Syrian children look out of a hole in their tent in Al Zaatari refugee camp, in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, September 19, 2015. The United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O'Brien visited Jordan's vast Zaatari refugee camp on Saturday (September 19), REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Canada’s foreign aid conversation is lost.  The recently announced merger of CIDA into the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade prompted a spate of agitated commentary across the country.  But the public debates underscored the extent to which an institutional tail is wagging the policy dog.  The issues to be resolved are much more fundamental than problems of bureaucratic org charts.  They require systematic and robust thinking, rather than the loose commentary commonly trotted out during moments of sporadic media debate.

Most significantly, there is one central question that needs to be flipped on its head.  Instead of becoming stuck in the supply-driven query, “How should Canada’s foreign aid structures be improved?” the country needs to start with a demand-driven approach, mapping out the nature and scale of the global development challenge, and then asking how Canada can best organize itself to help to tackle the problems at hand.

To that end, this post marks the start of a three-part series.  To help set the stage, below we start by unpacking some of the most common misconceptions around foreign aid.  The second installment provides some historical context for the current debates, and some recent assessments of global need.  The third proposes a way forward, not just for the Canadian government, but for the range of key constituencies that will be essential for moving Canada’s national development strategy forward.

John McArthur, Senior Fellow at the UN Foundation

Part I: Myth Busting

The recent Canadian foreign aid debates have seen a series of recurrent misunderstandings slip in to the public conversation.  Here are six of the most common aid myths that are worth highlighting and unpacking:

Myth #1.  Aid does not work.

This is the “money down a rat hole” argument, which claims that aid does not work, either because of corruption or incompetence. We know about so many failures – so the story goes – and there is no evidence of success.  Perpetuated by aid opponents for a generation, this narrative gained traction as a rationalization for declining global aid budgets during the post-Cold War 1990s. 

The focus on failures is logically analogous to saying that we know highways don’t work because there are car accidents every day. It does not match the overall data, nor, for example, the experience of the 8 million people alive today thanks to pioneering aid-backed AIDS treatment programs throughout the developing world.  Nor, to give further examples, does it match with the billions of people who live free of smallpox and with disappearing fear of polio, thanks to aid programs, or with the hundreds of millions of Africans who have seen malaria death rates in their communities fall by a third since 2000.

In truth, aid has a long history of working well when targeted to specific goals.  Aid also has a positive link to economic growth, even if there are many complex channels through which one might expect this to happen. For instance, we would expect aid for agricultural productivity to boost economic growth in the near term, while investments in primary education might take longer to bear fruit in a national economy, and emergency aid during a humanitarian crisis would not be expected to correlate positively with growth at all. Recognizing such distinctions, last year the Royal Economic Society prize was indeed awarded to an academic paper showing the long-term positive statistical links between aid and growth, systematically unpacking the flaws in earlier high-profile studies that questioned the relationship.

Myth #2.  Canadian aid = CIDA bureaucracy

A second misconception conflates Canadian aid with the structure of CIDA.  In reality, approximately half of Canada’s aid is channeled through multilateral efforts.  This doesn’t only include the traditional UN agencies and World Bank.  It also includes the pioneering goal-driven institutions that have helped transform global development over the past decade, such as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.  Canada could transform its aid policies merely by ramping up its efforts through such innovative and results-based global institutions.

Myth #3.  The private sector is all that’s needed

A third myth posits that aid is not needed because it is necessarily inefficient and private sector solutions do a better job on their own.  Historically this debate was anchored in the 20th century ideological arguments over the role of state and market.  During the 1980s and 1990s, the Reagan-Thatcher political era carried over to the international financial institutions, which promoted a market-focused “structural adjustment” approach that encouraged poor countries to scale back social service budgets in the interests of government efficiency and macroeconomic stability.  While the gains in economic stability may have provided a precondition for long-term development success, the costs of underinvestment in areas like health and agriculture were too often enormous in human terms. Fortunately, the same institutions have learned many lessons and promoted a more balanced approach over the past decade, emphasizing the essential complementarities of public and private investments much more systematically.

