U.K. Minister: Donor community should focus on developing countries? growth potential
On Wednesday, July 29, with the support of the Congressional EU Caucus and the Caucus on Congressional-World Bank Dialogue, GMF hosted a breakfast on Capitol Hill with U.K. Minister for International Development Douglas Alexander and members of Congress. Jim Kolbe, former member of Congress and GMF senior transatlantic fellow, moderated the discussion that focused largely on the United Kingdom's increasing attention to sustainable development in fragile states, in particular, Afghanistan. At the breakfast, Minister Alexander offered his perspectives on shifting global challenges as a result of the economic downturn, and discussed the importance of international collaboration in the face of decreased market access and overall trade flows.
Outlining his white paper on global poverty and U.K. development aid, Minister Alexander emphasized the importance that we, as developed nations, need to take steps away from viewing developing nations as "needy," but rather in terms of their potential for internal "growth" with some outside aid. He also touched on the recognition of climate change issues in developing nations and their policy implications in Third World countries. The minister brought up the U.S./U.K. experience in Afghanistan, with particular reference to carrying out humanitarian missions in an environment with serious security concerns. Pointing to the situation in Afghanistan, Minister Alexander discussed the need to improve the international aid system.
The discussion was followed by a question and answer period, where participants focused on the recent economic downturn and its effects on foreign aid. Minister Alexander explained that it is important that we sustain the political case for development. The financial crisis has demonstrated that the "developing world" is not separate from the "developed world," we are all intertwined. There are moral and economic opportunity arguments in support of continued foreign aid. He commented on the current architecture of U.S. aid, sighting the complexity and misalignment of aid interests, in particular, noting that the United States is "punching below its weight" in terms of international aid on a global scale due to inefficiencies in the U.S. system. The minister also recognized the importance and sovereignty of the recipient government and working with that government when delivering aid.
Touching upon the capabilities of the United States Agency for International Development and grassroots operations, some members of Congress raised concern over prior failed efforts, particularly in terms of "connecting" with the indigenous peoples in light of security concerns. Minister Alexander addressed the difficulties of Foreign Service Officers (FSO) when carrying out missions in countries with high security threat levels, but also added that it is paramount to work within the governmental systems to integrate FSOs into theses societies. He ended the roundtable discussion by outlining the concerns that need to be addressed in Afghanistan moving forward, including achieving security, counteracting the appeal of the Taliban through the application of vigilantly swift justice, and delivering security through an organized development effort (health and education), in particular, appealing to the sub-national levels by improving the skill set of personnel and soldiers at the grassroots level.