Aid, combined with concerted multilateral action and intervention, has delivered much more than it is often credited with. To take some examples: through action on malaria, millions of children are not dying; the Ebola virus outbreak was contained; prosperity is gradually increasing in many countries; observance of human rights is much improved in many areas; recognition of women’s equality is growing; and other forms of discrimination are reduced. In aggregate the world is better than it has ever been and well delivered aid programmes have played an important role in these achievements.
Nonetheless, aid needs to evolve and transform if it is rise to the major challenges ahead which include the transition to clean energy and the management of climate change; the achievement of food security and better health for a burgeoning global population; the provision of education to equip people to work in the new economy as the old economy jobs disappear; and the stimulation of economic growth in under-developed countries to prevent mass migration. Significantly, a large percentage of the world’s poorest people now live in regions that lack effective governments at all, that could be local partners in the delivery of aid and development.
On a political level, the backlash against globalisation and the retreat into nationalism and protectionism is a global trend in response to stagnant wage growth and social dislocation in developed countries. Globalisation is associated with multilateralism and multilateral institutions are seen as intrinsically slow, bureaucratic and self-serving.
There is increasing awareness that effective government and philanthropic aid has to work in partnership with the market, leveraging private capital, to be ultimately effective but, even after a sustained period of ultra-low interest rates, investment is not flooding into social impact investment schemes as might have been hoped and, when it does, it is hard to find viable projects at sufficient scale.