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How Canada Can Become A Leader In Global Development Cooperation

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By Julia Sanchez

The end of July marked the wrap-up of public consultations held as part of Global Affairs Canada's International Assistance Review, the first major examination of our international cooperation agenda in over two decades. Civil society groups in the international development sector engaged fully in the process during the past months, contributing to a lively discussion on the best ways forward for Canada's engagement with the world.

Whatever direction and priorities the government sets for itself as a result of this review, it is clear that new policies and practices are needed in order for Canada to have a positive impact on the challenges faced by the world today.

Canada has a strong record of contributing to global peace and prosperity. Canada's international development and humanitarian actions have for decades allowed it to play a proactive and positive role on the world stage. But in order to ensure sustainable development in a quickly changing landscape, both domestically and internationally, we must do things differently. New ways of working, fresh innovations and new partnerships are needed to address the root causes of poverty, injustice and conflict. Business as usual is just not an option.

Canadian civil society is a key partner for government in delivering successful international assistance programs.

Given the universal nature of the world's global challenges, this will require not just whole-of-government but whole-of-Canada collaboration. The Canadian government must lead the way. It should pioneer approaches for partnership and dialogue that bring all three levels of government together with non-state actors -- including civil society organizations (CSOs), Indigenous communities, youth, academics and the private sector -- to collaborate around meeting Canada's sustainable development commitments, both at home and abroad. Silos must be broken and lack of coherence across different ministries must be addressed.

The government must also ensure that its policies foster effective, innovative, and integrated programming that builds on the many strengths of Canada's diverse and globally-connected communities. This includes providing incentives and support for the varied actors and organizations that are an integral part of Canada's development ecosystem. Predictable and responsive funding mechanisms must be put in place to engage a wide range of actors in Canada's efforts, and mechanisms for meaningful and sustained dialogue must be nurtured to ensure effectiveness. Canada must also support regulatory and legislative frameworks that allow key actors in the development process, including civil society, to contribute to their full potential.

Canadian civil society is a key partner for government in delivering successful international assistance programs. The government must acknowledge and support the important role of the advocacy, research and policy work that this sector does. It must also renew responsive and flexible funding to civil society, and reverse the declining funding trend of recent years.

In order to be fit for the new global development era, Canada must also become much more transparent.

To meet the obligations and opportunities of the new global development agenda, particularly the challenge of "leaving no one behind," innovation will be essential. The working definition of innovation that has emerged through the review consultations includes new partnerships, technologies, behaviours, policies, programs, ways to be efficient, and ways to leverage.

The breadth and inclusiveness of this definition are welcome, and should be reflected through Global Affairs Canada's support for a wide range of innovative proposals -- including those reflecting social, behavioural or attitudinal innovations or policy entrepreneurship. Innovation is a cornerstone of Canadian civil society approaches to development cooperation, and there is already a significant pool of knowledge in the sector around what does, may, and does not work.

In order to be fit for the new global development era, Canada must also become much more transparent. More open and timely information on its development budget must be made available, and policies must be clarified. Over the past decade, a policy vacuum has set in at what is now Global Affairs Canada. Policies that needed to be reviewed or renewed have fallen by the wayside, new policies to respond to emerging issues have not seen the light of day, and there has been a reluctance to make public some of the policies, and strategies that have been developed. This needs to change.

Finally, to be successful, the government must also match its ambitions with commensurate investments. It is time that Canada commit to reaching the long-standing internationally agreed -- and Canadian-initiated -- target of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income for development cooperation. This funding increase should be gradual, predictable, transparent, and focused on the poorest and most vulnerable. The government should work with partners in civil society and elsewhere to develop plans, policies and funding mechanisms to maximize the impact of these growing investments.

Canada can and should be a leader in global development cooperation. Working together as Canadians, we can help build a fairer, more sustainable and safer world.

This blog was first published on August 17 in The Hill Times.

Julia Sanchez is President-CEO of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC), Canada's national coalition of civil society organizations (CSOs) working globally to achieve sustainable human development.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of CCIC or its members.

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