Q&A with Gordon Raley: Reflections on the InterAction Forum 2012

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Gordon Raley serves as FHI 360’s Director of Public Policy

1. What is InterAction and why is this conference significant?

InterAction is a collaboration of international development organizations. Its members range from small to the large international non-governmental organizations or INGOs as we are called, so you pick up many different perspectives at this conference. Over the years, InterAction has also become a spokesperson with Congress and the Administration for development in general. They are strong on relief and humanitarian issues — that’s how they started — but now also discuss food security, education, health, democracy, governance and other global development issues.

This annual conference is an opportunity for all of the members to come together and share best practices and lessons learned, hear representatives from government agencies, and do a certain amount of networking with colleagues and donors.

2. Can you share with us one exciting session you’ve experienced at the conference?

I just came from a workshop on maternal and child health and the 2015 targets, which is one of the top priorities of the Obama administration. This workshop discussed ways in which practices to improve maternal and child health can be expanded in simple and affordable ways to meet the targets. In much of the developing world, most births still occur at home, often without skilled help available. So how can we train mothers to prevent problems before birth and to recognize the signs that a problem — like hemorrhaging — is about to occur and what to do about it? We are still losing many children — millions under the age of five die every year. Most of those deaths occur during the first year and many of those occur at birth, or in the first several days after birth. So there are things we can do to train community health workers and mothers on using better techniques. Interventions as simple as hand washing, breastfeeding, oral rehydration, and birth-spacing can be very effective in lowering child mortality.

3. Can you share some overall reflections about the conference?

I think it has been a very strong conference. From the lead off, we heard from top officials at USAID and from past administrations who gave very good overviews of what this administration is planning and what some of the challenges are going to be.

One of the key issues we talked about is the emphasis on country ownership and locally driven programs and its impact on the INGO community. The challenges there are that as you increase direct funding to local entities, there will be more need for accountability and transparency about how those funds are spent. Through a program called USAID Forward, USAID hopes to spend 30% of its assistance directly with local government, NGOs, or businesses. USAID will have to make sure those local NGOs, governments, and businesses can appropriately apply for and administer development programs. That will likely increase the need for the kinds of capacity building and technical assistance services that are provided by FHI 360, and other organizations like ours.

Also the emphasis on gender has been prominent. The plenary yesterday involved three young women from around the world who spoke about the intersection between gender and global development issues such as education and the impact it has had on their lives. It’s exciting that we’re beginning to hear about some of the progress we’ve been making and how gender programs have paid off in the lives of young women who have engaged in those programs at the local level.

Other new areas or areas of renewed emphasis we have heard about involve governance, democracy, and assisting people with disabilities in developing countries.