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The paradox of aid: lessons from Afghanistan

Time (GMT +00) 12:45 14:15
Hero image description: Road Network Development Investment Program in Afghanistan Image credit:Asian Development Bank Image license:CC-BY-NC-ND


Alex Thier @Thieristan - Executive Director, Overseas Development Institute


Dr. Nematullah Bizhan @Nematbizhan - Research Fellow, Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University and former Director General of Budget, Ministry of Finance, Afghanistan

Pablo Yanguas @PabloYanguas - Research Fellow, Effective States and Inclusive Development (ESID) research centre, University of Manchester

Ashley Jackson @a_a_jackson - Research Associate, Overseas Development Institute


“How can it be that, after the US appropriated more than $100 billion in aid to Afghanistan, its government remains fragile and the country insecure?”1

Supporting so called ‘fragile states’ to build capacity and exit fragility is one of the most pressing challenges for the world today. Soon most of the world’s poorest people will be left behind in countries affected by conflict. In response, the share of aid to fragile states is growing. But is more aid the right answer?

This event explores the case of Afghanistan. While western economies built states and the social contract around tax, modern Afghanistan has been built around aid. Although intended to support effective state-building, the way aid has been delivered has arguably distorted the state and stunted the longer-term development of a social contract: a ‘paradoxical outcome’.2

This event, which forms part of a series of discussions on ‘new directions in public finance’, explores how external actors can effectively support state-building in fragile states. Drawing on Dr Nematullah Bizhan’s personal experience and extensive research, it discusses how future progress in conflict or post-conflict states requires a fundamental re-think of the way aid can support rather than hinder state building, and considers the crucial role of revenue and taxation.

Networking lunch will be served from 12:00 for those attending in person. The public event will run from 12:45-14:15.

1/ Quote from S. Frederick Starr in his review of ‘Aid Paradoxes in Afghanistan’.2/ Bizhan, 2017 'Aid Paradoxes in Afghanistan: Building and Undermining the State'


Alex Thier is the Executive Director of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). Prior to joining ODI in January 2017, he was a senior official at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and founder of Triple Helix, a US-based consultancy firm which he founded to increase access to off-grid, renewable energy in Africa and Asia. In his role as Chief of Policy, Planning, and Learning at USAID, he represented the US in key international development fora, including on Financing for Development and the Sustainable Development Goals. As Assistant to the Administrator for Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, he managed USAID’s multibillion dollar assistance programme, and more than 1000 staff in Washington, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region. Alex also played a leadership role in the creation of several major international initiatives, including the Vision to End Extreme Poverty, the Sustainable Development Investment Partnership, the Addis Tax Initiative, the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, and the first ever US–China agreement on global development cooperation. 

Dr. Nematullah Bizhan is a Research Fellow at the Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government where he studies the role of identities and networks in establishing state legitimacy and effectiveness in fragile and conflict-affected societies. He is also working with the Commission on State Fragility, Growth and Development, a joint initiative of the Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government and the London School of Economics (LSE). Nematullah is also a Senior Research Associate with Oxford University's Global Economic Governance Program, a Visiting Fellow at Australian National University's Crawford School of Public Policy and the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy. He has served as Afghanistan’s Youth Deputy Minister; Founding Director General for Policy and Monitoring of Afghanistan National Development Strategy; head of the Secretariat for the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board; and Director General of Budget at the Ministry of Finance.

Dr. Pablo Yanguas is Research Fellow at the Effective States and Inclusive Development (ESID) research centre at the University of Manchester, where he leads research on public sector reform and political-economy analysis. He is also currently working as PEA and Research Adviser to DFID’s Strengthening Action Against Corruption (STAAC) Programme in Ghana. 

Ashley Jackson is a researcher, consultant and writer with extensive experience in conflict and complex emergencies. She is currently a Research Associate in the Humanitarian Policy Group at ODI, where her primary research focus is on conflict mediation and negotiating with armed groups and insurgencies. She has worked and provides strategic advice to the UN, Red Cross and various NGOs, with published work in various academic and media outlets and she has been widely quoted by the press, including Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera, the New York Times and others. She has conducted dialogue with and researched some 27 armed factions across 13 countries, including research with the Afghan Taliban, Al-Shabaab, various Syrian factions, Hamas and others.  Additionally, she is currently conducting research on strongmen and patrimonialism in Afghanistan as well as the UN's role in making and sustaining peace.  

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