Wednesday, December 17, 2014

When Does Aid Foreign Work?

The policy debate around whether foreign aid—now $138.5 billion a year—works has been polarized between the “Oh yes it does” camp and those who respond “Oh no it doesn’t.”  Claims that aid is responsible for impressive improvements in human development over the past couple of decades are clearly not credible. Yet, equally difficult to sustain are claims that aid has been entirely useless. It’s more useful to ask when aid works, not whether.

Scholarly studies have been doing just that for at least a decade.  Andy Summer of Center for Global Development and Jonathan Glennie (director of policy and research at Save the Children) thought to take a look and review the state of thinking on aid effectiveness. Specifically, they looked at the cross-country, peer-reviewed, econometric studies that focus on assessing if or under what conditions aid is effective in achieving its stated outcomes, particularly those related to economic growth or social development. The resulting CGD Policy Paper is here.

The paper focuses on aid effectiveness. It considers peer-reviewed, cross-country, econometric studies, published over the last decade in order to propose areas with policy implications related to the conditions under which aid is more likely to be effective.  

They discuss the nature of evidence on aid and why assessing its impact is so difficult. They attempt to make some global-level generalizations, with caveats, on when aid is most likely to work, as opposed to just whether aid works or not. 


First, aid levels: aid is more likely to work in the correct dosage but is ineffective if too high or too low.

Second, domestic political institutions: aid is more likely to work if the institutions are in place—for example, political stability and not too much decentralization.

Third, the aid composition: aid is likely to be more effective in certain sectors and aid objectives and time horizons matter a lot.

Fourth, aid predictability and concentration: aid is likely to be more effective if it is not volatile and fragmented.

And finally, two big unknown areas where there is little convergence in the evidence:

The first is that aid supports growth when the recipient country is implementing certain macroeconomic policies generally described as ‘good’ or orthodox policies. 

Second is that there is no consensus that grants are better than loans (or vice versa) for aid effectiveness. 

Read the paper for conclusions...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Human decision making and development policy

The World Bank has just released a new world development report 2015 entitled Mind, Society and Behavior.  The focus is on behavioral economics.  As an Economist commentary points out (link), these insights apply with great force to the poor—both the poor in rich countries and the more numerous inhabitants of developing ones. Behavioral economics therefore has profound implications for development. 

The new “World Development Report”, the flagship publication of the World Bank, considers them.

As the report shows, the poor are more likely than other people to make bad economic decisions. This is not because they are irrational or foolish but because so much is stacked against them. They are more likely to lack the basic information needed to make good choices, such as which fertilizer to use or when to apply it. They are more likely to live in societies which hold mistaken or harmful views, such as that girls should not go to school.

The full report may be downloaded here.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Cutting-edge Practices that Measure Results

A Forbes Summit meeting focuses on how technology and advanced metrics are changing philanthropy as fundamentally as baseball and Wall Street.  They call this Moneyball Philanthropy.  This panel focuses on education.

What are the cutting-edge practices that measure results and increase efficacy?

Researchers from Columbia University and the Robin Hood Foundation, an anti-poverty group, are trying to get a more nuanced picture of what it means to be poor and struggling. They're following 2,300 New York City families over two years, asking detailed questions about their finances, their hardships and their responses.  Listen to the short NPR story below:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Su Kahumbu is an agriculturist and social entrepreneur who created iCow, an app that spreads seeds of information via text to farmers seeking bountiful and sustainable harvests.

See more Africa innovations linked here.

Problem: Small-scale dairy farmers often living in remote areas don't have access to valuable information about latest prices of milk or cattle, and they may not keep accurate records of important details such as their cows' gestation periods or their livestock's lineage – often resulting in inbreeding and disease.

Method: Created by Kenyan farmer Su Kahumbu, iCow is an app that works on the type of basic mobile phones farmers own. Each animal is registered with the service, which then sends SMS reminders to the farmer about milking schedules, immunisation dates and tips about nutrition and breeding or information about local vets or artificial insemination providers. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Rwanda poised to become the performance improvement hub in Central Africa

Rwanda is on the move. It’s one of the only countries expected to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, and is already a leader on the continent in the areas of health care and economic growth. The successes are remarkable, but in order to be sustainable over the long term, Rwanda’s local institutions have to be healthy and high-performing.

