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Minister Minna’s Social Agenda for CIDA: An Exchange of Letters

(disponible en anglais seulement)

At the end of June, CCIC wrote to the Honourable Maria Minna, Minister for International Cooperation, concerning her interest in a revitalized social agenda for Canada’s aid program. The Council commended the Minister for her focused attention to the social dimension of the aid program. While welcoming a social agenda, we also highlighted our concern that her four programming priorities – basic education, primary health and nutrition, HIV/AIDS and the protection of children – are set within a holistic poverty reduction framework. The texts of the letter to the Minister and her reply to CCIC have been reproduced below. CCIC notes in her reply, the Minister’s commitment to a poverty eradication "lens" as "the analytical framework that can prevent strengthening in one area from undermining supportive action in others".

CCIC Policy Team
July 2000

CCIC’s Letter to Minister Minna:

June 30, 2000

The Honourable Maria Minna
Minister for International Cooperation
200 Promenade du Portage
Hull, Quebec
K1A 0G4

Dear Minister Minna:

I am writing following the recent teleconference discussions you held with CCIC and other partners, concerning your interest in announcing a revitalized social agenda for Canada’s aid programme. We recognize that this agenda and announcement are still in development, and look forward to opportunities for formal consultation on this in the near future. But given that time-lines are compressed, we thought it might be helpful to identify issues that are key for the NGO community in relation to your agenda, as outlined to date. We offer these in recognition of your commitment to consult and as a contribution to internal processes now underway.

First, may I say that we commend you for taking a position on the need for dedicating increased resources and attention to the social dimension of the aid program. We are very encouraged by this signal. Basic education, nutrition and health, HIV/AIDS and protection of children are very important components of a social agenda to tackle poverty. As you know CCIC and its membership have been advocating over a number of years for increased attention to the social agenda in ODA to help ensure its focus on poverty eradication.

The key in our view, is to place the need for a stronger social agenda within a strategic framework for making aid work for poverty reduction and ecological sustainability. This requires a holistic understanding of the causes of poverty, and strategies to overcome it. For example, children are not poor or vulnerable in isolation of the social, environmental, and household circumstances that sustain conditions of poverty. Assuring conditions for basic education (teachers, books, infrastructure,) without taking into account the need for sustainable livelihoods or food security for poor and vulnerable families, will make it difficult to reduce the numbers of children who do not attend school or who drop out at an early age.

Asserting a holistic poverty reduction framework to define key directions for the aid programme does not have to mean a lack of focus or a multiplication of priority areas. It does means that the decision-making that guides the content of new programming, and any re-allocation of resources to it, is informed by an explicit consideration of the multi-dimensional roots of poverty, including gender inequities, environmental insecurity, and political and social exclusion.

Such a framework would not only validate the need for a revitalized social agenda for aid, but also the need for new approaches to development cooperation that emphasize:

  • coherence of development policy with other areas of international policy such as trade and finance;
  • donor coordination;
  • southern-led programming, (reducing conditionality and building shared ownership);
  • long term commitments.

In this context, your expressed interest in supporting a more proactive role for CIDA in bringing a development perspective to other government policy areas such as trade and human security is strongly welcomed.

Clearly a concern we share together is the urgent need to build back the budget for ODA. DAC aid statistics released in early June and reported in The Reality of Aid’s Reality Check put Canadian aid in 1999 at 0.28% of GNP and 12th among 21 donors, down from 11th the previous year. However, in the short term, given that the $100 million in new resources for ODA announced in this past budget are already largely committed, new focus will mean re-allocations.

CCIC and other partners will be seeking transparency in such decision-making. Reallocations within CIDA should be achieved by applying a poverty lens that priorizes the allocation of resources to programs that directly affect the conditions and rights of people living in poverty. We need to be careful to learn from past mistakes in the 1990s. In that round, and perhaps despite good intentions, cuts and re-allocations failed to strategically protect poverty programming. For example, country to country aid to Sub-Saharan Africa fell by more than 38% between 1991 and 1998, while overall CIDA programming resources fell by 29% in the same period. Without an explicit poverty lens, cuts can easily fall to projects that are merely weak through programmatic circumstance.

