Making aid work

Ensure US poverty-reducing aid is led and designed by the people who need it most.

What's wrong

We can't afford to let Congress cut lifesaving foreign assistance—it's working. But 60 years of foreign aid also shows that international donors alone cannot fix the problems of developing countries.

Making it right

With a small investment from the US government, US foreign aid programs can support local leaders as they take action to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty.

Stories & updates


Myths about foreign aid

Whether training local farmers to increase their crop production or helping people rebuild after a natural disaster, most Americans would agree that the aim of US foreign assistance should be to help people help themselves.

How much do we really spend on foreign aid

If you think about 25 percent of the US federal budget, you're like most Americans.

But the reality is that poverty-focused development aid is currently less than 1 percent of the US federal budget, and cutting it will have virtually no effect on reducing our nation's budget problems.

Even if development aid is a small percentage of the US federal budget, in terms of absolute dollars, the US is still the largest donor of official development assistance around the world. So these aid dollars must still be spent in the right ways.

How is foreign aid put to work?

Whether helping local farmers increase their crop production or supporting neighbors to rebuild after a natural disaster, few Americans would disagree that the aim of US foreign assistance must be to help people help themselves.

But, too often, US foreign aid is slow, bureaucratic, politically driven, and implemented from the top down. It seems to have lost sight of the real objective—the actual needs of people who are poor.

Oxfam advocates with decision makers in Washington, DC, to improve the way the US government delivers aid. For US foreign aid to be effective, who delivers it and how it is delivered matter. US approaches should build on the vast amount of enterprising and creative problem-solving skills that local leaders employ.

Because aid is not the solution to poverty.
People are.

Featured publications

  1. Research

    Foreign Aid 101: A quick and easy guide to understanding US foreign aid

    5th edition, published 29 October 2021

    3 things you may not know about US foreign aid:

    1. Americans vastly overestimate how much the United States spends on foreign aid.


    Surveys show that Americans think the US spends as much as 25 percent of the federal bud­get on foreign assistance - more than on Social Security or Medicare. But the reality is that just half of 1 percent of the US federal budget is devoted to poverty-focused foreign assistance, or $21.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2019.

    2. Development aid is not wasted by corrupt governments.

    The US does not directly provide most of its poverty-reducing aid to foreign governments, but instead through US-based government contractors and NGOs. The US government has checks in place to minimize the risk of fraud and abuse and if done right, foreign assistance can actually push local institutions (foreign government agencies, private sector firms, and local nonprofits) to do the right thing and increase accountability to both their citizens and US taxpayers.

    3. Americans spend more on sporting events and jewelry than the US government spends on poverty-reducing foreign assistance.

    The US government spends about $104.78 per American each year on development aid. Compare that to what Americans spend each year: $102.74 per person on Halloween celebrations, $169.58 per person on sporting events, and $236.20 per person on jewelry.

    Need we say more?

    Oxfam's Foreign Aid 101 is a quick and easy guide that dispels the common myths around US foreign aid to developing countries, answers some fundamental questions as to why the US provides it, and how it can be more effective.




    Foreign Aid 101 Cover Image
  2. Briefing paper

    Open the books on US Foreign Aid

    Government officials, entrepreneurs, and everyday citizens need more timely, detailed, and comparable information about where US foreign assistance resources are going. More US transparency enables leaders in countries receiving poverty-reducing aid to hold their governments accountable for how resources are invested on behalf of people living in poverty.

  3. Briefing paper

    A quiet renaissance in American aid

    Current US reform efforts intend to allow countries to lead in their own development. Oxfam's inquiry shows that local development leaders are noticing—and valuing the change. However, the US government must accelerate and deepen these reforms if it hopes to meet the expectations of people in developing countries.

    Click here to watch a recording of the report launch event, including remarks by USAID Administrator, Dr. Rajiv Shah, and a panel discussion hosted by Kojo Nnamdi.

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