Monthly Archives: October 2013

Analyzing International Aid

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There is a growing consensus that extreme poverty can be ended by 2030.

The truth is that we cannot meet this goal without international aid. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 400 million people live in extreme poverty and require interventions that are targeted and complementary to existing support to lift them out of it.

If we want to maximize the impact and reach of international aid, we need to ensure that every dollar is spent as efficiently as possible. We can only do this with better information. Then policymakers in both donor and recipient countries can make better and more informed decisions, and civil society can better monitor progress and hold them to account.

Now, for the first time ever, thanks to a major new report that analyzes international aid, we can see just how much aid flows between specific countries and, crucially, what that aid consists of. Investments to End Poverty is a report that analyzes international aid in all of its complexity.

At Development Initiatives, each individual record of foreign aid from OECD donors over the period 2006-2011 was analyzed. The results are striking. For example, according to our calculations, Italy and Denmark both gave very similar levels of bilateral aid, just above $2 billion, in 2011. But almost 70% of Italy’s aid stayed in the country, spent on refugee costs and debt relief; whereas around 70% of Denmark’s aid resulted in a transfer of resources to developing countries.

On the recipient side, some countries that appear to receive considerable funds in fact receive a lot less than advertised. Our research found that of the $7.5 billion in aid reported as given to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011, more than $5 billion was not transferred to that country, and consisted instead of debt relief.

[Charles Lwanga Ntale, Africa director of Development Initiatives, writing in CNN]

Defining International aid

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Contrary to popular perception, international aid is not one homogenous entity or a single transfer of money from donor to recipient countries. The term “international aid” actually covers a wide variety of things, including food and commodities, advice and training, and debt relief.

In 2011 — the last year we have comprehensive data for — total development aid from rich countries stood at nearly $150 billion, according to the Investments to End Poverty report. Only $59 billion identifiably involves the transfer of actual cash to, for example, recipient governments, NGOs operating on the ground or special project funds.


Aid-in-kind makes up another $25 billion. Most of this is food aid, which is used to tackle acute hunger — but even this form of aid is not without controversy. Many donors avoid shipping actual food to developing countries, aware that it destroys local markets and harms local farmers.

Research demonstrates that food aid can be poor value for money, especially when food grown in donor countries is shipped to the developing world. Sorghum shipped from the United States is 200% more expensive than it is in Chad and almost 100% more than in Sudan, according to Development Initiatives calculations. Despite this, the United States and Japan continue to make extensive use of food shipments.

[Charles Lwanga Ntale, Africa director of Development Initiatives, writing in CNN]

International aid to Lebanon for Syrian refugees

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The contribution offered to date by the international community to help Lebanon cope with the influx of Syrian refugees to the country is not enough, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman said Friday.

A meeting at Baabda Palace was attended by the heads of mission or delegation of the Arab League, China, the European Union, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States. The U.N, Special Coordinator for Lebanon and representatives of the UNHCR and the World Bank were also present.

An international meeting at the U.N. General Assembly in September pledged $339 million in additional humanitarian aid in response to the Syrian crisis, including $74 million for Lebanon to support refugees.

The U.N. is assisting more 794,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon and there are hundreds of thousands more who remain uncounted.

Life as an International Aid Worker

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Four months in Myanmar, three months in Yemen and then five months in Turkey. While most of these destinations sound like many people’s worst nightmare, there is a certain type of person to whom these sound ideal: international aid workers.

Imagine living in the bush in sub-Saharan Africa working 10, 12-hour days, hundreds of miles away from anything resembling a city, to coordinating aid packages for war refugees in less-than-safe locations, to being the first crew on the ground after an international disaster like a tsunami.

While one might choose to invest themselves longer in a particular country or region, the life and work of a humanitarian is vastly different than your typical 9 – 5 grind.

Despite the long hours and penchant for danger, working ‘in the field’ for an NGO remains one of the hardest careers to snag post-college.

“It is not an easy sector to get into,” says Martha Reggiori-Wilkes, a millennial who has worked with an international NGO in both South Sudan and Lebanon. “It can sound like a quite romantic thing to do. And there are lot of very, very good people who want to do it.”

Although Reggiori-Wilkes loves working for a humanitarian aid organization, she “[has] a lot of friends in the sector who when they go home…feel very detached. They are doing such different work and living in such different worlds.”

Bonding with fellow ex-pats, being exposed firsthand to a different way of life, the ability to affect change through work and the opportunity for travel are all reasons why working for a humanitarian agency in a developing country can be such a sought-after job. Not only is the work fulfilling, but it is edifying, immersing you in a completely new culture and way of thinking.

 [Alexandra Talty, writing in Forbes] 

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7 Tips For Becoming An International Aid Worker

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1. Educate Yourself – Unless you have extensive volunteer experience, a master’s degree is a ‘must’ for the NGO world.  Although a master’s degree doesn’t have to be completely aimed at a humanitarian crisis skill like food security, it should work on something applicable, either through a course of study or dissertation.

2. Volunteer – Even with a master’s degree, it is close to impossible to land your first job without some internship experience on your CV. Regrettably for do-gooders everywhere, unpaid internships are the norm for NGOs. 

3. Look Local – If you don’t have the resources to volunteer abroad for a few months or work an unpaid internship, volunteer with a small, local NGO where you are living. It will give you some experience in the meantime and might end up opening doors in the future. An added bonus is that you can keep your day job while volunteering, ensuring that you have a steady paycheck. Sites like can help match you with organizations to volunteer with, depending on your interests.

4. Bring a Skill – Having skills like nutrition, finance or nursing can also be an easy way to fast-track your career with a humanitarian organization.

5. Plan Ahead – What areas of the world interest you? Research conflicts in the region and see how your abilities align. Although this strategy won’t work for an emergency response to something like an earthquake, try to get to the crisis earlier than most so that you are on the ground at the beginning of the humanitarian efforts.

6. Own the Head Office – A year’s stint at the head office of an international humanitarian organization could be your ticket to the world, connecting you to the right people for the next two, three, even four jobs down the line. If your peers or superiors notice your work, they are more likely to connect you with the right people and support your long-term career goals.

7. Scour the Web – Once you’ve got the skills and experience, it’s time to hit the world wide web looking for job opportunities. Search sites like or for international postings. Passionate about a particular organization like Doctor’s Without Borders or One Acre Fund? Check their website regularly for new positions. 

 [Read full Forbes article, by Alexandra Talty]