More recent efforts focused on “social entrepreneurship” provide similar basic lessons.  Private entities are often highly responsive to market signals and can provide important innovations in service delivery.  But they generally require public sector partners in order to reach low-income populations at scale, especially in areas like basic health, education, and infrastructure.  There is ample evidence, for example, that user fees present unconscionable access barriers for those who cannot afford to pay as little as 50 cents for emergency treatment, even if raising efficiency for those wealthy enough to pay.  And although private enterprises are typically best suited to manufacture goods like medicine or bed nets, their operating success often hinges on public entities that can afford to procure commodities at scale.  As for anyone who thinks trade is a simple substitute for aid, they might as well argue that NAFTA is a substitute for the Canada Health Act.

Myth #4.  Aid (inadvertently) worsens global population pressures

This is a misunderstanding that many people carry quietly in the back of their minds, often too embarrassed to raise in conversation. Anchored by fears of global population growth, the concern usually takes form along the lines of: “The world is already struggling with 7 billion people and is en route to reach 9 billion by 2050. If we improve survival rates, aren’t we just worsening the problems of overpopulation and environmental scarcity?”  I have been asked this question many times over the years.  Fortunately, the reality is that improving child survival rates is actually a key contributor to declines in fertility rates.  In simplest terms, when the chances are higher that each child will survive, people tend to choose to have fewer children.  There is also evidence that investments in education for girls, especially secondary education, make a critical contribution to supporting voluntary declines in birth rates, as do providing access to contraception and reproductive health services.  Although it might seem paradoxical, one of the best ways to avoid the risks of an overcrowded planet in the future is to invest in development opportunities for its poorest citizens today.

Myth #5.  Agricultural trade barriers are the main cause of global poverty

Much attention has rightly been directed at unfair rich country agricultural subsidies and protections that distort global markets, including for U.S. cotton farmers and European dairy producers. These protections undoubtedly hurt developing country farmers who would otherwise have better opportunities to sell their products at higher prices, especially for export markets.  But this rich country subsidy problem is particular to individual crops, which are grown in specific locations, and does not apply to large parts of the world where farmers grow local staple food crops for a living, and cannot even produce enough to sell beyond their very local markets.  Across Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, hundreds of millions of people still live on extremely poor remote farms that consume most of the same food they produce, and are hampered by limited physical connectivity to markets.  Their foremost challenges lie in the first order hurdle of growing more food, rather than the next order hurdle of exporting products. 

Myth #6.  Aid is no longer needed.

A sixth misunderstanding has taken hold more recently, and suggests that aid is no longer needed because the number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped so dramatically. It is true that the world is seeing remarkable progress in all regions, not only China, but there are still more than a billion people living on less than $1.25 per day, and they pretty much all still need help.  This year many eminent global voices have rightly laid forth a goal of eliminating extreme poverty by 2030.  As my colleague Laurence Chandy and his Brookings Institution coauthors have recently pointed out, it is viable to get this relevant population well below 100 million by 2030 – indeed approaching elimination in historical terms. Yet at the same time, under reasonable yet less optimistic assumptions, the corresponding figure could also stay stuck at more than a billion people, including hundreds of millions in “fragile states.” So the warning against complacency is just as strong as the grounds for proactive optimism.  It is exciting to think of a forthcoming generation wherein aid to help end extreme poverty is no longer needed. But we are simply not there yet.

These are just a few of the common misconceptions around aid.  We encourage readers to raise and discuss others in the comment section below.  By distinguishing facts from perception to the greatest extent possible, together we can forge the basis for a more robust national conversation that underpins Canada’s long-term success in promoting sustainable development around the world.

Part II: Canada's Aid History

It would be a mistake to view Canada’s aid history in partisan terms. Despite ever-present debate at the policy margins, there has been no systematic difference between Conservative and Liberal governments’ respective investment levels or approaches to global development. Today, the most fundamental problem is that Canada’s aid policy and national political conversation remain too disconnected from objective standards of global need and responsibility.

