Justine Greening meets school children in Turkana, Kenya
The United Kingdom announced this week it is going to eliminate its aid to South Africa by 2015.
South Africa is one of the world’s ‘emerging’ — or BRICS — nations. The decision follows in the footsteps of Britain’s decision to wean India off UK aid in favor of promoting domestic development to take hold. The British government says it would rather refocus its energy toward investments in these nations.
South African officials, as well as some aid organizations, appear none too happy with this turn of events. Continue reading →
Measurement, in case you didn’t know it, is the new black for the aid and development community.
It’s true that innovation, as a buzzword anyway, hasn’t gone out of fashion yet and social entrepreneurship is still hot – despite the fact that few seem able to define it. But measurement is definitely this year’s favored wrap for the hip humanitarian.
Bill Gates’ annual letter this year was all about the need for better metrics and data in the fight against poverty and inequity. Bono, dutifully following suit at a recent TED talk, said he is actually sexually excited by data now and considers himself less just an anti-poverty activist and more of a factivist.
Measurement is it, fo shizzle! Nobody who wants to be anybody in fighting poverty and injustice talks about doing anything anymore if it can’t be measured.
Last week, at the Skoll World Forum in London, came more evidence of this trend. The Skoll Foundation and their gathering of social entrepreneurs helped launch yet another humanitarian yardstick – the Social Progress Index.
And who could argue against such a thing? Who wouldn’t want to be able to quantify the impact of an aid or development project?
The only problem is that it’s not that easy to actually measure this stuff – equality, opportunity, security, happiness and well-being.
“These are tough concepts to measure,” said Michael Green, a renowned economist in London who with Matthew Bishop, a journalist at the Economist magazine, is one of the leading proponents of philanthrocapitalism (which, like social enterprise, I also think is ill-defined … but that’s another story).
“We need a new way to measure social progress that is independent of economic indicators,” said Green, who with Bishop is proposing just such a new measurement tool with this new Social Progress Index. It’s still just an idea to test out, he said, but we’re clearly in need of a better yardstick for aid and development. Continue reading →
Locally, the focus of two leading humanitarian organizations is on advancing women’s rights and finding more effective ways to combine traditional aid and development strategies with a supposedly kinder, gentler and more socially responsive private sector.
It’s the Seattle approach – socially liberal and business friendly, if not economically conservative.
“We are compassionate, creative and outward looking,” Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said at Global Washington’s annual meeting last week. McGinn noted how at the World’s Fair in Seattle some 50 years ago, many predicted we would have flying cars and jet packs when, in fact, today we continue to have poverty, inequity and injustice — here and abroad.
“We care about that and are doing something about it,” he said. “And that’s what it really means to be a city of the future.”
Two meetings last week back up the mayor’s claims. (Sorry I’m a bit late, but I had a family emergency and this is a one-man news operation)
Global Washington, an organization dedicated to building up the region’s burgeoning humanitarian and social enterprise community, held its annual meeting with an opening keynote talk by Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, an activist and educator who is promoting women’s rights and childhood education in Afghanistan despite threats against her life.
Sakena Yacoobi, speaking at Global Washington
“I believe education is a key issue to transform life,” said Yacoobi, who described the many obstacles she has faced and what motivates her despite the risks. Women’s and girls’ rights are critical, she said: “Afghanistan will have peace when the women of Afghanistan are leaders.”Continue reading →
But humanitarians working ‘off the pitch’ under the oppressive regime offer some valuable lessons.
NOTE: A series of Seattle lectures on Myanmar/Burma featuring Partners Asia starts Sept. 22
Ancient Bagan in Burma-Myanmar
As the Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi starts her celebrated U.S. tour this week, the story line on the country variously known as Burma or Myanmar is that it is undergoing major democratic reforms.
Dissidents have been freed from prison, opposition politicians have been elected, some members of the previous military junta have been demoted and replaced by civilians, press censorship has been relaxed, labor unions are now allowed and, most recently, as Voice of America reported, Burma releases partial list of names trimmed from Blacklist.
So wait, is it Burma or Myanmar?
