The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have set ambitious targets to eradicate poverty and advance development by 2030. Paying for these ambitions is steep—shifting from mobilizing billions to mobilizing trillions. Recognizing that foreign assistance cannot be the sole source to finance these goals, the 2015 Addis Ababa Financing for Development Conference (and the follow up reviews) have recognized and encouraged the use of different resource streams to meet the SDGs. Central to achieving these ends are private resources, whether in the form of direct financing, co-financing, blended financing, or a host of other innovative structures. Private resources are even more critical given the fact that preliminary figures for 2017 Official Development Assistance (ODA) show that aid has flatlined.
Ensuring sufficient resources to finance the SDGs—turning those billions into trillions—will mean not only mining all potential resources but also enabling these financial streams to work together to best leverage their respective added value. What is the best way, for example, to deploy public money to catalyze larger private sector investment? What financial streams and instruments work best for a particular purpose or outcome? And to what extent are public resources actually mobilizing private investments?
Measuring Development Finance
To answer the last question: Work to establish a standard to measure the amounts of private resources mobilized by public money has been underway for a few years by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC). The latest survey shows that $81.1 billion in private flows were mobilized by official development finance between 2012 and 2015 through five different kinds of instruments. The principal mechanism is guarantees, representing 44 percent of the total mobilized for this period. Multilateral institutions mobilized two-thirds of the total, with bilateral donors accounting for the remaining 36 percent. Among the bilaterals, the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is the largest, with most of its financial portfolio being guarantees. Not included in this survey, however, is China and others which are not part of the OECD survey process.
The plan is now to continue to work on the survey methodology and include more instruments in future surveys. Collection and publication of this information will be through the regular OECD DAC Credit Reporting Service (CRS) process. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, although the information is collected on a project level basis, publication is not. The information published by the OECD DAC under CRS is—at best—two years old by the time of publication. Both of these factors severely limit the usefulness of this data.
the BUILD Act
Already approved by the House and pending before the Senate is legislation to create a new U.S. development finance institution—the Better Utilization of Investments Leading to Development (BUILD) Act of 2018. At its core, the BUILD Act will combine OPIC and some development finance work at USAID and add new authorities and higher contingent liability to allow the U.S. to more effectively tap into private resources to further U.S. development goals.
One of the foundations of U.S. aid effectiveness is the principle of transparency. Publication of timely, open, comprehensive, and comparative information provides policymakers, implementers, taxpayers, partner countries, and their citizens with current data about what is being planned and spent and for what purpose and for what result. This benefits the planning, implementation, and evaluation processes. Aid transparency underpins U.S. foreign assistance—as initiated by the U.S. joining the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) in 2011 and establish in law in 2017 by the Foreign Aid Transparency and Accountability (FATAA).
Project Level Data
Building on this foundation, both the House and the Senate versions of the BUILD ACT require (to differing degrees) timely publication of data related to investments. Project level information, as required by the stronger provision in the Senate bill, should be the norm, and is, in fact, the law for reporting on U.S. foreign assistance under FATAA and is central to IATI. Such transparency allows for a number of good outcomes, including the ability both to maximize cooperation and to leverage resources and delivery. It is only with this level of granularity that providers of development assistance—whether it be public, private, or a blend of the two—can see the whole picture and make the smartest decisions about what kind of money can best fit the purpose.