I. Key Trends

The lack of partisan dynamics is reflected in aggregate budgets alone. Canada’s aid levels were consistent at nearly 0.5 percent of national income throughout the Liberal and Conservative governments of the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s, it was a Liberal government that oversaw the largest aid cutbacks in the country’s history, down to 0.22 percent in 2001, before joining a global trend to rebuild over the 2000s. The current Conservative government continued the upward course, reaching 0.33 percent in 2010 (adjusting for the accounting tricks of debt relief), before signaling plans to taper off to 0.25 percent in 2015.

Beneath these numbers, three recent trends stand out:

1. Improved aid quality: Thanks to the efforts of both Liberal and Conservative governments since 2000, the quality of Canadian aid dollars has increased significantly within a short period of time. This is not to say that everything is yet as efficient as it needs to be, but fifteen years ago two-thirds of Canada’s bilateral aid (distinct from multilateral contributions) was still directly linked to self-interest – “tied,” in the jargon, to promoting its own exports. Half the country’s food aid was still tied as recently as 2007. Today, aid to the least developed countries (LDCs) has been almost fully untied, and the country has made a commitment to untie all aid by the end of this year.

Moreover, aid has shifted away from middle-income countries towards the low-income countries with greatest need. Canada has also removed trade barriers for LDCs to support their exports. In 2008 Parliament passed a bill finally clarifying that aid must be directed to poverty reduction. It is a paradox that the country allocates less to aid today than it did during the Cold War, when aid dollars were much less focused on development. (I recommend Stephen Brown’s writings and 2012 edited book for more detailed reviews of Canada’s recent aid policy history.)

2. Important success stories: Canadians can take pride in many specific global development contributions over the years. The Micronutrient Initiative has helped deliver nutritional supplements to hundreds of millions of children. The International Development Research Center (IDRC) has supported a variety of respected technical innovations throughout the developing world. The Chretien government was an early investor in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, one of the most transformative international institutions in modern history. The Harper government played an important role to help lock in new global commitments and, crucially, accountability structures to advance maternal and newborn health. The country has also made key contributions to advancing agriculture and food security at different junctures, including laudable support to the Global Agricultural and Food Security Program following the global food price crisis of 2008. Anyone who says that Canadian aid has never accomplished anything simply does not know what they are talking about.

3. Inconsistent political “focus.” Third, on a less positive note, the long-term trends have been subject to short-term mixed signals at the political level. Again, this is not unique to a particular political party. Liberal governments changed sectoral and geographic “focus” more than once over a short period in the 2000s, including greater support for Africa. The Harper government has subsequently changed geographic and sectoral priorities again; it is maintaining baseline commitments to Africa while signaling a pivot towards the Americas, where some observers fear aid is being implicitly re-tied to support Canadian mining interests.

II. The Bigger Issue: Scale

The distillation above amounts to a supply-driven overview of Canada’s development efforts. It tells us little as to how Canada is performing compared to the most important metrics, including the scale of global needs and reasonable standards of global burden sharing. By those standards, Canada has been falling short for a generation.

Most poignantly, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were established in 2000 as the benchmark international targets for tackling the worst elements of extreme global poverty by 2015 – including hunger, education, child survival, maternal health, pandemic disease and gender equality. Since then, all Canadian governments have supported the MDGs rhetorically, but there has been no systematic commitment to ensuring Canada fulfills its share of responsibilities towards achieving the global targets.

The middling national political commitment is reflected in the financial flows. Money is not sufficient to solve every problem, but resources are necessary for tackling practical investments at scale. Nearly a decade ago, the UN Millennium Project (of which I was Manager) conducted the most detailed bottom-up estimates of the costs of achieving the MDGs, calculating that the investments required amounted to roughly 0.5 percent of the rich countries’ collective national incomes, rising to 0.54 percent in 2015. When added to other global aid priorities beyond the MDGs, the Project estimated that 0.7 percent was a fair estimate of each rich country’s share of the global development cost. In parallel, 0.7 also had the political legitimacy of having been affirmed repeatedly through international agreements, including the historic 2002 Monterrey UN International Conference on Financing for Development. With Canadian aid hovering at around 0.3 percent of national income for the past decade, the country is unambiguously falling short in contributing its fair share to the world’s core anti-poverty goals.

