PUBLICATIONS: Rhetoric vs. Reality: The Best and Worst of Aid Agency Practices

27 Oct

By William Easterly and Claudia Williamson
World Development, Vol. 39, No. 11, pp. 1930-1949
October 2011

Foreign aid critics, supporters, recipients, and donors have produced eloquent rhetoric on the need for better aid practices—has this translated into reality? This paper attempts to monitor the best and worst of aid practices among bilateral, multilateral, and UN agencies. We create aid practice measures based on aid transparency, specialization, selectivity, ineffective aid channels, and overhead costs. We rate donor agencies from best to worst on aid practices. We find that the UK does well among bilateral agencies, the US is below average, and Scandinavian donors do surprisingly poorly. The biggest difference is between the UN agencies, who mostly rank in the bottom half of donors, and everyone else. Average performance of all agencies on transparency, fragmentation, and selectivity is still very poor. The paper also assesses trends in best practices over time—we find modest improvement in transparency and more in moving away from ineffective channels. However, we find no evidence of improvements (and partial evidence of worsening) in specialization, fragmentation, and selectivity, despite escalating rhetoric to the contrary.

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