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CGD in the News

February 4, 2019

Before Trump’s State of the Union, a Look at How Last Year’s Promises Fared (The New York Times)

From the article:

In his first State of the Union address last year, President Trump outlined his vision for an “America first” approach to overhauling the immigration system, revitalizing manufacturing and prioritizing national interests abroad.

As Mr. Trump prepares to deliver his second address on Tuesday, which is also expected to highlight the president’s immigration agenda, here’s an assessment of his progress on the promises he made last year.


Foreign policy

THE PROMISE: “That is why, tonight, I am asking the Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign-assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to America’s friends.”

Status: Unfulfilled.

Congress ignored Mr. Trump’s calls to drastically reduce foreign aid, instead approving budgets that included billions more than the president had requested, and made no significant changes to foreign aid policy.

Sarah Rose, an analyst at the Center for Global Development, said the administration had been constrained by Congress — and its own “fundamental inconsistency” in funneling money to friends and allies while simultaneously giving aid to countries that might not otherwise receive it in order to counter China’s influence.

Mr. Trump has threatened to cut off aid to Central American countries over migrant caravans, and Nikki R. Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations, had proposed making aid contingent on support for American-backed policies at the United Nations.

Yet the amount of assistance given to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador has been typical. And while the United States did end funding for Palestinian refugees in August, it did not follow through on withholding aid from countries that voted for a United Nations resolution condemning Mr. Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, said Jeremy Konyndyk, a former director of the foreign disaster assistance program at the United States Agency for International Development.

“The issue is that he made a promise that was well beyond his ability to accomplish,” Mr. Konyndyk said. “The president is not a monarch and can’t just do things unilaterally.”

September 17, 2018

A Lesson from Rwanda: Don't Confuse Scale with Impact (Nonprofit Chronicles)

By Marc Gunther 

From the article:

Ah, scale. Foundations, nonprofits, anti-poverty programs all pursue scale. Advice on how to scale abounds, in reports and articles like Getting to ScaleStrategies to Scale Up Social Programs and Three Things Every Growing Nonprofit Needs to Scale.

But scale is not impact. Indeed, there’s often tension between the two. “If you have $1 million to spend, do you want to target 1,000 people or 100 people?” asks Andrew Zeitlin, a development economist who teaches at Georgetown. Unintended consequences arise when governments or nonprofits try to serve too many people with too few dollars, as Zeitlin and Craig McIntosh of UC San Diego found when they did a study in Rwanda comparing a conventional USAID nutrition and sanitation program with a program that simply gives people cash, with no strings attached.

Their study is the first to be released as part of a bold new cash benchmarking initiative at USAID that I wrote about last week in the New York Times, under the headline Is Cash Better for Poor People Than Conventional Foreign Aid? Some coverage of their study, in Vox and Quartz, said, at least in the headlines, that “cash won,” and while that’s arguably true, the study’s findings were more complicated: It found that neither the nutrition program nor the equivalent dollars given away in cash did much good, but that a larger amount of cash had significant impact. 


There’s lots more to say about all this. You can read a summary of the study, a blogpost from Zeitlin and McIntosh, this story from Dylan Matthews in Vox and these thoughts from Sarah Rose and Amanda Glassman of the Center for Global Development. A second study, already underway in Rwanda, will compare a youth workforce training program to cash; plans call for programs in Malawi, Liberia and the DRC to be evaluated rigorously as well. Kudos to USAID, GiveDirectly, Catholic Relief Services, (which helped financed the research), Innovations for Poverty Action and economists Zeitlin and McIntosh for moving this important work forward. 

Read the full article here


September 11, 2018

Is Cash Better for Poor People Than Conventional Foreign Aid? (The New York Times)

By Marc Gunther 

From the article: 

In Matinza, a village in eastern Rwanda, Esther Nyirabazungu, a 63-year-old widow, lives with her son, daughter and two grandchildren in a hut with a dirt floor and no electricity or running water. Her life is hard, but not as hard as it was before she received six monthly cash donations worth about $100 each, with no strings attached, from a United States government trial program. 


In a report on the agency, Sarah Rose and Amanda Glassman of the Center for Global Development wrote: “U.S.A.I.D. talks a lot about its results, but much of what it highlights are outputs. Much less is said about actual outcomes or development impact, even though understanding these is critical.”

