Advice to Donors on Spending Better
When CIDA cut CCIC’s funding, I tweeted a little fillip of approval.
Not satisfied, I wrote a longer blog piece explaining why I thought it was a victory for smarter aid spending. This was picked up by a newspaper, which ran it in their weekend edition. Which led to a surprising amount of support. Which led to a radio interview. Which led…elsewhere.
The chase producer for CBC’s All In A Day, initially, wanted me to debate the issue with a supporter of CCIC, but I explained that a) I was at the cabin, on vacation, and not up for prepping for a debate, and b) I had no beef with CCIC and didn’t want to get into a public mud slinging match with them. So she shifted the focus to the issue of untied aid and how governments and donors can ensure their dollars are well spent. Great.
But the host, Alan Neal, had other plans. He took the interview back to CCIC again and again, and to the idea of whether the government shouldn’t be funding aid research. That’s a perk if you are the host, you can head off in any direction you want. I don’t begrudge them this; if I had my own radio show I would constantly turn the conversation back to my high school football career.
But anyway, for the record, here is what I would have liked to say:
- I have no beef with CCIC. But I do think they should not act as an industry lobby if they are funded by the government they are lobbying.
- I have no beef with aid research. But I do think that far too much time and energy and money has been spent on discussing aid theory and far too little has been spent on fixing aid practice.
Finally, if Alan Neal had asked me the question the producer had asked (How can governments ensure their aid money is making a difference?) I would have cleared my throat, and in mellifluous tones, charmed the CBC’s listeners with the following gems of wisdom:
- Untie aid first of all, which means any NGO or agency can bid on grants, creating a more competitive marketplace of ideas.
- Set clear targets, such as “The Canadian government wants to ensure that x number of children are inoculated against Polio” as opposed to saying “The Canadian government intends to combat polio.”
- Measure impact not disbursement or process. Some donors carefully track how many workshops were held, or how many mosquito nets were distributed. They don’t actually measure how many nets were actually used, or how many malaria cases were prevented. Other donors are fixated on just making sure they shovel all the money out the door by the fiscal year end. They should be focused on how they achieved their impact targets (such as number of children vaccinated against polio as opposed to amount of money spent on polio)
- Demand data. Taxpayers and governments should demand to see the metrics. Glossy pamphlets and websites with smiling children are not enough and subjective project reviews are worse than nothing.
- Manage the funding from the field, not from HQ. Aid agency staff in the Embassies will know better and faster if a project makes sense and if it is working
- Don’t worry about the overhead. Many agencies fixate on what % of money is spent on admin. That is like deciding to buy shares in Ericsson and not Apple because it Ericsson spends less on rent, even though Apple sells the better cell phone.
And that, dear readers, is the advice I would have given to donors on how to spend aid money better if Alan had asked. But, given that no one else has asked for this advice either, I don’t really feel too bad about it.