The Future of Aid

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The Brisbane Development Circle and the Future of Aid

By Samantha Ryan

On February 27 Brisbane Development Circle (BDC) partnered with The Edge, part of the State Library of Queensland, to present an event called “The Future of Australian Aid”. BDC started the year’s program of events talking about the shifting environment in development at a local, national and international level and what this means for our own practice, the sector and the communities that will be impacted. While we don’t have the answers to all these questions, we began with what we already knew and started to think about the way forward and our resilience as a sector.

Speaking at the event were Dr Sara Davies from QUT, Rachael Jacobs from the Australian Greens and Carly Stephan from the Centre for Social Change. I was the MC.

Speaker Sara Davies
Speaker Sara Davies

Dr Davies is currently an Australian Research Council Future Fellow at the Health Law Research Centre, Faculty of Law at the Queensland University of Technology. She is the author of numerous works, including two sole authored books, on international refugee law and global health governance. Presently, Sara is the recipient of an Australian Research Council Discovery Postdoctoral Fellowship exploring the role of early warning and response to infectious disease outbreaks in East Asian region. She is also a member of the Women, Peace and Security Academic Collective.

Sara spoke about the international repercussions of reduced aid commitment. She stated that while aid budget in 2015 was to rise to 0.5 per cent of GNI/$8 billion annually (which was already short of the 0.7 per cent target called for as part of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals) our former government had already departed from this goal the present government, before election, further departed with $640 million reduction in 2013-2014 budget. With revisions it looked to now sit at just over $5 billion.

As a result, Australia was ranked 8th and is now 9th largest donor in OECD (although it is one of few countries to come out of 2009 GFC unscathed, to date).

Speaker Rachel Jacobs
Speaker Rachel Jacobs

Rachael Jacobs is a lecturer, teacher, writer, researcher, dancer, environmentalist and activist, and was the Australian Greens’ candidate for Brisbane in the 2013 election. She is a lecturer at ACU [Australian Catholic University], has taught at primary and secondary schools and has written two books on Arts Education along with many academic and freelance media articles. She is a passionate advocate for social justice, gender rights, cultural understanding and international development, and is actively involved in many community groups. She also teaches dance and is the director of Bollywood Connections dance organisation. She has been a long term supporter of Oxfam Australia, including as director of the Dance for Your World festival.

Rachel gave an outline of what the Greens believe should be the core of Australia’s policies on aid and development; and what the Greens see as constructive steps to advocate in the current environment. The Greens have a policy to increase our Official Development to 0.5% of Gross National Income in 2015-16 to be on track to reach 0.7% of GNI by 2020-21. They also promise to commit the $4.9 billion required over the forward estimates to meet this responsibility and oppose the Government’s most recent $880 million cuts. They wish to establish an Office of Aid Effectiveness to ensure that our money is spent in an effective, meaningful way.

Speaker Carly Stephan
Speaker Carly Stephan

Carly Stephan is an experienced international development practitioner, researcher and writer. She has managed international development projects in a range of fields, including: sustainable livelihoods, gender and governance, women’s empowerment, and community development. She has worked in the Pacific region, South East Asia and Eastern Africa. She is also co-host of a soon to be launched aid and development podcast called Why Dev’s Mission Creep: fresh and frank voices in global development chat.

Carly Stephan gave a practitioner’s perspective, particularly in relation to what she is hearing and seeing occurring in her work in the area within the Pacific/PNG region. She also looked at potential ways for the aid/development sector to innovate and create a bit more resilience in relation to aid funding. (e.g. diversifying sources of financial support, innovations in projects or organisations that enable effectiveness whatever the policy environment).

Carly stated that given a reduction in aid and community development activities at both a national and state level, there will be an increased importance and focus on community-led initiatives. In the new political environment, diversifying funding is vital. She spoke about various different funding sources such as institutional funding, crowd funding, social enterprise and corporate and private philanthropy as areas that are being explored by local and international practitioners.