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Overview

Oxfam America is advocating for reforms of US foreign aid to make aid more supportive of the development priorities of effective governments and citizens. One challenge inherent in this approach is how to reconcile “letting countries lead” with the very low capacity to manage development often prevalent in many countries receiving aid. This is where aid for capacity building comes in.

Through our field research, Oxfam America saw firsthand some of the striking ways in which US support helped governments do their jobs better and helped citizen groups hold their governments accountable. We also learned about many of the shortcomings with US support for capacity building: how the US foreign aid system tends to be too supply driven, overrelies on a flawed contractor model, and underutilizes country systems. What reforms could help US aid for capacity building overcome these shortcomings? To answer this question, Oxfam convened a discussion in Washington, DC, in March 2010 with representatives from US agencies, Congress, policy think tanks, contractors, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as well as voices from recipient countries. 

The first section of this policy brief describes the importance of capacity building in supporting country ownership. The second section briefly discusses how the US performs with respect to aid for capacity building. Sections three through five present the main issues we learned from our conversations with aid recipients  and US aid professionals in recipient countries. We close by presenting ideas for reform voiced at our Washington discussion with policymakers. 

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