To help Rwanda achieve the sustainability it desires, the USAID-funded Human and Institutional Capacity Development project supports the country's government institutions and civil society organizations using the internationally recognized Performance Improvement (PI) approaches to demonstrably improve performance. The approaches include rigorous assessments of organizational needs and developing solutions to help organizations create a strategic vision, strengthen communications and internal systems, and better prepare for and adapt to challenges and changing circumstances.

Building Sustainable Performance Improvement Through a Community of Practice

The project seeks to institutionalize PI approaches within Rwanda’s government and private sector, and has established a community of practice for professional Rwandan consultants seeking to incorporate the tools and processes into their work. Beginning in 2013, the project provided intensive training to 60 consultants through a series of targeted workshops. It also provides coaching and mentorship, and offers paid internships to qualified local consultants to use their new skills and help the project conduct performance analysis.

“The HICD project represents one of USAID’s core priorities, which is to support public institutions to operate in an effective and inclusive fashion, and that civil society is equipped to advocate effectively on behalf of individuals and communities in Rwanda” said Emily Krunic, Democracy and Governance Office Director at USAID/Rwanda. “This training and certification of local organizations will make sure Rwanda has the skills to strengthen its own organizations into the future.”

Rwanda Poised to Become the Largest CPT Resource in Africa

In the first quarter of this year, the project launched a preparatory course for Certified Performance Technologist (CPT) certification under its Human and Institutional Capacity Building (HICD) project. The workshops offered Rwandan consultants and organizations the opportunity to become officially licensed in the field of organizational capacity building through the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI).  Recently completed over the course of 8 weeks, the trainings introduced participants to the 10 Certified Performance Technologist standards, including a focus on results, taking a systematic view, adding value, and building productive partnerships with clients and stakeholders. The HICD project provided course fees.  Currently a number of the participants are completing the ISPI application. If qualified, they will earn CPT certification. 

This initiative is a collaborative effort with representatives from the National Capacity Building Secretariat (NCBS), local government officials, as well as private sector leaders, and more than 55 high-level Rwandan consultant members of the HICD project’s Community of Practice.  The vision is that Rwanda will soon become the most highly CPT-certified country on the continent, and thus a regional resource.

"We’re very excited to be partnering with NCBS on this activity. The HICD approach to performance improvement is closely aligned with Rwanda’s drive to achieve measurable performance improvements, and NCBS is the right institution to bring the approach to the private and public sector” said John Palmucci, Chief of Party of the HICD project.

Currently, there are very few African professionals certified by ISPI. With three Rwandans already certified through the HICD project, Rwanda is among the continent’s leaders. This training aims to put several more on the path to certification – ultimately making Rwanda the most highly CPT certified country in Africa. 

The project, through these and other training, aims to create a ‘Community of Practice’ in the field of organizational capacity building, creating a critical mass of local professionals available and certified to guide organizational development in both the public and private sectors. Once certified, the participants will join a community of more than 700 experts across the globe in performance improvement, and will be resources not only for Rwanda, but also for the continent.

Rebecca Ruzibuka, a member of the community of practice, was one of the first consultants to join the trainings and earned an internship to assist three civil society organizations. Throughout the training, project staff mentored her on the CPT application and, in October 2013, she became the second Rwandan CPT. Since then, the approach has gained momentum in Rwanda. As proof, Ruzibuka was recently named the 2013 Female Consultant of the Year by the Rwanda Organization of Professional Consultants (ROPC).

Ruzibuka has gone on to assist other community of practice and ROPC members with their CPT applications, and to share her experiences.  "I enjoy being an ambassador for HPT and performance improvement in Rwanda," says Ruzibuka. “I was lucky to be one of the early adopters of this approach, and I feel responsible to share it to help Rwanda develop and grow, and to improve the professionalism of the consulting industry here. I also appreciate that my use of HPT approaches contributed to my being selected as [female] Consultant of the Year."

