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CCIC Briefing Note

"Strengthening Aid Effectiveness: New Approaches to Canada's International Assistance Program", CIDA,
June 2001

CIDA's new Aid Effectiveness paper - put out in June for public consultation - suggests positive principles to bring focus and renewal to CIDA's aid strategies. But it fails to consider Canada's comparative advantages as a donor, it uncritically buys into the World Bank comprehensive approach, it will likely reduce aid to the poorest and it will limit Canada's reach as an international donor.


  • Aid to the poorest is at risk with a new emphasis on Canada's long term self interest and global public goods - refugee movements, regional security, environmental strategies, global disease patterns. Canada ought to promote global public goods. But, as advocated by the UN, these efforts should be additional to aid. They should not siphon off aid to the poorest.
  • Fewer countries will receive aid (up to half the current "core" countries will be frozen or reduced) and those that will be preferred will be considered for their "regional significance" - not likely to include the poorest. Canada is a small international donor and already concentrated - 70 percent of all spending identifiable by country (instead of themes or regions) goes to 30 developing countries. Canada's influence in the past has been the result of unique approaches that have become mainstream in the donor community (like gender and voluntary sector engagement). The effectiveness of Canada's modest aid contribution will not be improved by giving a little more to fewer.
  • No poverty analysis. The goal of poverty eradication loses its value as a guidepost if it is not supported by an analysis of how to "get at" this complex reality. CIDA's aid paper accepts the centrality of poverty, as a focus for development, but fails to work from a framework for assessing effective approaches.

For example, structuring aid to target poverty includes: 1) development of human capital through education and health services, 2) gender dimensions of inequality, 3) going where the poor are [rural economy, agriculture & food security, informal urban settlements], 4) focusing on re-distribution of productive assets and crucially, 5) strengthening the voice and rights of the poor in civil society.

Civil Society (Whose consensus? Whose voice?):

  • The new CIDA strategy is a "Bank" approach (World Bank, Regional Development Banks and the IMF) and is very inclined to multilateral platforms - coordinated donor circles - and very government-to-government forms of aid delivery. The democratic and development roles of Civil Society organizations & NGOs, and the responsive Aid program that supports them, are marginalized.
  • Human rights advocates are disadvantaged in the new approach. Civil society critics who challenge national administrations are unlikely to be consulted, or find resources for their work, in their government's "locally owned national development strategy".
  • Flexibility, innovation and diversity is reduced because, in core countries, CIDA will no longer support projects of Canadian NGOs & Southern partners that focus on areas which "national priorities" (and CIDA priorities) have missed.

Public Engagement:

  • Public engagement is ignored. An international aid strategy (to be durable) needs to be supported, in Canada, by an extensive program of public education on international issues - engaging the Canadians as global citizens. It is a basic mistake to change the long-term aid approach without a supporting long-term public engagement strategy.

Effective development requires a multiplicity of approaches and alternative voices. This kind of broad-spectrum strategy is a key to success in international cooperation - a terrain that is characterized mainly by risk and factors that arrest development.

Large-scale, bank-inspired, national development schemes involving donor coordination and direction by the beneficiary can be valuable.

But other proven approaches - like the responsive program offered through Canadian Partnership Branch - ought not to be telescoped into that same approach, or be made to depend on it.

Canadian NGOs and their Southern partners have a rich field experience in development which has informed CIDA's approaches and which helped to build CIDA's positive international reputation for thirty years. A forward-looking strategy - for Canadian Aid - should draw on, and incorporate, the diversity of civil society organizations and NGOs.

CCIC has proposed a number of key recommendations for change in the text of "Strengthening Aid Effectiveness" which would:

  • provide reassurance that poverty eradication would trump the principle of "long term self interest" as a rationale for aid,
  • give substance to the idea of inclusive consultation on the development of country programs,
  • add specificity to the principle of southern ownership,
  • affirm the role of civil society and support features of innovation and flexibility of programming necessary to effective the development interventions of NGOs;
  • commit CIDA to an extensive program to support public education on global issues; and
  • invite Canadian NGOs work with CIDA in the area of policy development and the encouragement of policy coherence between government departments and institutions

CCIC believes its recommendations for specific change in "Strengthening Aid Effectiveness" will significantly reinforce many of the positive features of the paper. We are equally convinced that - left unattended - the significant gaps and errors of approach in the document will result in a reduction of Canada's aid effectiveness abroad.

For further Information call:

Gerry Barr
Brian Tomlinson
Canadian Council for International Cooperation
241 7007

or access the Development Policy Page on CCIC website:


The recommendations included in our commentary on "Strengthening Aid Effectiveness" together with references to the text to which the recommendations are relevant are:

  1. Relating to Section I, "The growing importance of international cooperation" (pages 2 -7),

    CCIC recommends that the government affirm the centrality of poverty eradication as the sole strategic goal for Canadian aid and a primary responsibility in Canada's relations with developing countries.
  2. Relating to Section III, "How CIDA is responding" [sub-section (b) "New programming apporaches"], (pages 16 - 17):

    CCIC recommends that CIDA establish clear process benchmarks for generating bilateral Country Programming Priorities and Plans in core programming countries, which are transparent and accountable to the stated policies of the Agency. CCIC strongly support aid programs that are directed by authentically-owned and broadly-participatory country poverty strategies, for which a PRSP may, or may not, be relevant in a given country.

