Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity




July 20, 2015

Bringing US Development Finance into the 21st Century

The future of development policy is in development finance. Developing countries need aid less and less as their incomes rise and economies grow. What they need now is private investment and finance. US development policy, however, has failed to bring its development finance tools in line with this reality. Related US efforts have not been deployed in an efficient or strategic manner because authorities are outdated, staff resources are insufficient, and tools are dispersed across multiple agencies.

Other players are doing more. Well-established European development finance institutions (DFIs) are providing integrated services for businesses, and these services cover debt and equity financing, risk mitigation, and technical assistance. Moreover, emerging-market actors — including China, India, Brazil, and Malaysia — have dramatically increased financing activities in developing regions such as Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

July 20, 2015

Modernizing US Migration Policy for Domestic and Development Gains

US development policy was built for a world that no longer exists. When the US Agency for International Development (USAID) was created in 1961, foreign aid was by far the most important flow of resources to developing countries. Today, aid is a relative sideshow. International migrants send roughly four times more money home to developing countries (close to $500 billion per year) than all donors disburse in global aid (roughly $130 billion per year). Remittances sent from the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean ($32 billion per year) are more than five times the combined US economic and military assistance to the same countries (less than $6 billion per year). Individuals earn much more in the United States than in their home countries, and they develop valuable skills through migration, often transmitting useful ideas and technologies back to their home countries.

July 20, 2015

Taking the Lead on Trade and Development

The United States is not using trade as effectively as it might to promote development. The executive and legislative branches of the US government have long recognized that trade can be an important tool to help poorer countries generate resources, create jobs, and reduce poverty. They also recognize that growth in developing countries contributes to global prosperity and growing markets for US exporters as well. Despite that, the few significant US trade barriers that remain often target agricultural and labor-intensive products in which developing countries have a comparative advantage.

July 20, 2015

Promoting the Development Power of Economic Transparency

Weak institutions are both a cause and a consequence of underdevelopment. Improving governance is widely regarded as critical to accelerating economic opportunities, democracy, and security. This is especially important for fragile states and countries emerging from conflict. Despite this, the United States and other donor governments have few financial tools that are demonstrably effective at stimulating and delivering improved governance.

July 20, 2015

Powering Up US Policy to Promote Energy Access

As late as 1930, only 1 in 10 rural Americans had access to electricity. In subsequent years, rapidly increasing power generation and growing the electrical grid across the country became major pillars of the American battle against domestic poverty and a foundation for decades of economic growth and wealth creation. Today, energy access is universal in the United States. Reliable and affordable electricity is considered a basic necessity of life, an indispensable input to almost every aspect of modern living.

That same transformation is possible today in large parts of the developing world, where lack of access to modern energy harms quality of life and constrains economic growth. A concerted policy effort by the United States could help unleash tremendous human and market potential around the world. Pushing to promote electricity generation and access could significantly contribute to doing good in developing countries — and doing well for the United States.

July 20, 2015

Making USAID Fit for Purpose — A Proposal for a Top-to-Bottom Program Review

Since its establishment more than 50 years ago, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has become a $17-billion-a-year agency stretched across the globe, operating in 125 countries and 36 different program areas. It covers nearly every development challenge, including those surrounding health, food security, microfinance, governance, counterterrorism, macroeconomic stability, trade, and transnational crime.

But USAID, the largest bilateral provider of development assistance in the world in absolute terms, could better maximize its development impact. It has been three decades since a US president instructed the agency to conduct a comprehensive top-to-bottom review of its programs. This is despite dramatic changes in basic development challenges around the world and in the broad economic and political landscape within which the agency operates.

