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Cash on Delivery is an approach to foreign aid that focuses on results, encourages innovation, and strengthens government accountability to citizens rather than donors. Under COD Aid, donors would pay for measurable and verifiable progress on specific outcomes, such as $100 dollars for every child above baseline expectations who completes primary school and takes a test. CGD is working with technical experts and potential donors and partner countries to design COD Aid pilots and research programs.
Cash on Delivery Aid is designed to overcome the problems of traditional aid, which often focuses more on disbursements and verifying expenditures than on results, undermines a government’s accountability to its citizens, and undervalues local experimentation and learning. COD Aid’s advantage is in linking payments directly to a single specific outcome, allowing the recipient to reach the outcome however it sees fit, and assuring that progress is transparent and visible to the recipient’s own citizens. These features rebalance accountability, reduce transaction costs, and encourage innovation.
COD Aid can be applied to any sector in which donors and recipients can agree upon measurable, verifiable outcomes and commit to making progress toward those shared goals. The approach is fully explained in Cash on Delivery: A New Approach to Foreign Aid (CGD, 2010). Listen to more about COD Aid in these Wonkcasts.
It would be strange to try learning how to play music without listening to musicians. Similarly, learning about results-based aid programs requires listening to people who design and implement them. That is just what we did last week in a set of workshops about implementing programs that pay for results – programs which apply some or all of the principles that we’ve discussed here at the Center as Cash on Delivery Aid. As a result of discussing real experiences, we discovered that some of the challenges are quite different than we had anticipated while a number of common concerns have simply failed to materialize.
Politicians and agency officials are always morally indignant when it comes to corruption in foreign aid, pointing to elaborate procedures and investigative offices to prove that they are “tough” and calling for zero tolerance (most recently here and here). However, for most governments and agencies, corruption is only a problem when it is discovered. That is when it becomes an obstacle to disbursing funds and keeping business moving.
Over the last few months, in the context of my new affiliation with CGD, I’ve been making a transition from “Forestry World” — which I inhabited for six years at the Center for International Forestry Research in Indonesia — to “Development Finance World,” headquartered here in Washington with the World Bank, the IMF, and myriad think tanks and advocacy groups interested in development.
A common objection to results-based programs is that they are somehow more vulnerable to corruption. This paper explains why results-based approaches to foreign aid may be less vulnerable to corruption than traditional approaches which track inputs and activities. The paper highlights corruption costs associated with failing to generate benefits and outlines the conditions under which one approach or another might be preferable. It concludes that results-based programs may be less vulnerable to corruption costs associated with failure because they limit the capacity of dishonest agents to divert funds unless those agents first improve efficiency and outputs.
When we make presentations on COD AIDat development agencies, we are frequently told: “Oh, we’re already doing that.” The more we investigate, however, the fewer cases we find where agencies are really disbursing funds against independently verified outcomes in a hands-off fashion. We’re tempted to say “close but no cigar.”
The World Bank President Jim Kim has said that the next frontier for the World Bank is to 'help to advance a science of delivery'. But the problem is not that we are ignoring politics, as Kevin Watkins suggests: the problem is that we are ignoring complexity.
As mentioned in our last post, aid agencies are experimenting with programs that incorporate the main features of COD Aid: paying for outputs and outcomes, giving the recipient greater discretion to spend as they see fit, independent verification, and transparency. Once these results-based programs are up and running, they face a critical test when the first results are reported. In particular, most programs create expectations by setting annual targets and are then judged relative to those targets rather than to their baseline. And this means that even successful programs will be viewed as failures (a point also made in an earlier blog). By refusing to set targets, a results-based program can avoid this pitfall. How is it that targets can create such a problem?
The President’s Budget Request for FY 2015 proposes flat funding for international affairs but it contains priorities and policy reversals that have led at least one observer to describe it as edgy! And indeed, it is edgy on a number of fronts, including a proposal by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to pilot Cash on Delivery Aid (COD Aid).
Can aid donors find a better way to deliver aid? My guest this week is Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development. Along with William Savedoff and Ayah Mahgoub, Nancy is working on a potential new way of disbursing foreign assistance called Cash on Delivery Aid. COD Aid seeks to devise simple, results-based contracts that reward developing countries for making progress towards previously agreed goals—such as increased primary school completion rates, vaccination coverage, or access to clean water.
In the podcast, Nancy explains that the traditional mode of giving aid, in which donors often take an active role in prescribing which actions recipient governments should take, can undermine incentives for governments to identify problems and design and implement locally appropriate solutions. "We have to create a system in which outside resources actually help the developing country governments find out what works in their particular setting," says Nancy.
This brief examines options for a COD Aid contract in Pakistan’s education sector and its potential benefits for improving the relationship between official donors and the government of Pakistan, and for increasing the effectiveness of aid spending in Pakistan.
By Nancy Birdsall, William D. Savedoff, and Ayah Mahgoub
A brief description of a new approach to foreign aid that would accelerate progress toward universal primary education by offering a contract to low-income countries which pays a specific amount for every additional child who completes primary school without restrictions on how funds are spent.