Making Room in the Development Sandbox

The era of Western run foreign assistance is over. Throughout the history of foreign assistance, big development agencies like USAID have called the shots, touting stories of untrustworthy governments and issues of national security as justifications for entirely Western run development schemes.  The rise of South-to-South cooperation and support from developing economies has shifted power in the world of international development. There are many articles that either sing the praises of USAID or tear it down; this is neither. Policy makers must recognize a new wave in international development and consider alternative options to government assistance.

North-to-South aid relationships have been the status quo for as long as foreign assistance has existed. In the past, the North provided the funds, personnel and program structure, and the South provided the location and beneficiaries. But the dynamic is shifting.  Power blocs of emerging economies–like Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS)–are the new frontiers of global development.  On the growing list of South-to-South programming, Thailand is granting loans to Cambodia, India has started technology sharing programs, and Brazil started infrastructure programs in Paraguay.

In terms of real numbers, the U.S. is still the global leader in ODA and money contributed to foreign assistance, but we aren’t very popular. A number of academics from “developing” countries recently criticized the heavy hand of the United States in foreign assistance programming and decried what they refer to as the “cycle of dependency.” Thinly veiled arguments against South-to-South programming have also emerged from Western development heavies like Jeffrey Sachs and Paul Collier. These practitioners are disputing academics, like Zambia’s Dambisa Moyo, who have called for an African run development plan.

Internationally and domestically, USAID is no stranger to criticism. In 2011, 156 Republican Congressmen called for a drastic defunding of the agency. While defunding one of the largest development agencies in the world may seem brash and ill advised, it is clear that people are displeased with the current norm in development. Recently, USAID came under fire for poor financial accountability and low program achievement. In 2014, an audit of a $88.5 million program in Afghanistan detailed low objective achievement and possibly misappropriated funds. A financial audit, however, could not be conducted due to a lack of funds.

All of this is not to say that USAID is the enemy, the agency has achieved tremendous feats: 850,000 people have been reached through the HIV/AIDS prevention program and 15 million primary school children have been targeted and included in global literacy programs. The emergence of a new development dynamic is not a goodbye to USAID. As South-to-South Cooperation continues to grow, surely USAID will grow and change with it.

Beyond ODA: Integrating Philanthropy into the Post-2015 Development Agenda

Last month, representatives at the United Nations Third International Conference on Financing for Development agreed to a number of proposals to fund the upcoming Sustainable Development Goals. Collectively known as the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, these proposals cover a range of financing sources, from domestic tax revenues and official development assistance to private sector financing and philanthropy. The Agenda also included measures to support international trade and capacity building. World leaders now hope that the financing mechanisms laid out in the AAAA will encourage countries to adopt both the SDGs and a climate change accord scheduled for negotiation in Paris this December.

 

Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon congratulates delegates on adopting the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. Source: UN Economic Commission on Africa
Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon congratulates delegates on adopting the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. Source: UN Economic Commission on Africa

 

The SDGs are a proposed set of 17 goals that are meant to provide benchmarks for a variety of development issues over the next 15 years. The goals cover poverty, hunger, health, education, gender equality, energy, the environment, and a host of other global challenges. Each goal is accompanied by a number of targets that serve as tangible metrics of a country’s progress towards the SDGs. These new goals are a follow up to the Millennium Development Goals, a 15-year set of eight benchmarks that world leaders agreed to back in 2000. To improve their drafting process for the new goals, the UN organized the largest consultation program in its history that combined government input with surveys of the general public.

 

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda, a vital part of the new development goal drafting process, is a step towards recognizing the role of international philanthropy and the private sector in supporting global development. The agreement makes several references to the importance of the private sector in economic growth, particularly the role of the financial sector in enabling small businesses. Furthermore, Article 10 of the agreement explicitly lists philanthropies and foundations as vital members of the “global partnerships” that are required to meet the SDGs. This is a substantial improvement over the funding section of the MDGs, which overwhelmingly relied on official development assistance and did not reference to international philanthropy.

