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Chat with Dan Hymowitz (MPP ’07) November 17, 2008

Posted by jasonized in Uncategorized.


Dan Hymowitz (MPP ’07) is a Scott Family Liberia Fellow with the Center for Global Development and is currently working closely with the National Coordinator of the Liberia Reconstruction and Development Committee (LRDC), a donor coordination and policy planning unit in the Office of the President. (Think “senior advisor.”) Currently he is serving as the LRDC representative to the Poverty Reduction Strategy Technical Support Team. He is also working closely with several nontraditional donors who are developing projects in Liberia.

Dan completed a Masters of Public Policy at GSPP in 2007 where he focused on economics and global development. He also worked with a small research team on a project sponsored by UC Berkeley and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) which compared the market potential of three point-of-use water treatment technologies. In Summer 2006, he carried out a field trial in rural Bangladesh. Previously, Mr. Hymowitz worked for the U.S. Department of State in the Office of Agriculture, Biotechnology, and Textile Trade Affairs and also served as a policy analyst for the Slum Rehabilitation Society in Mumbai, India. Before graduate school, Mr. Hymowitz worked in Communications, primarily as a minor league sports broadcaster.

We talked to Dan in Liberia on November 6. Notes from our conversation follow–click the “More…” link.

•    CGD administered fellowship
o    Positions funded by philanthropists including Ed Scott and OSI
o    Provide a layer of support to the top ministers with young talent from US
•    15 total
•    Over half of Liberian descent
o    Applying
•    Apply through CGD
•    Interviews
•    Finalists are taken to the President of Liberia, who chooses
o    A lot of fellows stay for second years
•    Dan is looking to stay in a different capacity, as a coordinator of big private foundations in the country
•    Going to find own funding
•    Back and forth between Monrovia and NYC
•    On-the-ground NGOs are uncoordinated
o    Government doesn’t have the capacity to deal with it
o    Dan’s intended role of “NGO coordinator” doesn’t have a model its based on
•    Do you serve the NGOs? Or the government?
•    Basic monitoring
•    Getting other foundations involved
•    Revamping governance is one of the pillars of the Poverty Reduction Strategy
o    Huge corruption
o    Government has been highly centralized
o    Capacity-building is slow going


•    What’s it like being a US dude in Liberia’s government?
o    Dan’s a special assistant to the head of the office of aid coordination
•    This guy is the president’s closest advisor, and so there’s all sort of projects thrown his way that aren’t donor coordination
•    A lot of grunt work
•    But also a lot of sidewinders: writing the President’s speeches, long-term strategy-planning
o    Being a foreigner has been really difficult
•    I wasn’t simply viewed as a guy there to help
•    Had to earn trust—you’re always an outsider to folks
•    They won’t even share public documents sometimes because of mistrust
•    Tensions with Liberian government and traditional donors?
o    Paris declaration agenda has been publicly embraced
o    Privately, though, a real challenge to move from donors’ parallel systems to “government ownership”
o    Donors always have a seat at the table in making important decisions for Liberia
•    So plenty of inevitable moments of tension between the Government and the donors
•    Frustrations about pace of implementation
o    Government has felt that complicated donor systems slow things down
o    Donors have complained that limited Government capacity has been an issue
•    How do you deal with demands for quantitative measures of outcome?
o    Every program has an M&E component
o    But, all of Liberia’s data was destroyed during the war
•    First census in 24 years was this year
•    Basic indicators from Poverty Reduction Strategy work
•    Still trying to revive a statistical office
o    Donors are super-committed for several years and won’t pull funding because of lack of quantitative data
•    Who you’re a special assistant to—role?
o    Took 6 months to really understand what was expected
•    There was an expectation that Dan needed to hit the ground running with limited instruction/oversight
•    Took a while for him to get the hang of it
o    He is super intelligent and one of the most helpful people in the government
o    Dan’s office is inside the President’s office, not a ministry
•    10 people versus 800
•    Very lucky, everyone’s working and capable
•    Ministries full of people not doing anything
•    Legacy of the conflict?
o    Dan’s just in the office, doesn’t really know what it’s like for the “man on the street”
o    This President is incredible and overcoming things from an internal perspective
•    But from the outside, not sure that’s a shared perception
•    People willing to share their experiences from the war?
o    Very; matter-of-fact almost
•    They’re not talking about it constantly, just when prompted
o    People want to move on though, it’s not dwelling
•    What from GSPP came with you?
o    Some of the microecon and quant, maybe
o    Being able to write and think about policy in general
o    But everything’s a rush, never time for the eightfold path
•    Granted, not in a specific ministry which faces straightforward policy choices—maybe in a specific ministry he’d do policy analysis
•    More about coordination, working with people
o    48-hour project is…well…my job
•    What about Liberia brought you there?
o    This was one of many international jobs Dan applied for
•    Was thinking about a beltway bandit with USAID
•    Was thinking about a tech start-up linking private sector to development projects in emerging markets
•    Came to GSPP without an international development background
•    Huge number of KSG students come for just the summer
o    Dan will definitely look into internships
•    There is demand in the Liberia government, a willingness to bring people on

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