From ‘Assistance’ to Cooperation and Partnership :Policy Options

The countries we help through international assistance are no longer just recipients, but partners in a global mission to meet sustainable development goals.

September 20, 2016. published in ‘Policy Options’. 

The global economic crisis of 2008, and the stagnation and political crises that followed, have made us acutely aware that our future can no longer rely on relationships with other developed countries. The North (basically OECD countries) and the South (developing countries), rich and poor, must increasingly cooperate.

Our vocabulary and thinking is changing. We are moving beyond what we used to call “assistance,” the charitable response of richer nations to global poverty, to something less paternalistic. We now talk of “development cooperation.” Today’s assistance is multifaceted, and includes more than just financial and technical aid. It can include preferential tariffs on goods from the least­developed countries (LDCs); tweaking the legal frameworks defining what constitutes a refugee; and adjusting intellectual property rules to allow for preferential transfers of technology to LDCs. Development cooperation also encompasses a topic that is particularly hot today: fair payment of taxation by foreign investors, for example, a Canadian mining company operating in a poor African country.

As the federal government reviews its international assistance policies, it should be guided by this evolving vision of development, with financial aid as just one component. The UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development will shape how the government approaches cooperation, seeing the countries it assists as partners in a collective mission to alleviate poverty, rather than mere recipients.

Building relationships through partnerships and enhanced development cooperation

Looking ahead, for political, commercial and security reasons, Canada will need to engage with a more complex array of actors. Some of these countries will be very poor. Our trading and investment partners are as likely to be emerging developing economies as they are familiar OECD countries. The BRICS and other middle­income countries (MICs) are already competing with the United States and other G­7 nations as economic actors. They are reshaping global markets as suppliers and buyers, sometimes as equity investors. The economies of these countries are growing much faster than ours is, even during this extended period of economic stagnation. Today’s BRICS superstar is India, which, despite its 300 million poor, is now growing at about 7 percent per year — faster than China.


Critically, more and more developing countries, even the poorest, are changing socially: they are more democratic, and their populations are better educated, with growing expectations of enhanced well­being for their sons and daughters. These expectations are often frustrated by Northern unwillingness to share old privileges and power that have been jealously guarded since the Second World War. One symbolic battlefield is around fairer, more representative governance of global institutions such as the IMF and World Bank. The battle, often driven by the BRICS, has led to the creation of several parallel global financial institutions. One recent (2015) dramatic step was the creation by China of its US$50 billion+ Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. We saw most major European countries rushing to join as founding contributors, despite very public US objections. Canada belatedly asked China if it could join, after stalling for months under US pressure.

These rapidly changing power relationships between Southern and Northern powers yield a key message: Canada, as a middle power that was substantially absent from the global dialogue for a decade, has a lot of catching up to do. We need new friends, new partnerships in the world.

Obvious candidates are the BRICS, notably China, India and Brazil; but there are also emerging lower­middle­income developing countries (LMICs) such as Ghana, Vietnam, Indonesia, even Egypt or Nigeria. These and other nations could soon be important trade and investment partners for Canada. Of course, old neighbours and friends in the OECD and the G­7 will still be important, but they won’t be enough. Indeed, some of them are already ahead of Canada in building their own new South­facing partnerships.

An enhanced development cooperation approach is a key entry point, a place where we can build relationships and demonstrate our merit as a good partner, to show mutual respect and build trust. However, such partnerships require more than a 24­hour drop­by trade mission, with Canadian politicians desperately searching for a few deals to sign. We need sustained engagements on the ground, over decades, sharing in the struggles of partner countries to end poverty.

Canada was such an engaged partner for many decades. CIDA was the vehicle for our development cooperation activities since the late 1960s — activities that were seen as innovative (the first to provide funding for multiyear programs, rather than individual NGO­led projects) and generous (our aid level peaked at 0.54 percent of GNI in 1975 under Pierre Trudeau). But our leadership presence slowly faded, first from the austerity measures under the Chrétien government, then from the very ambiguous engagement of the Harper years, when our credibility as an innovative donor decreased. Programs became more politicized, and budget cuts sent overall international assistance to a low of 0.23 percent of gross national income (GNI).

But who now should be the beneficiaries of our development assistance? The 2030 United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development’s core target is to eliminate extreme poverty. The extremely poor population largely resides within the LDCs. Unfortunately, the Harper era saw a distortion toward countries that were considered political or commercial favourites, rather than toward the LDCs. Looking forward, the poorest, still numbering about 1 billion, are in two overlapping country groupings. These are the 48 UN­listed LDCs and some 20 “fragile” countries that are vulnerable and conflict­-afflicted, such as Haiti. An updated list of countries of focus for Canada is urgently needed, and it should consist mainly of LDCs and the ‘fragiles’. Our funding for LDCs should meet the UN aid target of 0.20 percent of GNI.


