Is Anyone Listening? Does US Foreign Assistance Target People’s Top Priorities? -
By Ben Leo (Center for Global Development)
The United States government has made repeated declarations over the last decade to align its assistance programs behind developing countries’ priorities. By utilizing public attitude surveys for 42 African and Latin American countries, this paper examines how well the US has implemented this guiding principle. Building upon the Quality of Official Development Assistance Assessment (QuODA) approach, I identify what people cite most frequently as the ‘most pressing problems’ facing their nations and then measure the percentage of US assistance commitments that are directed towards addressing them. By focusing on public surveys over time, this analysis attempts to provide a more nuanced and targeted examination of whether US portfolios are addressing what people care the most about. As reference points, I compare US alignment trends with the two regional multilateral development banks (MDBs) – the African Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Overall, this analysis suggests that US assistance may be only modestly aligned with what people in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America cite as their nation’s most pressing problems. By comparison, the African Development Bank – which is majority-led by regional member nations – performs significantly better than the United States. Like the United States, however, the Inter-American Development Bank demonstrates a low relative level of support for people’s top concerns.