In 2012 I was a student in a world filled with uncertainties – a global recession, rapid climate change and fears about food shortages. Twenty years later it is amazing to see how much the world has changed – we have seen once powerful countries such as Greece and Spain fall, and once struggling countries such as Brazil, India and China become some of the most powerful countries in the world. While all the problems in the world can’t have been solved, a significant start has been made.
Working to overhaul what was the Department for International Development (DFID), I have helped to create UK Action for Development (UKAD). Whilst the UN target of spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid promised in 2012 (Watt, 2012) has been met, the way in which aid is given and the goals used to help this have changed. Instead of focusing on huge goals such as the MDGs, we now focus on a series of smaller and more achievable goals, the Development Objectives, focusing not on whole countries but on success in villages and towns. This means that goals are achieved more frequently, giving everyone a feeling of success and a drive to continue.
Understanding that ‘Business is a primary driver of innovation, investment and job creation’ (Ban Ki-moon, 2010) we have focused on what business can do for development. Using the concept of philanthro-capitalism (using money from business to help developing countries) we have set up programmes helping multinational corporations to do their bit. By linking companies with grassroots NGOs in developing countries, businesses have been encouraged to think about their role in development. This has also increased the money available to these NGOs.
‘Only with communication will the project beneficiaries become the principal actors to make development programmes successful’ (FAO). Recognising the role of communication in development has been vital in rethinking official aid. By improving communication with people in developing countries we have been able to increase the success rate of projects. This is linked to our bottom-up approach to development, allowing us to create programmes and projects to best suit the needs of the local people.
This video shows the lack of understanding of the British public about official aid in 2012. We have recognised the importance of educating people in Britain about what we do. By understanding how much of their money is going on international aid and how it is being spent, people are less critical and have an increased interest in getting involved in development.
Finally, instead of just seeing development as figures and statistics, there is now an increased interest in the economics of subjective well-being. Described as the ‘economics of happiness’ (Dolan, Peasgood and White, 2007, abstract) studying this is helping to understand that it isn’t just money that makes people happy. Research suggests that ‘poor health, separation, unemployment and lack of social contact’ (Dolan, Peasgood and White, 2007, abstract) are all negative on subjective well-being. This has allowed a better understanding of how to improve the lives of people in developing countries.
While there are still people living in poverty and many inequalities in the world, reforms in official aid agencies in the last 20 years have greatly improved methods of giving aid and the state of development. There is lots of work that still needs to be done, but I believe that we are in a better position now to do it.
Dolan, P. Peasgood, T. and White, M. (2007) ‘Do we really know what makes us happy? A review of the economic literature on the factors associated with subjective well-being’, Journal of Economic Psychology, 29(1), pp. 94-112
FAO, Communication – a key to human development. Available from: http://www.fao.org/docrep/t1815e/t1815e01.htm (accessed 03/12/2012)
United Nations (2010), Secretary-General, Opening Private Sector Forum, Urges Business to Recognise the Investment in Millennium Development Goals is ‘Win-Win Proposition’. Available from: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2010/sgsm13129.doc.htm (accessed 03/12/2012)
Watt, N. (2012) Government committed to UN overseas aid target, says Justine Greening. The Guardian. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/sep/11/government-un-overseas-aid (accessed 03/12/2012)