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Payments for Progress: A Hands-Off Approach to Foreign Aid


  • Nancy Birdsall


  • Owen Barder


There are significant differences of opinion about the merits of additional aid in meeting the MDGs, including whether and how aid should be given in ‘fragile states’, whether additional aid on the scale envisioned can be effectively used even in well-managed economies, and whether the aid system, particularly in highly aid-dependent countries, undermines instead of strengthens local institutions. We discuss an approach to scaling up foreign aid that would explicitly be aimed at strengthening local capacity and institutions, including in fragile states. “Payments for progress” would link additional aid to clear evidence of progress already achieved on the ground. This approach would give flexibility and autonomy to local institutions, providing an opening for local institutional experimentation, while at the same time ensuring that aid pays only for real, measurable achievements. Donors would bind themselves as a group to pay a specific amount for clear evidence of progress against one or more agreed goals in low-income developing countries. Developing country governments would present an independently audited statement reporting their progress on the measures, and donors would pay the agreed amount. Payments would be determined as a function of the outcomes, and not linked to the implementation of any particular policies, any other intermediate outputs, or “tied” to purchases from particular suppliers or companies. Governments that found ways to provide services efficiently and so reduce the costs of providing them would benefit from a larger surplus. We discuss the issues such an approach raises—in setting the benchmarks against which progress is measured, in avoiding cheating, and in managing unintended negative consequences of an incentives-based approach. We conclude with a summary of the advantages for donors and recipients.

Suggested Citation

  • Nancy Birdsall & Owen Barder, 2006. "Payments for Progress: A Hands-Off Approach to Foreign Aid," Working Papers 102, Center for Global Development.
  • Handle: RePEc:cgd:wpaper:102

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    Cited by:

    1. Julia Cage, 2015. "Measuring Policy Performance: Can We Do Better than the World Bank?," Sciences Po publications info:hdl:2441/5su81hd0ma8, Sciences Po.
    2. William D. Savedoff, Katherine Douglas Martel, 2011. " Cash On Delivery Aid for Health: What Indicators Would Work Best- Working Paper 275," Working Papers 275, Center for Global Development.
    3. Cagé Julia, 2014. "Improving upon the World Bank’s Country Policy and Institutional Assessment: A New Performance Indicator Based on Aid Effectiveness," Journal of Globalization and Development, De Gruyter, vol. 5(2), pages 213-233, December.
    4. Quibria, M.G & Ahmad, Shafi, 2007. "Aid Effectiveness in Bangladesh," MPRA Paper 10299, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Sep 2008.
    5. Quibria, M.G. & Islam, Anika, 2014. "Aid Effectiveness in Bangladesh: Development with Governance Challenges," MPRA Paper 63759, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. David Booth, 2012. "Working with the Grain and Swimming against the Tide," Public Management Review, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 14(2), pages 163-180, February.
    7. Oliveira Cruz, Valeria & McPake, Barbara, 2010. "The "aid contract" and its compensation scheme: A case study of the performance of the Ugandan health sector," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(7), pages 1357-1365, October.
    8. repec:taf:rjapxx:v:15:y:2010:i:4:p:437-454 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Degol Hailu & Admasu Shiferaw, 2012. "Macroeconomic Determinants of Exit from Aid-Dependence," Working Papers 90, International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth.
    10. Katinka Cranenburgh & Daniel Arenas, 2014. "Strategic and Moral Dilemmas of Corporate Philanthropy in Developing Countries: Heineken in Sub-Saharan Africa," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 122(3), pages 523-536, July.
    11. Gustav Ranis & Stephen Kosack & Ken Togo, 2011. "The New Model of Foreign Aid Drawn from the Experiences of Japan and the United States," Working Papers 1003, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.

    More about this item


    foreign aid; MDGs; aid-dependent countries; local capacity; fragile states; tied aid;

    JEL classification:

    • F33 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - International Monetary Arrangements and Institutions
    • F34 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - International Lending and Debt Problems
    • F35 - International Economics - - International Finance - - - Foreign Aid
    • O43 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Institutions and Growth

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