Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

Impacts and Influence

Over the years, CGD has developed new tools and new ideas that continue to have significant impact on the lives of millions; we’ve influenced multilateral organizations and governments, we’ve encouraged them to implement best practices in their operations and governance, helped them improve development policy, and provided policy solutions to make global finance fairer for all.

We’re thankful to our supporters, friends, and partners for helping us work to make the world a more prosperous, just, and safe place for us all.

Read our latest impact report here.

New Tools, New Ideas

A girl holds a handful of pills

What’s In, What’s Out: Designing Benefits for Universal Health Coverage, edited by senior fellow and chief operating officer Amanda Glassman, Ursula Giedion, and Peter C. Smith, is a practical guide for policymakers working to move universal health coverage (UHC) from rhetoric to reality. With contributions from leading health economists and policy experts, the book argues that the creation of a health benefits plan—a defined list of cost-effective services that are subsidized—is an essential step toward UHC in countries with limited health budgets. Glassman and CGD’s Global Health Policy program director and senior fellow Kalipso Chalkidou are using the book as a resource at workshops with policymakers designing UHC initiatives in India, Kenya, and South Africa.

A refugee camp

Disasters displace millions and cost billions each year, but slow response times costs many lives. To tackle this issue, CGD convened a working group of leaders in humanitarian response, insurance & risk finance, and international aid. Led by CGD's Owen Barder and Stefan Dercon of the UK’s Department for International Development, the group examined how smarter financial instruments can mobilize money quickly and predictably. Its report—Payouts for Perils: How Insurance Can Radically Improve Emergency Aid—proposed two key innovations in how disaster assistance is deployed: existing funding should allow governments and agencies to pre-enroll for rapid support against predictable future costs, and where there is no pool of money, risk should be transferred to the insurance sector through concessional insurance.

development impact bonds schematic

Development Impact Bonds (DIBs) finance development programs with money from private investors who earn a return if the program is successful (paid by a third-party donor). With greater focus on outcomes instead of inputs, DIBs create space for more innovation, local problem-solving, and adaptation. DIBs were proposed and designed in a 2013 CGD working group report; the first DIB was implemented in 2014 to improve education in Rajasthan, India.

A man having his eye scanned

The importance of identification for development is enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals. Alan Gelb’s work on new biometric technologies for identification helped the World Bank launch an entirely new program of analytical work, lending, and assistance,  ID4D,  which takes an integrated view of the role of ID in development. CGD’s ongoing expertise in this area is helping shape best practices in numerous applications including elections, financial inclusion, and discouraging child trafficking.

a doctor swabs a patient's arm

Advance Market Commitments came out of CGD working group co-chaired by Ruth Levine in 2005. In 2009, G-7 finance ministers endorsed its approach of donors’ promising to buy a vaccine against a specific disease when and if such a vaccine is developed. Five countries and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have since committed $1.5 billion in a pilot program for a vaccine to prevent the strains of pneumococcal disease common in developing countries.

A UK aid worker

CGD proposed Cash on Delivery Aid as a way to make aid more effective by paying for development outcomes rather than inputs (e.g., increasing learning rather than building more schools). In 2010, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and Ethiopia became the first to implement an aid program inspired by this model. This pilot aims to increase the number of students who successfully complete a lower secondary education.

Encouraging Best Practices

An image of three young black women wearing masks.

CGD's recently launched COVID-19 Gender & Development Initiative has not just had an impact on the discourse around what to do to help ensure an inclusive recovery, but already the world’s biggest donors are putting the Initiative’s ideas into action. In July, Melinda French Gates announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will make a 5-year $650 million commitment to furthering economic empowerment for women based on CGD's idea of cash, care, and data. IDA20 has included a gender & development target focused on childcare, in line with CGD's policy recommendations in June. And development organizations around the world are looking to CGD's WEE Measurement Learning Collaborative to better track progress on women's economic empowerment.

a girl writes on a chalkboard

Partnering with the private sector is an increasingly popular—but largely unproven—tool to improve public service delivery in fragile states. When the Liberian government delegated management of 93 public schools to private contractors, it sparked controversy at home and internationally. In response, the government agreed to an impact evaluation of learning outcomes one year into the program. Senior fellow Justin Sandefur and a team of researchers conducted a randomized control trial, finding that while privately managed schools improved learning, the largest contractor ran up high costs and brought negative unintended consequences for some pupils and teachers. Sandefur and his coauthors presented their findings to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her cabinet, injecting much-needed data to the heated debate around public-private partnerships for education.

women peacekeepers stand in formation

A higher proportion of women in peacekeeping operations is associated with lower rates of sexual violence by peacekeepers and more sustained peace. While the UN Security Council has recognized the importance of increasing women’s participation in peacekeeping, progress has been slow. To address this problem, senior fellow Charles Kenny proposed a dedicated trust fund to provide supplementary payments to troop-contributing countries for each woman peacekeeper provided. His analysis showed that for as little as $77 million/year the UN could significantly increase the proportion of women peacekeepers, CGD launched a campaign to persuade the UN and key donor governments to establish a trust fund. In November, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Elsie Initiative on Women in Peace Operations, through which Canada will contribute an initial C$15 million to a fund to support the deployment of women peacekeepers.


