U.S. development assistance achieves less for beneficiaries than it conceptually could, due both to relatively poor cost-effectiveness and to limited funding.

Official development assistance from the United States achieves less benefit for beneficiaries than it conceptually could. 1 Opportunities for improvement could take the form of fiscally neutral improvements in the effectiveness of aid delivery (quality), or more aid (quantity). Quality improvements could be important in humanitarian terms, as the U.S. is the single largest provider of bilateral development aid, giving roughly $30 billion/year. 2 We would guess that increasing the quantity of altruistically motivated (as opposed to merely self-interested) official development aid would be welfare-improving from a global perspective because we believe that altruistically motivated aid is likely to have larger net positive effects in recipient countries than costs for sending countries. However, we do not believe there is rigorous evidence on the impact of altruistically motivated government aid, and some prominent development scholars disagree that more official aid is likely to be strongly welfare-improving. 3

Were the U.S. to provide the same level of aid proportional to GNI as the United Kingdom, aid spending would rise to ~$90 billion/year.

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What could a new philanthropist do? Advocacy to improve or increase U.S. foreign aid could take a number of forms, including:

Think tank-style research and outreach (e.g. the Center for Global Development)
Improving the amount or kind of media coverage of development or aid issues
Media-savvy mass outreach and lobbying efforts
Grassroots organizing
Co-funding an international aid organization to attract funding from governments (e.g. the Gates Foundation’s funding for GAVI and the Global Fund)

Specific philanthropic opportunities might range from general support for one or more of these approaches or organizations...to specific programmatic support for work on a particular proposed reform (e.g. think tank work on additional funding for electricity infrastructure in Africa, grassroots organizing to support the Global Fund replenishment).

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