Foreign aid and private philanthropy
American foreign aid can be divided into government assistance and private philanthropy. In the United States, individual citizens give away almost as much money to impoverished regions of the world as our government does.
According to the OECD, foreign aid from the US government in 2011 totaled $31 billion. Private philanthropy is not precisely measured, but estimates from Wikipedia range from $10 to $30 billion, excluding remittances from migrant workers and other money flows abroad that would not be considered “aid”.
The folks at The World Bank have developed a rather limited online tool called AidFlows to track foreign aid by donor, beneficiary, or specific institution. The US government spent 0.2% of the Gross National Income (GNI) on foreign aid in 2011; the average for OECD countries (the world’s 34 most highly developed nations) that year was 0.31% of GNI. The UK gave 0.53% and Sweden gave just over 1% of GNI. As a percentage of the GNI, American government aid is not particularly generous, but our large size increases our impact, as does the generosity of our private sector. One other interesting point: the World Bank classifies the majority of US government aid as technical or project assistance; humanitarian aid represents less than 20% of the total.
The Children’s Prize offers $1 million to the winner of our contest to save the lives of children age 5 and under. The contest may be won by domestic or international proposals. It is a humanitarian effort that seems small compared with the billions in US foreign aid, but its peer-to-peer architecture is intended to foster a more modern and direct form of philanthropy that, by empowering donors and recipients alike, may be able to nudge these figures upward over time.