Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Federal agency honors alum for gender equity work in foreign aid

Andria Hayes-Birchler Andria Hayes-Birchler

Alum Andria Hayes-Birchler's employer has recognized her efforts to weave gender equity into decisions about whether the United States should give a country development aid. She and her supervisor won the Millennium Challenge Corporation's Gender Integration Award in December.

"From my perspective, the work we did on strengthening the role of gender in the selection system was part of a much bigger, comprehensive review," Hayes-Birchler says, "so I was very surprised when my e-mail box was flooded with congratulations."

The award partly stems from a La Follette School workshop report Hayes-Birchler coordinated for the MCC, a federal agency that directs foreign assistance to countries that have good governance, specifically related to ruling justly, investing in people and encouraging economic freedom. MCC is the only foreign aid donor that selects countries for assistance based on policy performance on a set of transparent, third-party indicators.

International Public Affairs Workshop Report

Gender and Economic Development in Millennium Challenge Corporation Indicators: An Assessment and Recommendations analyzes the gender sensitivity of current and potential indicators for evaluating applicant countries applying to the MCC for aid. The report proposes modification of four indicators and creation of four indicators for the MCC to promote gender equality as a meaningful investment in economic development.

As part of a comprehensive review of the system for selecting countries to aid, Hayes-Birchler and her team sought ways to strengthen the role gender equity plays. "In the spring of 2011, a team of La Follette students supported our efforts by drafting a capstone workshop report on the relationship between gender equity and economic growth, including examining potential indicators for MCC to incorporate into the new selection system," says Hayes-Birchler, who earned a Master of International Public Affairs degree from La Follette in 2008. "Their work was excellent and well-received by my colleagues. It formed the springboard for our subsequent discussions on the role of gender in the selection system."

The La Follette report was part of a broader review, Hayes-Birchler says. "We reviewed new economic literature, indicators, data sets and potential methodologies for selecting countries in order to propose changes to our board of directors. Over the course of six months, my three-person team reviewed more than 200 indicators, ran 30 simulations and consulted with more than 50 U.S. government colleagues, NGOs and academics."

MCC adopted two of the La Follette team's recommended indicators, "Girls' Secondary Education Enrollment Rates" and "Access to Credit," plus a third called "Gender in the Economy," based off data from the World Bank's International Finance Corporation.

The MCC board vote came in September. "I had the thrill of listening to Hillary Clinton talk about the rigor and value of my research at the board meeting, which just happened to take place two weeks after I completed an Ironman triathlon in Madison," Hayes-Birchler says. "It's hard to imagine my personal and professional goals ever colliding so perfectly again."

— article last updated December 30, 2011