Phyllis Resnick, Ph.D., is the lead economist at the Colorado Futures Center at Colorado State University. She is also an independent consultant with a practice that focuses on economic forecasting, revenue and fiscal sustainability studies for state and local governments, and economic impact studies. Her current and past clients include the Governor’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting, the region’s metropolitan planning organizations, many of Colorado’s municipal governments, and the State of Hawaii.
Over the past year and a half, Phyllis has made five trips to volunteer on USAID-funded projects in Angola, Tunisia and Jordan, spending the equivalent of 48 days creating and leading training courses. In total she has trained 223 government and civil society leaders on budgetary and fiscal reforms in all three countries. Though the challenges in each country were unique, she found one area of commonality – hesitation to implement reforms. She surmised this hesitation had to do with a lack of understanding of why reform was needed, and how it could be done. She presented real-world examples of how reforms had been implemented in other countries, and facilitated discussions to help participants come to their own understandings of why reforms were needed. These conversations, especially in Tunisia and Angola, were among the first open discussions of budgetary issues in those countries. Her expertise, gained from participating in decentralization in the U.S., was critical in gaining the respect of ministry officials.
Tunisia particularly stands out in her mind as a great experience. The Tunisian Ministry of Finance, newly active after the 2011 Jasmine revolution, asked Phyllis and a second volunteer to train ministry staff and civil society organizations on best practices to improve transparency of government expenditures and lead a workshop on the budget cycle for local government authorities. In spite of a terrorist attack in downtown Tunis six weeks prior to her planned arrival, Phyllis remained committed to going and leading the training. She describes her experience working with Tunisian officials as one of the most incredible experiences she’s ever had because the officials showed such enthusiasm for envisioning the world in a different way. Her approach illustrates an effective way where skilled Americans, acting as citizen diplomats, can assist governments in making the changes needed to increase Domestic Resource Mobilization (DRM).
One of the true hidden gifts of volunteering is the tremendous impact it has on me. It helps me do my job better and look at the U.S. system more critically.
– Phyllis Resnick, volunteer