 

However, there is still a lot more that the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the SDGs could do to support philanthropy’s vital role in development. In June, the CGP cohosted the Conference on Policy Coherence for Mobilizing Private Financial Flows for Sustainable Development with the OECD Development Center. The purpose of this conference was to discuss how to best utilize private funding for the SDGs in the lead up to the Third International Conference on Financing for Development. Dr. Carol Adelman, director of the CGP, provided a number of recommendations, summarized below:

 

  • Efforts to measure private financial flows and to publicize philanthropic best practices should be increased
  • Private and philanthropic actors should be included in drafting the SDGs
  • Innovation should be the primary criteria for creating public-private partnerships as part of the SDG targets for global partnerships
  • Philanthropy should be recognized as a unique source of development practices rather just an additional funding source for official development goals
  • Countries should strive to improve their legal environments for investing in both for-profits and not-for-profits
  • Intergovernmental organizations should facilitate the distribution of private resources to developing countries by evaluating best practices and identifying successful ventures

 

Though these suggestions were not explicitly included in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, countries looking for ways to finance their SDG efforts should still consider them. Many of these suggestions simply entail engaging with the private and philanthropic sectors, and collecting new data. However, some countries may balk at evaluating their legal environments. A major finding of the CGP’s new Index of Philanthropic Freedom is that laws created to serve the legitimate interests of the state, such as capital controls and illicit financial flows legislation, often hinder philanthropic efforts as well. Examining their legal requirements will require states to evaluate the benefits of combating illicit finance or managing volatile financial flows against the benefits that come from international philanthropy.

 

As Dr. Adelman noted in her comments, 80% of the developed world’s economic engagement with the developing world comes from the private sector, philanthropy, and remittances. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda is an important first step in acknowledging these essential flows and how they can help meet the SDGs. But the international community needs to go further in developing a more holistic funding plan for the SDGs, and the recommendations made at the Conference on Policy Coherence are an excellent place to start.

The FCRA: Modi’s Secret Weapon

On April 30, 2013, the Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF)—an umbrella organization of over 700 civil society organizations—received a non-descript notice from the Ministry of Home Affairs that revoked the INSAF’s registration and froze its assets in an effort to allegedly protect “the public interest.” This was not the first time that the INSAF had encountered resistance to its activities. Both the INSAF and its member organizations had often sparred with the Indian government over issues of environmental policy including the construction of nuclear power plants and the legalization of GMOs. Thanks to an ambiguous new section of the legal code, however, the Indian government has the authority to freeze assets and rescind the registration of organizations that receive unapproved foreign funds and/or pose a threat to “the public interest.” The true motivation behind the deregistration of the INSAF was immediately obvious to the organization’s leadership: they were being targeted for their activism.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the 2014 UN General Assembly  (UN Photo/Cia Pak)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the 2014 UN General Assembly (UN Photo/Cia Pak)

The notice delivered to the INSAF in April was issued in accordance with Sections 13(1) and 14(1-2) of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act of 2010. Based on an older 1973 law designed to shore up foreign currency reserves, the ambiguity of the amended FCRA allows for nefarious government overreach. Section 13(1) states: “Where the Central Government, for reasons to be recorded in writing, is satisfied that pending consideration of the question of canceling the certificate on any of the grounds mentioned in sub-section (I) of section 14…[it may] suspend the certificate for such period not exceeding one hundred and eight days.” Section 14 is more severe: “The Central Government may, if it is satisfied after making such inquiry as it may deem fit cancel the certificate if, in the opinion of the Central Government, it is necessary in the public interest to cancel the certificate…”

Objecting particularly to the ambiguity of Section 14, and drawing significant support from the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights as well as the international CSO community, the INSAF filed a strongly worded petition with the High Court of Delhi. In September, five months after the Ministry’s notice had been delivered to the INSAF, the High Court finally dismissed the deregistration and thawed the organization’s accounts. The FCRA, however, was upheld.