The 0.7 percent benchmark will still apply beyond the 2015 MDG deadline. The recent High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda has underscored both growing private finance and the 0.7 percent aid commitments as essential complements for achieving the next generation of development goals, including the end of extreme poverty by 2030. As part of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, my former colleagues Jeffrey Sachs and Guido Schmidt-Traub have similarly estimated that, even amidst developing countries’ ongoing progress in graduating from aid, commitments of 0.7 percent will still be required to meet global development priorities for roughly another 15 years.

For context, when Lester Pearson chaired the landmark Partners in Development global commission in 1969, it first recommended the global standard of 0.7 percent of national income as government aid and 0.3 percent as private aid, for a total of 1 percent from each country. The catch is that Canada’s average per capita income has more than doubled over the period since. Surprisingly, we have taken a regressive approach across generations, with the current one allocating less than its predecessors, even though we are now much richer.

The United Kingdom’s recent history provides a crucial comparison. As shown in Figure 1 below, Canada allocated significantly more to aid than the UK did in the early 1990s. By the turn of the millennium, the two countries were roughly equal. The UK then launched a societal shift in its approach to global development. It will reach a major milestone this year, when David Cameron’s Conservative-led government will reach the 0.7 percent aid target for the first time, following through on the Labour government commitments made a decade ago under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. As Prime Minister Cameron has said, despite major challenges following the global financial crisis, the UK will not balance its books on the backs of the world’s poorest people.


In recent years Canadian citizens have made up partially for their government’s retreat. Figure 2 draws from OECD data and indicates that Canada’s private giving has increased dramatically since 2000 as well. Much of this is undoubtedly motivated by inspiring entrepreneurs leading newer organizations like Free the Children and Right to Play, which are helping to redefine social engagement. Much of it is also surely motivated by an underlying national ethos of global citizenship that feels ever more empowered by modern technology.

III. Look Who’s (Not) Talking

Why has Canada not shown more leadership on the global development challenge? One important factor is the lack of a public conversation to prompt the politicians to move. As one indicator, I recently did a search to see how often the term “Millennium Development Goals” (and reasonable variants) was used in print editions of The Globe and Mail as the national newspaper of record. I compared this to The New York Times for a U.S. counterpoint.

The results are presented in Figure 3, showing remarkable cross-border consistency from year to year. There was very little public MDG discussion prior to 2005. That was the year when the UN Millennium Project presented its recommendations, as did Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa, all in the lead up to the historic Gleneagles G8 Summit and UN World Summit. The next year of major public attention was not until 2010, when Canada hosted the G8 and G20 summits. But otherwise the graph shows the stark fact that in most years since 2000 the most diligent Globe subscribers, reading every story every day, would only see mention of the MDGs once every 1 to 3 months. In 2012 they would see only two mentions over the course of the year.


Does this simply reflect the MDGs being too wonky for public discussion? Looking at the number of mentions in major UK outlets suggests not, as per Figure 4. Here we compare the Globe to The Guardian of London and the Financial Times, and see that these UK newspapers have typically provided several fold more intensive MDG coverage. The UK’s robust multi-year public conversation is crucial to understanding how the country developed an all-party consensus around policies like the 0.7 aid target and long-term engagement for development. Canada needs something similar.

IV. Forward Canada

There is much to be appreciated in Canada’s aid policy advances over the past decade. But they do not amount to fulfilling either a global leadership role nor even contributing a fair share. The good news is that long-term progress is clearly possible and no trend is predetermined. The challenge is one for all forms of public leadership: to mobilize a broader public debate and to recognize that better long-term policy making comes over time through consistent societal engagement. In my own experience, Canadians want to meet the required commitments on things like the MDGs, and shoulder a fair share of the cost. Most do not know that their country is structurally falling short.

Fortunately, Canada has a major window of opportunity for a renewed societal conversation on global development. With more than two years before the next federal election, set for October 2015, now is the moment to reframe key issues and directions. Voices from academia, business, media, and non-governmental organizations all need to help guide the debate. The politicians will listen. Ideally, the social consensus can advance over the next 28 months such that, whoever might actually win the next election, all parties are committed to lifting Canada’s development strategy to the needed minimum standards. The next and final installment of this blog series will suggest some starting points for the conversation.