“We use both,” said Paula Bock, a former Seattle Times journalist who now devotes her time to working with the poor and disenfranchised in Burma-Myanmar through the Seattle-based organization Partners Asia.
“To make a real difference here, you have to learn how to get along. We work with everybody, on both sides of the border, and we don’t want to exclude or antagonize anyone. Burma, Myanmar — I’m happy to use whatever name it takes to get things done. “
Yeah, well, it’s lot more complicated than that.
This is a story about Partners Asia, and why I think their approach should be of interest to everyone in the aid and development community, but first I need to talk about me.
Tao Sheng Kwan-Gett
Paula Bock and girl in Burma-Myanmar
I had approached Bock, who I’ve known since the days when we were both regular newspaper hacks and the mainstream media was financially healthy, to ask about Burma-Myanmar, and about what her organization does there. As I learned more, it seemed to me they had an important lesson for the entire aid and development community. I’ll get to that in a second.
But writing about aid in Burma-Myanmar turned out to be difficult for me, in part because I knew so little about the place, the news out of Burma-Myanmar kept shifting – and also because Paula and her colleagues operate, uh, unofficially there.
The people they often work with, many of them refugees or troubled ethnic communities along the borders, also have to keep their collaboration away from official eyes.
Paula and her colleagues have to be careful and didn’t want me to use words like “covert” or “secretly,” preferring I describe what they do as “discreet” or “out of the spotlight.”
An interesting conversation took place in mid-July between Bill Easterly of NYU; Holden Karnofsky and Stephanie Wykstra of GiveWell; and an unnamed funder. Easterly and Karnofsky penned a pair of blog posts that shared some of the highlights of the conversation. It is interesting in terms of how the two sides perceived the conversation in light of their disagreement on whether or not to make recommendations based on academic research.
Easterly, who has emerged as one of the critics of the much lauded randomized control trial (RCT) explains his point of view at the start of the conversation.
As Angus Deaton has repeatedly emphasized, RCTs give an average result. Treatment effects vary a lot depending on the context. When we average over a lot of them it’s almost certain that we’re getting some negative treatment effects, even when the average is a positive and significant result. You want a safeguard against having one enormous beneficiary with everyone else losing. You want a safeguard against harming a lot of people unacceptably. Continue reading →
Paul Ryan’s addition to the Romney ticket catapults the election season forward. It also provides a bit more clarity on what a Romney presidency may look like.
While other reports will focus on Ryan’s affinity for Ayn Rand, P90X and the impact of his proposed budget on jobs and US economy, I am interested on what his arrival has to say about the Romney team’s plan for foreign aid.
I will try to take the information provided by statements and actions of each of the candidates to provide a comparison for the two on the foreign aid budget and programs.
Foreign Aid in Theory
In a Google+ Hangout that was done in conjunction with the State of the Union address this year, President Obama fielded a series of questions from people participating and via YouTube. One young man asked the President why the US should maintain its aid budget when there are people at home, such as returning veterans, who are struggling.
“We only spend about 1% of our budget on foreign aid, but it pays off in a lot of ways. If we are contributing to improving an economy in a country, if we are giving people an opportunity, if we are preventing a famine which results in a huge number of refugees, that potentially saves us from having to deal with some military crisis further down the road that could be more expensive.”
The Obama/Biden website makes no mention of aid or development.
We had the opportunity to hear Romney’s thoughts about foreign aid thanks to the fall Republican debates. He said in October:
Foreign aid has several elements. One of those elements is defense, is to make sure that we are able to have the defense resources we want in certain places of the world. That probably ought to fall under the Department of Defense budget rather than a foreign aid budget.
Part of it is humanitarian aid around the world. I happen to think it doesn’t make a lot of sense for us to borrow money from the Chinese to go give to another country for humanitarian aid. …
And finally there’s a portion of our foreign aid that allows us to carry out our activities in the world such as what’s happening in Pakistan where we’re taking – we’re supplying our troops in Afghanistan through Pakistan.