CGD’s Priority-Setting Institutions for Global Health working group proposed the creation of a new institution to support developing countries and donors in making better-informed resource allocation decisions for health care in a 2012 report. In 2014, the UK’s Department for International Development and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, drawing on technical support from CGD, announced their support for the creation of the new International Decision Support Initiative (iDSI), led by NICE International. One early outcome of the iDSI network was a 2015 agreement on a new framework for better priority-setting between emerging economy governments and multinational pharmaceutical executives.

Recommendations of a CGD working group, Delivering on the Data Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa, in collaboration with the Nairobi-based African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) were reflected in the UN’s A World That Counts report and the OECD’s Informing a Data Revolution roadmap. The working group’s recommendations were also a core input to, and echoed, in the Africa Data Consensus, adopted by the Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. 

Bars showing country rankings

In 2003, CGD introduced the first metric to gauge countries’ policies across seven policy areas important for development: aid, trade, finance, migration, security, technology, and climate. Now produced by CGD Europe, the annual Commitment to Development Index has become a valuable tool for policymakers around the world. Finland and the Netherlands use the CDI as an official performance metric for their development policy, and the UK’s Department for International Development lists the index as a measure of overall Whitehall policy coherence.

a little girl runs in a field

Millions Saved: Proven Successes in Global Health was the first major product of CGD’s global health policy program and continues to have an impact more than a decade late by challenging the myth that development investments are costly and ineffective. Millions Saved has been welcomed by the policy and advocacy community and an academic edition of the book has become a key teaching aid for public health policy classes in colleges and universities around the world. A third edition is planned for release in April 2016 and will include 22 new case studies. 

international initiative for impact evaluation

Efforts to design better aid programs are often hampered by the failure to evaluate what works in existing programs. In 2004, Ruth Levine convened a working group to find solutions to this problem; its 2006  report urged the creation of a new institution to establish best practice standards, identify high-priority areas for study, and fund and review new impact evaluations. With significant technical support from CGD, a group of bilateral and international donors backed the creation of the new International Initiative for Impact Evaluation or 3ie (“Triple I E”).

Improving Development Policy

US Capitol Building

Todd Moss and Ben Leo have been arguing for years that the US needs a modern, full-service, and self-sustaining agency to promote market solutions to reducing poverty. Their proposal to turn OPIC into a bigger and more flexible US development finance institution received widespread support. With backing from the administration, a bipartisan bill creating the new institution passed in October 2018, making this CGD proposal a reality.

a woman sits at a sewing machine

When the US administration proposed eliminating most immigration from developing countries to help raise US workers’ wages, it cited an influential study that found the influx of Cubans into Miami following the Mariel Boatlift had sharply depressed local wages. But a few months earlier, senior fellow Michael Clemens had uncovered a major flaw in that study: the drop in wages in the study simply arose from a flaw in the underlying data--wage surveys at the time started counting more low-wage non-Cuban workers as “native workers,” causing a spurious fall in measured wages. The study did not actually show that native workers were harmed. CGD injected Clemens’ much-needed data into a heated debate, prompting lawmakers to take a closer look at the real economic impacts of the proposal.

passport visa

After Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, CGD assessed what was needed for the country to “build back better.” First stop? US immigration policy. Led by Michael Clemens, the Center successfully advocated to add Haitians to the list of nationalities eligible to participate in the United States’ largest temporary work visa program, opening the door for them to increase their earning potential by about 10 times through temporary employment in seasonal jobs in the United States. 

us soldier in afghanistan

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, focused fresh attention on security threats emanating from chronically underdeveloped regions. In response, the Center's Commission on Weak States and US National Security convened congressional actors, academics, and NGO leaders to craft a coherent strategy toward weak states. Their conclusions spurred policymakers to take action, and their recommendations served as an impetus for a Presidential Directive that established a Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization under the Secretary of State. Carlos Pascual, the first coordinator, recognized the role of the commission's work.

President Obama

CGD work continues to influence at the highest levels of government. Several CGD initiatives appeared in President Obama’s firstsecond, and final Global Development Council reports. Ben Leo and Todd Moss’s work on a proposal to establish a US Development Finance Corporation featured prominently. CGD ideas on Cash on Delivery AidDevelopment Impact Bonds, and tropical forests were also included.

the White House, Washington DC, USA

The research and analysis of CGD’s US Development Policy Initiative (DPI) helps shape efforts to reform US investment, trade, and foreign assistance policies that impact developing countries. The team’s advice has been sought for the Presidential Study Directive on US Global Development Policy, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, congressional reviews, and other key reform efforts. DPI was also instrumental in creating the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.