July 20, 2015

Strengthening Incentives for a Sustainable Response to AIDS: A PEPFAR for the AIDS Transition

Remarkable progress has been made in the global fight against HIV/AIDS. The number of people receiving treatment in low- and middle-income countries increased from 300,000 in 2003 to 13.7 million in 2015, including 7 million supported by the United States. These gains are primarily attributable to a 2003 US government initiative called PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) that provided major new multiyear funding for global HIV/AIDS and created a new entity, the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, headed by an ambassador-rank Global AIDS Coordinator who is authorized to allocate PEPFAR’s resources and coordinate all US bilateral and multilateral activities on HIV/AIDS.

However, without dramatic changes to PEPFAR, the next president risks being held responsible for the failure of a program that until now has been one of the United States’ proudest foreign assistance achievements. And because PEPFAR is a major component of US foreign assistance spending, the next president’s choices about PEPFAR will heavily influence any subsequent assessments of his or her humanitarian foreign assistance policies.

July 20, 2015

Realizing the Power of Multilateralism in US Development Policy

US leadership in multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and regional development banks is flagging. These institutions, rated as some of the most effective development actors globally, provide clear advantages to the United States in terms of geostrategic interests, cost-effectiveness, and results on the ground. Restoring US leadership in institutions like the World Bank will mean giving a greater priority to MDB funding, which today accounts for less than 10 percent of the total US foreign assistance budget and less than 0.1 percent of the total federal budget. Prioritizing multilateral assistance in an era of flat or declining foreign assistance budgets will necessarily mean some reallocation from other pots of foreign assistance money, as well as an effort to address the structural impediments to considering reallocations.

The Time to Reform US Biofuels Policy Is Now
May 18, 2015

The Time to Reform US Biofuels Policy Is Now

Even as Congress was mandating large increases in the consumption of biofuels a decade ago, the world was changing. In the early 2000s, replacing fossil fuels with biofuels made from corn, sugar, or oilseeds seemed like a good idea. Increased crop demand would prop up prices for farmers, and replacing petroleum with renewable energy would reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and promote energy independence.

Refocusing Gavi CGD brief
February 9, 2015

Refocusing Gavi for Greater Impact

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, pools donor funds to increase immunization rates in developing countries. Vaccines have saved millions of lives. Results from new research at the Center for Global Development suggest Gavi could save more lives by shifting support away from lower-cost vaccines provided to middle-income countries toward more underused vaccines and support to the poorest countries.

Publishing Government Contracts brief
November 11, 2014

Publishing Government Contracts: Addressing Concerns and Easing Implementation (Brief)

Government procurement worldwide is worth around $9.5 trillion a year. Oil, gas, and mining rents (the gap between the price of the goods produced and the cost of production) amount to around $5 trillion, which is 4.8 percent of global GDP. Governments routinely sign multibillion-dollar contracts regarding the use of public property including those natural resources. The resulting contracts are public documents, for which default practice should be in favor of publication.

Norway-Brazil Performance-based Payment for Forests
August 4, 2014

The Brazil-Norway Agreement with Performance-Based Payments for Forest Conservation: Successes, Challenges, and Lessons

In May 2014, Nancy Birdsall, William Savedoff, and Frances Seymour visited Brazil as part of a three-country study to gain insights into the value of future expansion of performance-based payments in other countries. This brief is based on discussions with government officials, NGO staff, private entrepreneurs, and independent researchers in Brazil about the policies and programs that are associated with reduced deforestation and forest degradation in Brazil, with particular attention to the influence of the Brazil-Norway Agreement and the Amazon Fund.

Quality of Official Development Assistance (QuODA) brief
July 21, 2014

The Quality of Official Development Assistance 2014

The Quality of Official Development Assistance (QuODA) measures donors’ performance on 31 indicators of aid quality to which donors have made commitments. The indicators are grouped into four dimensions associated with effective aid: maximizing efficiency, fostering institutions, reducing the burden on partner countries, and transparency and learning. The 2014 edition finds that donors are overall becoming more transparent and better at fostering partner country institutions but that there has been little progress at maximizing efficiency or reducing the burden on partner countries.

Nabil Hashmi , Nancy Birdsall and Homi Kharas