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Whos best at helping the global poor? Developing countries weigh in
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A recent study questioned policymakers about which aid providers are most effective at improving developing countries. Compared to their NGO peers, donor countries like the U.S. are underperforming. - photo by Daniel Bendtsen
The proliferation of data analytics has given the world a greater capacity to measure the impact that the United Nations and other groups can have eradicating extreme poverty.

That's especially important in the 21st century, where international aid has become much more focused on big-picture issues. Donors have evolved from providing direct service to prioritizing strong institutions that improve economic vitality.

But statistics without context can be dangerous, putting development masterminds in New York City offices at risk of being out of touch with realities on the ground.

Which is why AidData an American academic collaboration took a different approach: Its researchers asked over 6,000 policymakers in developing countries about the effects that different organizations' projects have had.

The key question: Who punches above and below their weight?

AidData findings showed that it's intergovernmental organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that get the most value for their money. Of the top 10 most effective programs, seven were either development banks or other financial institutions like the IMF.

In contrast, individual nations fared much worse. Of the 28 countries whose aid programs were part of the study, 18 fell short of their predicted influence. U.S. aid performed almost exactly as expected.

According to Brad Parks, co-executive director of AidData, "supranational institutions are often seen as honest brokers providing independent and credible policy advice, whereas bilateral aid agencies are subject to the geostrategic or commercial interests of the national governments that control them."

That might explain why the donor countries that got the most bang for their buck (e.g. Luxembourg, Taiwan, New Zealand) have limited geopolitical influence.

China has been criticized by the West for supporting corrupt or authoritarian regimes with aid money. That's a notion that AidData's evidence didn't support, but AidData has previously found that China tends to back countries that align with its voting in the U.N. General Assembly perhaps a reason why China's aid money performed poorly in AidData's most recent survey.

The World Bank, which deals out the most money, was also a top-performing donor. According to Devex, the World Bank has increased lending in the last few years based on a "results-driven" agenda called Program-for-Results. In 2013, the World Bank cut $400 million in overhead, a move that frustrated employees but streamlined its operations.

Yet the highest-rated donor of the bunch was neither a country or bank. Instead, the top honors went to the GAVI Alliance, a partnership of the World Health Organization, UNICEF and others that works to expand vaccination in the developing world.

A part of the GAVI Alliance's "agenda-setting influence" comes from its strong focus on policy: To qualify for funding, countries must provide self-assessments of vaccines needs and contribute to funding.