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The UK is in an influential and important position to influence development outcomes across the world. It remains the only country to meet both the targets to spend 0.7 percent of its national income on overseas aid and 2 percent on defence. It is also the largest “multilateral” aid donor—providing over a third more in aid through the multilateral system than the United States.
The UK has taken up several ideas developed or supported by CGD fellows. Recently, this includes the use of disaster risk insurance and cash transfers in humanitarian relief; committing to an improved trade for development regime after Brexit; pushing for humanitarian reform; using the CDI to assess policy coherence; and using development impact bonds and advanced market commitments.
When Sir Tim Lankester defends the aid programme against charges that it can sometimes be misused for other things, he knows what he is talking about. He
was the most senior civil servant in Britain’s aid ministry (then called ODA, now known as DFID), and in 1991 he bravely blew the whistle on a project to
finance a dam in Malaysia because it was not a good use of development money (and indeed turned out to be connected to agreements to buy British arms).
Yesterday I was excited to see that the UK Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) had a report out on UK Department for International Development’s (DFID’s) anticorruption activities. It was a great topic for independent analysis by a group that didn’t need to worry about the politically correct thing to say, and could get beyond sloganeering (‘zero tolerance for corruption’) to a careful, evidence-based analysis of how corruption impacts development, what the role is for donors, and how DFID’s existing portfolio stacks up. My excitement didn’t last long—this report is not that analysis. I feel like a kid who got empty wrappers in his trick or treat bag.
Does a stand-alone Department for International Development have a long-term future? What is the role of DFID in facilitating other British government departments and other UK organizations to assist developing countries? What is its role in influencing the policies of other Whitehall departments?
Development agencies are increasingly interested in making aid more transparent, stakeholder-led, and effective by expanding the use of payment by results (PbR) — rewarding those implementing projects on the basis of results delivered instead of paying for inputs. For payment by results to work, you have to get a lot of things right. It has to be for the right kind of programme targeting the right results, properly measured and rewarded in the right way. These issues, and more, are laid out in Stefan Dercon and Paul Clist’s 12 principles for payment by results (PDF).
The UK Secretary of State for International Development has made a big speech emphasising economic growth. That's good, but it is a shame that it is all about how DFID will use its aid budget, and makes no mention of all the other things that Britain can do to improve the prospects for growth and prosperity in the developing world.
It would be strange to try learning how to play music without listening to musicians. Similarly, learning about results-based aid programs requires listening to people who design and implement them. That is just what we did last week in a set of workshops about implementing programs that pay for results – programs which apply some or all of the principles that we’ve discussed here at the Center as Cash on Delivery Aid. As a result of discussing real experiences, we discovered that some of the challenges are quite different than we had anticipated while a number of common concerns have simply failed to materialize.