    These benchmarks minimally should identify how these Plans will take account of the interests and the participation of legitimate and representative development actors who are affected by poverty and/or who are working to overcome conditions that sustain poverty in that country.

  3. Relating to section III, "How CIDA is responding" (pages 14 - 20):

    CCIC recommends that CIDA support greater southern ownership by examining and changing its development practice through
  • reviewing the extent and purposes of Canadian technical assistance, leading to a strengthening of southern expertise and citizen-led accountability in developing countries;
  • strengthening local NGOs and citizens' movements to participate and hold their governments and institutions accountable for programs to reduce poverty;
  • making CIDA's contracting and reporting processes consistent with recipient led development, local knowledge and participation in decision-making;
  • accepting locally-determined timeframes for realizing program objectives;
  • accepting that reasonable, but often unpredictable, risk is a necessary part of international cooperation; and
  • implementing significant untying of Canadian aid.
  1. Relating to section IV, "Maximizing development effectiveness" [sub-section (e) "The role of responsive programming"], (pages 30 - 32):

    [CCIC is proposing alternative language for the final four paragraphs of this sub-section (see Appendix One) in which the importance of democratic process for aid effectiveness is recognized and strengthened.]

    CCIC recommends that the Aid Effectiveness paper recognize the uniqueness of CIDA's 30-year partnership with Canadian civil society and the latter's potential contribution to the new approaches and strategic focus for the Agency by agreeing to
  • " rigorous inclusion of civil society, in developing countries and in Canada, in identifying priorities for country program frameworks, to which NGOs seeking responsive funding from a bilateral Branch would adhere;
  • " respect the essential contribution to locally-determined poverty reduction and the potential for innovation and learning on the part of Canadian civil society, through Canadian Partnership Branch's responsive programming windows, guided by the overall mandate and priorities for Canadian ODA, as distinct from specific CIDA country program plans and priorities in CIDA's core countries.
  1. Recognizing its absence from the Aid Effectiveness paper,

    CCIC recommends that CIDA develop a comprehensive operational framework with significant resources, both human and financial, for implementing its existing public engagement strategy.

    Relating to Section V "Beyond ODA: Mobilizing a broader response" (pages 38 - 41):

    CCIC recommends that CIDA work with and strengthen policy roles of Canadian civil society organizations.

Appendix One

Revised Text for the Last Four Paragraphs and "For Discussion" parts of section (e) "The role of responsive programming" (pages 31 - 32):

Bilateral aid agencies and partner organizations have been moving towards more strategic approaches towards development cooperation. Both are now being challenged to live up to the principles of real partnership and local ownership and to tailor their efforts to poverty reduction strategies developed by developing country partners. This has implications for CIDA's responsive programming. These past two decades have demonstrated that strategies and actions to reduce poverty can be hotly contested by both state and non-state actors, in a very dynamic political context.

First, it will be essential to ensure that poverty reduction strategies do indeed reflect a broad consensus within developing countries. Responsive programming can be a very effective lever in promoting democratization through the participation of community groups, labour unions and other elements of civil society, including in, but not exclusive to, national dialogues necessary to develop these strategies. This is especially the case in countries where the capacity to develop national government poverty strategies is weak and where government is unrepresentative and unheedful of the needs of the poor The responsive programs can play a critical role in helping to define the needs of the poorest, in working for change within a society and for ensuring that Canadian aid reaches those most in need.

Second, in the future, local ownership means that responsive initiatives with civil society counterparts in countries that have developed genuine national poverty strategies (possibly a PRSP) have important roles. Local civil society actors will be not only monitoring government and donor poverty strategies and implementation plans, but also supporting innovative and participatory grassroots programming that may over time challenge the priorities and approaches of governments and donors.

The challenges of local ownership apply equally to Canadian civil society organizations, as they do to CIDA, as the former improve and build on decades of local partnerships. Their contribution should increasingly reflect policy roles and support for locally determined development priorities by a range of partner organizations in developing countries, including in CIDA's core countries for bilateral programming. The responsive mechanisms in CIDA over the past 30 years, in particular the programs of Canadian Partnership Branch, have been consistent with CIDA's overall mandate and program priorities. Those funded through bilateral resources contribute to CIDA's country strategies. CIDA has been a leader among official donors in encouraging Canadian partnerships for civil society engagement in the South. They have often supported innovation for social justice and human rights in Canada's development work.

For discussion

CIDA should use its responsive programs to help promote development innovation and democratic civic engagement in developing countries that are consistent with broad, genuinely participatory approaches to the development of locally owned development strategies.

In countries where governance is weak and unrepresentative and where there is no clear locally-owned poverty reduction strategy, CIDA should channel its bilateral programs -with a strong focus on policy dialogue -- in relation to these strategies. Responsive programming, developed in partnership with local organizations, in bilateral programs should be supported if they conform to these poverty reduction strategies and accord with the role assigned to CIDA within a coordinated donor effort, but not if they fall outside this framework.

Responsive programming from Partnership Branch will be guided by the overall mandate and programming priorities for Canadian ODA, by authentic partnership relations, but not by the particular priorities of CIDA's bilateral country program plans and priorities for its core countries


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