Citizen-led development is yielding results

As published in the Financial Times on February 1, 2014.

Sir, William Easterly (“Western vanities that do little to help the world’s poor”, January 25) ignores the reductions in poverty that targeted official aid, foundation grants and individual philanthropy are producing. In many countries, despite Mr Easterly’s hopes, economic growth is not lifting the very poor out of their misery. Direct interventions at community levels, especially when led by local civil society organisations, are, by contrast, improving lives.

Innovation in foreign assistance and philanthropy is key and it is happening. For example, from 2010 through 2012 the Partnership for Transparency Fund (PTF) received $1.4m from the World Bank and £2m from UK Aid (Dfid) that supported 116 individual projects administered by PTF in more than 30 developing countries. In most cases, PTF made grants of no larger than $30,000 to support local civil society projects that had specific goals to reduce corruption in health, education, rule of law and other areas. An independent evaluation for the World Bank and Dfid in mid-2013 found that more than 80 per cent of the projects met their objectives and tens of thousands of very poor families benefited.

In each PTF-supported project the small cash grant was accompanied by expert advice to assist the grantees to develop effective implementation plans. The advice was provided free by more than 50 volunteers – all retired World Bank and Asian Development Bank officials. Citizen-led development to ensure the extremely poor in many communities across the globe can receive state benefits – food rations, basic social security, free healthcare, access to free schools, without being forced to pay bribes and without being cheated by lowly government officials – is yielding tremendous results.

Programmes like this need to be scaled up. Unfortunately, too many critics of foreign assistance, like Mr Easterly, are insufficiently informed on the rising level of citizen-led demands for good governance and the urgency of supporting community-based civil society with foreign funding. They are uninformed about the successes, in terms of supporting sustainable and replicable projects that models, such as those pioneered by PTF, are having.

Frank Vogl, Vice Chairman, The Partnership for Transparency Fund, Washington, DC, US