With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set to expire at the end of next year, many have begun questioning the achievements of the UN-led program, as well as the merit of long-employed methods of international aid provision. It’s true that some of the MDGs have been attained, like cutting in half the number of people worldwide living off of less than a dollar a day. But other goals, like reducing child mortality by two-thirds, haven’t yet been met. For example, in 2010 more children under five died in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia than when the MDGs were first set.




The MDGs have faced a number of issues, among them poor data collection and ambitious, wide-reaching development initiatives. In part due to experience gained from the MDGs, it’s now widely recognized that fighting disease and poverty in a vacuum is not maximally effective. Nuanced issues of governance, infrastructure, and donor specialty play a significant role in the success or failure of aid projects. In addition, it’s clear that the traditional framework of “donor” and “recipient” countries will have to change,[1] as evidenced by the fact that in 2008, 74% of those in extreme poverty lived in middle-income countries.


The ever-present question of international aid may have inspired the recent folding of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which will funnel aid into regions with Canadian business interests.  International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino has said that looking for profits from aid investment will attract more private investments, a positive development in light of the Canadian government’s cutting $380 million from CIDA in 2012.  There is a fear, however, that large mining companies like the Canadian Barrick Gold and the Australian Rio Tinto may only work with CIDA in order to improve their public image and distract from criticism over unsustainable business practices.


That said, a peer review from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) argued that CIDA partnerships with the private sector are not inherently bad.  Instead, lack of aid transparency is the real concern.  The review argued that guidelines ensuring that aid is delivered without interference from private interests would boost the equity of CIDA’s initiatives.[2]  Norway and Sweden, for instance, have internationally acclaimed aid programs that are run through foreign affairs ministries.[3]


Canada has actually followed a progressive approach in providing aid to the poorest individuals (who are often in middle-income countries) as opposed to the poorest countries.  This may mean that aid is better spent by more developed governance structures, rather than hoarded by corrupt officials in severely impoverished countries.[4]


While independent voices call for better data collection, the truly valuable lesson for international aid provision in the coming years concerns aid administration. Canada’s decision to tie CIDA to business and political interests may be questionable, but it does address the need to change the antiquated “donor” and “recipient” model of international aid into a model where closer relationships between governments, NGOs, and private philanthropy may offer more precise methods of aid provision that address idiosyncrasies in the geographical distribution of needy populations.[5]


Smaller entities specializing in a limited number of target issues can help lower overhead costs for both donors and recipients.  Fragmentation of larger donors, on the other hand, raises overhead costs and also forfeits the gains of regional or thematic expertise.[6] UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently encouraged donors to focus on everything from government to grass roots efforts – a lesson of administrative diversity and integration that many believe will streamline the provision of international aid in the future.[7]


[1] John Podesta, “The Millennium Development Goals Are Working” Foreign Policy, April 5, 2013.,1

[2] Claire Provost, “OECD Criticises Canada for Aid Budget Cuts and Lack of Transparancy” The Guardian, 20 June, 2012.

[3] Stephen Leahy, “Canada’s Revamped Approach to Aid Likely to Leave Bitter Taste, Experts Say” Poverty Blog, The Guardian, 25 March 2013.

[4] Provost, 2012.

[5] Podesta, 2013.

[6] William Easterly, Tobias Pfutze, Where Does the Money Go? Best and Worst Practices in Foreign Aid. Brookings Global Economy and Development, June 2008.

[7] “UN Calls for Accelerated Action with 1,000 Days to Go on Millennium Development Goals” UNRIC, 3 April, 2013.

As the MDGs Set to Expire, What is on the Horizon for International Aid?

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