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When people hear of research and the scientific method, international aid may not be the first thing that comes to mind. For The Millennium Challenge Corporation, however, it is the first and only thing on their mind.

It is a common misconception that aid to foreign countries is a waste; money falls into the wrong hands and volunteer efforts prove fruitless. Over the past decade, studies and research have been conducted to shine a light on the truths of this myth and assess the effectiveness of aid initiatives no matter what the verdict may be. The outcomes of these experiments may help guide policy, as some analysts hope.

One of the biggest studies conducted thus far has been from the US foreign-aid agency, The Millennium Challenge Corporation. One of MCC’s larger projects focuses on farmer training in countries such as Armenia, El Salvador, and Ghana. After much observation, the MCC published that in fact the skills and education taught to the farmers did help them sell more products but did little to actually reduce their poverty levels for reasons they cannot explain as of yet but are now at least aware of.

How exactly do organizations such as the MCC and universities use the scientific method to study the effectiveness of aid? Think back to elementary science. The most basic of an experiment had two groups, the experimental group and the control group, both chosen at random. In development research, these ‘groups’ are actually groups of people: communities, villages, families. The experimental group is enrolled in the aid project (for example, testing the effectiveness of bed nets in preventing the spread of malaria). One group is given the nets while another is not. This part of the process has created some uproar within the clinical research community. Jeffrey Sachs, a sustainable-development economist at Columbia University finds them to be unethical, preventing much-needed assistance to a group of people for the sole purpose of data collection. There are also scientists who see the entire concept of analyzing aid programs as destructive because it may prematurely cut a new program without giving it the chance to grow. Rachel Glennerster, a director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT, sees it differently. For her, the randomized controlled trials are in fact underused and prove to be the most effective out of other options in weeding out failing programs.

So what is to be done? Using such research methods gives organizations and donors a better look at what works and what doesn’t,  a necessity for any entity to survive and grow. But should researchers be able to ‘randomly’ control the very survival of other human beings just to ensure an effective policy? When a perfected and efficient policy could ensure the survival of hundreds of thousands of people, then perhaps the answer is yes.

Even when data is concluded and theories published, how will the policymakers and researchers become aware of them? The International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), an NPO based out of Washington D.C. has plans to launch a database that aims to remove the possibility of bias when conducting reviews of projects. Reports, both positive and negative, will be listed through the organization and available to registered members seeking data to improve or analyze foreign aid policies.

Such efforts are vital for any humanitarian efforts if they wish to legitimize their ideas and goals. Without the money of the donors, projects will go nowhere. Without a guarantee of success, there will be no donors. While the randomized-type research conducted by the MCC and similar groups may be resting on unstable grounds, it provides them the sort of evaluations they need to improve their tactics and guarantee successful initiatives. Even in terms of basic science, “negative results are integral to the research process…it is important for researchers and donors to become more tolerant of them” despite the instinctual fear of losing funding.”

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: Nature

According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ website Americans, in general, want our country to supply more non-defense related international aid. A study of the 2011 federal budget and public opinion found that defense and military spending made up about 20 percent of that year’s budget while non-defense related aid was less than one percent. The study noted that the amount of humanitarian, non-military aid has been increasing over the last decade but has yet to reach even one percent.

One proposal to build more support for increased international aid is to fight misconceptions about how foreign aid is distributed and to educate the public about how non-defense related spending helps U.S. economic interest abroad, but the author of the study worried that such a money-driven portrayal of international aid programs may not attract positive attention from voters who support increased international aid from a strictly altruistic stance.

One way or another, support has seemed to be slowly building over the last ten years and that’s a positive sign. While that trend in opinion is encouraging it does seem to work in competition with the large amount of funding running toward military spending. Even over the course of the last ten years in which we have executed one of the largest military pull-outs in history defense-related spending is still the Goliath to the David that is humanitarian aid, but perhaps this trend in public opinion and vocal supporters could help turn the tide.

– Kevin Sullivan

The Council on Foreign Relations

 Tendai Biti
In a recent press conference, Zimbabwe Finance Minister Tendai Biti reported that there was only $217 left in the Zimbabwe government bank accounts. “Last week when we paid civil servants there was $217 [left] in government coffers” said Biti. He went on to comment that some of the journalists present had healthier financial situations than Zimbabwe.

In an interview with the BBC the following day, Biti commented that the statement was taken out of context. “You journalists are mischievous and malicious – the point I was making was that the Zimbabwean government doesn’t have the funds to finance the election, to finance the referendum,” he said. “To dramatize the point, I simply made a passing reference metaphorically that when we paid civil servants last week on Thursday we were left with $217… but even the following day we had $30 million in our account.” The statement was made to send a message that the government was in a fragile state and unable to finance a referendum on a new constitution and an election. Zimbabwe would need nearly $200 million.

Zimbabwe’s economy had been in steady decline for more than a decade beginning with President Robert Mugabe’s seizure of white-owned farms that further injured the economy. The country had experienced a long history of hyperinflation aimed at addressing the problem of declining economy. In 2008, inflation had hit 500 billion percent and the country had accrued massive debt. $104 million is now needed to have an election. The national budget for this year is at $3.8 billion with a projection of 5% growth in the economy. “The government finances are in a paralysis state at the present moment” Bitti said. “We are failing to meet our targets.” To address their financial situation, Zimbabwe will be reaching out to the international community for aid.

– Rafael Panlilio

Source: Atlantic WireBBCWorld News NBC


Congressman Adam Smith

Congressman Adam Smith, a long-time ally for the world’s poor has joined The Borgen Project’s Board of Directors. As Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee, Smith is an influential member of the U.S. House of Representatives. With previous posts on the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Smith has traveled to many of the most troubled nations on earth, including Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and throughout Africa. Congressman Adam Smith was first elected to public office at the age of 25 and is only the third person selected to serve as an Honorary Board Member for The Borgen Project.

Clint Borgen recently spoke at Pepperdine University.

Congressman Dave Reichert joins Team The Borgen Project
We are proud to announce that Congressman Dave Reichert has joined The Borgen Project’s Board of Directors. Congressman Reichert has been a strong ally for the world’s poor in Congress. In March, he introduced the Newborn, Child and Mother Survival Act and has cosponsored several key bills. Prior to serving in Congress, Reichert was a sheriff and led the Green River Task Force that solved the largest serial murder case in U.S. history.

Anacortes, Washington
— The hometown of The Borgen Project’s Founder has declared Saturday, December 6th Borgen Project Day. Anacortes is a city of 15,000 people located on Fidalgo Island in the Pacific Northwest. The Mayor and City Council passed a proclamation this month recognizing The Borgen Project‘s work and the role that Anacortes has played in the global movement.