The attack on the INSAF was just the beginning. In the last two years, Modi’s government has used the FCRA to target thousands of CSOs that have criticized government policies. On June 9, 2015, 971 organizations, including several prominent public universities and local chapters of international NGOs, were stripped of their registration for accepting unapproved funds. Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai, herself a recent victim of FCRA regulations, noted that “The issue is not related to the source of our funding or FCRA. It is a larger political issue under which NGOs are being targeted and persecuted for working, as well as, raising the voice of the poor, weak, and the deprived.” Ms. Pillai is partially correct. While the government’s use of the FCRA is, indeed, a reflection of larger political issues, repeal of the amended FCRA would be an appropriate first step on the road to philanthropic freedom in India.

In the 2015 Index of Philanthropic Freedom, India maintains a mid-range composite score of 3.2, but in the area of cross border flows it scores just 2.1 out of a possible 5. In his justification of this low score, Noshir Dadrawala of the Centre for Advancement of Philanthropy emphasized the onerous requirements of the FCRA: “It is important to note that no CSO operating in India whether registered or not can receive foreign contributions without first obtaining prior permission from the Home Ministry.” In order for civil society to thrive and international philanthropic funds to flow into India, the government must amend the FCRA and end its attack on the third sector.

The Role of Philanthropy in Nepal’s Recovery

The numbers that came out of Nepal in the aftermath of the April earthquake paint a picture of almost complete ruin. According to government reports, 8,789 people are dead and 22,309 have been injured. Nepal’s infrastructure has been devastated. Almost 800,000 homes have been completely or partially destroyed. Close to 1,000 health facilities and over 30,000 classrooms have been fully or partially damaged. The cost of rebuilding these buildings, along with destroyed bridges and roads, is estimated to be about USD 5 billion, with a further USD 5 billion needed to fully offset the disaster’s damage. Taken together, this USD 10 billion in total economic damages represents more than half of Nepal’s GDP.

 

Source: Asian Development Bank
Source: Asian Development Bank

 

International philanthropies are playing a central role in helping Nepal cope with this fallout. The Nepal Red Cross has been on the frontlines of disaster relief efforts, providing medical care to those afflicted by the earthquake and mobilizing over 300 Nepali staff and 1,500 Nepali volunteers. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has supplemented these efforts by bringing in personnel and supplies from Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world. Doctors without Borders has sent eight teams of staff accompanying 3,000 kits of non-food and medical supplies. A range of other international philanthropies, including CARE, Mercy Corps, and Catholic Relief Services, have also been providing integral food and living supplies, as well as personnel on the ground.

 

One of the more innovative—and invaluable—contributions of the philanthropic sector has been “crisis mapping.” Through a global mapping platform called OpenStreetMap, volunteers across the globe have helped create maps of disaster-stricken areas, detailing obstacles such as broken bridges and blocked roads. For Nepal, volunteers have used satellite imagery and drones to map everything from impassable roads to structurally sound buildings to patches of land that could be used as helipads or drop zones. These maps have allowed NGOs and IGOs, as well as the Nepali Army, to quickly determine routes to remote villages in need of aid.

 

Destroyed infrastructure hasn’t been the only obstacle facing aid workers, however. The Nepali government’s Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund was established as a way to coordinate aid efforts and catch fake aid organizations. But the rollout of this fund has created confusion as to which NGOs have to route their aid through the government. Aid was also delayed by the Department of Customs’ insistence that it inspect every single aid package flown into to the country. However, the Nepali government has since taken action to correct these initial stumbles, creating a more flexible environment for private relief aid.

 

Still, Nepal needs to do more to improve its environment for private philanthropy. This week, the Center for Global Prosperity released its first ever Index of Philanthropic Freedom, which uses surveys from country experts to measure how easy it is to carry out philanthropic efforts in 64 countries. Nepal has the third lowest ranking of the entire index, ahead of only Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The Nepali government puts strict registration requirements on all civil service organizations. The government also restricts on the flow of philanthropic funds, both into and out of the country. Last, civil service organizations must deal with a sporadically enforced tax system in order to take advantage of any tax exemptions offered for philanthropic activity.

 

Already underdeveloped and reliant on foreign aid, Nepal will need the support of international philanthropies more than ever as it attempts to overcome staggering economic and human losses. But in order to maintain this support, the government must open up its giving environment and provide philanthropies with the space and stability they need to help rebuild Nepal.

