2009 Annual Conference: What Would the Poor Say? Debates in Aid Evaluation?

NYU Development Research Institute >> Events >> Past Events >> 2009 Annual Conference

During DRI’s 2009 annual conference, participants and speakers leveled a variety of criticisms at aid agencies for lacking accountability and transparency, but also suggested new ideas and expressed hope for a new way forward. Click here for the full conference agenda or here to view video clips.

Yaw Nyarko (NYU):
“No nation has ever developed because of aid and outside advice.”

Esther Duflo (MIT):
“Field experiments have a subversive power.”

Laura Freschi (DRI) on Aid Watch:
“We want to act as ONE OF MANY catalysts in the open marketplace of ideas about aid evaluation: inspiring connections, and helping to convert good ideas into opportunities.”

William Easterly (NYU):
“The institutions of a free society make it possible to answer “what would the people say?” Can we imitate this in aid to know “What would the poor say?”

Andrew Mwenda (the Independent):
“Aid money makes African governments accountable to the aid agencies rather than to their own people.”

The power of accountability for African governments is shown by some examples when political elites faced a threat to their very existence, like in Rwanda after the genocide or Uganda after Musevni’s takeover in 1986, when both governments instituted pro-development policies.

Lant Pritchett (Harvard University):
“Is this information you are gathering from us just to help you write your report or can you really be helpful to us?” – a woman in South Sudan. Evaluation can help make politically successful development movements into effective ones.

Nancy Birdsall (Center for Global Development):
“Cash on delivery aid “traps the donors so they are forced to have poor country governments accountable to them and accountable to their own people.”

June Arunga (BSL Ghana Ltd.):
“Aid money is diverting African skilled professionals away from private enterprise to writing proposals for NGOs.”

When June pitched her idea of using cell phones to facilitate financial transactions to Western investors, one well-known philanthropist expressed disbelief that poor Africans (whom she had seen mainly in pictures begging and starving) had cell phones: “Who do they call?” she asked.


Dennis Whittle (GlobalGiving):
“Put up a billboard in each community saying what aid money is supposed to be going towards.”

Ross Levine (Brown University):
“Aid agencies are insufficiently evaluated on advice…financial survival depends on distributing money.” The right advice often violates the imperative: “Don’t interfere with lending!”

Leonard Wantchekon (NYU):
“We African professionals want to be the ones advising our own governments rather than foreign aid professionals!”

Karin Christiansen (Publish What You Fund):
“In Afghanistan, the government does not know how one-third of all aid since 2001 – some $5bn – has been spent…Liberian civil society organizations couldn’t get basic information [which foreigners could.]”


William Duggan (Columbia School of Business):
“I wasted 20 years of my life on aid efforts, but now I see some hope for change.”