Aid focused on the poorest will meet our commitment under Agenda 2030’s signature principle of “No ­One Left Behind.” However, it does not preclude development cooperation with a few middle­ income countries with whom Canada has important strategic or historic ties, such as the Caribbean states. For them, there could be customized agreements, partnerships or actions that do not require diverting scarce aid. These could focus on arrangements around trade, investment, technology transfer and fairer taxation. They could include possible new cooperation instruments that seek to help engage the private sector, or so­called “triangular cooperation”: innovative aid projects involving partnerships between Canada, a new developing country donor such as Brazil or China, and an LDC or other poorer country.

The 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development as our guide

The universality principle embedded in the preamble of Agenda 2030 brings development cooperation into the heart of Canadian domestic policy. It means all countries, developing and developed, are committed to the same goals as core economic and social performance targets. It is Canada’s statement of global solidarity. This “obligation,” essentially putting Canada on equal footing with developing nations, was once seen as an unacceptable intrusion by former Conservative foreign affairs minister John Baird.

There is a synergy between many of the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the Trudeau government’s core domestic policy commitments such as working toward gender equity, tackling neglect of our Indigenous population and fighting climate change. This synergy is being taken very seriously as a domestic policy mandate by many Western countries. Already the leaders of Germany and Finland have made full public presentations in the UN on their “whole of government” governance structures for SDGs. Canada has been slower to act, and we have yet to announce our plan. Logically it should be driven by a powerful office that reports directly to the prime minister, and coordinates and monitors activities in partnership with the provinces and territories.

Canada is now in the middle of a complex consultation, seeking new thinking on how to be a better development cooperation partner. Drawing upon Agenda 2030, there are easy­to­select thematic priorities such as gender equity, climate change and poverty elimination. But the real challenge is how we frame and implement the new programs. The rules of the game have changed. Under the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness, recipient countries should be in the driver’s seat. Partnership is becoming the new norm of international development cooperation. We need to learn how to work differently: it is not a federal department’s choices but the recipient’s stated priorities that should dictate the framework for development cooperation. To this end we will need new cooperation strategies that are prepared jointly with our partner countries. Such strategies should be built around stable four­ to five­year budget commitments.


All this means we need to recognize the many practical challenges confronting Canada’s aid officials and partners like civil society organizations. We could start by reclaiming the name CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency), the brand recognized by ordinary Canadians and our partner­ recipients. Global Affairs Canada staff involved in implementing development programs need empathetic senior managers who understand that some of the most effective work is inherently risky. Tidy goals set in Ottawa often fail to internalize the challenges of working in another continent and culture. Finally, the government requires staff who are working closely with their clients on the ground. This requires decentralization — Global Affairs’ development assistance teams working out of our embassies with delegated authority.

As long as they are generous, and delivered effectively and with commitment, our development cooperation programs in the least developed and middle­income countries can be key to the future economic and political partnerships Canada needs as a middle power in a troubled world.



John Sinclair.    September 20, 2016


Is Canada ‘Fit for Purpose’ in face of a new global agenda?

Is Canada ‘Fit for Purpose’ in the face of a new global agenda?

Ottawa University CIPS blog published Nov 3/2015

 by Julia Sanchez and John Sinclair

Canada has just elected a new government committed to ‘putting Canada back on the global stage’ by re-establishing Canada’s leadership position in promoting human rights and ending poverty. This commitment will be put to the test as key moments in the international agenda, all with important domestic ramifications, are before us almost immediately. The new government will have the opportunity to show this renewed leadership at the critical meeting on Climate Change in Paris, in December, itself following on the G20 Summit in Turkey, as well as a Commonwealth Summit, both in November.

Canada is remembered as an actor that used to contribute well above its middle-power weight in development, diplomacy and peacekeeping. Will the new Canadian government become an active player in a re-energised UN?

 Change is also in the air at the United Nations.  On September 25 in New York we saw the adoption and celebration of Agenda 2030 by well over 100 heads of state and world leaders, including Pope Francis and President Barack Obama. Its substance is encompassed in a complex array of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. The central message of the new agenda, which builds on the successes and shortcomings of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), is to ‘leave no one behind’ on the journey to eliminating extreme poverty by 2030.

Agenda 2030 will be challenging, covering as it does social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainability. It embraces much more than a reworked social development agenda, including totally new dimensions such as climate change, decent work, access to justice and peaceful and inclusive societies. So how do we walk-the-talk of this transformational agenda? At the UN a key discussion is focused on being ‘Fit for Purpose’. How might Canada prepare to play a leadership role in this new global setting?

