From Manila to Marawi: Untangling where aid goes in the Philippines

by Sarah Harmon

Sarah Harmon is a rising junior at William & Mary majoring in International Relations with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. This summer, Sarah worked at the USAID Mission in the Philippines as an AidData Summer Fellow.

Every morning this summer has begun the same: at 7 AM, I wake up and make the twenty-minute trek from the edge of metropolitan Manila to the U.S. Embassy in the heart of the Philippines’ capital city. Processed by security, I am admitted into the compound and reach my office in the USAID branch overseeing Manila Bay.

But with each apparently identical morning comes a completely new challenge at work. Some days find me combing through the USAID archives for development project records; on others, I am designing and running geospatial analyses on everything from violent extremism and disaster response to family planning and tuberculosis.

These diverse assignments make up a typical workflow for my position in USAID/Philippines’ Office of Program Resource Management (PRM), which coordinates the mass of development activities between local agencies, USAID and donors in-country.

Chris Foley speaking at a Turnover Ceremony for new classrooms in Nepal. Photo by USAID/Philippines.

On this particular day, I am meeting with Chris Foley, the Program Officer of PRM. He explains that we are behind in geospatially organizing all of USAID/Philippines’ activities, and challenges me to take the mission’s performance management operations to the next level. In a marathon of afternoon meetings, we close out projects that are ending, slate others that are under redesign, and add more to the drawing board for the new fiscal year.

While each project undergoes a thorough review by the director, Chris lays out our catch-up strategy: all our activities will need to be added to the Projects and Programs Information Exchange System (PPIES), which is a Philippines government-run geoportal with updated mission activities for organizations like USAID.

This is where I come in. By geocoding all development activities within the Philippines and creating visuals for project planning meetings, we can track where aid is going and where it is most needed (one of AidData’s mission statements). And USAID and the Philippines government can then maximize the impact of their investments, and be held accountable for results when their program data is released on a publicly accessible and actionable platform like PPIES.

As the summer winds down, I am proud to have helped integrate the use of geocoded aid information and geospatial tools into USAID’s cross-cutting activities. These tools will help the mission make data-driven decisions on the scope and direction of their projects, and ultimately their outcomes.

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