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Reality of Aid 2002
NGOs Assess CIDA's Focus on Social Development


Brian Tomlinson, Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC)

An eight-month process of internal and public ministerial consultations on strategic policies to strengthen the effectiveness of Canadian aid was completed by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in September 2001(1) . After more than five years of uncertainty, largely because of substantial budgetary cuts between 1995 and 1997, a newly appointed Minister (Maria Minna) and President (Len Good) have renewed the policy framework for CIDA and its role in Canadian international cooperation.

Following her review of CIDA's widely dispersed programme, Minister Minna launched an initiative, in September 2000, to focus Canada's aid on four social development priorities - basic education, health and nutrition, protection of children and HIV/AIDS. Over the next four years, more than 40% of CIDA's current programming resources could be shifted to meet ambitious disbursement targets for each of these four priorities.

Canadian NGOs welcomed the social development initiative and participated in consultations to elaborate CIDA's specific approaches for each priority. These priorities will increase concentration on activities that directly affect poverty. Nevertheless, NGOs cautioned against too narrow a focus. CIDA's approach lacks reference to a more comprehensive and integrated analysis of the causes and approaches to poverty, within which to situate individual priorities and establish the linkages necessary to ensure realisation of social development goals.

The December 2001 Federal Budget provides Cdn$ 1 billion for Canadian international assistance over the next three years, including a $500 million Trust Fund for Africa. While the scale of resources committed were strongly welcomed by Canadian NGOs, unfortunately this increase focuses on one-off initiatives that do not add permanent aid resources for sustained poverty reduction through CIDA. The overall focus of this Budget was on the economic and security fall-out from the terrorist actions of September 11th. Canadian NGOs have been calling for an approach to terrorism that includes heightened attention to the vast economic and political disparities that are conducive to armed conflicts around the world. CIDA is an essential resource for Canadian expressions of human solidarity.

Poverty reduction and 'enlightened' self-interest drive policy

Parallel to the process of establishing the social development priorities, the Minister and CIDA's President have set out proposals, in a policy paper, Strengthening Aid Effectiveness (SAE), for improving CIDA's overall aid effectiveness. These new directions will align CIDA more closely with policies to reform national aid programmes at the OECD and in other donor countries(1). Core elements of the Canadian approach include the following:

  • The overarching purposes of Canada's international cooperation efforts are to advance both poverty reduction and Canada's 'enlightened self interest' in developing countries. The International Development Targets and CIDA's social development priorities underlie these purposes.
  • CIDA's SAE accepts, without question, the recent consensus among donors on the requirements for aid to have an effective impact. CIDA will more closely harmonise its country programming approaches with the World Bank's Comprehensive Development Framework (CDF), the IMF/Bank initiated Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), and donor coordinated Sector Wide Approaches (SWAps).
  • While recognising the development roles of civil society and the private sector, CIDA will be increasing its commitments to programmatic approaches, coordinated with other donors, and largely involving government-to-government partnerships. The SAE paper is sceptical of the impact of one-off projects. Canada's 'enlightened self-interest' will also be achieved through increased support for 'global public goods' initiatives in the multilateral realm.
  • New approaches will require a strengthened field presence for CIDA, more efficient means to assure accountability for CIDA resources, consideration of options for significant untying of Canadian aid, and increased geographic concentration of its programming resources (perhaps reducing the number of core countries from 30 to between 15 and 20).
  • The SAE paper recognises that civil society organisations play an increasingly important role in international cooperation, bringing not only their own contributions but also generating new ideas and approaches, that are later taken up by other development actors. For the past 30 years, and in the early years almost alone among donors, CIDA has maintained strong responsive funding mechanisms in support of Canadian NGO partnerships in the South and in promoting international cooperation in Canada. Ignoring lessons from this history, the SAE paper proposes to align this NGO-initiated programming to CIDA's own bilateral country priorities, significantly reducing the current flexibility of CIDA's responsive programming mechanisms and distorting current partnership relationships for Canadian NGOs. This is due to the president of CIDA is seeking greater administrative order and more control by CIDA over programming.
  • CIDA's SAE acknowledges the inter-dependence of public policies and their impact on the lives of people in developing countries. It calls for stronger policy capacities for CIDA in inter-departmental policy processes. It suggests that the government review the impact of its policies on developing countries and assess opportunities for improved coherence. CIDA will pay special attention to trade policies and their bearing on poverty reduction.

Canadian NGO benchmarks for improved effectiveness

Although the SAE paper reflects many issues and directions long proposed by the Canadian NGO community as fundamental to achieving poverty eradication (2), in the September 2001 public consultations, a number of critical weaknesses were noted and concerns were widely shared.

