Hope, identity, and character: three forgotten truths about ending poverty

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Imagine a community in the Global South, perhaps a group of informal workers in an urban slum, or a group of subsistence farmers on marginal land.

Is there a successful model or simple idea that might dramatically change things for these women and men?  A magic bullet that could help them escape poverty? [Read more…]

“Ray Bans and the rest of it” – why aid works

This morning I woke up in what appeared to be the eighties. In those first blurry moments, I wondered how long I’d been asleep. Not only was the ‘racist van’ topping the headlines again, but UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom was instructing Radio 4 listeners on why he believes it is a travesty that UK taxpayers fund aid to ‘Bongo Bongo land’. Coupled with the link sent to me by a friend to the band ‘Scott and Charlene’s Wedding’ (who married in 1987 fact fans), I honestly did feel like I’d somehow managed to sleepwalk my way into the DeLorean.

While I’m writing this, I’m clicking through as many online atlases as I can, trying to locate ‘Bongo Bongo’ land. Maybe I’ve got the spelling wrong but I’m not having much luck finding it really, maybe because I failed to secure a GCSE in geography, or (as Mr Bloom might contend), as a lady of ‘baby-making age’, I should be at home cleaning behind my fridge and not worrying about such matters.

I’m not going to launch into a detailed, worthy defence of aid here, mainly because people like Godfrey Bloom will stick like glue to their misinformed and frankly offensive opinions, regardless of how much evidence exists to the contrary. And judging by Jim Naughtie’s fairly resigned response to Mr Bloom’s tirade, coupled with the reaction on Twitter, I’m guessing most people are aware that his appraisal of international aid is up there with the Harry Potter series.

However, what I did find mildly interesting was how convicted Mr Bloom was that aid somehow goes on “ray ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris and all the rest of it”.

Every time aid gets mentioned, I count under my breath until the cries of ‘corruption!’ rise up. It’s a bit like bingo really – charity begins at home (tick), all the money goes to dictators (tick), they blow it all on space programmes (tick), HOUSE! – but what people like Godfrey Bloom have failed to notice is how much work has been done and is still being undertaken, to ensure that aid goes where it’s most needed and to support citizens in developing countries in building their capacity to hold their own governments to account for its expenditure.

Back in June, the EU passed unprecedented legislation to ensure that multinationals publish what they pay for developing countries’ natural resources, which for some, amounts to seven times what they receive in aid. A significant breakthrough, which will have a serious impact for people living in some of the world’s poorest countries. The next step will be to ensure greater budget transparency, so that citizens all over the world can access information about how their governments are spending their taxes and investments. We hope that this will be considered by countries attending the Open Government Partnership annual meeting in the Autumn, currently chaired by the UK.

But going back to the EU Accounting and Transparency Directives. Eighteen MEPs voted against the groundbreaking transparency legislation in June and Godfrey Bloom was one of them. I’m honestly baffled that someone who opposes UK overseas development assistance on the grounds of corruption, would also openly counter legislation which not only paves the way for far greater transparency in our international and business relations, but might also one day end the need for aid entirely.

Aid works. It really does. In the last ten years, more than 50 million children have started going to school in sub-Saharan Africa, while deaths from measles have fallen by nearly 75%. I could quote and quote and quote statistics. And yet 2.3 million children still die every year from malnutrition. I’m not sure I want to know what Mr Bloom thinks about that, or what he’d say to the 2.3 million mothers who will mourn the desperate loss of their children this year, all because they didn’t have enough food to eat. But I hope that the Great British public drowns out his racist ramblings with furious compassion for those who are worse off than us, because it’s what we do best.