“At this point, Rwanda has more CPT-trained people than any other country in Africa,” said John Palmucci, who oversees the HICD/R project in Kigali. “We want to make Rwanda a resource center so consultants can travel to other countries to support regional development”.

ISPI Rwanda Chapter Launched

On May 29th, USAID/Rwanda HICD, along with the Rwandan Organization for Management Consultants, sponsored a kick-off event for the emergence of an ISPI Rwanda Chapter.  Over 100 people attended the meeting as potential members, and 10 senior Rwandan business leaders and consultants volunteered as a temporary steering committee to manage the formation of the chapter with the goal to have board elections within 6 months.  Energy and interest is high.

Klaus Wittkuhn, ISPI President-elect, visited Kigali to represent ISPI President Mary Ellen Kassotakis and the Board for the ceremony and reception.   “I think that especially in a country like Rwanda, performance improvement really forms a pillar of development for the country,” Wittkuhn said.  Improving work performance, he explained, solves an institution’s productivity problem in a low-cost, efficient way that can lead to concrete gains in work output and citizen satisfaction.

“Performance improvement has already made great strides in Rwanda”, said Steven Kelly, a past board member of ISPI and the senior HICD expert supporting the HICD/R efforts.  He cited the Ministry of Agriculture as an example, where a team is currently improving work performance within the policy area and financial management system.  “We identified critical areas of institutional deficiency, and have implemented a comprehensive package of interventions addressing information flows, knowledge enhancements, incentives, procedural processes and job aids ” he explained.

Palmucci said Rwanda has the unique potential to be an example to other African countries who want to implement similar programs. 

The chairman of Rwanda’s Organisation for Professional Management Consultants, Vianney Makuza, agrees, saying the start of the ISPI chapter is the first step in making Rwanda a regional center.

In his enthusiastic welcome speech, Makuza stated  “ As religious people in Rwanda we follow the 10 commandments to guide our life.  And now, going forward, we use the ten ISPI standards to direct our professional efforts”.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

What Starts Here Changes the World: Tips for Life Success

The following are the remarks by Naval Adm. William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, at the University-wide Commencement at The University of Texas at Austin, TX on May 17.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Not Impossible - An arm a day

Just before Thanksgiving 2013, Not Impossible's Mick Ebeling returned home from Sudan's Nuba Mountains where he set up what is probably the world's first 3D-printing prosthetic lab and training facility. 

More to the point of the journey is that Mick managed to give hope and independence back to a kid who, at age 14, had both his arms blown off and considered his life not worth living.

Read the press release:

Monday, March 31, 2014

Successful Conclusion of Strategic Project with Georgian State Electrosystem

The end of March brings to the conclusion an 18 month assignment to provide strategic and operational support to the Republic of Georgia electric transmission company.  

This was a joint project by KNO and PMCG funded by the USAID HICD PLUS program.  Mari Novak, KNO partner led the local PMCG professional team in both the assessment and technical assistance phases.  The project focused initially on high level indicators to drive the strategic plan across the company.   Later interventions included analysis of critical work processes, change management tactics, business case approaches to investment decisions, operation procedures and project management skills.

M Mari Novak
The short USAID produced video below primarily focuses on building the capacity of Georgian consultants such as Mari accomplished with the PMCG staff. As well it provides a short overview to the GSE effort from the management viewpoint.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Billboard transforms water from air

Lima, Peru, gets about half an inch of rainfall per year. Yet the atmospheric humidity is around 98 percent. UTEC, the country's major university of engineering and technology, took this peculiar problem and—with help from ad agency Mayo Draftfcb—devised a unique solution: a billboard that draws moisture out of that humid air and turns it into potable drinking water. Check out the case-study video below to see how it works. The billboard wasn't just a nice gesture, either. It served as a recruitment tool to get more students to apply to the university. Of course, it could be a prototype for village level systems.

