Dear traditional development assistance: The end is near

Value Chains

Dear traditional development assistance: The end is near

The structure of foreign aid is about to change. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/60881556@N05/5566653522/">Doctorwonder (Flickr)</a>
The structure of foreign aid is about to change. Photo: Doctorwonder (Flickr)

In a speech last week at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) conference, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reminded development practitioners, politicos and philanthropists that their ultimate goal is to put themselves out of business.

Clinton laid out the international development goals for the current administration while urging other governments to follow suit. Though health and basic infrastructure still have a place in development assistance budgets, priorities and resources are much different than they were 40 years ago.

For many developing countries, local skills and access to resources is growing. Yet governments continue to follow old rigid policies; mostly opening our wallet and allowing dollars to be extracted without investing much in long-term growth and development -- which would eventually lead to less reliance on future monetary aid.

Long-term planning is always smarter than waiting for problems to multiply. Clinton sums it up well: “True transformation comes only through sustainable strategies. And too often in the past, we had focused, understandably, on the urgent and immediate at the expense of the long term.”

This is where the private sector enters the picture. Public/private partnerships can effectively combine resources and expertise. Good regulations, Clinton argued, can both attract and protect investment while following a bottom-up program design. This also means rewarding those governments that uncover corruption and promote internal investments in education, health and infrastructure by local elites via equitable taxation.

In closing, Clinton urged the entire international development community to begin the shift from pure monetary aid to investment and partnership. Following the basic tenets of asset-based development, Clinton expounded on finding and utilizing local resources, capacity, and knowledge. Best practices and expertise are usually always found in-country. It's time to push pride aside and tap indigenous knowledge, she argued.

Now, back to putting ourselves out of business. Like any good leader, the ultimate goal is to hand over the reins once self-sufficiency is reached. Clinton drives this point home by reiterating the necessity of locally-led, implemented and funded programs. She states:

I look forward to the day when our development assistance will no longer be needed, when it is replaced by strong public institutions and civil societies, when private sector investments and trade are robust in both directions, and people have the chance, through their own hard work, to build better lives for themselves and their families.

In the end, the challenges poor countries face will evolve whether or not we adjust our aid strategies. The real question is: why wouldn't we?

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