Delivering Aid Differently: Lessons from the Field

brookingsOn November 15, The Brookings Institution held a discussion of Delivering Aid Differently: Lessons from the Field (Brookings Press, 2010) with editors Homi Kharas, Senior Fellow and Deputy Director of Global Economy and Development at Brookings; and Wolfgang Fengler, lead economist in the Nairobi office of the World Bank.  Moderator Dennis Whittle, CEO of GlobalGiving, framed the discussion by stating, “It is not just time to do different things, but to do things differently.”  The discussion focused on the fragmented delivery of aid and possible solutions for a new operating system.  A new system will require reexamining who determines or defines:

  • Problems;
  • Solutions;
  • Funding;
  • Implementation; and
  • Success of implementation

Ezra Suruma, Visiting Fellow at Brookings and Senior Presidential Advisor on Finance and Planning in Uganda, added to the discussion by providing the perspective of aid delivery from an aid-recipient country.  Seeing as 95% of aid scholarship is written by scholars in aid-donor countries, Delivering Aid Differently: Lessons from the Field is unique in that it examines six different country case studies written from the perspective of people in aid recipient countries.

The starting point of Kharas and Fengler’s book is what they see as the main paradox of aid: that despite increasing funding and players, aid has declined in relative importance in most countries.  They attribute this new architecture of aid to three shifts: the increasingly differentiated demand for aid, the number of new players in development, and the amount of recent innovation, especially in information technology.  Over the past few decades there has been a lack ofDelivering Aid Differently cover responsiveness in the aid industry to these changes.

Kharas and Fengler discussed how the field studies in their book illustrate the common themes in aid of fragmentation, volatility, lack of information, and lack of coordination.  There is often a disconnect between donor headquarters and what people in the field experience.  As a result, they argue that a new, bolder model of aid is needed.  The solution posed by Kharas and Fengler is a system of transparent coordination, one based on the fundamental pillars of organization and information.  By increasing the accessibility of information and setting common data standards, there will be greater capacity for leveraging changes that will increase accountability and thus aid effectiveness.  To read more about Kharas and Fengler’s new aid model for the 21st century, click here.

The need for better communication between donors themselves as well as between donors and recipients was also highlighted by Suruma.  He reflected on his own experiences dealing with aid donors in his native Uganda noting that often recipients of aid accommodate donors regardless of conditions because they need the funds.  Additionally he pointed out that donor solutions to problems are often plagued by poor design, communication, and corruption problems because there is little to no input on the local level.  Under this structure, both donors and recipients lose.  Suruma suggested that there must be flexibility on both sides to recognize the difference between providing aid and providing it right.

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