Monday, January 6, 2014

US aid reform in 2014: 8 issues Congress may tackle for aid reform in 2014

Devex analysts Michael Igoe, Rolf Rosenkranz and Kelli Rogers prepared this overview to upcoming aid issues.  An extract is below (the full article at this link).

Congress has long avoided comprehensive reform of U.S. development cooperation, and 2014 will likely be no different. But there’s a good chance lawmakers will consider a number of issues that could affect international development.

Things will get off to a fast and early start as Congress seeks to hammer out spending bills — including for U.S. foreign assistance — before Jan. 15.

Here are eight issues to watch in 2014:

1. Food aid reform

Could 2014 be the year Congress decides to update decades-old U.S. food aid policy?

The U.S. system for delivering emergency and humanitarian food aid to countries in crisis is legally intertwined with the nation’s agriculture policy and legislated in five-year authorizations known as the farm bill.

That means U.S. agriculture and shipping interests have outsized influence over the way emergency food relief programs are delivered.

Farm bill conference committee negotiations have dragged on since November and a new bill could emerge early in 2014. Observers are optimistic that some measure of food aid reform, however modest, could be part of that package.

2. Electrify Africa

“Energy poverty” emerged as a high-profile issue for U.S. foreign aid in 2013, after President Barack Obama launched his Power Africa initiative during a visit to three African countries.

Electrify Africa would lend congressional support to the African energy poverty reduction effort, by granting the administration with clearance to coordinate action and resources across various deal-making agencies, and potentially by granting the Overseas Private Investment Corp. — the U.S. agency that offers debt financing for development projects — greater flexibility in terms of its investments.

3. Aid transparency and accountability

The Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability Act failed by one vote in the last Congress. Aid experts are hoping 2014 is the year to finish the job on a piece of legislation that would make law an Obama administration vow to open data troves and require more transparent and systematic evaluation of foreign aid programs.
4. USAID organizational changes

A highly touted and high-level effort is under way to merge two USAID offices — the Office of Science and Technology and the Office of Innovation and Development Alliances — to make it easier for the agency and its partners to procure science and technology expertise and partner with social entrepreneurs.

If USAID is looking for some kind of minor congressional approval to complete its planned reorganization, the administration will likely ask Congress to make the change within a comprehensive omnibus bill to fund the entire U.S. government before Jan. 15.
5. International trade

Congress has a hard time passing trade agreements and related legislation, and that won’t change in 2014 — with some notable exceptions.
The trade promotion authority bill is expected to extend the strengthened focus on labor rights that the United States adopted in 2007, and lawmakers may even try to attach an update of the Generalized System of Preferences, the program under which the U.S. government unilaterally lowers tariffs on imports from developing countries. GSP expired in July.

Even if negotiations are successful, though, it could take a while for Congress to muster the energy to ratify the deal.

6. AGOA reauthorization

Sub-Saharan Africa’s exports of products covered by the African Growth and Opportunity Act have more than quadrupled since 2001, totaling $35 billion in 2012. But with AGOA set to expire in 2015, the debate among policymakers and within the development community about how to better the act is heating up, although legislation will not emerge until next year.

Reports show that many of the 39 countries currently eligible for AGOA aren’t making full use of the act’s preferences, so whether it needs to or will be expanded to cover more products, such as sugar and cotton, remains to be seen.

7. Emergency relief

USAID leaders have made it clear that future spending on foreign aid will increasingly be directed to fragile, conflict and disaster-prone states where many of the world’s extreme poor reside and struggle to find opportunities to climb out of poverty.

With crises emerging — or persisting — in Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and elsewhere, the administration may call on Congress to authorize response measures as needed.

8. FAA overhaul

When he left Congress just over a year ago, then-Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat, released his latest proposal to overhaul the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the document which created the U.S. Agency for International Development and which has served as the blueprint for U.S. foreign assistance ever since.

Berman’s rewrite sought to “establish a framework for effective, transparent, and accountable United States foreign assistance.”

Most insiders think the chance of moving a new foreign assistance act through the current U.S. Congress is effectively zero.