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Foreign Aid: the Good, the Bad and the Facts  

Sara Seims Rich countries provide more than $135 billion in development aid to poor ones annually and results are not easy to measure. That’s serious money, making it a topic ordinary people, not just diplomats and technocrats, can argue about and they do—a lot. Opinions vary all over the map, from “foreign rat holes” to the moral obligation of rich countries. Advocates and critics are both right, but neither completely. There are wild misconceptions, particularly about the size of foreign aid. (For examples, surveys have shown that a significant number of Americans believe aid eats up 20% of more of the federal budget. In fact, it’s 0.3%.) Pragmatism and idealism clash. Scholars debate. Politicians fulminate. The positive things about aid are true, but not always. The criticisms are valid, but not everywhere. In this class, we’ll enable a fact-based discussion of the effectiveness of aid, including the impact of corruption and how it is mitigated. We’ll improve our understanding of the rationale for aid, how it’s provided and how priorities are set, including how that has evolved over time as donor countries have learned from experience. We’ll review moral and ethical issues concerning the rights of rich countries to influence the values and practices of poor countries that receive their funds. The purpose of the course is not to advocate a position but to illuminate, with facts as much as possible providing an overview of the range of beliefs and why they’re held. Why do countries do this? What’s in it for them? How altruistic is it really? How effective has it been? Has it really improved the lives of the world’s poorest people? How serious are corruption and waste? How does the United States as a donor country compare to other countries in the way it gives development aid? What are the current global development priorities and how were these identified? What are some of the new ways in which development aid is given? Week One: Aid Architecture: a. establishment of humanitarian aid institutions post-WWII, including the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), b. major ways in which development aid is given by rich/donor countries to poor/developing countries, c. How are development goals set by nations, d. how much money is spent on development aid, and e. what are current development priorities agreed to by the community of nations.? Week Two: View from the developing world: a. who are the poorest of the poor, b. where do they live and what are their lives like, c. what role do the poorest of the poor play in determining development aid priorities, d. how do they access development aid, and e. in what ways does development aid change the lives of the poorest of the poor? Week Three: Governance: a. who oversees how development funds are spent, b. how corrupt is development aid, c. what mechanisms are in place to minimize corruption, and d. how effective is development aid in helping the world’s poorest citizens? Week Four: Moral issues: a. why should rich countries help poor ones, b. is there evidence that development aid makes countries more stable and reduces terrorism, c. do donor countries have the right to set conditions to their aid funding such as human rights and environmental concerns, d. how do the major donors, including China, differ in their approach to setting rights conditions? Week Five: New ways thinking about development aid: a. Trade not Aid, b. Cash on Delivery, c. Social investment bonds. Plus recap of course. Sara Seims is a consultant in international women’s health and rights. Between 2011-2014 she was a Senior Fellow of the Population and Reproductive Health program of the Packard Foundation. Two years of the Fellowship were based in London where she analyzed the development assistance policies and practices of the major European donors in the area of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Dr. Seims is currently working with several European Governments and U.S. Foundations in her capacity as Board Chair for a new fund for advocacy for women’s rights in developing countries. The goal of this work is to increase the impact of donor funds on the lives of the world’s poorest women. Dr. Seims is also a member of the Gates Foundation’ Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation Working Group for family planning and a former Fellow of the London School of Economics. She is a member of the United Kingdom’s development aid management team to evaluate how to reduce the negative health consequences of unsafe abortion. Previous positions held by Dr. Seims include Director of the Population Program of the Hewlett Foundation, President and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, and Associate Director of the Population Sciences program at the Rockefeller Foundation. She is currently on the board of directors of DSW/Germany, Rutgers WPF/Netherlands, and AmplifyChange/UK. She has a doctorate in demography from the University of Pennsylvania.