Politics of Poverty

A Quiet Renaissance in American Aid

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How US reforms are making America a better partner in the fight against poverty

ren·ais·sance  (REN-nay-sahnce and Re-NAY-Sahnce)


a. A revival or rebirth of intellectual or artistic achievement and vigor.

b. The period of such a revival.


A couple of years ago, a number of new initiatives and reforms were introduced to change the model of how parts of the US government provide poverty-reducing aid to developing countries.

These reforms—the four Oxfam examined included Implementation and Procurement Reform (now called Local Solutions), Feed the Future, Country Development and Cooperation Strategies, the Millennium Challenge Corporation—all bring attention to country ownership of aid.

Photo: Rajendra Shaw / Oxfam



Ownership is the idea that countries, governments, and citizens,—not donors like the US—are the lead actors in development around the world.

So with these reforms in place, Oxfam set out to talk to people living and working in seven developing countries, leaders in recipient governments and civil society, to find out how they think the US is doing as a donor.

Oxfam surveyed 148 non-US government officials of the total 257 people who participated in in-depth interviews. The survey was not intended to be a statistically significant sample of development stakeholders; rather, Oxfam intended to capture a quick, but broad snapshot of how officials who are familiar with US foreign assistance witness changes in US practice.


Oxfam today will share that local development leaders are noticing—and valuing the change. Of the people Oxfam interviewed and surveyed last year, 83% said they see that the US government is a better donor than they were four to five years ago.

Those interviewed observe increased alignment with country priorities, more stakeholder engagement, and ultimately, more opportunities for local leaders to build partnerships with the US government that they didn’t have before.

Photo: Rebecca Blackwell / Oxfam America


Oxfam found that US reforms are helping the US government’s ability to work with partners in two important dimensions: 


The Power to Decide—Changes to US policy and practice are helping the US government to invest more aid in the things citizens and governments say they need and want.

Photo: Patrick Brown / Oxfam America





The Power to Execute—New policies allow the US to partner with local institutions in ways that strengthen them, support domestic accountability, and ultimately help citizens find long-term solutions that do not require US assistance.


Photo: Patrick Brown / Oxfam America




The policy changes have aroused opposition in Washington DC among those interests that want to protect the status quo. So now is the time for the US government to accelerate and deepen these reforms if it hopes to meet the expectations of people in developing countries.

Despite the promise of increasing the impact of US assistance through country and local ownership, respondents remain unsure of the future direction of US policy reforms.

Respondents in Oxfam’s interviews overwhelmingly wanted to know…

Will the US government continue down the same path? 

Read the report summary and Oxfam’s recommendations here

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