During the recent UN Summit on Sustainable Development which adopted Agenda 2030 in New York, and anticipating that there would be change back home, we set out to find some answers to that very question. We held informal interviews, under Chatham House rules, with a number of senior UN officials, all at the forefront of steering the UN on the path of this transformational agenda. We asked them how a new Canadian government might build a stronger relationship with the UN family, to enhance its credibility and play a leadership role in the implementation of the new global agenda.

Our interlocutors saw the UN itself on the cusp of major institutional change. The organization — and especially its specialised agencies — will need to be much more focused on an effective presence on the ground, with closer working partnerships with governments, civil society and private sector actors, especially in low-income and fragile states.

In this context, they welcomed the possibility that a new Canadian government, for a long time absent from UN leadership, would be keen to build a more supportive partnership with both the UN institutions and other member states. They noted that over the last decade Canada has cut funding for some important UN agencies, and that we failed to support important UN resolutions and programs.  Our absence from peacekeeping was particularly regretted.

Despite all that, their sense was that Canada was still remembered as an actor that had contributed well above its middle-power weight in areas such as development, diplomacy and peacekeeping. Their hope was that a new Canadian government would become an active player in a re-energised UN, especially in living up to the ambitions of Agenda 2030.

For Canada to respond we need our own ‘Fit for Purpose’ assessment. Our aid budget has been sharply reduced in recent years. The driving philosophy of our aid program has been far from pro-poor.  Our interlocutors recognised that a new, more assertive development co-operation approach will take time to build. But they stressed the need for an ambitious agenda in Canada.

There have been immense changes in the global context over the last decade, which Canada now has to recognise and adapt to. There are new economic players, such as the BRICS, who are increasingly impatient with a world symbolised by a G7 that holds to old leadership ‘privileges’. These UN officials wondered whether Canada would be prepared to be a mediating voice promoting partnerships between a wary North and an impatient Global South. In playing such a mediating role, they suggested we need to recognise that such partnerships will also be crucial on the path to Canada’s own future.

Universality, a central principle of Agenda 2030 — which makes its new Global Goals applicable to both rich and poor countries alike — was essentially rejected by the Harper government. Our interlocutors suggested Canada would do better to follow the lead of major European nations, such as Germany, who are seeing the universal nature of this agenda as an opportunity to reshape their own population’s vision of the world and provide a better understanding of how international and national policies can be complementary.

They specifically saw opportunities for Canada to re-join the community of peacekeepers. It was not an issue of deploying thousands of boots on the ground, but rather the contributing of organizational skills and strengthening rights commitments to presently over-stretched UN efforts.

From a Canadian civil society perspective, there are additional challenges and opportunities in the new Agenda. Our UN interlocutors called for a renewed championing of civil society’s participation in the implementation of Agenda 2030, including enhanced consultation and dialogue with its own civil society at home. They hoped a new Canadian government, working with civil society, could rebuild public support for sustainable development.

Implementation of Agenda 2030 requires re-purposing of the UN. It will reshape the world in which Canada acts economically and politically. Our new government will want to provide political support for these changes. And to do this effectively, it must undergo transformations of its own with respect to how it engages with the world. Enhanced policy coherence and an all-of-government approach to implementing the new agenda need to be part of the process. Is Canada up for the task? Paris will likely be a first chance to walk the talk.

Julia Sanchez is the President of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation. John Sinclair is a regular CIPS contributor and a member of the McLeod Group.

See more at:

Are the ‘No Ones’ again being ‘Left Behind’?

Embassy Newspaper Oped: published Aug 26th 2015

Financing for Development: Are the No Ones again being Left Behind?

Just a few weeks ago, 7000 ministers and senior officials, plus CSOs and private sector representatives met in Addis Ababa at the UN Conference on Financing for Development (FfD). Participants came from the richest to the poorest of nations. Their core goal was to ensure resources would be available to effectively implement the UN Post-2015 Agenda, the international community’s core vehicle for ‘Eliminating Extreme Poverty by 2030’, poverty that weighs upon over a billion global citizens. Post-2015 itself is due to be endorsed, after several years of dialogue and negotiations, at a UN Summit in New York this September. Canada will be one of the many which sign on to an agenda framed by the moral, as well as the practical, objective of ‘No One Left Behind’.