Part III: A Way Forward

Canada’s next generation global development efforts will draw from much more than public sector action. Governments matter, but their matrix of responsibilities is shifting, both within and across countries. To map out a way forward, Canada needs an organized national conversation across key stakeholders, aligned to the “post-2015” global development debates already underway. Such an effort can develop a common understanding of the global challenges at hand, and then strategize as to how Canadians might best collaborate to help address them. This needs to be done in the context of a rapidly shifting global environment. And it could practice implementing through goal-oriented collaboration starting today. The following outlines some thoughts as to how this could happen.

I. Gather the National Team

A first step for a robust national conversation is to develop a platform for coordinating across a full range of key constituencies. The federal government has made important progress in streamlining a “whole-of-government” approach to humanitarian emergencies. Moving forward, we need a better “whole-of-country” approach to supporting global development. Specifically, we need a multi-stakeholder body – call it a Canadian Global Development Council, or perhaps a Canadian Council on Post-2015 – to review and recommend national policies and actions. Such a body would bring together, as equals, representatives from government, non-profits, business, and academia.

A national Council could be a voluntary mechanism to promote national coordination for development. It could be temporary or long-term. Its core purpose would be to develop common cross-stakeholder priorities, wherever possible; to provide transparent and systematic advice to the government on global development needs; and to provide similar opportunities to non-governmental stakeholders on ways in which they could coordinate to leverage their respective strengths.

II. Conduct a Systematic Review of Global Needs and Priorities


The first step for a Council would be to conduct a joint diagnosis of global needs alongside clear timetables and deadlines. Fortunately, a UN High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons recently recommended 12 overarching objectives and accompanying quantitative targets to guide global strategy from 2016 through 2030. These could provide a useful cheat sheet for the Council’s deliberations. As listed in Table 1, the goals (plus selected targets indicated in italics) include ending extreme poverty in its many forms, expanding prosperity and peace at all levels of development, and advancing multiple metrics of sustainability.

The range of 12 goals is both broad and essential. Each one requires deep dive technical debates, smart policies, strong data systems, and adequate resources. Canada has only one half of one percent of the global population, so it cannot solve any of the problems on its own. But it can be a leader in providing systematic assessments of global needs and deciding how best to address them across stakeholders in coordination with other countries. If, for example, members of a Council decide to focus in one area, then there needs to be coordination with partner countries to ensure other issues are not abandoned. It also means investing more than “average share” on the focus area, since others will receive less attention.

III. Identify Shifts and Opportunities

A variety of meta trends are shifting the global development context. In mapping out the details of any goal-specific approaches, a Council should recognize at least six elements to overarching success.

1) Commit Long-term Support to Low-Income Countries

As the world economy’s center of gravity shifts towards Asia, many countries are experiencing rapidly rising living standards. Large countries like Ghana, India, Indonesia, and Nigeria have seen so much progress that they are now technically middle-income economies. They may still have large numbers of very poor people, but they have an increasing ability to solve their deepest poverty challenges through domestic means. Outside governments will play an ever-smaller “aid” role in supporting public expenditures in these countries, while private capital markets continue to expand their reach. Public sector support will likely focus more on technical cooperation issues and on helping to “crowd-in” private capital where market failures are present – for example in agriculture and energy markets.

Nonetheless, many of the poorest countries still face a long road out of poverty that requires long-term financial assistance. As a rough rule of thumb, countries require aid to provide population-wide basic services until they graduate to middle-income status. Today there are 36 countries below the World Bank’s technical middle-income threshold of $1,025 in per capita income.


