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Impacts and Influence


The Center for Global Development works to reduce global poverty and inequality through rigorous research and active engagement with the policy community to make the world a more prosperous, just, and safe place for us all.

CGD's initiatives have achieved significant success, either through impacts—specific changes that can be largely or partially attributed to our work—or influence—less tangible but nonetheless important changes in how key development actors frame or approach a pressing problem. Of course, a small organization like CGD would be powerless to change anything without the help of allies, supporters, and friends. We are proud to have worked with others to help make possible the successes listed below.

Piloting Development Impact Bonds

Development Impact Bonds (DIBs) are an innovative financing mechanism designed to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of development funding. DIBs fund development programs up front with money from private investors who stand to earn a return if the program is successful. The outcomes to be measured are agreed upon at the outset and the determination of success must be independently verified. With greater focus on outcomes instead of inputs, DIBs create space for more innovation, local problem-solving, and adaptation.

The first DIB was launched in June 2014 with the aim of improving educational access and quality for girls in Rajasthan, India, where 40 percent of girls drop out of school before reaching grade 5. As the investor, UBS Optimus Foundation will fund the local NGO Educate Girls to expand its services, and an outcome funder, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, will repay the investors if and only if educational outcomes improve. In the spring of 2014, the UK Department for International Development became the first major bilateral donor to announce its support of DIBs and is funding work to develop a DIB that would tackle sleeping sickness in Uganda. These two DIB pilots, and numerous others that are under development, have been influenced by the work of CGD and partners Social Finance UK, engineers of the first Social Impact Bond. CGD and Social Finance UK jointly convened the Development Impact Bond Working Group and released the seminal October 2013 report about the rationale for and technical design of Development Impact Bonds and how to develop  a market for this approach.

Priority Setting Institutions for Health

Many developing countries lack evidence-based processes to inform health spending allocations. For example, India subsidizes open heart surgery while child vaccination rates remain low; Egypt spent a fifth of its health budget to send a few fortunate people overseas for medical care while one-of-five children were stunted. CGD’s Priority-Setting Institutions for Global Health working group proposed in a 2012 report the creation of a new institution to support developing countries and donors in making better-informed resource allocation decisions for healthcare. In March 2014, the UK's Department for International Development and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, drawing on technical support from CGD, announced their support for the creation of the new International Decision Support Initiative (iDSI) led by NICE International. Learn more here and here.

Outcome-Based Aid

CGD proposed Cash on Delivery Aid as a way to increase aid effectiveness by aligning incentives to achieve outcomes. In 2010, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and Ethiopia became the first to implement an aid program inspired by this model. This pilot aims to increase the number of students who successfully complete a lower secondary education. As proposed in CGD's work, DFID is paying the Ethiopian government a fixed amount for each student above a baseline who takes a grade 10 national exam; an additional payment is provided for each student who passes. DFID has committed up to 10 million GBP each year from 2012 to 2014, and has introduced a second pilot program for primary and secondary education in Rwanda.  The Cash on Delivery Aid team, led by CGD president Nancy Birdsall and senior fellow Bill Savedoff, continues to engage with development agencies, charitable foundations, and developing country governments to encourage additional programs to include these COD Aid features: a focus on outcomes, recipient choice in deciding how to proceed, independent verification of results, and transparency and accountability of donors and recipients to their own citizens.

Changing Immigration Policies; Changing Lives

After Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, CGD assessed what was needed for the country to “build back better.” First stop? US immigration policy. Led by Michael Clemens, the Center successfully advocated to add Haiti to the list of nationalities eligible to participate in the US’s largest temporary work visa program, opening the door for Haitians to increase their earning potential by about 10 times through temporary employment in seasonal jobs in the US. But it’s not just Haiti and developing countries that benefit from smarter US immigration policies—the United States stands to gain as well. Clemens’s latest work brings fresh, independent economic analysis to divisive issues in the ongoing US immigration debate.

Shaping the Financial Access Agenda

CGD is shaping the international agenda on ways to increase access to financial services for poor people and small and medium-sized businesses in the developing world—a key to shared global prosperity. The G-20 Toronto Summit in June 2010 adopted Principles for Innovative Financial Inclusion that closely mirror those of a CGD task force report, Policy Principles for Expanding Financial Access released in 2009 and led by senior fellow Liliana Rojas-Suarez. The CGD report complements the International Monetary Fund’s Access to Finance Project, an online database that underpins research into the provision of consumer financial services worldwide.

