Canada, a preferred development partner? Think again

By Yiagadeesen (Teddy) Samy

A new study puts Canada in the bottom tier of what international partners consider the most helpful, influential donor countries.

AidData, a research lab located at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., has just released a report that examines aid effectiveness from the perspectives of those that are being advised and assisted by donors.

Between January and March 2017, AidData asked public, private, and civil society leaders from low- and middle-income countries to identify their preferred development partners among various bilateral and multilateral development agencies. Specifically, leaders were asked to share their views on how donors were influential in shaping policy priorities and how helpful donors were in implementing policy
initiatives or reforms.

These leaders held positions of responsibility between 2010 and 2015 and were thus knowledgeable about various development policy initiatives during that time. The results show how various bilateral (including Canada) and multilateral donors performed on “influence” and “helpfulness” metrics.

So how did Canada do? On “influence,” Canada is ranked 27th out of 35 bilateral and multilateral donors. Various stakeholders—government officials, local representatives of development partners, and civil society organizations—ranked Canada very poorly.
On “helpfulness,” Canada is ranked 25th out of 35. Canada again received a poor ranking by government officials and local representatives of development partners, and does somewhat better with civil society organizations.

Canada’s ranking within regions (sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Pacific, and Latin America and Caribbean) or by sector, on both influence and helpfulness, is also quite poor. It is hard to find a region or sector where Canada stands out.

Since it may be unfair to compare bilateral and multilateral agencies because of their different mandates and portfolios, a look at how Canada does relative to other OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) bilaterals would seem more appropriate.

Unfortunately, Canada’s ranking among bilaterals is
again quite low. Among OECD DAC donors (and excluding the European Union), Canada’s rank on influence is 11 out of 13, and on helpfulness, nine out of 13. So, overall, Canada’s performance leaves much to be desired.

But there are a few key takeaways. First of all, money and client base matters; large multilaterals such as the World Bank and the IMF, and bilaterals such as the United States and the United Kingdom, work with many people, and they are ranked among the most helpful and most influential partners. How much is spent in terms of volume of aid dollars is positively associated with performance.

Smaller and more specialized agencies such as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) are also highly rated. They tend to serve a specific target audience and are thus able to establish deeper ties with them.

Thirdly, bilateral donors that don’t do so well overall can be helpful and influential in specific regions (for example, Australia in the East Asia and Pacific region) and sectors (for example, Japan on the environment, and Sweden on governance).

Finally, unsurprisingly, non-DAC donors (that often adopt a policy of non-interference) are not viewed as being very influential. But they are not particularly helpful either because they tend to work mostly with government stakeholders. However, when we compare the rankings in this survey with an earlier one conducted in 2014, some non-DAC donors such as China and India are becoming more influential relative to OECD DAC donors.

And this has implications for Canada, because our aid disbursements in volume terms have not changed a lot recently, varying roughly between $5-billion to $5.8-billion between 2010 and now. The aid-to-grossnational-income ratio has also been quite low and below the average of all OECD DAC donors in recent
years.

Such numbers make it more challenging to be influential and helpful.
Low aid disbursements become even more problematic when they are spread across many countries/regions and sectors. Does this mean that specialization is the way to go? Not necessarily. As the report indicates, being specialized may also mean less influence because many development issues such as poverty or lack of governance require a cross-sectoral approach.

Finally, will Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), released in 2017 be influential and helpful? Money matters but the success of the FIAP will ultimately depend on how much it engages with domestic stakeholders and aligns with the national priorities and strategies of recipient countries.

 

Yiagadeesen (Teddy) Samy is a full professor and Director at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University.

This article was originally published in The Hill Times

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