Figure 1 show that some countries are very close to crossing the middle-income threshold while others remain far away. The green bars show how many years it would take a cross-section of countries to achieve today’s middle-income status at spectacular 8 percent rate of real per capita economic growth (appreciating the measurement challenges, as per Morten Jerven’s recent book on Poor Numbers). The blue bars show how long it takes at a more modest but still impressive 5 percent per capita growth rate. Orange shows the trajectory at a 2 percent growth rate. As one example, even if Ethiopia’s real per capita incomes climb at an average of 5 percent per year, it will take 21 years to achieve middle-income status. For Haiti, it would take 20 years if growth rates stay low at 2 percent.

2) Include a Targeted Approach to Development in Fragile States


An important group of countries faces particular long-term challenges: the so-called “fragile states,” of which the World Bank’s most recent list is presented in Table 2. Most of these countries have limited or unpredictable capacity to deliver basic government services, and do not get necessary attention until military crises erupt and grab headlines. They need targeted basic service support to help get on the road to development.


As one illustration of the challenge, Figure 2 shows child mortality trends in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo alongside two of Africa’s best performing countries, Rwanda and Senegal. In the two fragile states, nearly one in five children still do not survive to their fifth birthday. Meanwhile, Rwanda and Senegal have experienced some of the fastest child survival improvements in history. Canada and other countries need to identify better basic mechanisms to help turn trends similarly downward in fragile environments.

3) Leverage Broadband Super-connectivity

Imminent global broadband connectivity presents tremendous opportunities for new ideas and approaches. It is hard to remember that, in 2000, only around ten percent the world had access to a mobile phone. Today roughly 70 percent have access and nearly forty percent of the world uses the internet. Soon these technologies will converge with universal accessibility. In both China and India, more than half of internet traffic is already generated through mobile phones. Even in Africa, the poorest continent, around one in six people now have access to the internet, with rapid proliferation underway.

The movement towards full global connectivity will not solve every problem, but it will be transformative in ways we cannot yet imagine. It will empower new forms of service delivery, such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) and the “mHealth” revolution that is empowering field workers with new tools for patient management in some of the most remote regions of the planet. It will facilitate new business models across diffuse populations, including “mFarming” support to smallholder farmers across Africa. It will facilitate new methods of government transparency and accountability and new means of citizen access to basic services, as through India’s national identification registry. And it will allow new forms of private collaboration across the globe, such as the GPS-empowered microphilanthropy model pioneered by organizations like charity:water and We need to keep encouraging highly scalable new development solutions that can be pioneered over the medium term.

4) Re-imagine Global Institutions

A Canadian Council needs to keep in mind that the institutional landscape of global development has evolved significantly over the past 15 years, and it can continue to do so over the next 15. In 1998, two years before the MDG targets were established, there was no Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), no Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria and no U.S. bilateral program to control either AIDS or malaria. All of these institutions have been pivotal in the global health revolution of the past decade. Similarly, the G-20 was a twinkle in Paul Martin’s eye, rather than a premier global economic policy forum.

These institutions were all created as the result of medium- to long-term campaigns. Today, two years before a post-2015 agenda might take hold, we need to start mapping out the next round of institutional innovations. This can be informed by some key questions. How can regional peer review bodies be enhanced to stimulate governments that feel disconnected from global pressures? How can adequate global budgets be set aside for humanitarian emergencies, similar to Canada’s recently established “crisis pool”? How can politically legitimate bodies coordinate sector-specific investments bridging public and private finance? How can industry-by-industry governance systems establish protocols for sustainable investment, building on recent progress around transparency in extractive industries? Some of these questions might be best addressed through current institutions. Others might need new forms of global organization.

5) Identify New Global Mechanisms for the Environment

The global environmental questions deserve special emphasis as the area where global institutions are probably falling short the most. We need new mechanisms to manage humanity’s quickly growing footprint. Many scientific experts believe we are crossing planetary boundaries with potentially irreversible consequences, including in biodiversity loss, climate change, and nitrogen cycles. These and other boundaries like ocean acidification will be pushed to the utmost as rapid industrialization continues to take place across countries containing a majority of the world’s population.

Climate change is probably the most high-profile global environmental issue, but it is far from the only one. Fisheries, toxic waste, ocean acidification, flood risks, and water systems management are a few of the other priorities. These need to be addressed with recognition that most global environmental coordination efforts have fallen short so far. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have prompted limited progress on the environment, and it is not clear that sovereign borders form the right unit for addressing global environmental systems in any case. A more rigorous and scientifically-driven international approach to environmental goal-setting and tracking needs to be established.

