The effects of foreign aid and international donations can often feel distant and unknowable. However, a lot has been achieved through international charity, including the eradication of diseases and the lifting of billions out of extreme poverty.
People are often skeptical of foreign aid and international giving, perhaps because they have been aware of problems like global poverty for a long time and haven't observed much improvement. However, the lack of progress may not indicate that foreign aid doesn't work, but rather that there isn't enough of it. Foreign aid receives far less government funding than people think, at least in the United States. The funding that aid does receive is not always directed to the most effective interventions.
While not every single aid program works as intended, the widespread skepticism of aid isn't warranted. The truth is: foreign aid not only works, but is behind some of humanity's greatest successes. Foreign aid benefits all of us, but especially those in greatest need.
Despite being underfunded, a lot has been achieved by aid across the world. For example:
The 2019 U.S. foreign aid budget was $39.2 billion and individual Americans donated $22.97 billion to international charities in 2018. In relative terms, these are tiny amounts. Compare them to the median annual revenue of a Fortune 500 company ($5.6 billion USD) and the 2019 GDP of the U.S. ($21.43 trillion). Even the U.S.'s miniscule spending on foreign aid has helped us make great strides. Just think what we could achieve if we gave more, especially if we gave to the most effective programs!
Instead of pressuring governments to cut foreign aid spending, we should pressure them to be more transparent about their activities and impact, and to direct funds to the most effective programs. Just as we seek to fix problems that arise in domestic agencies instead of simply cutting their funding, we should seek to improve foreign aid, not end it.
You can help alleviate suffering around the world by donating to our recommended charities. Consider making a giving pledge and joining our worldwide community of like-minded people who are working to make the world a better place.
This post is part of an update of our "Myths About Charity" page. Multiple authors contributed.