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W&M receives $25-million award for Center for Development Policy

New center poised to transform foreign assistance

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has selected William & Mary to lead a five-year award of up to $25-million to increase global aid transparency through the creation of the AidData Center for Development Policy. The Center will create geospatial data and tools to enable the global development community to more effectively target, monitor, and evaluate foreign aid.

It is the largest single financial award in W&M history, and part of USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network program which aims to establish institutional partnerships that will create and leverage a virtual network of leading experts to help the agency solve distinct global development challenges.

“I am very proud of William & Mary’s leadership in this important international endeavor,” said W&M Chancellor and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ’65. "AidData is fundamentally improving the way the U.S. development and defense communities track the distribution and impact of their overseas investments. The AidData Center for Development Policy at William & Mary will play a key role in ensuring that limited foreign assistance resources are put to more effective use.”

{{youtube:medium|8pEO0rGBG1Y, AidData: The next transformation. (Michael Tierney and Brad Parks discuss the future for AidData in light of its $25-million partnership agreement with USAID.)}}

The AidData Center for Development Policy will be headquartered at William & Mary's Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations in Williamsburg, Virginia. It will be a joint venture between William & Mary, Development Gateway, Brigham Young University (BYU), the University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) and ESRI, a GIS technology company.

“The Center will build a global network of geographers, health scientists, economists, political scientists, computer scientists and statisticians who are committed to helping USAID and other development agencies reduce the cost and increase the impact of their aid programs,” said Brad Parks, AidData's co-executive director. “The Center will also empower the intended beneficiaries of aid with the information needed to hold their own governments and development agencies accountable for results."

W&M President Taylor Reveley called the news “truly a game changer.”

“Our faculty is leading the way in aid policy, practice and research among U.S. universities,” Reveley said. “Mike Tierney, Brad Parks and their interdisciplinary team of faculty, staff and students have helped put the AidData initiative and William & Mary at the forefront of the aid transparency movement and the global development research community.”

What is AidData?

A collaborative initiative between William & Mary, Brigham Young University and Development Gateway, AidData has established itself as a global leader in the provision of reliable, timely and detailed information about foreign assistance projects.  It was formed in 2009 through the merger of two existing programs: Project-Level Aid (PLAID) and Accessible Information on Development Activities (AiDA).

Today, AidData is recognized as the largest public access database on project-level development finance in the world. The project tracks more than $5.5 trillion and one million development projects from 91 donor agencies.

Michael Tierney, co-director of the College's Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations (ITPIR), which helped establish and grow the AidData partnership, says transparency is vital to the future of development aid.

Tierney will serve as director of the new Center.

"U.S. citizens are happy to invest some of their taxpayer dollars in efforts to combat disease, poverty and environmental degradation," Tierney said. "They are not happy to see their money spent to prop up corrupt governments. Making aid transparent reduces opportunities for waste and corruption."

By developing new data collection and standardization systems, and creating innovative web-based tools that democratize access to the largest collection of development finance activities in the world, AidData makes it easier for governments, aid agencies, intended beneficiaries, civil society organizations, journalists and researchers to track the distribution and impact of aid.

{{youtube:medium|ftW_oxhySx4, AidData: The student perspective. (Four W&M students discuss their involvement with AidData.)}}

Stephen E. Hanson, vice-provost for international affairs, director of the Reves Center for International Studies and a member of the AidData Steering Committee, called the award from USAID “truly transformational.”

“Through our partnership with USAID in the years to come, we will engage students and faculty across William & Mary in collaborative work around the world to discover precisely how and when foreign aid can make a difference in the lives of ordinary people,” Hanson said.  “Today’s announcement marks a giant step forward in William & Mary’s emergence as a leading global liberal arts university.”

USAID administrator Rajiv Shah said the collaboration between his organization and the “top universities around the world…will recapture the legacy of science, technology and innovation as core drivers of development- as well as inspire and support the next generation of development leaders.”

“We hope to tap today’s brightest minds and focus ingenuity on global development challenges,” explained Shah.  “With the right ideas, we can reduce extreme poverty by more than 60 percent in just one generation.”

The impact on campus will be transformative as well, said Tierney.

“In addition to providing better data and evidence to policymakers who make decisions with far-reaching consequences, this award will dramatically increase our capacity to engage students and faculty in cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research geared toward solving real world problems,” he said. “The College will also train students and faculty in Africa, Latin America, and Asia to map and monitor the distribution and impact of aid in their own cities, provinces, towns, and villages. With USAID’s support, we will create new data, tools, and knowledge to help solve development problems.”

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