But let me tell you: We’re spending more on foreign aid than we ought to be spending. And Congressman Paul asked, is there a place we can cut the budget? Let me tell you where we cut the budget. Discretionary accounts you bring back to 2008 level. We … cut federal employment by at least 10 percent through attrition. And finally, we say to federal employees: You’re not going to make more money than the people in the private sector who are paying for you. We link their compensation.
Aid also does not make an appearance on the Romney website as well, but he does devote a sections on Africa and Latin America that emphasize trade.
Global demand for Africa’s natural resources will grow. Demographics indicate that by 2050, Africa’s population will double to two billion and one in four workers on the planet will be African. These trends, when coupled with robust economic growth, point to the emergence of stronger economic actors on the world stage and greater partnership opportunities for the United States. While Africa is changing, global competitors like China are taking advantage of these changes and are rapidly outmaneuvering the United States by making strategic inroads throughout the continent and gaining an economic and political advantage over the United States.
BottomLine: Obama has made it clear that he supports foreign aid. Romney has made statements opposing aid, but generally chooses to focus on trade and defense. The lack of inclusion of aid/development on both candidate websites indicates that both do not consider it to be a priority issue.
The Aid Budget
Obama release his FY 2013 budget proposal that includes $51.6 billion in discretionary funding for the State Department and USAID. Representing a 1.6% increase from the FY2012 budget.
Romney has made no real proposal with what he would do about the budget, but his new running mate provides some insight into what may come. The Ryan Plan calls for $40.905 billion in discretionary spending for FY2013.
USAID would fold the Development Assistance program into the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Ryan writes, “America’s experience with having two development assistance programs has shown that MCC’s model better reflects this principle when compared to DA. MCC’s emphasis on outputs rather than inputs needs to be the foundation of all U.S. foreign assistance programs.”
Funding to ‘peripheral foreign affairs institutions’ such as the Inter-American Foundation, the African Development Foundation, the East-West Center, the Asia Foundation, and the Center for Middle Eastern-Western Dialogue are to be cut for being ‘redundant.’ Feed the Future would be cut and disaster assistance funding would see a significant reduction. (Read all his suggestions here starting a pg 53)
BottomLine: Obama wants to maintain aid spending with small growth. Ryan wants to make deep cuts and consolidate/eliminate what he considers to be unnecessary programs and expenditures. That is followed by a modest pace of growth that appears to reflect inflation.
Obama’s strategy for Africa that he unveiled back in June places a significant emphasis on trade. The word ‘aid’ makes one appearance in the document and it is proceeded by the phrase “less reliance on.” The plan breaks down into what they call the four pillars of the US strategy towards Africa: (1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth, trade, and investment; (3) advance peace and security; and (4) promote opportunity and development.
Points two and three are heavily focused on the issue of economic growth/development and trade. The document focuses on areas such as improving regional integration, increasing access go global markets and increasing opportunities for women.
“It is in the interest of the United States to improve the region’s trade competitiveness, encourage the diversification of exports beyond natural resources, and ensure that the benefits from growth are broad-based. We will pursue the following actions as we seek to accelerate inclusive economic growth, including through trade and investment,” says the report.
This is reinforced by recent remarks from US Department of Commerce Under Secretary of International Trade Franciso Sanchez. “The Obama administration is committed to encouraging trade and investment with Sub-Saharan Africa, which is a region rich with emerging opportunities for U.S. exporters,” Sánchez said. “The International Trade Administration is actively engaged in projects and initiatives that support the President’s strategy and provide new opportunities for American businesses to export their goods and services, thereby creating jobs in the United States and strengthening our economy.”
The Romney website, as seen earlier, makes it clear that trade sits at the forefront. It is most present in his plan for Latin America.
In his first 100 days in office, Mitt will launch a vigorous public diplomacy and trade promotion effort in the region — the Campaign for Economic Opportunity in Latin America (CEOLA) — to extol the virtues of democracy and free trade and build on the benefits conferred by the free trade agreements reached with Panama and Colombia, as well as those already in force with Chile, Mexico, Peru, and the members of the Central American Free Trade Agreement…The campaign will also seek to involve both the U.S. and Latin American private sectors in efforts to expand trade throughout the region with initiatives that not only help American companies do business in Latin America, but also help Latin American companies invest and create jobs in the American market. The goal of CEOLA will be to set the stage for eventual membership in the Reagan Economic Zone for nations throughout Latin America and the creation of strong and mutually beneficial economic ties between the region and the United States.
