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Last month Nancy Birdsall gave a DevTalk (similar to a TedTalk, but development focused) at the impressive three-day USAID Frontiers in Development conference, which included speakers like Bill Gates, USAID administrator Rajiv Shah, and Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, among many more. Between the keynote speeches and panel discussions (agenda here) were a handful of short DevTalks about specific solutions to development problems: no questions, no discussion, no panel— just a thought-provoking, to-the point 5-7 minute presentation.
For her DevTalk Nancy presented Cash on Delivery Aid as a way to address problems of a broken foreign aid system by putting into practice a few key principles: results matter, country ownership matters, and transaction costs should not overwhelm the process. Applying the model to education, she showed how disbursing aid against a single specific outcome can lead to increased progress and improved accountability of donors and recipients. Nancy suggested that in a changing development landscape that calls for innovation, adaptation, and learning, COD Aid can be just the sort of approach that is needed and more importantly, one that U.S. should be leading.
Aid agencies are investing more in energy projects than ever before, but will they succeed? Not if they ignore the key obstacle to progress: governments that choose the status quo over serious reforms.
There is a lot of chatter about the reasons for Britain’s relative success in the Olympic games. This transformation in Britain’s sporting performance has generated a raft of tortured analogies with various non-sporting challenges, such as industrial and education policies (on which Britain’s performance is rather less stellar). So I’m leaping on the bandwagon with two lessons for international development.
I’ve been working on the idea of Cash on Delivery (COD) for some years under the hypothesis that if we could define good outcome indicators, someone would step forward to buy them. So what would happen if an organization came forward with a plan to supply a verified outcome in return for a set unit payment after delivery? In a sense, this is what Dispensers for Safe Water, an Evidence Action program, is currently doing.