In July 2020, J.E. Austin with its subcontractor, CUBRC, Inc., won the support contract for the USAID Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) program for the second time. For over 40 years, MERC has supported joint teams of Arab and Israeli researchers who conduct research with the aims of supporting regional development and encouraging collaboration across political borders. J.E. Austin provides scientific, technical, and logistical support to the MERC program.
J.E. Austin offers a team of scientists and development professionals well suited to USAID’s goals of using research to address Middle East regional development. Scientists in the Middle East, who best understand the development challenges in their communities, propose their research ideas to USAID. J.E Austin and CUBRC, Inc. recruit peer review panels to evaluate their proposals. The program follows a National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) model to fund proposals that demonstrate the desired combination of solid science and the potential to positively impact the region. After the peer review process is complete, the JAA-CUBRC team creates narrative documents with USAID to thoroughly communicate peer review deliberations back to the applicants, so that even if the proposal does not pass, the applicant will have a road map of how to adjust their proposal and apply again.
Professionals at JAA interact with applicants throughout the review and award process to help them comply with USAID regulations. After an award is made, JAA reviews progress reports and informs USAID of project success or, on occasion, a project that is not performing.
Since the MERC Program has been operational for over 40 years, it has accumulated a wealth of data on applicants, grants awarded, and research progress. Accurate record-keeping is essential to show the program’s impact and to inform stakeholders of MERC’s history. The combination of a comprehensive database housed at CUBRC and the experience of the Chief of Party, who has worked with the MERC program for 15 years, provides the resources necessary to operate the diverse and complex program.
Since its launch in 1979, MERC has supported hundreds of researchers and has seen many students attain their degrees or even move on to run their own laboratories. MERC funding has supported the introduction of new agricultural techniques, health care interventions, and water purification regimes. J. E. Austin and CUBRC, Inc.’s shared goal is to continue to support this mission and help it carry on long into the future.
Photo: An Arab-Israeli farmer in his olive orchard surveying the effectiveness of olive fly traps, a MERC-supported research project.