While the final version of the paper is not yet available, Canadian NGOs will be measuring the resulting CIDA strategies against several critical NGO benchmarks:

  1. An affirmation of poverty eradication as the only purpose for CIDA. The calamitous attacks in September 2001 focussed attention on human security, which is intimately connected to expanding human solidarity, and choosing justice, acting together with those who are excluded from the benefits of the global order. Aid is a vital channel for expressing human solidarity and CIDA is privileged among government ministries, as it can choose to focus all its resources and intelligence on the imperative to end poverty.
  2. A poverty lens for making choices for sectoral and geographic concentration. For a middle income donor, geographic concentration of relatively small disbursements of resources may not achieve greater impact. Instead, impact and effectiveness may depend more on the role that CIDA adopts in a given country than on the dollars available to pool with others. But if choices are to be made, NGOs will be looking for a poverty rationale for selecting 'core countries', anchoring such decisions in poverty analysis (so far not present in the SAE),not on geopolitical and Canadian economic considerations.
  3. CIDA country strategies, directed by poverty plans, but with critical distance from World Bank/IMF PRSPs. CIDA country programme strategies and activities must be explicitly guided by an understanding of poverty, authentically rooted in inclusive country process for determining priorities for reducing poverty. For the most part, PRSPs are imposed processes lacking real engagement and legitimacy for social and political actors, particularly those marginalised by economic or minority status. Equal caution is also required for participation in SWAps, where little attention is paid to civil society roles, and where CIDA as a small donor may better play a 'niche' role (e.g. promoting gender equality issues or ensuring roles for civil society).
  4. Untying provisions for Canadian aid, which promote aid purposes contributing to improved channels for poverty reduction. CIDA has wide scope for further untying the procurement of goods and services used in implementing Canadian aid. It should do so in a manner that gives special preference to developing countries' technical skills and goods (including the local/regional purchase of food for food aid). Aid untying is not an end in itself. Without changing the terms of contracting to recognise improved capacities for reducing poverty in the South, untying may simply open access to Canadian aid resources for large institutions in other developed countries, with global bidding capacities, while preserving existing patterns of aid that diminish ownership in developing countries. Untying CIDA's responsive mechanisms that support the civic expression of Canadian public commitment to development and global citizenship would undermine the purposes for these mechanisms - strengthening the intrinsic value of organisational partnerships that engage Canadians.
  5. A comprehensive operational framework for public engagement of Canadians. The SAE paper lacks any substantive discussion of the public engagement of Canadians and their role as global citizens. Strategies for effectively tackling global poverty require changing ourselves, as well as the lives of people living in poverty. Public engagement strategies, undertaken by both CIDA and other civil society organisations, that build on ethical foundations for aid and poverty eradication will resonate with Canadians. Disparate one-off communications and education projects, and periodic public relations opportunities not only fail to address comprehensive strategic goals but will also undermine needed public support for influencing policy that CIDA might want to achieve within government.
  6. Strengthening the role of responsive programming for effective citizen-to-citizen development cooperation. Programmes to reduce poverty will not be effective in the absence of strong participation and ownership by communities and social movements representing people living in poverty. Civil society organisations are key agents for democratisation. Strategies to reduce poverty cannot be condensed to a single roadmap that guides all CIDA-funded development relationships. The allocation of development resources is highly contested and fraught with human rights violations in the South. Many southern NGOs and citizen organisations look to their relationships with northern counterparts for solidarity and sources of funds. CIDA funding mechanisms should not erode the flexibility and capacity of Canadian NGOs to support creative initiatives of community and national counterparts, who are often working in precarious situations.
  7. A substantial re-investment of financial resources in Canada's aid budget. Canada ranks 17th among 22 aid donors in the year 2000, a shameful drop from 6th in 1995. CIDA's commitment to reduce poverty through more focused and strategic directions, including the social development priorities, will not be realised without sustained growth in the budget for CIDA and Canadian ODA. In order to raise Canadian ODA to 0.35% of GNP by 2005/06, as a step towards the international target of 0.7%, CCIC has estimated that cumulative increases of at least Cdn$400 million are required for each of the next four years. The December 2001 Budget Plan adds Cdn$100 million for Afghanistan in 2001/02, but offers no increase for CIDA in 2002/03 and adds Cdn$285 million in 2003/04. The Cdn$500 million Trust Fund for Africa is a significant response to urgent development needs in Sub-Saharan Africa and an important signal to other G7 countries, but will be administered outside of CIDA as a one-time allocation of resources. CCIC;s analysis of the Budget projects Canada's ODA/GNP ratio to increase to approximately 0.30% for 2001/02, but then to slip back below 0.30% in the next two years.

CIDA is renewing itself. Publication of CIDA's Strengthening Aid Effectiveness in 2002 will be an important benchmark. Ultimately, however, aid effectiveness will be tested, not only by the designs of a strategy paper, but also by the quality of our aid relationships, engaging and acting in solidarity with communities of people living in poverty. International development cooperation is a critical resource for human solidarity and justice to which the donor nations, Canada among them, must bring the full measure of generosity and intelligence. Thirty or more years of development cooperation has taught us that there are no blueprints; we cannot assume answers. And theoretical policies must be tested against the real experience and practice of aid in the South.

[1] CIDA’s draft paper on Strengthening Aid Effectiveness: New Approaches to Canadian International Development Assistance is available on the CIDA site ( A final version of this document, with revisions based on comments and public consultations, was due to be presented to Cabinet late 2001 and published in 2002. CCIC’s analysis of the draft aid effectiveness paper is available on development policy page of CCIC’s site (

[2] See the Canada chapters in previous editions of The Reality of Aid.


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