Against that objective, FfD has already failed. Its main goal was to ensure that Post-2015 would have a smooth beginning to its 15 years ‘transformational’ journey. Often tense negotiations instead produced a rambling 134 paragraph Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA). Despite the fancy acronym the document is full of critical holes and papered-over cracks following discussions between rich nations and the developing countries (the G77 as they code themselves). Over four months of intermittent negotiations had their formal climax in just four days of tense exchanges in Addis. Even before they arrived everybody knew there would be no bold resolution to tackle the financing needs of the poorest. Traditional donors, struggling still with their own shaky economies, were in no mood for generosity, instead they were looking for alibis. The final Addis agreement has both North and South endorsing a minimalist, lowest common denominator model, with little for the poorest.

This means that the Post-2015 Agenda Summit, planned as a showcase of bold commitments to defeat poverty, will be more a gathering of embarrassed world leaders committing themselves to an unfunded agenda, maybe wisely renamed ‘Agenda 2030’. The harsh truth is that there is no plan for effective implementation.

Addis certainly had many big ideas on the table, but the problem was that there was little consensus on their content and many of the solutions have no proven viability. One of the most disturbing outcomes is that the poor living in the least developed countries (LDCs) or fragile states (g7+), had no champion amongst the power-brokers of the international community. Many one-time liberal voices amongst Western donors were almost as defensive on increasing aid volume as traditional misers such as the USA. Canada sadly (and Australia) has joined the USA and Japan in a cabal of development policy hard-liners in the eyes of the G77, drawing ‘red lines’ indicating forbidden ideas that were once norms of good policy. Progress was instead represented by gimmicky ideas with no money or concrete action plan. Canada boasted about Convergence, a ‘blended finance platform’, which sounded more like the name for a new perfume brand. We breathed a sigh of relief that nobody pressed for dates for the 0.7% aid target. [Canadian aid under Mr. Harper has sunk to 0.24%, close to an all-time low.]

Maybe worse, the powerful G77 countries, the BRICS and other leading voices seemed equally unsupportive of their weaker brethren. Instead they were preoccupied in Addis drawing their own ‘red lines’ as they sought to advance their own agendas. Key was international tax reform on which they fought a long battle with OECD countries. The case for more grant aid for the LDCs was not pressed by G77 leaders and unsurprisingly no enhanced LDC-specific target was set.

One of the new realities in the international dialogue of recent years is that the development agenda is being debated in much more than aid terms. This would be fine if the other new possible instruments being discussed were incremental (and proven viable) … and not being used to justify stagnant traditional grant aid, even for the poorest. The problem is that the latter is closer to the truth. Look at where Canada is placing its emphasis. We have steadily cut our ODA effort in the recent years. Instead we joined forces with such as the World Economic Forum, the club for multinational CEOs, in designing approaches to enhanced financing for the private sector, often the equivalent of investment subsidies. Roughly 5/30 pages of AAAA are on possible enhanced private sector activities and it took just two paras to reject more demanding aid volume targets.

The ‘proven viable’ is a key proviso. Most private investment in developing countries goes to a few strong middle-income economies such as Brazil, India and, of course, China. Virtually none goes to the LDCs where most ‘no one left behind’ poor are presently living, unskilled and under-educated. The only exception is profit-driven investors seeking privileged access to their raw materials. This does not seem like a ‘transformational‘ reality.

Significantly in Addis there were reportedly 500 or so activist CSOs, but private sector CEOs were essentially ‘no show’ actors, implicitly signaling their tenuous interest in being the West’s frontline warriors in eliminating extreme poverty.

The hottest topic in Addis was international tax reform: new rules that seek to end a situation where many private companies, those multinationals, evade fair tax obligations. This costs tax revenue in both those developing countries where multinationals have factories and in developed countries, their corporate homes. Instead these corporations hide their profits in tax havens or by phony transfer pricing. The battle in Addis was about who should lead the search for answers. At present this is done using tax reform ideas from the OECD Secretariat. The G77 argued that this work on what is a global problem must be centered in a strengthened UN framework, its Tax Committee. They saw OECD technical advice as seriously tainted; the OECD is home to most tax-evading multinationals. Both sides drew ‘red lines’ and in the end Addis saw a stand-off that leaves tax-evaders off the hook. No prize for guessing Canada’s side.

Canada was a blocking voice in Addis. We were leaders in the search for instruments that eased political pressures for more aid. We joined opposition to enhanced aid for LDCs. All this only reinforced our ever-diminished credibility with the developing world and even with once like-minded Western nations, (most Nordics, the UK), who still recognise their global responsibilities.. and longer-term interests in ending global poverty.

John Sinclair, a Cambridge-educated economist, worked as a development practitioner at CIDA and the World Bank. He is a member of the advocacy McLeod Group. He is a Distinguished Associate of the former North-South Institute.

