Getting more bang for our foreign aid buck
Although I am closely involved in the aid and development sector, I was pleased to read Monday’s News Limited critical pieces by Steve Lewis in the Daily Telegraph and the Adelaide Advertiser.
Negative publicity is never good for any sector. However, the recent pieces in Australia’s newspapers are a positive sign of the fact that Australians are engaging with the global movement to take action on extreme poverty.
In my role as a development educator, I have been witnessing this change in our societal perspective on a daily basis. Australians are no longer simply asking how many aid dollars are being allocated to help the billions of people living in extreme poverty: we are now questioning the effectiveness of this spending. We are finally applying the age-old adage of ‘quality over quantity’ where it matters most, in the lives of the world’s poorest.
Just a few decades ago the debate was around whether we should do anything at all to combat poverty. Last year independent research for AusAID showed that 82% of Australian’s believe that extreme poverty is an important and relative issue to them. In a global poll done by BBC earlier this year, extreme poverty was voted the most serious problem facing our world, above terrorism, climate change or the state of the global economy.
Now it is time to take the debate further. In response to Lewis’ exposé of the aid sector as a lucrative ‘industry’, we should consider ourselves shareholders of the aid money invested by the government. Our opinion on the salaries paid to consultants and contractors should depend not simply on how much they cost, but how much they achieve. We should focus not on inputs but on outcomes, on how effectively we are reducing poverty levels and empowering the poor.
We, the Australian community, the taxpayers and thus shareholders of Australian public investment in aid and development, need to call on AusAID to report and communicate more than just dollar figures injected into the process of ending extreme poverty. We need to shift our focus towards holding government to account on the outcomes and effectiveness of our aid programs.
The question should not be how much are we spending on schools? But rather, how many schools are we building? How many children are we educating? How many girls are we empowering?
Interestingly, up until 2000 AusAID was publishing the ‘Blue Book’, which measured the official expenditure of development at an activity level. The Blue Book was a good start, providing a break down of aid projects classified by country, region and sector, however, it still focused on dollar amounts and not outcomes.
In 2006, AusAID established the Office of Development Effectiveness (ODE) to monitor the quality and evaluate the impact of the Australian aid program. Yearly, this office provides a thorough analysis of the effectiveness of Aid delivery and subsequently bring about best practice in following years.
Whilst this is an extremely effective monitoring and review process, AusAID need to start communicating the outcomes of ODE reports more effectively. Information must be digestible and provide a breakdown on how effectively we are progressing towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals across all countries and sectors.
It is heartening that the effectiveness of aid is getting mainstream media attention - indeed we must call for transparency and total accountability for outcomes across all sectors. Accounting for not just spending but outcomes is, after all, a cornerstone of good governance.
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