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Aid in the next century

Untying aid ensures best ideas get the money Add to ...

The last Canadian aid roundtable I attended was to discuss Afghanistan with Bev Oda, the minister for the Canadian International Development Agency.

I doubt I'll be invited to another.

Dozens of NGOs were there, eradicating every evil known to man, from human rights violations to malaria to a lack of playgrounds. Oddly, though, almost none of these organizations were operating in Afghanistan. Lord knows that if my organization, Peace Dividend Trust, wasn't neck-deep in the Afghan sand, I'd have been back in the office sneaking sips of whisky from my desk drawer and hoping the intern couldn't see.

But as soon as the microphones were turned on, I found out why they'd all come: Every speaker wanted to talk to the minister about money. As in why weren't they getting more of it? Why was their latest proposal to host native American healing-circle therapy seminars for homeless and starving victims of genocide (true story) not funded? Why was CIDA not channelling more aid through their Canadian partners?

Imagine a pack of unruly 'tweens whining for an increase in their allowance and you've nailed it nicely.

Canadian NGOs have built a comfortable relationship with CIDA over the years. The cycle goes like this: Canadian NGOs demand CIDA spend more money to help the world's poor; CIDA, wanting to be seen to be helping, pushes the money out the door as fast as it can; the NGOs spend the money as fast as they can, stopping only to demand, once again, that CIDA needs to do more to help the poor (by spending more money).

Rinse and repeat.

For its part, CIDA is trying to stop this. Most notably it has untied aid, so that non-Canadian agencies can compete. The idea is that aid money should go to the organization that makes the biggest impact, not just the Canadian organization that whines the loudest.

Canadian NGOs publicly embraced this. The Canadian Council for International Cooperation (a coalition of aid organizations) was especially loud in its praise. But CIDA decided that funding should be used for real development work on the ground and not for organizations that use it to host roundtables where they "dialogue" with the minister and demand more money.

In other words, they cut funding to the CCIC itself.

In their press release, CCIC noted that two thirds of their budget was core funding from CIDA and that their very existence was threatened because they couldn't make up the shortfall.

Step back for a second. Mull this one over. The CCIC is an industry association. The industry is aid, but it is an industry association nonetheless, no different than the Aerospace Industry Association of Canada. Now, imagine if Industry Canada provided the AIAC with two thirds of its budget so that the organization could then lobby Industry Canada to change its aerospace policies and give it more money.

Insane, right? Not in the aid industry.

Which brings me to the part of the post that will really ensure I don't get any more invitations from my colleagues in the Canadian NGO community. I think it's great that CIDA has untied aid. This is one step closer to creating an aid industry where the best ideas get funded, not the coziest partners. And I think it's great that CIDA cut the CCIC's funding. This ends a ridiculous "partnership" and if its member organizations think the CCIC is that important they can pay for it.

The following is a blog excerpt.

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