News: International Aid and Haiti: One Success Story!

Imagine that you are put in charge of conducting a training program to enhance the skills of civil servants in a developing country, and within less than a year you see those participants putting that knowledge into practice at a level that is presentable to Nobel laureates. This is the experience I went through in Haiti in 2016 and 2017 through two independently planned and financed interventions. This was somehow a coincidence and comes with important lessons that can enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of similar programs elsewhere.

Better governance has been targeted by many donor institutions as an alternative or a complement to traditional “brick and mortar” aid. The outcomes are often difficult to measure in the short-term and there has been a range of criticism on the actual effectiveness of interventions such as training programs and short-term technical advisory missions. Haiti is a country in need of international aid and, at the same time, full of controversies around its effectiveness. Despite the discouraging background, USAID and Global Affairs Canada initiated two independent projects that resulted in outcomes for the country far greater than what is usually hoped for from similar projects in other countries.

USAID financed the implementation of four training programs in the area of cost-benefit analysis in 2016, training more than 60 civil servants from project analysis units. This was done not only in collaboration with, but directly managed by representatives from key stakeholders in the country including two of the local universities. The project on its own is considered a great success, one of the few of such programs in Haiti that was successful in gathering the attention of all relevant public institutions to contribute and participate.

I had the opportunity to witness another consequential and tangible benefit of this program when combined with an activity sponsored independently by Global Affairs Canada, which is called Haiti Priorise and was implemented by Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC).

Haiti Priorise was the second time CCC has implemented a project of such nature. The process is simple yet effective, it starts with recruiting local and international economists to conduct cost-benefit analysis of development projects in a range of sectors. Then a conference is organized to assess the quality of these studies and later share a subset with government and donor institutions, something like a menu of best interventions. The first one was done during 2015 and 2016 in Bangladesh.

The timing of Haiti Priorise enabled the alumni of USAID courses to take part and perform a significant share of these studies. This rarely happens with other training programs, where trainees get the chance to practice what they’ve learned on an actual project and then present it in front of a panel that includes a nobel laureate.

The earlier experience in Bangladesh had none of the studies conducted by individuals in charge of identifying, budgeting, appraising, implementing, or evaluating public investments in the government. However in Haiti, 14 out of 18 local researchers who presented their studies were civil servants who have gone through the USAID courses. These individuals did not only get a chance to practice what they learned, but also took the Haiti Priorise to the reality of public investment management as it happens in Haiti.

With such a great synergy, it seems ideal for future such interventions to combine these models: training civil servants, and then asking them to participate in a conference of such nature. The effectiveness of both programs increases significantly beyond what can be expected from each of these alone. It is however important to mention the factors that were crucial to the success of these programs on their own, the “oil” that is needed to ensure smooth operation:

  • USAID training programs
    • The logistics and participant selection was conducted by a steering committee with members from the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Planning and External Cooperation, Center for Public Financial Reform, and two of the local universities. Consultants reported to this committee instead of USAID.
    • The programs were hosted and their quality was certified by the local universities.
    • Throughout the first four programs, the share of contribution from local faculty members increased from 10% to 60%.
  • CCC Haiti Priorise (funded by GAC)
    • Payments made for each study.
    • A simplified, yet flexible framework was in place, in which the studies must primarily report a benefit-cost ratio.
    • Use of notable local and international experts as reviewers and member of the final committee including Nobel laureates.
    • Engagement with donors and government offices.

In addition, the link between the two programs only happened because the Ministry of Planning coordinated and supported the participation of alumni in this conference, which requires providing the civil servants with paid days off their office duties.