Samantha Custer

Director of Policy Analysis

Policy Analysis

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Samantha is the Director of Policy Analysis at AidData. She leads a 16-person Policy Analysis Unit which produces data, tools, and analysis for governments and organizations to increase the effectiveness of their development cooperation and public diplomacy efforts. In this role, Samantha has published research studies in partnership with the Asia Society Policy Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the World Bank, and the governments of Denmark, Germany, and the United States, among others. Prior to AidData, Samantha researched open data movements and citizen feedback initiatives with the World Bank, co-taught a class on US national security with former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, directed multilingual education programs and consulting services for 13 countries in East Asia as the Director of Language, Education, and Development for SIL International, and worked with UNESCO to help coordinate the advocacy efforts of their Asia Multilingual Education Working Group.

M.Sc. (Distinction), Foreign Service, Georgetown University

M.P.P., Georgetown University

Certificate in Indonesian Language, University of Indonesia

B.S., International Business, Grove City College

Samantha Custer leads AidData’s Policy Analysis Unit to produce rigorous analysis of development investments and results, generate new evidence on the use and impact of open data, and leverage surveys to learn from the experiences of decision-makers in low- and middle-income countries regarding the impact of external money and ideas on domestic policy reforms.

Samantha oversees AidData’s Listening to Leaders program, leveraging a 55,000-strong sampling frame to learn from the experiences, perceptions and priorities of decision-makers in 140 countries. Her analysis focuses on understanding in-country demand for and uptake of various types of data, evidence, and policy advice from both domestic and external sources, capturing feedback from in-country decision-makers on development problems and priorities, and providing donors, international organizations, NGOs, and think tanks with a means of analyzing their influence and performance among key target audiences.

Samantha directs AidData’s Transparent Development Footprint program, an effort to produce and analyze the most comprehensive set of data available on the overseas development investments of South-South Cooperation providers such as China and Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Her analysis focuses on examining the contributions and influence of these non-traditional donors with other countries. Samantha also spearheads AidData’s work to quantify the scope, distribution, and downstream impacts of China’s public diplomacy efforts to sway pubic perception and leader behavior.

Finally, Samantha oversees AidData’s Sustainable Development Intelligence program to track all-source financing to achieve the SDGs and leverage more granular data to help governments and organizations better target resources to vulnerable groups and communities. Together with partners in Colombia, Ivory Coast, Uganda, and Zambia, her team produces diagnostic tools and analysis that national and local leaders use to resource and monitor progress against the SDGs.


Political Economy of Reform, Chinese Public Diplomacy, Chinese Official Finance, Aid Targeting, Aid Effectiveness, Sustainable Development Goals, Citizen and Client Feedback, Data Use and Evidence-Informed Policymaking, Performance Evaluations