Millennium Challenge Corporation logo

CGD made significant contributions to the design of the US Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), administered by the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Steve Radelet’s book Challenging Foreign Aid set forth many of the guiding premises of the new aid program. Later, CGD launched the MCA Monitor, led by Sheila Herrling, to provide analysis and advice on country selection, program implementation, and adherence to the MCA’s core principle of transparent, nonpolitical aid allocation. On the basis of the MCA Monitor’s strong reputation, Herrling was asked to lead President Obama’s transition team's work on the MCC.

rice prices in a market

In mid-2008, rice prices had spiked fourfold since the start of the year, and poor people in many parts of the world were facing extreme hardship. Yet Japan held 1.5 million tons of imported rice that it did not want but could not re-export without US permission. Drawing on research by Peter Timmer and market intelligence from Tom Slayton, CGD used blogs, media, congressional testimony, and other tools to quickly win Washington’s assent. With news of the approval, global rice prices fell by 25 percent in just two weeks, alleviating shortages in several poor countries. (Getting Japan to actually release the rice proved more difficult.)

hiv aids monitor logo

US legislation in 2008 reauthorizing PEPFAR through FY2013 incorporated recommendations from CGD’s HIV/AIDS Monitor, led by Nandini Oomman. In addition, the 2009 White House Five-Year Strategy for PEPFAR included a policy framework that mirrored HIV/AIDS Monitor recommendations. Separately, recommendations set out in a 2013 CGD paper were well received by Ambassador Deborah Birx, who said it has influenced her leadership at PEPFAR.

Influencing Multilateral Organizations

In 2015 the Asian Development Bank announced a merger of its loan and grant funds, allowing it to increase its lending capital substantially. This followed a formal independent assessment of the proposal at the request of the bank’s donors by Nancy BirdsallScott Morris, and Enrique Rueda-Sabater.  The restructuring and provides an important launch point for further innovations and much-needed flexibility to the multilateral development bank model.

Charles Kenny’s and other CGD researchers’ proposals regarding draft agreements for the 2015 Addis Ababa Financing for Development Conference were taken on board by several member state negotiating teams. While ultimately not adopted, language in drafts had moved toward CGD-suggested text in the areas of tax, tobacco, and the global social floor. CGD work by Casey Dunning also provided suggestions for US government deliverables on domestic revenue mobilization as put forward in the Addis Tax Initiative.

A 2013 CGD working group report featured recommendations for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to get more health for its money. Ongoing engagement has led to a number of pilots of results-based grant-making, including Cash on Delivery aid models.

African Development Bank logo

A 2006 CGD report challenged the management and stakeholders of the African Development Bank with bold recommendations for further reform. The report influenced AfDB’s president Donald Kaberuka and his staff, who later implemented recommendations for the management. CGD later wielded influence in 2015 by holding a live question-and-answer event with seven of the eight candidates to be the next AfDB president. The event was cited as being influential in the contest won by Akinwumi Adesina.

CGD’s Working Group Report on IMF Programs and Health Spending, led by David Goldsbrough, examined the Fund’s influences on health spending and generated six recommendations to help clarify its role in low-income countries. The IMF responses to the report indicated broad agreement on all six and were included in a series of IMF policy papers. The IMF board welcomed the working group’s recommendation to limit the use of wage bill ceilings to exceptional cases justified in a transparent manner.

Making Global Finance Fairer

Working with Nigeria’s minister of finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (now a member of the CGD board of directors and distinguished visiting fellow), CGD played a vital role in reducing Nigeria’s debt stock by $30 billion. The Center spearheaded initial efforts to change Nigeria’s classification within the World Bank, making the country eligible for a Paris Club debt buyback. Todd Moss, who led CGD’s efforts, then proposed a “discounted buyback” within the Paris Club. The final deal was the first from the Paris Club to include this type of buyback.

CGD is shaping the international agenda to increase access to financial services in the developing world—a key to shared global prosperity. The G-20 Toronto Summit in June 2010 adopted Principles for Innovative Financial Inclusion that closely mirror those of a 2009 CGD task force report led by Liliana Rojas-Suarez. The CGD report complements the International Monetary Fund’s Access to Finance Project, an online database that underpins research into the provision of consumer financial services worldwide.

Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

In 2003 Liberia faced a foreign debt burden that crippled its development prospects after 14 years of war and failed governance. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf tapped Steve Radelet as a high-level advisor helping to shape strategies for economic policy, aid coordination, and poverty reduction. In April 2009 the Liberia negotiated a commercial debt buy-back of $1.2 billion at a 97 percent discount off face-value, which opened up Liberia to the international financial community and led the way to HIPC completion in 2010.

a girl hangs the South Sudan flag

Ben Leo’s CGD Working Paper, Sudan Debt Dynamics: Status Quo, Southern Secession, Debt Division, and Oil contributed to the African Union’s mediation efforts over Sudan’s $35 billion of external debt when South Sudan was created as an independent state. Leo subsequently served as a technical expert and mediator in 2011 under the leadership of the African Union’s High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan. The historic agreement he helped facilitate between the parties included much of the road map for debt relief suggested in his paper.

The 2008 global financial crisis started in the United States but hit developing countries hard with reduced exports, remittances, and access to credit. Ahead of the London G-20 summit, Nancy Birdsall published a CGD policy note How to Unlock $1 Trillion Developing Countries Need to Cope with the Crisis. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon picked up the call, and the G-20 included the pledge in their Summit communiqué. Birdsall later testified before the US Congress, helping to unlock the country’s contribution to the global relief and stimulus package.