. And while the MCC is quick to point out that its work in fostering country ownership is a work in progress, with different experiences in each country, panelist H.E. Mr. Ombeni Sefue, Tanzanian Ambassador to the U.S., gave it high praise: "the MCC allows developing countries to think for themselves, and their approach creates capacity and confidence within the country, and the five-year compacts make budgeting easy."

What struck me, however, was the definition of "country" in "country owernship" being so centrally linked to the national government. Getting the national government on board is definitely a solid first step, but I think there still lacks emphasis on involving input from the targeted citizens, especially the rural poor. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I often observed the disconnect between the priorities of the national government and local citizens, resulting in projects that did not maximize effectiveness. Active participation from the national government, and subsequently civil society and NGOs is certainly a mark of country ownership, but countries should aim to take it one step further through frequent local consultations with the targeted populations in order to ensure more inclusive projects which maximize benefit across all levels of society. And these consultations need to be deeper than the national Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers grounding World Bank engagement. Indeed, "country ownership" in a truly democratic development strategy must be defined beyond the central government. The MCC program in Nicaragua may just be the best sign of true country ownership right now -- a situation where the most effective and popular programs are those that are "owned" by the communities at a point where the government is owning some very bad policy choices.

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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 is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.