Ministerial Mandate letter for Cdn. Development Co-operation


Ministerial Mandate letter for Development Co-operation[1]

You will serve as Minister of International Development Co-operation reporting directly to me as Prime Minister, with full cabinet membership. As Minister you will:


  • rebuild Canada’s capacity to be a strong global development actor after a decade of institutional neglect and distorted priorities
  • develop programs within a broad framework beyond the comfort zone of G7, G20 and OECD. Engaging the South is critical to Canada’s future well-being, economic, political and basic security.
  • have a departmental mandate, independent of the political and trade dimensions of foreign policy. However, policy coherence remains an important partnership goal for all government departments.
  • reconfirm poverty reduction as the core programming goal of this government, drawing substantially on the human and financial resources we allocate to CIDA as an organizational unit. The ODA Accountability Act will be a guiding framework for yourself and all other ministers with portfolios that affect developing countries. Canada’s grant aid should align with the UN’s Post-2015 Agenda. Take risks! Effective development co-operation is inherently risky.
  • present to Cabinet a new list of up to 20 priority countries within the first three months. In this update, least developed and fragile countries should represent at least 70% by number and $ volume of bilateral grant aid. The list should be stable for four years:
    • ‘need’ more than ‘absorptive capacity’ should be the core selection criteria
    • Canada’s Paris Declaration commitment to country ownership means sectoral/thematic choices are to be substantially shaped by the recipient
  • while recognizing the short-term budgetary constraints for Canada, plan for an increase in the ODA/GNI ratio to 0.30% in our first budget.

Additionally plan:

  • for increases to an ODA level of 0.50% of GNI over the mandate of this government
  • to move to multi-year budgetting to increase predictability


  • lead a department with its own DM and a strong decentralized presence in priority developing countries. It shall deliver Canada’s contribution as a donor to implementing the UN Post-2015 Agenda and a new mandate to bring a greater responsiveness to development considerations in the work of other political and economic departments.
    • work with the PMO, Treasury Board and Foreign Affairs on institutionalizing CIDA either as an essentially autonomous part of the existing DFATD or, if judged institutionally more effective, as a free-standing Ministry.
  • adopt the public title of ‘CIDA’ for your department, recouping a proud brand with five decades of global credibility as Canada’s public vehicle for development co-operation. This renaming decision is not dependent on there being a separate ministry.
  • ensure CIDA has these key features in its organizational architecture:
    • recognition that Canada’s economic and geo-political future lies in a broader approach, one based upon global partnerships, including stronger relations with the Global South.
    • resources for development co-operation, people, budgets and institutions, are not to be diverted into short-term benefits for Canadian private entities. [Private sector support will be provided by other departments.]
    • a new core mandate to act as a strong empathetic voice on development issues in government decision-making. The present amalgamation model has failed to deliver this. Critically CIDA will have a mandate that extends beyond delivering traditional aid (ODA) to one of also influencing the substance of related aspects of Canadian international policy, notably in trade, geo-politics/global security, human rights and global institutions, financial and environmental.
  • create a small, truly independent, advisory panel for CIDA. The panel should be a mix of independent Canadians plus two leading thinkers from developing countries.
  • re-authorize and recruit a 50% international board for the IDRC; Canadian board members should be individuals with substantial development experience, drawn from such as academia, CSOs and think-tanks.
  • recognise the rights of CSOs as independent development actors. Provide programmatic financial support to both domestic NGOs and developing country CSOs
  • recognizing the damage in recent years to professional competence and commitment, work over the first 12 months to bring together a re-energised core staff for CIDA, largely of committed skilled professionals/effective bureaucrats who seek a career in international development.
  • appoint a DM with a substantial international experience; seek ADMs for core programs (bilateral, partnership, multilateral, policy) with a solid development policy and programming background
  • create a rotational CIDA cadre mainly serving in bilateral programming positions, with a goal of having half assigned to empowered decentralized positions under decentralized managers with meaningful delegated authority, in all priority developing countries.
  • eliminate, within the next three years, an important inconsistency for international development policy cohesion by moving departmental responsibility for the World Bank Group, still the single most powerful multilateral development institution, to CIDA
  • for deeper policy coherence, ensure that CIDA has effective representation in Canada’s teams managing policy and programming relations with the UN system, BWIs, WTO, plus policy fora such as the G7/G20, Development Committee and OECD/DAC.

[1] This blog is a mock document representing a preferred Mandate Letter from a next Prime Minister to his new ministers. The principal recipient of this draft is a new Minister of International Development Co-operation. Copies as guidance might go to new Ministers for Trade, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Treasury Board, Defence and Environment.


First published as a MG Blog – June 16/2015.