In a new blog series, MFAN is going to feature the work and campaigns of its partners as they relate to foreign aid reform. One partner, Oxfam America has developed an Aid Reform program dedicated to bringing the voices and priorities of people living in poverty to the center of policy and practice. Oxfam believes that improving poverty-focused aid, rather than aid for security or strategic purposes, is the only way to make the U.S. a truly effective provider of foreign aid, by saving lives and helping nearly half of the world’s population to overcome poverty.
The Aid Reform team, directed by Gregory Adams, is conducting analytical and field research to assess the structure and shortcomings of the current U.S. aid system. They have created a report “Foreign Aid 101” to provide a factual overview of U.S. aid and dispel common myths about aid. The report also provides stories that demonstrate aid at its worst, sometimes completely failing to reach the people who need it most, and aid at its best. Examples of the latter include:
- the eradication of polio;
- increases in literacy worldwide;
- and the National Solidarity Program that gives rural villages in Afghanistan ownership over their own development. In 2003, as part of the National Solidarity Program, villagers in Dadi Khel were able to build their own hydropower plant to bring electricity to about 300 families. The program provides a model for other villages to identify and complete their own development projects.
Oxfam’s Aid Reform initiative has also developed a campaign called “Ownership in Practice: The Key to Smart Development” that demonstrates that when used in smart ways, aid can help people lift themselves out of poverty. “Ownership in Practice” explains that aid must strengthen the compact between citizens and states. With the implementation of the specific reforms that Oxfam advocates, U.S. foreign aid will be able to support effective states and active citizens in a meaningful way. Oxfam’s recommended reforms focus on increasing transparent information, building local capacity and extending control to responsible governments.
At a minimum, U.S. aid should:
- be transparent, providing recipient governments and civil society with comprehensive and useful information;
- be “untied” so that local contractors are able to develop their own capacity, thereby generating local jobs and much needed economic activity;
- and limit earmarks that are inconsistent with a country’s development priorities.
At best, Oxfam recommends that U.S. foreign aid:
- be predictable, allowing governments to plan for longer term programs and initiatives;
- be provided through indigenous financial systems;
- and increase direct budget support for states with responsible governments.
To get the word out about aid reform, Oxfam hosted a series of events tied to the Ownership report; watch the most recent event at the Newseum here. Oxfam hopes that through political advocacy such as this, the voices of committed aid experts and those affected by poverty will be heard by policy makers who have the power to make U.S. foreign aid truly effective in the fight against global poverty.