Another signal is the recent addition of former World Bank president Robert Zoellick. For some it was a bit of a head scratcher, but it may be a stronger indication for how a Romney administration will deal with foreign aid than the Ryan plan. There are even some rumors that Zoellick could fit in quite well as Secretary of State given his previous experiences and connections.
“Bob Zoellick couldn’t be more conservative in the branch of the GOP he represents,” said Danielle Pletka, vice president at the American Enterprise Institute to Foreign Policy. “He’s pro-China to the point of mania, he’s an establishment guy, he’s a trade-first guy. He’s basically a George H.W. Bush, old-school Republican.” However, insiders are saying that Zoellick has little power over the policy decisions for the Romney campaign. That may mean that the Zoellick indicates little about the Romney platform
BottomLine – Both sides support trade and make it clear that their aims are to find ways to transform developing economies. Romney seems to lean more heavily on the side of trade over aid, but the difference on this half of the equation seems to be very little.
The Obama administration is rather easy to judge in terms of foreign aid. Decisions like placing Clinton in charge of the State Department, the founding of GHI and Feed the Future and recent high level events like Frontiers for Development help fill out a picture that is generally supportive of foreign aid.
Romney is trickier. The most information comes from his running mate. While informative, it does not mean that Romney will take to heart every aspect of the Ryan plan. This might be an area where he will push harder than Ryan or soften further. The condemnation of aid came during the primary season when it is more of a pageant to look pretty for fellow conservatives. Presidential debates will get a bit closer to the truth of what a Romney administration might do in regards to foreign aid.
There are also two other factors worth considering. First, it is congress who actually sets the budget. The president can make a budget request, but the gritty negotiations take place in the house and the senate. Races for seats in congress will be important as shifts in party numbers can make it easier or harder to cut into foreign aid. Finally, if no agreement is made on budget cuts, the sequestration will be triggered causing across the board cuts. It appears that such cuts are a likely reality given the wrangling in congress.
While it is not often considered one of the more important issues during the campaign, the foreign aid budget is yet another place where the two candidates do not appear to see eye to eye.
I discussed the issue of Bangladesh and the Rohingya refugees of Myanmar a bit yesterday. This short report from Al Jazeera provides further information about the ethnic conflict that has lead to the displacement of the Rohingya and how the refugees are living in tents and rely upon food aid.
WASHINGTON, DC — Here at the (ridiculously) big International AIDS Conference, I’ve been wandering around listening to scientists talk about science and policy makers talk about policy but not hearing much about another critical issue in AIDS:
Charity, and the role of faith-based groups.
Being charitable is the central tenet of almost every religion. Charity is the ‘greatest form of love’ in Christianity, the ‘third pillar’ of Islam as well as the ‘third observance’ for Hindus and the obligatory ‘tzedakah’ of Judaism.
It’s a guiding principle for faith-based organizations working around the world to help the poor, assist in disaster relief and provide for those in need.
And, perhaps surprisingly for many, it has been a critical force that led to one of the greatest achievements in modern global health — the expansion of anti-HIV treatment to millions of people who would have otherwise died.
I’m talking about PEPFAR, the $15 billion program President George W. Bush launched in 2003 to distribute anti-HIV drugs to millions of infected people living in poor parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
PEPFAR is mentioned in perhaps every other speech here at the International AIDS Conference, AIDS 2012, as one of those game-changers. Infrequently, some folks also mention, usually just in passing, something like the ‘contributions of the faith-based community.’
What’s probably not appreciated is that U.S. leadership in responding to the global AIDS pandemic came together thanks to an unusual partnership of evangelical Christians and very secular AIDS activists, isolationist conservatives and bleeding-heart liberals. Continue reading →