development

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Will the US foreign aid budget continue its decline? | 

US Foreain Aid snapshot

An increase in the foreign affairs budget for 2014 saw an end to a four year decline in the US. Discussions are now taking place over the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and the downward trend may resume.

That is what will happen if Rep Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget proposal wins out. If President Obama gets his way, funds will hold steady at $44.1 billion. While it looks likely that foreign aid will be safe from cuts, thanks to is strong supporters, being back on the chopping block is a cause for concern for foreign aid supporters.

Ryan’s cuts into foreign aid appear to be based more on a belief that it is an unnecessary expenditure. The proposed Ryan budget led to public cries to protect the US foreign aid budget. Supporters like to point out that it represents less than 1% of the total federal budget.

Making cuts to such a small program will do little to help reduce US government debt and will harm the people who benefit from US aid work. Ryan has acknowledged this fact in the past, but continues to propose cuts. Foreign aid advocates are pushing against Ryan’s plan by pointing to the damage it will cause to US foreign policy interests.

“Now is not the time to cut America’s vital tools of national security given the growing number of hotspots around the globe,” said General Anthony Zinni, Co-Chair of U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s National Security Advisory Council. “The International Affairs Budget has already seen large reductions in the past few years, and now is not the time to diminish America’s leadership in the world.”

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US underfunding crucial global health research and development, warns group | 

3990283241_60ffdd7e81_m
Steve Snodgrass

As global health funding remains largely stagnant, more groups are trying to get a bigger piece of the US budgetary pie. For their part, research and development supporters wants a bigger slice, or at least for theirs to stay the same size.

A report by the Global Health Technologies Coalition warns that the political wrangling over federal budgets in Washington DC are putting crucial global health research and development at risk.

The coalition, made up of some 30+ NGOs, says funding for research and development has eroded over the past few years. Making proper investments means not only that new lifesaving developments in areas like TB, AIDS and maternal health can be made, it also represents a significant boost to the US.

“The investment we have made in research to date has contributed to major public health successes, but there is no guarantee that the gains we have made today will work tomorrow,” said Kaitlin Christenson, MPH, director of the GHTC, to Humanosphere.

Christenson argues that investing in research and development is one that will benefit people around the world, as well as Americans. It taps into the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans. The report, Innovation for a changing world: The role of US leadership in global health R&D, says that existing investments have helped to create 7 million jobs and contributes $69 billion to the US GDP each year.

“The investment in innovation resonates with American character, that helps support domestic improvements, economic growth and our diplomatic goals,” she said.

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USAID hopes to boost innovation in development with new lab | 

Former Sec State Clinton at the USAID Innovation Lab launch.
Former Sec State Clinton at the USAID Innovation Lab launch.
Rob Baker

Innovation is the buzzword for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with the launch of its new Global Development Lab. The agency held an event, featuring former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to unveil its collaboration with 32 “cornerstone partners” including US universities, major corporations, foundations and nonprofits. It comes with a roughly $1 billion annual budget, marking a significant shift in US development priorities.

The new lab puts more emphasis on discovering and spreading solutions to the biggest challenges in international development.

“With breakthroughs that reach a global scale, we can really bring an end to global poverty,” said Lona Stoll, senior adviser to USAID Administrator Raj Shah, to Humanosphere. ”It gets us to development impact better, cheaper and more sustainability.”

Its creation is the realization of a recommendation included in the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, carried out when Clinton was at the helm of the US State Department, to review the performance of the entire US  State Department. USAID’s head Raj Shah has talked a lot about the need to support innovation. He has made previous forays with programs such as Development Innovation Ventures.

Private-public partnerships are increasingly getting  attention for both their positive and negative potential. The lab features notable corporate partners: Cargill, Cisco, Citi, Coca-Cola, DuPont, GlaxoSmithKline, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Nike, Syngenta, Unilever and Walmart.

The event came on the same day that an attempt by the agency to create a Twitter-like platform in Cuba to spark civil unrest, was revealed by the Associated Press. It gave cause for concerns that US development policy was not purely humanitarian. Critics the public-private partnership rush are concerned with what the lab will actually accomplish.

“This preposterous idea that corporations will solve the world’s development challenges is so out of touch [with] reality that it would be comical if it were not for its disastrous consequences,” said Anuradha Mittal, the founder and executive director of the US-based Oakland Institute thinktank, to the Guardian.

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A chat with Bill Gates’ least favorite aid expert, Bill Easterly | 

Bill Easterly
Bill Easterly

William Easterly is a leading voice on the aid and development scene that folks seem to either love or hate. Bill Gates is in the latter camp, as this Gates Foundation blog post would indicate.

On Tuesday, March 25, starting at 7:30 pm in Seattle Town Hall, Easterly will be speaking about what he thinks needs to change in the way we approach the fight against global poverty. His talk is entitled Breaking the Cycle of Poverty, which may sound a little predictable and boring. It won’t be.

