New CGD working paper on health aid effectiveness ranks DFID highest, UN low

Building on the growing body of empirical literature on aid effectiveness–including two of my recent publicationsAmanda Glassman and Denizhan Duran at the Center for Global Development just published an interesting working paper that achieves two things simultaneously: it provides an excellent overview of the dramatic increase of Development Assistance in Health (DAH) globally during the past decade while also, for the first time as far as I am aware, ranking the individual performance of national as well as multilateral donor agencies in DAH. Echoing some of the findings documented in a recent paper by Bill Easterly and Claudia Williamson published in World Development, their analysis uncovers wide variation in both allocative efficiency and DAH agencies’ effectiveness as reliable, transparent and supportive partners for institutional development in recipient countries. The UK’s DFID ranks highest overall, followed by the Dutch and Danish aid agencies. GFATM is the highest-ranked multilateral agency in the sample. Conversely, selected UN agencies (clustered) rank lowest among multilateral organizations. Major bilateral donors such as Japan, Belgium and France also find themselves at the bottom of Glassman’s and Duran’s results.

Why don’t American cities burn?

I recently attended UPenn Prof. Michael Katz’s book talk at the New America Foundation. In Why Don’t American Cities Burn, Katz offers a historical analysis of the systemic and social constraints to violent collective action by minorities in U.S. cities which, Katz argues, result from a set of profound economic and political transformations. Although I found Katz’s three-tiered argument refreshing and generally convincing, I took issue with his focus on inner-city poverty among African-Americans specifically and why, unlike in the 1960s and 1990s, this situation was unlikely to incite major violence missed major aspects of contemporary urban dynamics. As much as racially motivated spatial phenomena have mattered in post-war U.S. urban history–and one clearly find parallels in the urban riots in France–, recent uprisings in London, Seattle, Oakland or Vancouver demonstrate that racial tensions are only one possible trigger. To be fair, Katz published the book prior to the Occupy movement; still, it seems to me that characterizing the U.K. riots primarily as an outbreak of racial tensions misses the point. Unfortunately Katz’s answer to my question [at 1:03:10 of the recording] wasn’t really clear; he stated dissatisfaction with attempts made thus far to explain these riots and that he intended to conduct his own investigation. Let’s hope that race won’t be the sole interpretive lens applied in this effort. Cities are arenas for the staging of social and economic protests writ large, which may or may not reflect racial dimensions.

Join for the 2012 AAG Development Geographies Specialty Group Pre-Conference in New York City

Members and guests of the AAG’s Development Geographies Specialty Group (DGSG) will meet on Thursday, February 23, from 5PM until 8PM in midtown Manhattan for the 2012 DGSG Pre-Conference. Click here for the event poster. Drawing from their own research, 7 presenters will each deliver a 7-minute Policy Plea, followed by open discussion in plenary session. We are reaching out to local non-academic audiences and hope to attract a diverse crowd of scholars and practitioners. There is no conference fee and all are welcome; registered members of the Development Geographies Specialty Group will receive an on-site $10 discount toward their food bill. RSVP is requested by Monday, February 20. Please send a brief message with your name and affiliation to dgsgpreconference(at) to confirm your attendance. and Good Generation posts on Kara’s and my World Development article

A colleague (thanks, John!) just alerted me that Joanne Fritz, in a recent post on, included a really neat discussion of Kara’s and my recent article in World Development as “Food For Thought“. Thien Nguyen-Trung also covered the piece and posted an excellent summary and comments on his blog, Good Generation.

DW interview on QDDR: no blueprint for other countries

DW Deutsche Welle (the “German BBC”) recently interviewed me on the State Department’s First Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). Professor James Davis at St. Gallen University, Switzerland and I were asked to comment on whether the mainstreaming of development policy into diplomacy is an approach that other countries should consider as well. What a neat opportunity to share my “concern about the QDDR as a blueprint [since] ‘we know from scores of failures in development policy in the past 30 years that blueprint approaches have never really worked. What have worked are localized approaches. […] Ultimately what distinguished [many] European countries in the global development arena, namely the independence of development policy from foreign policy, is going to be washed out.'” The critical point is that this would likely hamper aid effectiveness provided that the ultimate goal really is to alleviate suffering as opposed to championing particularistic policy agendas.  Read the complete article here.

How the World Bank Institute spin-doctors urban development

In June, I attended a new event format launched by the World Bank Institute (WBI). The Innovative Cities: Global Dialogue brings together mayors, corporate interests, some fig-leaf activists and a large number of Bank staffers (and presumably academic researchers as well, though I saw very few) to discuss urban development challenges and opportunities. UN-Habitat and the Bank’s own Cities Alliance have been organizing similar gigs for years, so WBI is a little late… but better late than never.

I just finished watching the short clip on the event produced by WBI and circulated among participants earlier today. I am aghast…  the Dialogue that I went to in June produced few new substantive insights.  It did not, for instance, shed much light on concrete success factors to truly sustainable (triple bottom line?) partnerships. Nor did it raise the critical question to what extent, if at all, these can be generalized across regions.  And what about urban democracies versus corporate machine politics?

Instead, almost all of the hand-picked panelists proclaimed ubiquitous urban win-win scenarios.  Except for some of the mayors (thankfully!) and, if I recall correctly, two comments from the floor, speakers eclipsed the trade-offs inherent in urban economic growth–especially in the poorest countries that the Bank is allegedly so concerned about–by assiduously ignoring a wealth of empirical studies documenting challenges faced by urban micro initiatives that campaign for more equitable access to social services, some of which result directly from the elitist quest for “economic growth” (or is this now being used as a politically more digestible proxy for employment generation?).

During lunch break, I heard several critical voices whose concerns are echoed in my critique above. I was also approached by a fellow with a video camera who asked me for a 30-second statement on the morning session. I told him that my comments would not be too charming and that he might want to seek out more benevolent interviewees. No, he replied, critical perspectives were “exactly what [we] want to hear” in order to “produce a more balanced documentation.” Needless to say, I guess, that for some strange reason they aren’t featured in the clip.

All in all, an opportunity missed. Or maybe not: lunch was great. And economic growth, WBI-type, rules.

New OECD Report: “Do No Harm: International Support for Statebuilding”

Despite the best of intentions, donors can inadvertently undermine statebuilding processes. When the resources they deliver or the reforms they advocate weaken rather than strengthen the state’s decision- and policy-making functions, their efforts can do more harm than good. Donors can also do harm by creating a brain drain away from state organizations. When aid is delivered in a way that actually acts as a disincentive to states to consolidate their own revenue base, this can retard the development of the state’s own capacity.

How can donors ensure they do no harm? How can they be sure they intervene constructively in fragile situations? Co-authored by Professors James Putzel, Daniel Esser and a team at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Do No Harm is a new OECD report that provides practical guidance based on the results of research undertaken on behalf of the OECD DAC International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF). It is based on comparative case studies of six countries (Afghanistan, Bolivia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal, Rwanda and Sierra Leone) and a comprehensive literature review. It addresses how the interventions of OECD countries may risk undermining positive statebuilding processes, and makes recommendations as to how this may be avoided in the future.