Larwanou Mahamane, a vegetation ecologist, presents aerial imagery of the Ader-Doutchi region of Niger to community members of Laba under a USAID–U.S. Geological Survey partnership. Sustainable land management practices help mitigate the impacts of climate change. / Gray Tappan, USGS, Earth Resources Observation and Science Center

This is the perfect year to solidify a transformation in foreign aid. As world leaders nail down the Sustainable Development Goals, it is a key moment to underline the global consensus around strategies for progress. It will help ensure the international community permanently modernizes its approach to development.

Fall 2015 presents myriad opportunities to spotlight encouraging efforts. The June Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa created a foundation that will be reinforced this month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where world leaders will adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that outlines a vision for ending extreme poverty and promoting sustainable development.

Declarations from those summits will be complemented by outcomes from climate change negotiations to be held in Paris in December, as well as other important deliberations focused on key topics such as countering violent extremism and promoting gender equality.

So what promising changes should be spotlighted?


Increasingly, data is driving planning and decision-making. The growth in results-based management helps ensure we invest wisely, discuss accomplishments concretely and constantly learn and refine our efforts. USAID is benefitting enormously from its enhanced ability to quantify and discuss, for example, the number of farmers whose incomes have increased as a result of Feed the Future.

We are striving to collect better data across a range of sectors, including health and agriculture, and to make that data more widely available. We also increasingly use data to better oversee operations. (And we are part of a wave of donors employing data to close gaps in information.)

USAID and NASA are working together to use satellite data in forecasting severe weather and natural disasters; lives are being saved because we can now chart floods and wildfires, and better predict drought and landslides.

Our Development Credit Authority, which has unlocked over $3 billion of private capital in over 70 countries, has improved how it tracks over 140,000 borrowers to better target and enhance USAID investments improving health care, food security and infrastructure, among various sectors. And internally, the USAID leadership team now uses a management system to ensure and track progress against specific management priorities and targets.

The push for evidence must continue and it must be complemented by a drive to ensure data is fully analyzed, used and disseminated. That’s the only way development agencies will truly become learning institutions where decisions are consistently well-informed and where gaps in knowledge are ever-smaller barriers to progress.

New Partners

Today, an exciting range of new partners and funders drive development efforts around the world. This comes at a time when funding from foreign direct investment outpaces traditional bilateral donor assistance to developing countries and domestic revenues in developing economies are increasing by an average of 14 percent per year.

The potential is huge. Last year alone, USAID started working with 450 new government agencies, private firms, foundations and other NGOs. Those partnerships leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in resources each year.

The relationships bring tremendous new energy, ideas and funding. They help the global community align work and target investments. And they close gaps in financing to meet priority needs. Three new broad partnerships announced during Financing for Development — the Addis Tax Initiative, Global Financing Facility and the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership — are emblematic of the potential for collaboration and alignment. They may prove models for the future.


Jharana Kumari Tharu, a female community health volunteer in Nepal, demonstrates how a simple tube of chlorhexidine antiseptic gel could help prevent infection and even death when applied to a baby’s cut umbilical cord stump. / Thomas Cristofoletti, USAID

Jharana Kumari Tharu, a female community health volunteer in Nepal, demonstrates how a simple tube of chlorhexidine antiseptic gel could help prevent infection and even death when applied to a baby’s cut umbilical cord stump. / Thomas Cristofoletti, USAID

There is also enormous potential to harness innovation, science and technological advances for development. USAID christened its Global Development Lab last year. The Agency is having noteworthy success reducing neonatal mortality in Nepal using chlorhexidine, an umbilical cord antiseptic. Crop yields in Africa are increasing substantially as a result of the development and distribution of drought-tolerant maize. And efforts to promote mobile banking are improving transparency and governance, and increasing the accessibility of financial services globally.

Continuing to encourage and invest in innovation offers enormous potential for reducing poverty, but science and technologies will only deliver fully on their promise if they are rolled out in locally appropriate ways and they reach millions, especially the marginalized and vulnerable groups who are often left behind.

Game-changing technologies will also have to be developed and deployed with just-as-smart strategies that minimize risk—and sharpen recognition that all investments will not bear fruit. The possibility of under-performance should not stifle innovation.

Taken together, these trends embody a promising foundation. But a cautionary note is warranted. None of the strategies emerging from the conversations this year will enable us to end extreme poverty, unless they consider our ever-changing world. Quite simply, the targets we all hope to achieve won’t stand still while we come up with solutions.

Today, many of the world’s extreme poor are living in unstable nations often dealing with prolonged, profound crises. Development efforts are increasingly concentrated in these environments made fragile from conflict, extremist threats, recurrent natural disasters or climatic shifts. Unless we factor in these threats, reductions in poverty will be fleeting.

William Gibson is credited with saying, “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” Nowhere is this truer that in the field of development aid. Promising changes in the approach to assistance offer enormous potential for widespread success.

As heads of state convene, donors must ensure we carry forward the transformation of foreign aid so that it delivers broadly, enabling us to meet the goals we are setting for 2030.


Carla Koppell is USAID’s Chief Strategy Officer. You can follow her @CarlaKoppell.