Canada faces particularly profound challenges on the environmental front, due to its policies as an intensive energy consumer and also a significant hydrocarbon exporter. If the country is going to continue to pursue development in the oil sands, for example, then it needs to have world-leading complementary policies for promoting carbon pricing, for developing renewable energy technologies and for contributing to other global environmental solutions.

6) (Re)Define Accountability

All of the above trends imply a new approach to accountability. How should Canadian stakeholders be held accountable for their global development actions? How should global partners be held accountable? Some multilateral bodies are squarely driven by results, while some focus ultimately on process. Meanwhile corporate players are considered necessary partners in many global strategies. Non-profit organizations drive many policy and service delivery agendas, whether in partnership or confrontation with sitting public institutions. Academics often conduct the research that guides policy thinking, even when their professional incentives might not align with incentives of public interest. All of these stakeholders must assume responsibilities to accompany their opportunities. Defining the accountability metrics forms a central challenge for the global development agenda.

IV. Practice, Practice, Practice: MDG Final 900 Days

Canada has a little more than two years to frame a generation’s priorities for post-2015. This could be treated as an opportunity to test-drive a national Council and practice multi-stakeholder coordination. There is a specific window at hand, since December 31, 2015 marks the final deadline for the MDGs, the most extensive (so far) global anti-poverty collaboration in history.

On April 6, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked the launch of the MDGs’ final 1000 days. Some leaders set highly specific targets. For example, GAVI aims to introduce path-breaking rotavirus and pneumococcal child vaccines to up to 50 countries by the deadline, contributing huge new waves of progress in child survival. Meanwhile the respected Nigerian minister of health announced plans to retrain 30,000 community health workers, and scale up diagnostic services for 2 million women to help eliminate mother-to-child HIV transmission. Ray Chambers, the Wall Street pioneer who now serves as the Secretary-General’s special envoy on malaria and financing of the health-related MDGs, announced a campaign target of saving 4.4 million children’s lives. The clock is ticking on all fronts. July 14 will mark only 900 days to go.

In political terms, the final stretch of the MDG cycle matches almost perfectly with Canada’s federal election scheduled for the fall of 2015. The politicians should be competing to see who can achieve what. But it would even more exciting to see what all Canadians can help achieve over the next 30 months. What can the businesses, the NGOs, the researchers, and the media all contribute? What specific pledges or goals can each set for themselves?

Ultimately, it is up to all elements of Canadian society to tackle the country’s long-term global development responsibilities more seriously. Think tanks, academics and practitioners need to play a leadership role in fleshing out the evidence around global priorities and how Canada can best fit in to them. The business community needs to provide leadership voices for targeted, transparent, and goal-based investments in both public and private sectors. Civil society and non-governmental communities need to embrace their roles as leadership partners for action, voices of the underrepresented, and, in many cases, mobilizers for innovation and service delivery at scale.

Let’s all be the generation to define and fulfill Canada’s global promise for 2030. Not because we have to. Because we can.

In the series


The 0.7% Promise

In 1970, we committed to spending 0.7% of our GDP on aid. In the 44 years since, only a small handful of countries have reached that goal. Canada never has. Here we track the progress made by eight countries.

Aid Through Education

Canada is an international leader. Now act like one, writes Jennifer Jeffs.

The Plumpy’Nut Story

Heather Keachie on how one person's emergency food aid can become another person's candy bar.

Trade Has a Place in Canada’s Foreign Aid Policy

Danielle Goldfarb on why Canada's aid policies need to better reflect the global economic reality.

The Cost of Ad Hoc Aid

David Hornsby on how uncertainty and inconsistency are undermining Canada's aid policy.

A Guide to the Post-2015 Debates

Confused about who wants what in the sustainability debate? John McArthur considers the many dimensions of the discussion.

Look South for the Future of Aid

Robert Muggah and Jennifer Welsh question the accepted development assistance formula, and look south for answers.