Too much money is chasing too few really good development projects – Part 3: Unclear “larger” goals and benefits

 This blog looks at how sometimes the domestic or political justifications for development cooperation compromise important development goals, thereby having a damaging effect, both on the image of development cooperation and on achieving those very goals.

Sometimes development cooperation is “sold” to the taxpayer not only with pictures of starving babies but also with the affirmation that tangible benefits are also obtained for the donor country. For example, the potential for increased influence on matters of global concern is often cited (for example, one justification for continued aid flows to China is the political leverage it supposedly gives for promoting improved environmental conditions in that country). On the one hand, I firmly support the idea of clarifying for taxpayers the real benefits of development cooperation (and will shortly publish another blog on this issue).

On the other, these “benefits” need to be considered in a very pragmatic way. First, what “price” is one willing to “pay” for such benefits? If it is necessary to finance a certain number of more or less viable projects (with the corresponding budget tag) to gain an uncertain/unproven influence, what is the influence worth and could it be obtained through other means? And how does one measure the true impact of that influence?

Second, I would maintain that if those financed projects themselves are not well-thought out or completely justified on their own, they may together do more harm than the putative good of the acquired influence.  And if they are truly approved in order to fulfil another political obligation there is a relatively big chance that they will not be as well prepared or thought through as they should be.

Third, even if these two considerations are resolved, there remains the prickly issue of donor coordination (subject of another upcoming blog). Most of the “global issues” are being addressed by most large donors in some way or another. But the extent of genuine cooperation – influence-sharing?? – on these issues is minimal. If most donors justify programmes in selected countries on the basis of the influence they obtain for addressing global issues without ensuring transparency on their achievements, there is a significant risk of duplication and waste.

But therein lies perhaps one possible solution:

If donors and key concerned recipients can agree on the global issues (these range from environmental concerns to international trafficking, but can be subsumed into a few key categories), share information on their aims and activities in these areas, and truly work together on addressing them, then a degree of transparency can be achieved. This transparency would enable all parties to be more efficient and targeted in their actions and possibly more realistic concerning the amount and level of influence achievable.

In turn, one could orient projects and programmes more specifically to real needs (priority fields of the recipient country) and increase the impact of development cooperation.

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