Editor’s Note: John McArthur discusses the most common misconceptions around foreign aid in a three part series originally posted on OpenCanada.org.
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.
Homi Kharas delivered the keynote address at IFPRI’s annual staff retreat on September 12, 2018. He explored the evolving development agenda and its implications for policy research.