Daniel Yohannes, CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Speaks at the 2011 Global Diaspora Forum

View video here.

Thank you, Kris [Balderston], for your kind introduction. I would also like to thank Secretary Clinton for getting all of us together for the good of both your home countries and our adopted country, the United States. She has been a major supporter of the diaspora community and a great champion of the poor and the disadvantaged here at home and around the world. So thank you, Madam Secretary, for all you do.

Like all of you, I came to the United States at an early age for a better opportunity. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities and experiences that have been provided to me here in the U.S. Ladies and gentlemen, it is only possible in America.   And so we all should be grateful for all of our achievements in our new adopted country. So we have a lot to celebrate and to be thankful for.  After all, America is a land of immigrants, hope, and opportunity.

Diaspora communities are not only valued members of our adopted country, but critical for making the world more stable, secure, and prosperous. As you know, Americans have always been generous and responsive to crises around the world. Our government has spent billions and billions of dollars in the past building nations, strengthening economies of our partner countries, and assisting those in need. Of course, it is the good and right thing to do.  But it is also in our national interest to do – from an economic perspective as well as a security perspective. Our prosperity and security at home is tied to global security and prosperity.  So, we have a vested interest.

America and its partners have done a lot in terms of reducing poverty around the world.  Yet we still have a lot of work to do, as I am reminded by the fact that the two and a half billion people that live on less than 2 dollars a day.

But we must be more creative about how we do it. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has a unique model for partnering with developing countries to reduce poverty.  I will explain more about that later.

But I want to emphasize the word “partnership” and how important that word is to effectiveness.  Whether it is partnering with the private sector, other development agencies, foundations, NGOs, and or particularly with diaspora communities, strategic alliances with non-government change makers is critical to leveraging U.S.  investments in development.

You have a special perspective on the opportunities and challenges facing your countries of birth. You have a passion for making a difference that – when combined with the efforts of thousands like you – can transform a nation. You know what real partnership means.  Not just partnership for partnership sake but mutual ownership and mutual accountability in a common cause. You also know that the linkages we create by investing in the emerging markets from which many of us emigrated are not just cultural.   They are also economic. And these critical economic ties will not only help our birthplaces grow   —   they also will help develop the next marketplaces for American investment that will help our adopted country grow. At the same time, we have a role to play in ensuring that economic growth happens in a sustainable way.

Which then leads me to the next conversation of: Who is the Millennium Challenge Corporation? How is MCC engaged to remove the constraints to economic growth in our partner countries? And how can you in the diaspora community play a role in partnering with us and leveraging MCC’s investments in our partner countries?

You all know USAID.  They have been around for 50 years. I believe you have heard from my good friend Raj Shah earlier this week.  USAID does a great job.

MCC is new – created seven years ago with Republican and Democrats in Congress… based on best practices learned from other development agencies around the world in the last fifty years. We have a specific and narrow mission – which is to reduce poverty through long-term economic growth. We are governed by a board of directors – chaired by Secretary Clinton.

MCC is all about selectivity. We choose partner countries that are poor but well governed, yet constrained by the lack of opportunity for their citizens.  Our model is based on the premise that aid is more effective when you work with countries that are accountable to their people. We are all about country ownership. Our approach to development is like a business. We invest in those projects that are both a priority to our partner countries, and have a solid economic rate of return. We monitor and evaluate our investments to make sure that they are producing the desired results.

MCC’s distinctive approach to development has produced promising results for our partner countries. I believe that MCC’s ability to produce and track strong results is due to the priorities that we have laid out: First, our emphasis on results – MCC has a system to measure and report the results of our work that is more rigorous than anything attempted before. We do this because we want a clear picture of how our efforts have improved the incomes of the poor. This helps us stay relevant and on the cutting edge of development. Second our emphasis on partnerships – MCC strives to form partnerships to leverage our investments. This allows us to do more with less and to stretch our precious resources further. Third our emphasis on policy reform – MCC requires major policy reform on the part of our partner countries. This helps us create the conditions for citizens and the private sector to flourish – and puts our partner countries on a path to self sufficiency — replacing aid with entrepreneurship. Finally, our emphasis on gender – MCC integrates gender decisions into all of our projects. These priorities are helping MCC lay the foundation for economic growth in countries worldwide.

For example, as part of its MCC Compact, Honduras reformed the country’s secured transaction law and created a movable property registration system. Borrowers now have better access to credit and receive better terms. For Hondurans, this also means greater financial inclusion and commercial growth. Together, this creates an environment that will encourage investment and economic growth, both in the country and in the region. The goal of these activities is to make our partner countries better places to live and for families to thrive.

When I travel to our MCC partner countries, I see houses built by the diaspora group.  Some are occupied – but many more are empty. In many cases these investments and remittances represent commendable efforts by the diaspora community to give back. What I do not see as much are efforts by the diaspora community to create economic opportunities in their home countries. But I believe there is ample space for that, and I know that with creativity and determination, diaspora communities are in a powerful position to effect change.

Which leads to the next critical question: How can MCC leverage its investments by partnering with the diaspora community? Let me mention three examples of how we can work together. As an organization that values open discussion and innovative ideas, we are eager to engage with you. The primary way to help us create sustainable economic growth is to follow our investments. MCC projects are designed to remove constraints to investments and promote economic growth.  We are building ports, roads, bridges, airports, and irrigation and energy infrastructure. And more than that, our partner countries are committed to building a better business environment through significant policy reform efforts that will create better investment opportunities. No one is better positioned to profit from this and to keep the economic momentum going than you are. We are not talking about handouts or charity.  We are talking about investments in business opportunities. And these opportunities will provide a real return to diaspora investors, their families, their communities, their home countries, and the United States because they will expand trade and stability.

A second opportunity for MCC and you to work together relates to the business we generate through program procurements. MCC funds projects that generate bids worth more than 1 billion dollars annually – many of them in construction, agriculture, and engineering. These are very tangible opportunities for individuals and businesses with ties to diaspora communities to get directly involved with projects in their home countries. All MCC procurement opportunities are posted on www.mcc.gov.

Finally, a third example is a new program we have created called “Invitation to Innovate” that you should look at. A hallmark of MCC is commitment to innovation and exploring new ways of approaching development. We believe it is important to have a collaborative process that invites new ideas to the table. Our “Invitation to Innovate” effort is an opportunity for private and non-governmental groups to propose new projects or approaches that build off MCC investments that are already underway. These are just three examples of how you can get involved.

MCC recognizes that diaspora communities are critical to development. And so we will continue to expand and strengthen outreach to our diaspora network. Our mission is to empower the billions who live in poverty around the world with new opportunities to build a better future. If we are to succeed, we will need your help.

You are in a unique position and you have the power to effect change in the countries of your birth.  So while today is a first conversation for many of us, I hope it will not be the last. Global poverty is a strong-willed opponent, and we have much work to do. But if we do it together, I am confident that we can promote prosperity and opportunity for all.

Thank you.