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MDGs? We Have a Plan!

August 5, 2010

USAID recently released its plan for meeting the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 and will soon publish its overall strategy for development assistance, all in advance of an already-planned September UN meeting on the issue.

Matthew Collin at Aid Thoughts criticized the U.S. strategy, because it’s precisely that – a U.S. strategy. With so many donor governments devising their own aid strategies, redundancy in aid becomes impossible to avoid resulting in a few “donor darlings” recieving aid from numerous sources. Collin proposed three possible effects of this – the number of unique donors is decreased to reduce this redundancy, the US pulls away from the UN to enjoy an American feel-good stamp on its donations, and/or agencies increase their level of coordination (he forgets a fourth alternative – no agencies acknowledge the problem and nothing changes). Collin closed by hoping that USAID, assuming it intends to act on its plan, announces its intention as loudly and credibly as possible, so that other donors are incentivized to focus their efforts elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Laura Freschi at AidWatch blasted USAID by claiming that its plan fails “to mention the goals by name, or to strategize progress specifically towards any of the agreed-on indicators”. She suggested that, at this point, the MDGs might even be thought of as “a politically costless way for any given aid donor to create a positive image of benevolence towards the world’s poor”.

This predictably sparked a minor firestorm in the aid blogosphere. Mark Leon Goldberg responded on UN Dispatch to Freschi’s criticism by bringing us back to 2005, when John Bolton, then-US Ambassador to the UN, proposed that the organization erase the MDGs altogether. Five years later, Goldberg said, “not only is the United States embracing the MDGs, but the administration has made it an organizing principal of US foreign policy”. As evidence, he highlighted the recently released National Security Strategy, which repeatedly emphasizes the important role of development in promoting national security.

To which, Freschi responded: Yes, President Obama has clearly elevated development policy to a much more visible perch during his administration. The most important question, however, is not whether the political rhetoric or organizational structure has changed, but if those changes have resulted in a “real difference in the way that the US and other donors deliver development assistance to the world’s poor. If not, we are still just paying lip service to the goal of practicing truly sustainable and effective aid.

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