How to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals: The Trillion (and More) Dollar Question

By Yiagadeesen (Teddy) Samy

The introductory blog for this series makes a compelling case for why Canada and Canadians should pay attention to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Indeed, it would be a shame if these SDGs are not fully embraced (and implemented) here at home, and by the international community writ large.

After all, it took years of consultations and negotiations to get where we are today: 17 SDGs (and 169 targets within them) to replace the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with a focus not just on the social aspects of development but also other issues such as peace and security, income inequality, and the environment and climate change.

It is also time to stop reminiscing about whether we could have come up with a simpler (shorter!) list of goals. At this point, such discussions can only be counterproductive at best. Let us not forget that even the eight MDGs were once seen as unrealistic and overly-ambitious; so it does not seem that having fewer goals (10 is a number that came up regularly in this debate) for Agenda 2030 would have calmed the critics (and I admit, myself included).

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Globalization, Poverty and Inequality

By: Yiagadeesen (Teddy) Samy

Published by The Institute of Public Administration of Canada in their Magazine: Public Sector Management Volume 25, Issue 2, Public Service Without Borders

Over the last three decades or so, rapid economic growth in China, India and several other countries in East Asia drove the decline in absolute poverty around the world. The achievement of the first Millenium Development Goal, namely the halving of the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day between 1990 and 2015, would not have been possible had it not been for impressive growth rates in these outward-oriented economies, and especially in China and India.

However, a group of so-called fragile states, many of which are located in sub-Saharan Africa, have been left behind as they failed to embrace and/or take advantage of globalization when compared with more successful regions and countries. Consider the following: sub-Saharan Africa’s shares of world trade and foreign direct investment remain very small and despite falling poverty rates, it is also the only region in the world where the number of poor people has increased in absolute terms (from 205 million in 1981 to 414 million in 2010).

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Re-focusing Canadian aid: Much ado about nothing

By Rachael Calleja and Yiagadeesen Samy

As originally posted at Embassy.

The recent Canadian government announcement to boost the number of countries of focus for its bilateral development assistance from 20 to 25 will not make a big difference to its aid program. While the proposed change is laudable and, if implemented, could improve the effectiveness of Canadian aid by reducing fragmentation, we doubt this latest announcement will have any tangible effect.

Many will debate why the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma, Benin or Burkina Faso have been added to the list of priority countries, or why Bolivia, Pakistan and Sudan are no longer on the list. But such a discussion is at best useless, and at worst counterproductive, because it distracts us from the real issues of aid fragmentation and effectiveness.

In fact, the parameters for choosing priority countries—based on their need, their capacity to benefit from aid, and their alignment with Canadian foreign policy priorities— are so broad that it is easy for anyone to justify why the 25 countries were chosen.

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The dangerous game of diaspora politics

As originally published in The Globe and Mail, Feb. 10 2012.

The term “diaspora” reflects the rise of truly transnational populations occupying a key niche in Canadian politics that allows them to influence both home and host government.

Diasporas can exert pressure on their home government from abroad, free from political threats and fear of retribution. And they can lobby their host country to put pressure on their home government to endorse policies ranging from human rights and governance reform to favourable international trade policies and security guarantees. Diaspora politics is seductive and populist. And governing parties can ride the wave of new immigrant support for generations.

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It’s All About the Money

There is a great deal of optimism surrounding the so-called ‘post-2015’ agenda that will replace the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established back in 2000. Development organizations around the world are energized by the possibility of ending extreme poverty by 2030 thanks to dramatic reductions in global poverty over the last decade. What is getting left out of the discussion is the real lesson of the MDGs: When it comes to highbrow debates about global development goals, at the end of the day, it’s really all about the money.

To put things in perspective, let’s unpack the impact of the MDGs. More than anything else, the MDGs were a millennial branding opportunity. They succeeded in making global development and poverty reduction high profile international issues. To understand this we need to think back to the 1990s when spending on foreign aid had stagnated, as many donors, Canada included, underwent fiscal austerity.

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Foreign Policy Coherence and Aid: More of the Same

In recent years, CIDA has been cited as one of the poorest international performers in fragmentation and policy coherence.  In 2008 Canada ranked as the second worst bilateral donor (following Germany) in terms of fragmentation in aid programming. Similar studies have shown that Canada ranks in the bottom 20th percentile for aid fragmentation amongst the largest 40 bilateral and multilateral donors.

One of the key challenges that historically threatened the coherence of Canadian aid policy was the inability of CIDA to focus on specific priority countries and sectors.  Over the past decade, Canada has shown some improvements towards focusing aid spending, with aid concentration in priority countries (as a percentage of total bilateral aid) trending upward, peaking at 47% in 2010.  However, in 2011, that number fell to 39%, roughly half of what the target was expected to be.  With the remainder of bilateral funding spread between 126 additional bilateral recipients, efforts to reduce fragmentation through channeling more aid to fewer priority recipients appear to have been limited by CIDA’s continued allocation of a large proportion of aid funds beyond the stated priority recipients; it will be interesting to see whether these numbers change over the next few years.

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Dangerous game of ‘diaspora politics’ is here to stay

As originally posted on TheStar.com.

Thestar.com columnist Natalie Brender recently argued that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to boycott the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Sri Lanka this November is because of that country’s deteriorating human rights and governance record. Harper’s purpose, she claims, is “to convey principled condemnation of what’s happening to human rights and democracy in Sri Lanka” in a challenge to our claim that this is more obviously pandering to the Tamil diaspora in order to win votes.

She then went on to state that sometimes “Ottawa’s foreign policy decision-making is logically inexplicable except by reference to a diaspora community’s pressure and votes” and that “those cases of egregious pandering to diaspora communities are not the rule in Canada’s foreign policy-making – neither with the Harper government nor with previous ones.”

We could not disagree more. Whether one calls it “pandering to specific groups,” “diaspora politics” or “creative statecraft,” it is much more frequent than Brender thinks and it is also not going away anytime soon because of the political incentive structures shaped by Canada’s demographic trends.

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