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Organizations, not countries, deliver aid

Laurence Carter's picture

There is much talk - rightly - about improving development effectiveness. In Bill Easterly's excellent book The White Man's Burden, he points out that many aid organizations have multiple objectives without accountability, lack a culture of measurement and focus on high visibility activities rather than those with greater pay-offs - e.g. AIDS treatment rather than prevention. An August 15 editorial in the Financial Times (full text available at CGD) made the same point about the need for more measurement of development effectiveness.

A lot of measurement in the aid business focuses at the country level. For example, the interesting rankings recently published by the Center for Global Development include a component on aid volume from each of 21 countries, which is then adjusted for quality factors, such whether it is tied. There are exhortations from many commentators, such as Jeffrey Sachs, for countries to increase the amount of aid given as a percentage of GDP.

But aid is delivered by organizations, rather than countries. The variety of organizations (public, private, NGOs) and of financing types (grants, soft loans, commercial financing) involved in the aid business means that it is somewhat simplistic to group everything under 'aid'. What about benchmarking organizations - to see how focused they are, how they measure themselves, etc.?

It is worth noting an effort that the microfinance organization CGAP carried out three years ago. They persuaded 17 bi/multilateral donor organizations to subject themselves to a peer review process, which led to several changes in those organizations in the way they support microfinance. One example: the European Commission, which had huge credit lines to microfinance, has moved out of funding credit lines into capacity building work. This is exactly the kind of lower visibility but higher impact work favored by Easterly. At the follow-up Better Aid for Access to Finance meeting in October, look for the heads of those 17 organizations to endorse a Quality of Aid in Microfinance Index - a move that should increase transparency in this field.

Finally, if you have 5 minutes, read the closing speech by Stephen Lewis at the recent AIDS conference in Toronto. (Video also available.) His speech is clear and forthright. A relevant extract:

And the agencies on the ground, whether multilateral, bilateral or civil society, must be held accountable. That’s what’s been missing. That’s the job of the delegates to this conference: holding people and organizations accountable.

Comments

Submitted by Michael Saunby on
I wonder if the staff and volunteers of those organizations would agree? Perhaps they would argue that it's people who deliver aid. Just as it isn't the poverty of countries that motivates them to provide aid, but the poverty of other people.

No organizations without money and no money without governments. To me, it is sophistry to downplay the role of the governments. They are the main money providers and they decide the rules of the game. The problem is political, not administrative. If the Public Aid is not at the public agenda in the donors countries, there will not be a profond reform, only cosmetic changes. I also believe that we urgently need less organizations and stronger public sectors in the countries we are helping. But we are still trying to repair an old car that brings us nowhere.

Submitted by Curious on
Perhaps detracting from the point.... but as my some of my professional colleagues pointed out, why is the book called "white man's burden"? The Japanese are as involved in aid as Europe and the US. Now back to your point "Organizations, not countries, deliver aid" Both organisations and countries suffer from an agency problem. They both represent the interests of the funders to the recepients, but, somewhere along the line, their own interests/policies/dispositions get into play. Some governments and organisations do it right, whereas others get it completely wrong (for the afore-mentioned agency problems). Those working in development also have families to feed and need to keep their jobs. They have mortgages to pay. This immediately creates a conflict of interests.

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