The Challenge of Non-DAC Donors

Foreign Aid, and donor behavior and aid effectiveness in particular, have become big questions in the field of international relations. In addition to the much-studied “established donors”—think traditional powers like the U.S. and Canada, most of Europe, and Japan and Australia—researchers and policymakers are now increasingly looking into “non-traditional,” “non-DAC,” and “emerging donors.”

DAC stands for the Development Assistance Committee, which collects data on and helps study and coordinate the OECD members’ aid activities; non-DAC donors are either not members of the OECD for economic/political reasons or are members with small aid programs. Countries falling into this group span both the globe and the political spectrum, such as Middle Eastern donors like Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Kuwait; Latin American donors like Colombia, Mexico, and Chile; former communist states like the Czech Republic and Poland; South Africa; and also the BRICs—Brazil, India, China, and Russia.

For me, these donors are especially interesting because less is known about their activities. They are also further removed (some more than others) from both international aid norms and DAC members’ aid reforms—both of which are often questioned. However, because of that distance it can sometimes be difficult to find information on their agencies, policies, and the assistance itself. For example, while some make their information publicly assessable (i.e. the Czech Republic, who is a DAC observer) others release information with limited detail or information on only a small fraction of their aid. Perhaps the most popular example of the latter situation is China, who gives a huge amount of aid—especially to African countries—yet releases very little information. In these cases it’s harder to assemble a full picture of a country’s aid in total amount and in allocation, making it trickier to draw conclusions. Ironically, even in cases of greater transparency like Brazil, differences in aid definitions and accounting can still complicate that picture (see our blog on AidData:

Luckily, there are still ways to study these donors. As in most fields, approaching a lack of information from multiple sides can be more fruitful, such as by supplementing an aid agency’s incomplete data with information from other government sources, credible NGOs and scholars’ estimates, news outlets, and information from the aid recipients. Though these donors present more of a challenge to research, it only makes me more interested in learning about their behavior!


  1. Sneha Raghavan says:

    maybe looking at a specific type of aid- food aid, or education aid, or institutitional capacity building aid, will help you to observe non-DAC donor trends better. i have far less knowledge on this than you, clearly, but it just seems like DAC donors and non-DAC donors probably have different needs and interests, so maybe the way they give aid mirrors these needs an interests?