In an interview, Ms. Glassman said that “most programs and policies are not being evaluated rigorously.” 

Read the full article here.  

July 5, 2018

Measuring Up: USAID Proposes New Indicators to Assess Countries’ “Journey to Self-Reliance” (New Security Beat)

“At the heart of…USAID’s transformation, is the core belief that each country must lead its development journey, and finance and implement solutions to its development challenges,” said Susan Fine of USAID at a recent Center for Global Development event introducing USAID’s new “Journey to Self-Reliance ” indicators.


“Using data is always preferable to relying on assumptions,” said Sarah Rose of the Center for Global Development. However, “no set of cross-country indicators is ever going to provide a complete picture or be able to fully answer everything you need to know about development.” The challenge lies in “ensuring that everyone who uses this tool…also utilizes it with a keen focus on some of the limitations as well,” said Rose.

Read the full article here.

February 23, 2018

Opinion: Beyond Aid — 7 Steps To Responsible Transition (Devex)

From the article:

The goal of foreign assistance should be to create the conditions under which it is no longer necessary — a compelling vision articulated by USAID Administrator Mark Green. Yet the specifics of how and when to end U.S. development programs in a country is one of the most fundamental questions for the White House and Congress, as well as the development community. Together we must chart a responsible path for transitioning countries from aid beneficiaries to broader strategic trade and security partners with the United States.
The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network and over 100 international development nonprofits, faith-based organizations, businesses, and prominent experts have endorsed the following seven clear principles as a guide to achieving this ultimate goal. These seven principles also include useful lessons learned from USAID’s past transitions in practice, noting successes to build on and pitfalls to avoid.
1. Advance country ownership
When USAID closed its mission in Panama in 2012 after a process of consultation with the host country, the first lady of Panama remarked that the “transition, jointly planned and agreed to at high levels,” was a “reflection of progress we have made” together. Like good development programs, good transitions don’t just deliver results; they align with local priorities and strengthen local civil society, government, and private sector capacity to sustain them. Transition planning and implementation should be a joint exercise with partner countries and coordinated with Congress, U.S. agencies, and donor organizations.
2. Determine transition readiness by development progress
Responsible transitions cannot be based on arbitrary budget targets and timelines. When considering transition readiness, the first place to look is at national and subnational indications of development progress: Is the country fostering inclusive economic growth, governing capably, and protecting human rights at the national and local levels? For all groups of people? For example, although Panama had achieved significant development progress in the 2000s, for several years prior to USAID’s mission closure, USAID-funded programs specifically focused on government and civil society capacity-building to help the country sustain gains post-transition. As experts at the Center for Global Development recently noted, development indicators won’t automatically determine transition, but they can indicate that it is time to talk about what’s next.

Read the full article here

January 8, 2018

MCC CEO Nominee Would Bring Political Ties, But Some Question Expertise (Devex)

From the article:
WASHINGTON — The announcement of a nominee to lead the Millennium Challenge Corporation was welcome news in the development community, as the agency has been operating with an acting chief executive officer for about a year, but some raised questions about the nominee’s seeming lack of development expertise.
Most MCC CEOs have come from the private sector and not had a “tremendous depth of experience in development,” said Sarah Rose, a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, adding that the nomination is not a huge break from past appointments.
“In the absence of very specific development experience in the past, other kinds of experience can be brought to bear in a positive way for the MCC,” she said, adding that his experience working in the White House and with Congress could help MCC build and maintain both financial and political support.  
“It’s always important for top leadership to be able to operate politically with members of Congress,” and MCC has some legislative priorities including allowing regional compacts and how the agency could expand its impact, she said.
March 30, 2016

Can Tanzania Get Its MCC Suspension Lifted? (Devex)

From article:

MCC’s decision to suspend the partnership is consistent with similar decisions it has made in the past, including with other high-profile partners like Honduras and Armenia, said Sarah Rose, senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development and former senior development policy officer at MCC.

The elections in Zanzibar could have provided MCC with a “pivotal event,” on which to base their suspension decision, Rose said. With slower deteriorating governance issues — like worsening corruption or challenges to civil liberties — it can be harder to judge exactly when a red line has been crossed, she added.

Read full article here.