11/30/2015 04:03 EST | Updated 11/30/2016 05:12 EST

How Canada Can Regain Its Development Influence Abroad

If Canada is really "back," as our Prime Minister has announced, and if we are to make Canada a leader in development innovation and effectiveness, then we need to understand why Canada's development influence has contracted this severely and what changes could be made to improve our performance in a range of areas.

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A survey disseminated widely through a recent piece by The Guardian's Duncan Green brought some new information to light that should be of great interest to Canada's new Minister of International Development. According to 6,750 policy makers and practitioners from 126 low and middle-income countries, Canada has not made the cut, or even the long-list, of development partners deemed to have agenda-setting influence, to be helpful in implementing needed reforms, or to simply be providing useful advice that meets their needs. Yet many other small, middle power countries such as Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and New Zealand succeeded in doing so.

As a result, if Canada is really "back," as our Prime Minister has announced, and if we are to make Canada a leader in development innovation and effectiveness, then we need to understand why Canada's development influence has contracted this severely and what changes could be made to improve our performance in a range of areas. In our view the answers revolve around three key themes: investment, innovation, and effectiveness.

First: investment. After years of decline, Canadian official development assistance (ODA) has bottomed out at only 0.24 per cent of our gross national income, a figure below the OECD average and well below the UN target of 0.7 per cent. In contrast, six out of the seven countries mentioned above that did make the cut were among the most generous in terms of aid spending in 2014. Canada should heed this message while also noting that aid volume alone is not the complete answer: equally important is how those resources are channelled into development programming and results.

In this light, over the last decade Canada has significantly increased the share of Canadian ODA being channelled directly to our multilateral partners, such as the World Bank and the World Health Organization. While contributing our share is of critical importance to both global development and maintaining Canada's credibility on the world stage, this shift has been at the cost of our bilateral (country-to-country) programming: Canada's 'country programmable aid' has declined from a high of 36 per cent in 2008 to a low of 21 per cent in 2012 as a share of overall Canadian foreign aid.

While this approach may have certain benefits, outsourcing the lion's share of decisions on the utilization of our aid dollars through increasingly large commitments to our multilateral partners risks minimizing Canada's ability to directly influence development agendas and decisions made by beneficiary countries. It also risks overlooking the specialized development expertise and management skills that exist within our own institutions, notably Global Affairs Canada (GAC), and it affects Canada's ability to showcase and export its own world class expertise in areas in which we are already recognized as global leaders, such as clean technology, health care, and the management of our own democratic institutions. Each of these risks can be mitigated through a reinvigoration of Canada's bilateral foreign aid programming.

Second: innovation. With Canada having already committed to opening our own Development Finance Institution (DFI) based out of Export Development Canada, our new government has the unique opportunity to design this facility and its objectives in a way that can greatly enhance Canada's reputation as a leader in innovative development worldwide. One way to do so while also supporting Canada's climate change commitments is to use the new institution as a mechanism for developing and promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies that can help partner countries mitigate the impact of climate change and reduce emissions at home. These objectives would synch naturally with the goals of Canada's $2.65 billion in funding announced recently as part of Canada's increased commitment to helping developing countries fund their climate policies in the lead up to the Paris summit.

At the same time, Global Affairs Canada should consider integrating climate change adaptation/mitigation as a core theme into all relevant development initiatives on equal footing with gender equality and human rights. Both of these steps would also contribute towards Goal 7 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development while also helping to make Canadian firms world leaders in the use and development of clean and sustainable technology.

And finally: effectiveness. In this area, several reforms can be undertaken that will boost the credibility of Canada's development programming and reputation among our partners. One such reform is to create a stronger enabling environment for results by re-introducing greater competition into the way in which the Government of Canada designs and awards its development project contracts. This would mean shifting away from the current heavy reliance on 'unsolicited proposals' and re-establishing contracts awarded through open competitions based on RFPs designed and managed by Global Affairs Canada, in partnership with its developing country counterparts, as GAC's primary mechanism for creating and outsourcing its projects and their delivery.

While this approach would require a re-injection of budgetary resources into GAC that will allow our integrated teams of development, trade and diplomacy officials to design impactful, large scale programs, it will also yield great returns through a more supportive and engaging environment for competition-driven innovation and enhance Canada's ability to influence abroad and finance programs that align directly with our existing priorities.

Getting Canada 'back on the list' will not be easy. But should Global Affairs Canada build such recommendations into Canada's new "policy and funding framework to guide Canada's aid decisions, empower people, and support broad-based, sustainable growth in the developing world," a mandate given to our new Minister of International Development, we will stand a very good chance of making the cut next time around.


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