Seeking Better International Aid Outcomes

May 14, 2013
by Doug Gavel

How to better match international aid donors with recipients based on their specific needs is the focus of a new research paper co-authored by Ricardo Hausmann, Professor of the Practice of Economic Development and director of Harvard’s Center for International Development (CID). In “The Structure and Dynamics of International Development Assistance,” Hausmann and co-authors Michele Coscia and César A. Hidalgo conduct an in depth analysis of international aid coordination using a range of information publicly available on the Internet.

“We compare the structure of networks connecting countries to issues, countries to organizations and organizations to issues, to assess the degree to which the system is able to match a country with organizations that have expertise in the issues that are salient in that country,” the authors write.

Through their analysis, Hausmann, Coscia and Hidalgo construct colorful and detailed networks, showing how countries, issues and organizations relate to each other. The researchers also aggregate the data to produce three overall consistency indexes – ranking countries, issues and organizations based on how well they align in terms of need, mission and delivery. China Development Industrial Bank and Childreach top the organizational index; El Salvador and Iraq top the country index; malnutrition and school completion top the mission index.

“Our measures indicate that the international aid network has indeed achieved a significant level of de facto coordination,” the authors conclude. “Our methods, however, show that in many cases coordination is low, highlighting countries that are poorly served, issues that are not well attended, and organizations that appear to be focusing on the wrong combination of places and issues.”

The authors contend that their analysis can help improve international aid outcomes over the long term.

“Our approach does approximate what is required for decentralized coordination because it facilitates the identification of the issues and countries that organizations care about and the issues that countries care about,” they write. “Our metrics can be used as ‘prices’ that facilitate unrealized matches between willing donors and recipients: Organizations and countries will seek to interact with partners that share interests, in the same way as in the market the equilibrium involves matching willing sellers with willing buyers.”

Ricardo Hausmann
is Director of Harvard's Center for International Development (CID) and Professor of the Practice of Economic Development at the Kennedy School of Government. César A. Hidalgo and Michele Coscia are CID affiliates.

Professor Ricardo Hausmann

Ricardo Hausmann, professor of the practice of economic development and director of CID

“Our measures indicate that the international aid network has indeed achieved a significant level of de facto coordination,” the authors conclude. “Our methods, however, show that in many cases coordination is low, highlighting countries that are poorly served, issues that are not well attended, and organizations that appear to be focusing on the wrong combination of places and issues.”


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