Quantity vs. Quality: Rethinking ODA

The UK has met its .7% Official Development Assistance (ODA) target for 2013, but from the limited coverage of this issue you would never know. Britain barely advertised this huge accomplishment, only sending out a single tweet of acknowledgement. The UK is just one of 7 countries currently meeting the ODA requirement set by Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries in 1969 and it is the first of the world’s largest economies to do so. The other countries include Norway, Sweden Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Denmark. By comparison, the US only uses about .2% of its GNI on foreign assistance programs. The timing of the UK achievement is interesting considering the recent criticism of the country’s Department for International Development (DfID).

imgresDfID is the primary channel through which UK ODA flows. It is responsible for almost 88% of UK ODA.  But just last week the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, a watchdog agency evaluating DfID learning strategies, gave the UK agency an “amber-red” rating for its ability to research and apply its findings to foreign assistance programs. The report criticized DfID for poor returns on investment and emphasized the organization’s inability to translate research into effective action. This creates the notion that the UK could achieve the same development goals at a much lower cost if it were to employ more effective investment strategies.

The UK’s interesting situation is a stark reminder that quantity does not ensure quality in development assistance, and begs the question of which is most important for development: the quantity of foreign assistance or its quality? A higher quality means greater returns on investment, but a higher quantity means a larger investment overall. It seems, however, that by increasing the funding for an ineffective organization, the UK is wasting an opportunity to more effectively use its high ODA level but the achievement of reaching the .7% of GNI achievement masks the underlying organizational problems.

It is difficult to deny the benefits of ODA quotas. ODA quotas hold countries accountable for their continued foreign assistance. Bilateral development assistance relies on ODA, and because of the OECD agreement from 1969, developed nations have a mutual obligation to maintain a substantial foreign assistance program. By setting the quota as a percentage of GNI, each country has a high, yet attainable goal to achieve. Even if countries do not reach that goal, just by attempting to do so they contribute a large amount to development programs. The quota also serves the purpose of being an easily measurable target that ideally allows for comparisons across countries. The percentage encourages countries to contribute the same relative amount, creating a sense of equality.

The UK has drastically increased its ODA recently
The UK has drastically increased its ODA recently

The greatest negative aspect, however, of ODA as a percentage of GNI is the measure’s strict simplicity. As demonstrated, the benchmark only demonstrates how much money is spent on foreign assistance. It says nothing about the types of programs and, more importantly, the quality of these programs. Is this foreign assistance money used in the most effective way or in the areas in most dire need of assistance? It allows countries to abuse the ODA system. Countries are already under fire for suspicious ODA practices. A recent post on this blog highlighted how countries use ODA as a way to turn a profit often at the expense of a developing nation. Simply setting a high ODA target for developed nations without addressing organization issues could further contribute to this problem.

Has the age of ODA quotas come to an end? It might be time to move away from a system of ODA targets as a percentage of GNI. Development work is all about the quantifiable measures. Perhaps it is time the development community creates a quantifiable measure for ODA quality instead of merely the quantity. It is not enough for developed nations to merely donate a portion of their GNI, especially when that money is not funneled to effective development programs.

April is the Cruelest Month: the Coming Austerity Measures and Elections in Ukraine

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Anatolii Stepanov
Photo Credit: REUTERS/Anatolii Stepanov

The International Monetary Fund has offered Ukraine a two-year bailout package of $18 billion in return for steep economic reforms. The long-term goal of the bailout package is to stabilize a Ukrainian economy that is running up expenses and moving toward a debt default. It is hoped that economic stability in Ukraine will lead to the political stability that can then ease Ukraine’s transition to democracy, and more importantly, away from Russia. By opening up to the IMF deal, Ukraine will signal to nations like the US and Japan that they are committed to restructuring their economy and are open to investment. For example, the United States Congress is working on a bill for $1 billion in aid to Ukraine as well as economic sanctions against Russia. The European Union has put $15 billion on the table. It total, Ukraine is in position to receive around $27 billion in aid.