Finally, the NGO community looks forward to consultation with you and CIDA on further defining the elements of the renewed social agenda, and the action plans for how these will be pursued. Much of NGOs’ experience and knowledge tackling poverty at the grassroots with Southern partners can contribute to more integrated CIDA development strategies. As CIDA's own review of its basic needs programming (primarily health, basic education etc.) concluded, results in social sectors can be achieved through long-term commitments that take account of the need to address livelihoods, and meaningful participation of the poor in development strategies intended to affect their lives. This will mean allowing some flexibility in shaping strategies and priorities for poverty reduction.

In sum, we welcome increased commitment to policy coherence, to a more pro-active role for CIDA in government policy making, and to strengthening social priorities in the aid program. We urge you to ensure that these new priorities are elaborated in a holistic poverty framework that both defines what shape those new priorities areas may take, and to guide the process for freeing up resources to serve them.

We look forward to working with you on these important and commendable endeavors. As you know this is my final week as President-CEO of CCIC. Esperanza Moreno will be interim President-CEO. Gauri Sreenivasan, Policy Coordinator, coordinates our government relations work. Please contact them at your convenience regarding further follow up.



Betty Plewes

cc. Len Good, President
Janet Zukowsky, VP Partnerships

Minister Minna’s Reply to CCIC:

Ministre de la Cooperation intérnationale
Minister for International Cooperation
Hull, Québec K1A 0G4

7 July 2000

Esperanza Moreno
Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC)
1 Nicholas Street,
Ottawa, ON
K1N 7B7

Dear Ms. Moreno,

I am writing to reply to the letter of 30 June 2000 from the CCIC’s former President-CEO, Ms. Betty Plewes.

To begin, I am aware that the CCIC has long argued that CIDA should increase the money and energy it directs towards its Basic Human Needs policy priority. You and other NGOs made this case during the 1995 Foreign Policy Review and have consistently maintained it ever since. I would like to thank the CCIC for the consistency of its public policy arguments and moral suasion, as well as for its support of my plan to strengthen CIDA’s social development programming in basic education, health and nutrition and HIV/AIDS and child protection. The first three fall within Basic Human Needs, the fourth is best considered part of our human rights efforts.

In is essential that CIDA’s partners participate in and help shape CIDA’s work in these areas. To enable and ensure this, the Agency will make each theme the focus of a substantive policy document, an Action Plan. The HIV/AIDS Action Plan was released for consultation in early June in Toronto, and I anticipate a Fall release of the Child Protection Action Plan. The latter Action Plan will follow the International Conference on War-Affected Children, which I am co-hosting with the Hon. Lloyd Axworthy, Minister of Foreign Affairs. These Action Plans are to be the substantive guides for programming and action, and it is on them that I am hopeful you will comment, criticize, and recommend changes and additions. The June HIV/AIDS Action Plan has received much attention, and has been amended in time for me to use it as part of Canada’s contribution to the international AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa. This is precisely the kind of feedback these plans require.

I see the strengthened programming in these four areas as but the first step in reinvigorating CIDA’s effectiveness in delivering its core mandate, poverty reduction. I am pleased to see you underline the importance of using a poverty eradication "lens" to guide our actions, and agree that it is the analytical framework that can prevent strengthening in one area from undermining supportive action in others. The "one size fits all" approach has proven time and again to be the wrong way to proceed. Your experience with partners in developing countries urges you to caution against a fragmented approach; this is a caution that I endorse. For effective, long-term development policy to work, we must use holistic, participatory methods.

We also need a holistic approach here at home. To this end, I am taking steps to help ensure government-wide policy coherence. The HIV/AIDS Toronto Conference stands out as an example of CIDA working coherently with Health Canada. Other steps, less public but as tangible and important, are being implemented on trade or finance issues. I look forward to hearing your views on how this can best be achieved in all of our future endeavours.

I agree with you entirely that CIDA should operate within a holistic policy framework in ways that are driven by developing countries, coordinated with other donors, and implemented with our partners.

Thank you again for writing. I look forward to our future co-operation.

Yours sincerely,


Maria Minna, P.C., M.P.

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