Government funding for development

(Sept. 17, 2011)

In November 2009, Canada’s federal government rejected a funding request ban KAIROS, the ecumenical justice coalition comprised of Canadian church organisations.

Subsequent public debates about defence of the human rights of Palestinians, the shifting sands of CIDA priorities, and then about ethics in government—that infamous Bev Oda ^NOT—catapulted issues in relations between government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) onto the front pages. Funding to other NGOs and to the Canadian Council for International Cooperation also ended.

Despite budget cuts, the churches and non-governmental organizations among which I have worked over these past decades will likely keep on doing what they do well: accompanying partner organizations around the world to advance human rights, community development and social and ecological justice. As the t-shirt proclaims, KAIROS is ^NOT going away.

KAIROS supporters join the G8/G20 protests in Toronto, June 26, 2010

Obviously, partnership work is easier when backed with public funds. Since the 1960s, all governments—except the current one—saw the value of working with other groups and have funded NGO development programs. It’s not that we feel a sense of entitlement, much less think that the state should fund the church. But NGOs, together with CIDA staff and elected officials, form a sort of community of development practitioners. Our experiences inform each other’s practice in the complex world of development assistance.

Sharp disagreements, healthy collaboration

Even in the midst of sharp disagreement over the years about matters such as tied aid and the growth of bureaucracy that administered Official Development Assistance (ODA), it has been possible to maintain healthy collaboration with the government. We work with government programs in support of partner goals that are aimed at improving the well-being of people and the Earth.

At the same time, we maintain a lively critique of the use and misuse of power. We watch the impacts of what is done in the name of “development” that is carried out only for the sake of wealth creation. We uphold ethical principles in government, and we bring partner perspectives to bear on decisions in Canada that affect their interests. Over these past decades, we have been pretty noisy in the face of onerous foreign debt, structural adjustment programs, resource extraction, climate change, and free trade deals that weaken governments and harm farmers and workers.

But there are other debates about development. From the right and the left, aid is sometimes assailed as ineffective (or worse). Whatever happens in the Canadian debates over financing for development, we still have to ask what might be wrong with development aid programs and what might be done differently.

While I am convinced that work at the modest scale carried out by most Canadian NGOs and by church partners around the world is effective and accomplishes its goals, criticism of some of the large-scale efforts—such as those of the international financial institutions like the World Bank—has some justification.

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