Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity




women working in Africa
July 20, 2015

Advancing a Gender-Based Development Agenda

The same ideals that guided America’s earliest women of courage now lead our country into the world to combat the dehumanization of women in every form. We will not accept that women and girls are sold into modern-day slavery. We will not accept that women and girls are denied an education. We will not accept so-called honor killings, and we’ll do everything that we can to end forced early marriages. And we will work to improve health-care opportunities for all women so that they can help to build a more hopeful future for themselves and for their own children.

July 20, 2015

Modernizing US Migration Policy for Domestic and Development Gains

US development policy was built for a world that no longer exists. When the US Agency for International Development (USAID) was created in 1961, foreign aid was by far the most important flow of resources to developing countries. Today, aid is a relative sideshow. International migrants send roughly four times more money home to developing countries (close to $500 billion per year) than all donors disburse in global aid (roughly $130 billion per year). Remittances sent from the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean ($32 billion per year) are more than five times the combined US economic and military assistance to the same countries (less than $6 billion per year). Individuals earn much more in the United States than in their home countries, and they develop valuable skills through migration, often transmitting useful ideas and technologies back to their home countries.

July 20, 2015

Taking the Lead on Trade and Development

The United States is not using trade as effectively as it might to promote development. The executive and legislative branches of the US government have long recognized that trade can be an important tool to help poorer countries generate resources, create jobs, and reduce poverty. They also recognize that growth in developing countries contributes to global prosperity and growing markets for US exporters as well. Despite that, the few significant US trade barriers that remain often target agricultural and labor-intensive products in which developing countries have a comparative advantage.

July 20, 2015

Shifting the Foreign Aid Paradigm — Paying for Outcomes

While global development is about much more than aid, US foreign assistance is, and will remain, one of the most visible tools for US development policy in many countries. The US government spends less than 1 percent of its annual budget — about $23 billion — on nonmilitary foreign assistance across the globe. These programs have consistently come under fire for failing to achieve measurable and sustainable results, ignoring local priorities and contexts, perpetuating bureaucratic inefficiencies and inflexibility, and repeating mistakes over time. A paradigm shift within US aid agencies is needed. In this brief, we outline concrete proposals that would address many of the traditional shortcomings of US foreign aid approaches.

July 20, 2015

Protecting Tropical Forests, Global Prosperity, and Climatic Stability

Climate change is a threat not only to prosperity in the United States but also to national security, foreign policy, and development objectives throughout the world. Hurricane Sandy served as a reminder of the destruction to life and property from extreme weather events, which are likely to become more frequent and severe. Likewise, extended drought in the Southwest illustrates how climate change could affect agriculture, energy, recreation, and other major sectors of the US economy. The implications of climate change for the development prospects of poor countries are even worse. Lacking infrastructure, financial assets, insurance mechanisms, or strong institutions to cushion the impacts, developing societies remain highly vulnerable to natural disasters, including those resulting from increasingly irregular climatic conditions. The poorest households are most vulnerable — their houses often perch on steep, landslide-prone hillsides around cities or in coastal floodplains, and smallholder farmers lack irrigation and depend on increasingly erratic seasonal rains.

July 20, 2015

Realizing the Power of Multilateralism in US Development Policy

US leadership in multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and regional development banks is flagging. These institutions, rated as some of the most effective development actors globally, provide clear advantages to the United States in terms of geostrategic interests, cost-effectiveness, and results on the ground. Restoring US leadership in institutions like the World Bank will mean giving a greater priority to MDB funding, which today accounts for less than 10 percent of the total US foreign assistance budget and less than 0.1 percent of the total federal budget. Prioritizing multilateral assistance in an era of flat or declining foreign assistance budgets will necessarily mean some reallocation from other pots of foreign assistance money, as well as an effort to address the structural impediments to considering reallocations.

July 20, 2015

Bringing US Development Finance into the 21st Century

The future of development policy is in development finance. Developing countries need aid less and less as their incomes rise and economies grow. What they need now is private investment and finance. US development policy, however, has failed to bring its development finance tools in line with this reality. Related US efforts have not been deployed in an efficient or strategic manner because authorities are outdated, staff resources are insufficient, and tools are dispersed across multiple agencies.

