Making aid more effective

My experience of nearly two decades working for and with development agencies in sub-Saharan Africa has led me to join the rapidly growing campaign for greater aid effectiveness. The more than $100 billion spent annually on overseas development assistance, with over 80,000 on-going projects around the world, armies of “fly-in/fly-out” consultants, aid workers and service providers deployed in every conceivable sector, is clearly not delivering the intended results.

In my country, Nigeria, aside from DFID’s Infrastructure Advisory Facility and some useful donor interventions in health and education, it really is difficult to identify projects that can be said to have been either a good return on investment or ostensibly to have done much to reduce incidences of poverty. In a climate of global fiscal austerity, taxpayers the world over are understandably questioning the value of continuing to fund an industry that rarely provides value for money.

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The evolving aid effectiveness movement, which seeks to rationalise aid and make it more transparent, is encouraging and has gone far in promoting dialogue on transparency. But the 2005 Paris Declaration, where governments and aid agencies committed to improved aid effectiveness, remains a donor-centric initiative with little input, let alone ownership, from either the developing world or the actual aid beneficiaries. And it is likely that we may just see more of the same donor-centric talk at the next High Level forum on Aid Effectiveness taking place in South Korea later this year.

We know that for aid to be truly effective it needs to be “smarter”, with a focus on being accountable, responsive to citizen needs and transparent. Unless we are able to give a seat at the table to the beneficiaries of aid and the citizen groups, campaigners and activists who seek to hold donors and managers more accountable, we are likely to just see more conferences, workshops and well-meaning initiatives that ultimately will only scratch at the surface of the problem.

Fortunately, advances in communications technology provide us with the tools needed to change this. In the same way that such initiatives as Ushahidi.com have transformed the way people access information around elections, the donor-beneficiary relationship will also change if individuals and communities  can access and interact with development aid data.  It will provide them with a greater understanding of the development aid business, hold donors more accountable and establish the sort of feedback loops that are critical for the better design and deployment of aid resources on the ground.

A small team of development veterans, software and web application developers has been brought together to develop a new open source platform that not only aggregates aid data in an accessible manner, but also allows citizens to interact with that data and generate content directly. Called TransparentAID, the platform will be a web-based portal that visually maps existing aid spending at the regional, country, project and donor level in developing countries. It will enable real-time, social monitoring and evaluation of development projects and, most importantly, provides citizen interaction to improve the visibility, and accessibility of projects and local community involvement.

With such tools we can truly “democratise aid”, giving individuals and communities a real voice, and helping to ensure that both aid recipients and donor tax payers reap the benefits.[/EXPAND]