Does Giving Money to Well-Fed and Vaccinated Scholars at Brookings Help Poor Countries?

To some observers, it's a scandal that funders worried about conditions in desperately poor countries so often write large checks to institutions located in the United States and, especially, in the affluent environs of Washington, DC. 

Just a few months ago, the Gates Foundation was zinged for directing the bulk of its giving for agriculture to rich countries. Said one of the foundation's critics: "we were amazed that they seem to want to fight hunger in the south by giving money to organizations in the north.” 

That critique was on our minds when we noticed that the Hewlett Foundation's Global Development and Population program made a grant late last year to the Brookings Institution for $1.45 million. 

The funds will support the institution’s research and policy work on global aid and development, African economic growth, and inclusive growth for development. The first leg of research supporting global aid and development policy will focus on the MDG’s Post-2015 agenda. The second leg will focus on African development in countries that are already experiencing substantial economic growth and the final leg of the research concerning global aid will focus on the role of global institutions.

This is just the latest grant to Brookings from Hewlett's global program. All told, that arm of the foundation has given the think tank over $7 million since 2011. The number is even bigger if you go further back in time. 

So are we ready to jump on the bandwagon of critics who bash funders for giving money to support well-fed and vaccinated people sitting in air conditioned offices in the global north? Nope, at least not in this case. 

That's because we get the importance of what the folks at Brookings are doing—namely, trying to convince other elites in Washington and beyond to make better policies affecting the global south, including putting up more money for development aid.

Sorry, but giving money to an advocacy outfit in Lagos isn't the way you win that kind of argument. 

There's a big United Nations conference on this topic coming up in July, which will help sharpen a new set of development goals. So now's a great time to be investing in this kind of high-level work. Brookings people are closely involved in trying to influence the conference outcomes, particularly Homi Kharas, a former World Bank top official who's written extensively on how to take on global poverty. 

Hewlett also is a big supporter of the Center for Global Development, and that grantmaking, too, strikes us as money well spent, as we argued early last year.

Overall, supporting think tanks is a great way to leverage funds to improve the life chances of the world's poorest people by influencing a range of policies that affect those folks. 

Related: More Bang for the Wonk: How the Center for Global Development Leverages Donor Dollars