Other players are doing more. Well-established European development finance institutions (DFIs) are providing integrated services for businesses, and these services cover debt and equity financing, risk mitigation, and technical assistance. Moreover, emerging-market actors — including China, India, Brazil, and Malaysia — have dramatically increased financing activities in developing regions such as Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

July 20, 2015

Powering Up US Policy to Promote Energy Access

As late as 1930, only 1 in 10 rural Americans had access to electricity. In subsequent years, rapidly increasing power generation and growing the electrical grid across the country became major pillars of the American battle against domestic poverty and a foundation for decades of economic growth and wealth creation. Today, energy access is universal in the United States. Reliable and affordable electricity is considered a basic necessity of life, an indispensable input to almost every aspect of modern living.

That same transformation is possible today in large parts of the developing world, where lack of access to modern energy harms quality of life and constrains economic growth. A concerted policy effort by the United States could help unleash tremendous human and market potential around the world. Pushing to promote electricity generation and access could significantly contribute to doing good in developing countries — and doing well for the United States.

The Role of Identification in the Post-2015 Development Agenda
July 1, 2015

The Role of Identification in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

The post-2015 development agenda is being shaped as we speak. The role of identification and its importance to development outcomes places it within the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda — specifically as one of the proposed SDG targets (#16.9), but also as a key enabler of the efficacy of many other SDG targets. Although there is no one model for providing legal identity, this SDG would urge states to ensure that all have free or low-cost access to widely accepted, robust identity credentials.

Mariana Dahan and Alan Gelb
July 1, 2015

Strengthening the Addis Accord

There are 20 pages covering the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. And while they are inevitably bubble-wrapped in diplo-speak and hat-tipping, there is a solid package of proposals nestled within. They cover domestic public finance, private finance, international public finance, trade, debt, technology, data and systemic issues. Amongst many other things, the Agenda calls for more tax and better tax (less regressive, more focused on pollution and tobacco). And it is long and specific on base erosion, tax evasion and competition and tax cooperation. It calls for financial inclusion and cheaper remittances. The draft discusses blended finance and a larger role for market-based instruments to support infrastructure rollout, as well as a new measure of “Total Official Support for Sustainable Development.” It calls for Multilateral Development Bank reform including new graduation criteria and scaling up. And it suggests a global compact to guarantee a universal package of basic social services and a second compact covering infrastructure. Finally, the draft has a good section on technology including the need for public finance and flexibility on intellectual property rights.

Finding Cash for Infrastructure in Addis: Blending, Lending, and Guarantees in Finance for Development
June 19, 2015

Finding Cash for Infrastructure in Addis: Blending, Lending and Guarantees in Finance for Development

The total scale of incremental investment requirements in infrastructure in developing countries has been estimated at around USD 1 trillion a year, with a range of related studies suggesting numbers between $815 billion to $1.3 trillion. While all such numbers are open to considerable debate, and were not designed to measure the cost of delivering the specific SDG infrastructure targets, they suggest the likely scale of the financing challenge for an SDG agenda which includes universal coverage to adequate housing, water, sanitation, modern energy and communications technologies. 

Indonesia's Missing Millions: Erasing Discrimination in Birth Certification in Indonesia
June 16, 2015

Indonesia’s Missing Millions: Erasing Discrimination in Birth Certification in Indonesia

Indonesia’s rate of birth registration is imprecisely measured but is low, especially among the poorer, rural, population. At the same time, the country has developed a system of population registration with wide, if not universal, coverage. In addition, under current regulations that link legal recognition of paternity to the existence of a legal marriage, many children can only receive a birth certificate with the name of the mother. Such a credential is widely seen as less than desirable, creating a situation where children are discriminated against on the basis of the marital status of their parents.

Cate Sumner
Old-World Humanitarianism Faces New-World Challenges
June 16, 2015

Old-World Humanitarianism Faces New-World Challenges

In fact refugees and victims of natural disasters account for such a small fraction of the world population, less than half a percent. There is no excuse for not providing adequate timely funding for disasters whose numbers if not locations are relatively predictable. The costs are manageable, or at least they are a fraction of, say, the costs of ending poverty or combating climate change. This is at the easier end of world problems. And therefore fashioning the political will to act in a timely and effective way should be possible.

Mark Malloch Brown