What’s in store for US Foreign Aid

Wrapping up the class and this tumultuous year, here are some links on the issues we discussed in the last sessions.

It is still unclear what direction US foreign aid will take under President Trump. There is some hope in the US foreign aid community (e.g. FP, CGD) that at least those programs that have bipartisan support (PEPFAR and MCC) will continue, though maybe with a reduced budget. USAID might be in more dire straights. Aid related to the environment and climate change will most definitely suffer, and, most likely, so will US support for multilateral organizations. The choice for Secretary of State throws up further questions about the future direction of US foreign aid. It might not bode well for democratic movements in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, but, as Devex points out:

ExxonMobil does, however, have a record of working in development as a part of its corporate operations. In 2015, the ExxonMobil Foundation gave $227 million in cash, goods and services to support work in malaria, women’s economic empowerment and other causes.

The future of US commitment to the respect and promotion of human rights around the world is equally unclear, but over at the Monkey Cage there is also an argument that a clearer diving line between the US government and human rights organizations might be a good thing for the latter.

And since we discussed a lot aid effectiveness and the prospects for development and developing countries, here is also the book I mentioned in class – “The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World” by Steven Radelet – documenting the tremendous progress achieved by many developing countries on a range of development outcomes.  This brings us full circle back to Hans Rosling’s TED talk from the beginning of class about the progress achieved in global health in the last decades – which we perhaps too easily forget.

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Fragile states – class follow-up

Thinking of definitions and labels: There is no official list of fragile states that the entire “international community” agrees upon. The closest to a consensus in the development community (or parts thereof), might be the harmonized WB, AsDB, and AfDB list of fragile states. It is based on two main criteria: CPIA scores (meant to be reflecting the strength of institutions) and the presence of a peacekeeping mission or similar (as a proxy for the monopoly of force). The 2015 “Fragile Situations” list is here. The OECD uses a combination of this list and countries that are in the “alert” and “warning” categories of the Fragile States Index we discussed today. But more important than the list itself and the labels is understanding that (state) fragility is a complex and dynamic concept, that is not easily reduced to a single indicator. This recognition is shaping more and more the work of international and development organizations. As the OECD puts it in its “2015 States of Fragility Report” (bolded emphasis added):

The 2015 report differs markedly from previous editions as it seeks to present a new understanding of fragility beyond fragile states. It assesses fragility as an issue of universal character that can affect all countries, not only those traditionally considered “fragile” or conflict-affected. To do so, it takes three indicators related to targets of SDG 16 and two from the wider SDG framework: violence, access to justice, accountable and inclusive institutions, economic inclusion and stability, and capacities to prevent and adapt to social, economic and environmental shocks and disasters. It applies them to all countries worldwide, and identifies the 50 most vulnerable ones in all five dimensions. The group of countries most challenged on all five fronts differs little from the traditional list of fragile states and economies. Still, several middle-income countries with disproportionately high levels of crime-related violence, sub-national conflict or poor access to justice move into the spotlight.

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Bi-weekly roundup

The first analyses (guesses?) of US development foreign aid policy under President Trump are coming in. Likely? Budget cuts, a weakened USAID – maybe merged into the State Department -, and a shift away from many of the priorities of Presidents Bush and especially President Obama. Via Devex: “The big losers will likely be investments in multilateral institutions; democracy, rights and governance; women and girls; and climate. The U.S. will likely simultaneously become more assertive in and less supportive of the United Nations, the World Bank and other key multilateral bodies.” This is leaving aside other external or global policy issues that are strictly speaking not about “aid” but can have a tremendous impact on developing countries – such as trade, climate change, or international security policies.

As for last week’s topic: we did not discuss trends in democracy and “good governance” around the world much, but some of them have been problematic for a while now. Marina Ottaway (who authored one of this week’s articles) has warned of global democratic reversals back in 2000. Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Reports have been chronicling the rollback in civil and political rights around the world for almost a decade now. Even so, 2016 has been a particularly tough year for liberalism, democracy, and the rule of law around the world. The Economist is worried about the weakening of liberal democratic institutions and norms. Thomas Carothers urges US democracy promoters to “look homeward“. The Monkey Cage has a series of articles discussing the world-wide rise of (authoritarian) populism. Few solutions to stem the tide have been advanced. A “political” approach would suggest more activism, especially around civil and political rights. A “developmental” approach would suggest investing more in human capital development – especially more and better education.


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Bi-weekly roundup

  • On the tensions (contradictions) between corporate philanthropy, corporate social responsibility, and other behaviors of multinational corporations, the NYT discusses how Coke and Pepsi Give Millions to Public Health, Then Lobby Against It.
  • Last week, Maxwell hosted John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). SIGAR has just published a report on Corruption in Conflict  – Lessons from Afghanistan which includes many themes we will cover in our sessions on Governance, Fragile States, and on US Bilateral Aid – from the tensions between political, development, and security objectives, to the difficulties of ensuring coordination and cooperation between development, defense, and diplomatic agencies. Video available here.
  • For another take on country ownership – we could call it local ownership rather than government ownership – the Washington Post has an article urging people to donate money in Haiti to local rather than international organizations. And Alonso sends along a book on “Time to Listen: Hearing People on the Receiving End of International Aid“, that criticizes the current aid system and encourages more genuine local, bottom-up participation in development and aid (intro page here).
  • And the Guardian reports that foreign aid has come under attack by the new UK government – threatening what seemed to be a strong consensus on the value of UK aid. Another bilateral aid agency under threat?
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Welcome and Weekly Roundup

Welcome, IDPA class of 2016. Since there are a few news items this week that we didn’t get to share in class, I decided to revive the class blog.

Here are this week’s items:

UPDATE: and in anticipation of next week’s topic, here is an article in the Washington Post about the NKOTB when it comes to mega-foundations: the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). More global health than global development, but raises some interesting questions about what and how foundations can contribute to global public goods.

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USAID – most awarded vendors

Good graph here

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Evidence of impact on child sponsorship programs

I admit I am skeptical about these kinds of programs, mostly do to sustainability (and a bit maybe due to ethical reasons), but apparently they do work for the children (and a bit also for the communities) receiving them. Interesting.

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Winning (buying?) hearts and minds

Interesting article in FP about when foreign aid succeeds  – or not – in positively influencing perceptions of the US in the recipient country. Hint: it helps if no ulterior motive is present or suspected behind the aid, and if results are significant enough to make a difference.

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Some useful info

Devex (which is a good overall information source on the aid world) has two posts on the largest bilateral donors and USAID contractors. Could be a useful starting point if you are looking for internships etc. UPDATE: here is the same for the UK and the EU.

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Bonus post: future career warning

Working in development aid is tough, and – as you might have noticed – you are faced with many dilemmas, doubts and disillusionments. If you ever get to that point, Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like looks like a good source for a humorous approach to dealing with all this. From this weeks post, a great Venn Diagram to help you navigate (current and former) EAWs:

And the quote that sums it all up:

The journeyman EAW, of course, will quickly develop cynicism as a way of gaining social currency with peers and those he or she aspires to be counted among. Easy first steps include cynicism about host governments, donor agencies, and head office administration. Cynicism about program quality, impact and UN coordination meetings quickly follows.

The more experienced EAW, of course, will be cynical about such trite cynicism. She or he has developed cynicism to a higher plane and is cynical about the humanitarian imperative (there is only selfish action); little grandmothers who donate to charity (tax breaks); and recipient communities (eviscerating the myth of the noble savage with bitter joy).

(And yes, occasionally you will meet all the types of people described in the post. But no, they are/ it is not all there is.)

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