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Letter to Minister Maria Minna on CIDA's Strategic Directions

Letter Sent to the Honorourable Maria Minna

April 2, 2001

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

Dear Minister Minna:

I am writing to express my appreciation for our recent meeting where we were able to share with you the views of our members on several issues affecting CIDA’s definition of its long term strategies. I very much valued the forthright exchange of views on these issues and your ongoing commitment to a strong role for civil society in Canadian assistance programs. By way of this letter, I am taking the opportunity to summarize briefly some key points from our conversation.

As you know, our meeting with you followed a very productive CCIC/CIDA Roundtable several weeks ago at which you gave some encouraging remarks. The success of the Roundtable was marked by the importance that the Canadian NGO community is placing on the discussion of CIDA’s strategic directions. We have provided a detailed commentary on an earlier version of these directions where we pointed to positive principles and very important strengths in this vision for the Agency:

its emphasis on the policy end of things;
its recognition of the need for policy coherence across government departments in which CIDA can play a catalytic role;
its acceptance that ownership and direction for the South is the foundation for CIDA programming;
its commitment to ease the micro-management burden at CIDA;
its emphasis on knowledge-sharing in shaping development responses; and
its signal that a significant untying of Canadian procurement practices is required for effective aid and Southern ownership.
At our meeting, my colleagues and I highlighted some important issues that still require a clear sense of direction from CIDA as you move to a presentation to Cabinet in April. Some of these gaps were highlighted in our January Commentary, while others have emerged from a recent revision of CIDA’s paper, Strengthening Aid Effectiveness (February 2001).

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1. In our view poverty eradication should be the sole rationale for Canadian aid programs.

Your social development priorities announced this past fall fit very well within this focus on poverty. It is a rationale that is well understood and supported by most Canadians. CIDA’s

strategic direction would be strengthened not only by a clarification that this is the rationale, but also by an explicit comprehensive framework for poverty eradication that builds on CIDA’s existing policy on poverty reduction and on your articulation of social development priorities.

A strategic framework for CIDA’s contributions to poverty reduction would situate all CIDA initiatives within an understanding of the most important dimensions of poverty affecting developing countries:

who are the poor and what conditions affect their lives;
what policy tools are necessary to effectively tackle poverty; and
what roles need to be played by governments, civil society, private sector actors, and donors.
This strategic framework would underlie CIDA’s clear accountability to the poverty eradication rationale for government, its partners and the Canadian public.

Poverty is maintained by a complex and intricate web of unequal social relations and the exercise of power by institutions and elites within societies and in the global community. While we might understand better those principles that should define our cooperation to end poverty, the approaches of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) or the World Bank’s Comprehensive Development Framework are highly contested by many development actors in the South.

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2. Programs to reduce poverty will not be effective in the absence of strong roles and ownership by community and social movements representing the poor. It cannot be done without civil society.

Community and popular organizations provide an avenue for direct participation of the poor in development affecting their lives. Southern NGOs, often working with Canadian counterparts, have strong links with community social organizations, providing material support as well as strengthening their participatory capacities.

We look forward to a thorough integration of roles for civil society in the next draft of CIDA’s strategic directions paper and your presentation to Cabinet. We understand that this integration will be supported with an issues paper prepared by the Canadian Partnership Branch (CPB) of CIDA.

While there was recognition of important roles for civil society, in the South and the North, at our Roundtable, we are not convinced that CIDA’s strategic directions currently reflect the importance of:

strong role for civil societies, south and north, in policy dialogue;
the innovation that civil society consistently brings to community programming that relate directly to the lived experience of the poor;
the sustained efforts to reach out to engage Canadians as global citizens by Canadian NGOs; and
the inclusion of diverse and sometimes dissenting points of view of civil society actors in the development of policy and knowledge networks within the Agency.
A growing and truly responsive program in CPB is the critical CIDA program resource that underlies Canadian civil society efforts in all of these areas. While responsive mechanisms for the bilateral Branches will continue to be linked to country and regional priorities, Canadian civil society capacities and programmatic innovations with Southern partners is best served by a CPB responsive mechanism rooted in CIDA’s overall institutional priorities and not specific country or regional priorities as determined by CIDA or its partner governments. CIDA for the past 30 years has been a leader among donors in its creative support for civil society and long standing partnerships between Canadian organizations and Southern civil society actors. We trust that CIDA’s strategic directions for the next decade will build upon this creativity.

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3. CCIC members are convinced that we share an imperative with CIDA to systematically engageCanadians of all ages as active global citizens in policy debates and in cooperation programs.

Our policy and programs will ultimately fail without this knowledge and engagement. CIDA’s long term strategic directions must reflect this imperative in both its communications programs and in consistent and long term public education, rooted in major Canadian public education institutions and in community citizen engagement. The existing strategy for public engagement requires an operational framework for implementing this strategy should be a core element of the public articulation of CIDA’s strategic directions.

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4. The potential for CIDA’s contribution to ending poverty through new more focused directions, including your social development priorities, will be severely tested without sustained growth in the budget for CIDA within Canadian ODA.

While we welcome the recently announced retroactive increase to the 2000/01 aid budget of $140.5 million, these retroactive increases do not reduce uncertainty and permit long-term planning so essential for development impact. Figures from the recently released Part III Report on Plans and Priorities for CIDA for 2001/02 would put Canadian ODA at 0.25% of GNP, nowhere near what is necessary to raise Canadian ODA to 0.35% by 2005, as a step towards fulfilling Canada’s commitment to the UN target of 0.7%. We expect that the Finance Minister’s Financial Update, later this Spring, will include increases to the aid budget for 2001/02 commensurate with the Prime Minister’s promise in the Throne Speech to raise Canadian levels of ODA.

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5. We look forward to the plans for public consultations on CIDA strategies to improve the

effectiveness of Canadian aid for eliminating poverty and the coherence of our policies for

international cooperation.

There is a consistent and strong Canadian constituency in support of Canadian aid efforts, as demonstrated in public opinion polls. Canadian civil society, including our members, touches many millions of Canadians through their own programs. Canadians involved in international cooperation should have an opportunity, with sufficient lead-time, to express their views on the purpose and directions for CIDA as set out in a public consultation document.

In conclusion, I hope that we can continue the constructive dialogue that characterized our meeting. Please don’t hesitate to call on me in support of our common interest in effective Canadian contributions to ending global poverty.



Gerry Barr



cc Len Good, CIDA President

Janet Zukowsky, VP Partnership Branch


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