Advance Market Commitments for Vaccines

Before CGD's Making Markets for Vaccines working group convened, pharmaceutical companies had little incentive to invest in the development of vaccines for diseases primarily affecting low-income countries. The working group, co-chaired by Ruth Levine, designed a new approach called Advance Market Commitments, under which donors promise to buy a vaccine against a specific disease when and if such a vaccine is developed. The G-7 Finance Ministers endorsed the approach in 2009; five countries (Canada, Italy, Norway, the UK, and Russia) and the Gates Foundation have since committed $1.5 billion in a pilot program for a vaccine to prevent the strains of pneumococcal disease common in developing countries, where three million children die annually of diseases caused by the bacterium.

Watch the advance market commitment video

Closing the Evaluation Gap

Efforts to design better aid programs often are hampered by the frequent failure to evaluate what works in existing programs. In 2004, Ruth Levine convened a working group to find solutions to this problem. After consulting with over 100 development policymakers and practitioners, the group released a 2006 report that urged the creation of a new institution to establish best practice standards, identify high-priority areas for study, and fund and review new impact evaluations. With significant technical support from CGD, a group of bilateral and international donors backed the creation of the new International Initiative for Impact Evaluation or 3ie (“Triple I E”). The working group also inspired action within major donor organizations to assess the impacts of their own projects.

Closing the Gap Video

Debt Relief for Nigeria

Working with then–Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (now a member of the CGD board), CGD played a vital role in an effort that eventually reduced Nigeria’s debt stock by $30 billion. The Center spearheaded initial efforts to change Nigeria’s classification within the World Bank, making the country eligible for a Paris Club debt buyback. Todd Moss, who led CGD’s efforts, then proposed a “discounted buyback” within the Paris Club. The final deal was the first from the Paris Club to include this type of buyback.

Watch the Debt Relief for Nigeria Video

Global Health Resource Tracking

The Global Health Resource Tracking Working Group, tackled a challenging and persistent problem: the global health community’s inability to accurately state how much was being spent in support of key global health programs. The lack of credible tracking systems limited the possibility of planning well or holding donors to account. The group’s report laid out principles for a coherent and comprehensive tracking system focused on consistently collecting and reporting data to meet the needs of government and civil society stakeholders. The recommendations have been adopted incrementally: the World Bank and the World Health Organization are making progress generating national health accounts data, and several partners and the OECD-DAC are working to improve the reporting of donors’ forward-commitments and expenditures.

How to Unlock the $1 Trillion Developing Countries Need to Cope with the Crisis

The 2008 global financial crisis started in the United States but hit developing countries hard through reduced exports, remittances, and access to credit. Ahead of the London G-20 summit, Nancy Birdsall published a CGD policy note How to Unlock $1 Trillion Developing Countries Need to Cope with the Crisis. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon picked up the call, and the G-20 included the pledge in their Summit communiqué. Birdsall later testified before the U.S. Congress, helping to unlock the U.S. contribution to the global relief and stimulus package.

Watch the Video

IMF Programs and Health Spending

Some critics have alleged that IMF programs in low-income countries unnecessarily limit health spending and inadvertently hurt poor people. CGD’s Working Group Report on IMF Programs and Health Spending, led by David Goldsbrough, examined the Fund’s influences on health spending and generated six recommendations to help clarify its role in low-income countries. The IMF responses to the report indicated broad agreement on all six and were included in a series of IMF policy papers. The IMF board welcomed the working group’s recommendation to limit the use of wage bill ceilings to exceptional cases justified in a transparent manner.

Influence in a Time of Transition: Campaign '08

The 2008 U.S. elections provided a rare opportunity to integrate the country’s role in global development into the national political debate. CGD combined its research, policy analysis, and innovative communications work to produce The White House and the World: A Global Development Agenda for the Next U.S. President and promote it to the candidates and those who influenced them. Nancy Birdsall spoke at large public events, at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, about the need to elevate development in America’s political debate. She and Sarah Jane Staats shared CGD’s agenda for the next president with candidates, delegates, and convention-goers. After the elections, The White House and the World recommendations were shared with transition team members and new administration officials.

Measuring Rich Countries' Commitment to Development

In 2003, CGD introduced the first metric to examine the full range of ways rich countries help or hinder development. Created and managed by David Roodman, the annual Commitment to Development Index, has become a valuable tool for policymakers around the world. Finland and the Netherlands use the CDI as an official performance metric for their development policy, and the UK’s Department for International Development lists the index as a measure of overall Whitehall policy coherence. Most recently, a senior USAID official confirms that the Obama White House, “views the CDI as a key metric by which to assess over time the results of President Obama's anticipated global development policy.”

