Aid at a Crossroads: Where do we go from here? |

In our work as global health advocates, we often say that we are at a tipping point – on the verge of finally aligning all the right factors to create important change. The imagery it evokes is inspiring and motivating and pushes us to work that much harder to reach our goals of eradicating disease, eliminating poverty, and achieving equity, just to name a few. But what we often overlook are the fundamental limitations imposed on us by the current understanding and practices of Official Development Assistance (ODA); we are fighting within the box and forget to think outside of the box.

The concept of aid, particularly as it relates to international development and global health, is in flux. Traditional ways of approaching aid and how we fund aid work are long overdue for an overhaul, as we reach a precipice of donor fatigue and changing priorities. We know this, but what are we to do about it?

In response to the need to look at this issue more proactively, International Civil Society Support (ICSS), Open Society Foundations (OSF), and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (the Global Fund) convened a Thought Leaders Retreat in January of 2018.This retreat brought together 33 individuals from across academia, institutions, and the development and activist communities, to develop and hone a new vision for the future of aid, and to begin the process of championing it.

The report from the two-day meeting provides in-depth analysis and breakdown of the conversations that led to the development of a new Theory of Change, as well as a long list of thoughtfully articulated reflections and insights on the need to change the concept of aid, and how we need to come together as a community of change-makers to flip the current paradigm on its head and begin to move forward with a new approach.

A new concept for aid that aligns with the SDGs would emphasize increasing global equality, not just ending extreme poverty; it would address mutually beneficial global public goods; it would bring to an end persistent “us and them” implications; it would be a permanent mechanism for the correction of distributive asymmetries and market failures at international level; it would incorporate sharing knowledge and experiences and promoting standards and rules rather than emphasize only financial transfers. Its objectives would be threefold: to guarantee minimum social standards for all people, wherever they live (national inequality); to reduce international inequality; and to provide global public goods. Such a vision could garner broad support nationally and internationally, but it needs to be championed.

We have now reached a crossroads: we can choose to continue trying to push forward in the same way we have for decades and hope that our efforts will not only eventually bear fruit, but also continue to be funded along the way, or we can finally begin to address the fundamentally outdated and flawed thinking that determines current aid policies and practices, and rally around a new joint approach that could change the world in ways we could previously only dream possible.

Peter van Rooijen
Executive Director, ICSS