The downside to these deals is that the enforced austerity measures will likely hurt the average Ukrainian citizen by increasing gas prices by 50% and inflating the currency, the hryvnia, by somewhere between 12% and 14%. Therefore, we may see the cost of living rise while the purchasing power of the hryvnia plummets. Ukraine’s interim Prime Minster Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk explained that there would be a minimum-wage freeze and an increase in taxes for Ukraine’s largest companies. All of this spells out hard times for Ukraine in the coming years. But consider the result if Ukraine were not to accept the austerity measures. As The New York Times reported, Yatsenyuk “told the Parliament on Thursday that the country was ‘on the brink of economic and financial bankruptcy’ and that gross domestic product could drop 10 percent this year unless urgent steps were taken in conjunction with the fund.” With such instability, Ukraine’s interim government would not have the time or the legitimacy to set up the proper institutions before the planned election in May.

Photo Credit: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

The top candidates for the election include former Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, billionaire businessman Petro Poroshenko, and Parliamentary leader as well as former professional boxer Vitali V. Klitscho. Tymoshenko, who was born in the industrial and Russian-leaning eastern Ukraine, has support from the western and central provinces. However, it is Poroshenko and Klitscho who lead in the polls. No matter the result in May, the next president of Ukraine is set to face a difficult transition in all aspects of society. Somehow, he or she must ease the pains of economic liberalization, consolidate political factions, and reign in nationalist as well as pro-Russian sentiments. International aid may help, but the real battle for Ukrainian independence must be fought from within. It is a fight to defeat the legacy of authoritarianism; a fight that Ukraine desperately needs to win.

Money For Nothing: Overstating Official Development Assistance

Aid projects can help young children in Africa obtain access to fresh drinking water.
Aid projects can help young children in Africa obtain access to fresh drinking water.

Recently a report by The Guardian exposed the troubling reality that some nations overvalue their ODA. By exploiting the antiquated formula for calculating ODA, which calls for interest rates on foreign aid loans to be less than 10% (grants are held to a 25% rate), countries like Germany, France and Japan, are taking credit for more aid than they actually give. Just how much more? David Roodman, the author of the Guardian article, estimated that billions of dollars in ODA is tacked on each year by manipulating one simple calculation. Last April, former chairman of the DAC Richard Manning warned in a letter to the Financial Times that fewer and fewer loans given by OECD countries are “concessional in character.”

The 2008 Financial Crisis upset the ODA equilibrium.
The 2008 Financial Crisis upset the ODA equilibrium.

After the 2008 Financial Crisis, interest rates fell but the 10% discount benchmark rate for ODA loans stayed the same, causing the imbalance that upset the equilibrium of ODA calculations. Roodman writes, “Today, rich nations can borrow at 2% or 3%, lend at 4% or 5%, and make a profit while calling the loan aid.” Further compounding the problem, the profits made on these loans go back into the financial system of the lending country.  These interest repayments, as they are called, are not subtracted from net ODA like capital repayments, skewing the final figures. In the case of Japan, who in 2011 took in $2.6 billion in interest repayments, a nation can actually receive more money from developing countries than it gives to them in ODA.

But which nations are receiving these loans? Manning explains in his letter that “France, Germany and the European Investment Bank” give loans to the middle-incomes countries of Latin America and Asia. These loans count as concessional ODA, but in reality they do not reflect the “real cost of capital” and rake in huge profits for the lending countries. As more countries have discovered this type of loan practice, Manning writes, we have seen a recent surge in ODA to middle-income countries and a slight drop-off in ODA to sub-Saharan Africa. In their defense, some lending countries argue that the rates also must reflect default risk. And to be fair, default risk is always a factor when lending to countries in dire straits.

Thankfully, Roodman reports, nearly all of the DAC countries employ a more effective calculation method in their handling of export credit arrangements. This method uses calculated differentiated discount rates based on currency values and the rate at which each country pays to borrow money. Unlike the 10% benchmark, which has held steady since 1972, differentiated discount rates are updated yearly to reflect current market forces.  In applied, this could be an effected method of calculating rates for ODA as well. But no matter the ultimate solution, the fact remains that our fifty-year-old method of ODA calculation is in desperate need of an update.