Millions Saved

Millions Saved: Proven Successes in Global Health was the first major product of CGD’s global health policy program and has had the longest and most powerful shelf life. The book describes a set of large global health successes and draws conclusions from those experiences about the type of technical consensus, financial resources, and implementation capacity that might be required for more successes in the future. Welcomed by the policy and advocacy community as an evidence-based rebuttal of the oft-stated myth that development investments yield few benefits, the book was a CGD bestseller and was an unanticipated hit in the classroom. Just a few months after its April 2004 launch, dozens of public health classes were using the cases as the basis for discussion and debate. A year later, a major textbook publisher, Jones & Bartlett, offered to include a revised and expanded edition in the first-ever public health series for undergraduates. That text is now used in hundreds of colleges and universities around the world. See CGD's active Millions Saved initiative.

Popping the Rice Price Bubble

In mid-2008, rice prices had spiked fourfold since the start of the year, and poor people in many parts of the world were facing extreme hardship. Yet Japanese warehouses held 1.5 million tons of imported rice, which Japan did not want but could not re-export without U.S. permission. Drawing on research by Peter Timmer and market intelligence from Tom Slayton, CGD used blogs, media, congressional testimony, and other tools to quickly win Washington's assent. With news of the approval, global rice prices fell by 25 percent in just two weeks, alleviating shortages in several poor countries. (Getting Japan to actually release the rice has proven more difficult.)

Reforming the African Development Bank

In August 2006, CGD released a report challenging the management and stakeholders of the African Development Bank with bold recommendations for further reform. The report, co-authored by Dennis de Tray and Todd Moss, was well-received in Tunisia by AfDB president Donald Kaberuka and his staff, who have since implemented recommendations for the management, including focusing on infrastructure development and becoming a powerful voice for Africa in the international arena.

Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance

CGD’s Rethinking U.S. Foreign Assistance Program has helped to shape a growing movement to rethink and reform U.S. foreign assistance. Sheila Herrling and Steve Radelet made the case for reform in their White House and the World chapter U.S. Foreign Assistance for the Twenty-first Century and detailed priority steps for overhauling the aid system. Their advice and counsel was sought for the Presidential Study Directive on U.S. Global Development Policy, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, congressional reviews, and efforts by both the House and Senate to draft legislation to reform foreign aid, including House efforts to rewrite the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act. CGD was also instrumental in creating the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network, the leading coalition of international development experts, and designing its blueprint for U.S. foreign assistance in the 21st century. The program continues today as Rethinking US Development Policy, led by Ben Leo, to include efforts around US government policies impacting developing countries, including and beyond foreign assistance.

Shaping the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA)

CGD made significant contributions to the design of the U.S. Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), an innovative assistance program announced in 2002. Steve Radelet’s book Challenging Foreign Aid set forth many of the guiding premises of the new aid program. Later, CGD launched the MCA Monitor, under the direction of Sheila Herrling, to provide just-in-time analysis and advice on MCC issues such as country selection, program implementation, and adherence to the MCA’s core principle of transparent, non-political aid allocation. Based on the Monitor’s strong reputation, Herrling was asked to lead President Obama’s transition team work on the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Watch the video.

Strengthening the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief

CGD's HIV/AIDS Monitor, led by Nandini Oomman, tracks, analyzes, and proposes policy recommendations to improve the organization, management, and delivery of external assistance from the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and two other large donors: the World Bank and the Global Fund. U.S. legislation in 2008 reauthorizing PEPFAR through FY2013 incorporated HIV/AIDS Monitor recommendations to improve transparency and boost capacity-building activities in developing countries. In addition, the White House Five-Year Strategy for PEPFAR, released in December 2009, includes a policy framework that mirrors HIV/AIDS Monitor recommendations concerning partnering with national governments and reducing reporting burdens.

Supporting Liberia's Reconstruction and Development

Emerging from 14 years of war and failed governance, Liberia faced daunting challenges, including a foreign debt burden that crippled its development prospects. Steve Radelet was tapped as a high-level advisor to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, helping to shape strategies for economic policy, aid coordination, and poverty reduction. In an impressive resolution to a staggering crisis, the Liberian government negotiated in April 2009 a commercial debt buy-back of $1.2 billion at a 97 percent discount off face-value. The lifting of the debt burden opened up Liberia to the international financial community, allowed more government budget and capacity to focus on development, and positioned Liberia to reach its HIPC completion point in 2010.

U.S. Commission on Weak States and National Security

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, focused fresh attention on security threats emanating from chronically underdeveloped regions. In response, the Center's Commission on Weak States and U.S. National Security convened congressional actors, academics, and NGO leaders to craft a coherent strategy toward weak states. Their conclusions spurred policymakers to take action, and their recommendations served as an impetus for a Presidential Directive that established a Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization under the Secretary of State. Carlos Pascual, the first coordinator, recognized the role of the commission's work.