Who gets what and why — when it comes to foreign aid?

Priti Patel, UK International Development Secretary

We’re in the business of resource allocation. We use market design to ensure resources get to community projects that best meet the needs of their local area.

I’m always on the look-out for new ideas when it comes to resource allocation. For once, a typically boorish headline in the Sun on UK foreign aid got me thinking — who decides who gets what when it comes to these resources? The numbers are pretty big — around £13bn a year.

International development is not really an area I know much about, but I had a quick dig around.

In their own words, the Department for International Development’s mission is, ‘…to promote sustainable development and eliminate world poverty.’

I then had a quick look at the ten poorest countries in the world:

Going by DFID’s mission statement, you’d think we give the most to these countries. I googled the breakdown of the UK’s aid budget. Here’s what I found (numbers from 2015, when apparently we gave Syria £200m!!):

Clearly, there’s no match up between these two rankings. So something’s not adding up. Pakistan’s GDP per capita is $1,111. That’s over 2 and a half times the DRC’s. India’s is £4,679, which is over ten times.

If DFID was really interested in alleviating poverty wouldn’t there be a closer match between allocation of foreign aid and the poorest countries in the world? What other factors determine that allocation process? How transparent is that process? How accountable?

The US’s top recipient of aid? Israel, whose GDP per capita is 61 times that of the DRC.

Maybe I’m just late to the party on this one.


Dan Ebanks is CEO of Firesouls. Their tool the Social Value Exchange matches community projects with extra resources created during government procurement.