Easterly is always entertainingly provocative and his thesis – which, put simply, is that many if not most aid projects actually cause more harm than good – is an aggressive stab at the heart of much of the aid and development establishment. Continue reading

UK response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines makes the grade | 

UK-funded jerrycans being distributed by the NGO Plan International in the village of Santo Nino on Leyte island, Philippines, Saturday, 7 December 2013.
UK-funded jerrycans being distributed by the NGO Plan International in the village of Santo Nino on Leyte island, Philippines, December 2013.
DFID

Survey says, the UK did a very good job in its response to the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

At least that is what the Independent Commission for Aid Impact found when investigating the work of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). A green rating was given for the humanitarian support provided by DFID, the best possible rating. Not only that, the £77 million that the UK provided was more than any other country, even beating out the US.

“DFID responded swiftly and decisively to the emergency,” said Independent Commission for Aid Impact Chief Commissioner, Graham Ward. “It was the largest single donor and played a lead role in the response, providing vital humanitarian assistance to people in dire need. Its early and multi-faceted action helped to galvanize support from other donors and to influence the global humanitarian aid response.”

This represents only the third time that DFID has scored green in thirty-two reports. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact is an independent body that scrutinizes the UK’s foreign aid work. A team of investigators were sent out in January to determine how things went in the Philippines. Their findings that the UK was a leader in the response, but there is still more work to be done. Continue reading

Remittances make foreign aid look like a paltry sum | 

The United States is a global leader it its foreign aid spending. It sends more than $30 billion in official development assistance, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. That is more than twice that of the next country, the UK.

Campaigners for foreign aid like to point out that the massive sum of US spending is less than 1% of the annual US federal budget. It is also small when held next to the $123.273 billion that foreign migrants send back home from the US in 2012. While attention is paid to the assistance given by governments to poor countries, individual remittances total more than $500 billion.

Supporters of more free migration rules often point to the vast sums that are sent back to families. Some professionals from parts of sub-Saharan Africa can send more money back home than they could have made if they stayed. As evidenced by the campaigning to prevent the shut down of remittance flows through the UK’s Barclays bank to Somalia, some families even rely up the money sent home as a major source of income.

The $69 billion that was sent back to India, an amount that likely had a much greater impact than the $4.86 billion that arrived in aid. The benefits also reach rich countries. Dozens of countries sent $4.5 billion in remittances back to the US, from Sudan to South Korea. However comparisons to foreign aid are not so neat. A working paper from Michael Clemens and Timothy Ogden for the Center for Global Development poses the idea that research on remittances has not been framed correctly.

They offer new questions that should be answered. It is based on re-calibrating the thought that remittances are aid and move it to the idea that they are a financial tool for individuals and families. Such a shift, they suggest, would lead to policies that would seek to free up the the constraints to remittance flows. For now, this interactive Pew Research map helps to visualize the flow of remittances in and out of countries.

Here are a few examples:

Remittances to Brazil
Remittances to Brazil

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Why Congo prefers Chinese investment over Western aid | 

The Chinese are gaining ground in Africa while Western powers, and corporations, struggle to catch up. Last week, China’s official news service reported on the success of a joint effort of the Chinese and Congolese governments: A new $8.7 million, 40-mile long electricity line linking two towns in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The line will also supply power to a new hydroelectric dam. But an even larger dam – the largest in the world, in fact – to be built by Chinese contractors could also be in the works. And the United States is considering whether to contribute its own humanitarian funds to the project.

Workers in a mine near Goma, eastern DR Congo. 2012
Workers in a mine near Goma, eastern DR Congo. 2012
AP

In today’s podcast, Nairobi-based reporter Jacob Kushner puts that news in context and explains why America should be open to collaborating with Chinese investments in the Congo. After reporting on Western mining operations in Haiti, Kushner visited similar Chinese mining operations in the Congo, but noticed that many Congolese respect and appreciate the presence of Chinese companies even as they extract the country’s resources without any “do-gooder” pretensions.

He published an e-book last fall called “China’s Congo Plan: What the Economic Superpower Sees in the World’s Poorest Nation.” Kushner joins us to explain what China’s influence in the Congo looks like on the ground, why many Congolese respect Chinese profit motives over Western humanitarian ones, and how China’s massive investments in Central Africa might hold up over the long term.

And I ask him an obvious but little-asked question: what should Western humanitarians learn from Chinese contractors? The answer might surprise you.

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How the US can invest in developing countries at no extra cost | 

Khadija a candle making business owner in Afghanistan.
Khadija a candle making business owner in Afghanistan.
DfID

Last night’s State of the Union Speech delivered by US President Barack Obama was heavily focused on domestic policies. Obama focused in on job creation, gender equity, healthcare and inequality. All areas were couched in the the idea that changes can be made at little or no cost to the American people.

The penultimate section of the speech was a rundown of what the US is doing internationally. There were congratulations for engaging Iran, calls for a continued counter-terror strategy and even a mention about foreign aid.

“[L]et’s remember that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe – to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want,” said Obama. “And no one is better positioned to take advantage of those opportunities than America.”

Power Africa, an initiative launched in Tanzania last year, was mentioned in the run-down. Obama said that the program’s goal to increase access to electricity as an important part of the fight against poverty. The overarching reason for US foreign aid was alluded to at a transition point.

“We do these things because they help promote our long-term security. And we do them because we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being,” said Obama. Continue reading