Jean Michel Severino says something you don’t often hear:

What is at stake with the MDGs is the creation on a global scale of the same sort of public redistribution mechanisms that were progressively established in the world’s richest societies over the course of the twentieth century. As most of today’s financial, environmental, or sanitary crises are unpredictable and ignore borders, it is in everyone’s interest to create a global “social safety net” that will span an indefinite period of time.  If we accept the logic behind the more pragmatic and ambitious philosophy of international aid that underpins the United Nations’ “Millennium Declaration,” we must quickly adapt our instruments to ensure more sustainable and predictable modes of financing.

As I argued the other day,it has become conventional to say that aid is temporary and transformational. There is political resistance to saying that transfers from rich countries to poor will be, and should be, a permanent part of a global society.

Foreign assistance is the modern equivalent of Victorian charity, as documented by Charles Dickens. It is given at the discretion of the rich to causes they consider worthy, surrounded by rhetoric about giving a helping hand.  Over time, it must evolve into a framework for global social justice and solidarity – provided as of right from those that hath, to those who hath not.

Severino’s view, which I agree with, has profound implications for how we conceive of foreign assistance, in terms of how we think about success, how we design activities and, as he says, how we make arrangements to pay for it.


Owen Barder

Owen is CEO of Precision Agriculture for Development. He has worked in the office of the UK Prime Minister, the British Treasury, the Department for International Development; and at the Center for Global Development.


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