The world’s poorest, sacrificed to the whims of the almighty market. Charities and non-governmental organizations carrying the water for profitable mining companies. Profits before people. These are just some of the critiques levelled against the federal government’s foreign-aid pivot, recently formalized in an address by new International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino.
However, while the implementation of the Conservatives’ foreign-aid vision has been bumpy, the ideas themselves are on the mark. Given the problems that long-term aid is intended to address, a focus on economic incentives is the right way to start a serious conversation about how to leverage scarce aid dollars into real, positive impact designed to lift poor people out of poverty. What’s now needed is a broad understanding of what that will actually look like.
Using the power of economic incentives and local entrepreneurs to catalyze development isn’t new. Muhammed Yunus, founder of Bangladeshi micro-credit lender the Grameen Bank, or Bill Drayton of the social-entrepreneurship firm Ashoka, have been stressing this approach to reducing poverty for decades. What is new is hearing these ideas voiced by a Canadian cabinet minister in a position to make this kind of change happen on a large scale, through Canadian efforts.
The goal, Mr. Fantino says, is to make people and countries trade-and-investment-ready. Through aid, Canada can make capital available, connect businesses to markets, and encourage greater investment.