If only More Joyous: Australia’s aid budget

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Senator Bob Carr, Minister for Foreign Affairs...
Senator Bob Carr, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Australia (CMAG Deputy Chair) (Photo credit: Commonwealth Secretariat)

John Singleton arrived to the More Joyous Inquiry today, and was described by the waiting pack of journalists as a “rockstar”. Everyone had a bit of a joke, and John Singleton batted away the flattering attention. A short time later, Tom Waterhouse who seems to always be smiling regardless of the situation, arrived with no comment. The camera and journalists were in force, and hungry for news.

There is a curious video on this link from today’s proceedings. It is a shame that this short of exposure isn’t given to issues of a little more substance. It is like watching an unbearable pantomime. If only it really was a comedy…:

Meanwhile Bob Carr, the Australian Foreign Minister was speaking on ABC Radio confirming weeks of speculation that Labor’s goal of increasing aid spending to 0.5 per cent of gross national income has been delayed for another year. The Federal Budget will be delivered this week in Canberra, and is going to be stretched significantly into a deficit. Bob Carr explained this matter-of-factly:

It simply reflects the reality that you can’t borrow money to spend on aid. (Bob Carr, Australian Foreign Minister)

Australia is now the third largest recipient of our aid budget after Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, with the majority of the money being spent back on ourselves catering for the needs of asylum seekers intercepted by boat.

Far from a comment about the politicisation of aid, this is more a pragmatic reflection of what can be expected moving forward. Not everything the Government promises will it be able to deliver. There are no surprises there, and while it is disappointing, it is also reality.

How will this affect the Millennium Development Goals? Some advocates for aid, such as Tim Costello will say that it will cost the lives of over a million people across the next four years. While this might be partly true as an assumption, it shows that we need to look beyond government assistance alone to combat these problems.

This is not the first time governments have failed to deliver on their promises with aid. In 2010 at the United Nations General Assembly, many governments pointed to the recent global financial crisis are behind their inability to make progress with combatting poverty.

The rise of philanthropy has been of great significance to combatting extreme poverty in the last decade. But that is neither a silver bullet nor the answer. The answer must be found beyond a reliance on aid and philanthropy.

It calls for intervention for many people, including people just like you and me, but not necessarily by throwing loose coins into buckets or being assaulted by the Charity Muggers at the local train station. No, it is time that we looked to more innovative solutions by bridging what already exists and helping through our networks to bring that to scale.

This is the idea behind the 10 City Bridge Run, and by working together we can make an enormous difference to issues such as the delivery of child survival.

It would be nice if things were indeed More Joyous for the aid budget, but that simply is not that case. All the while, we are distracted by circuses such as the tedious and banal “he said/she said” from colourful racing identities in front of an insatiable media pack. Nothing joyous about that. There are more important issues which deserve great attention. And that too, sadly, is reality.


The Government remains resolute

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Kevin Rudd, Australian politician
Kevin Rudd: influential in shaping global events

What did Kevin Rudd, Australia’s Foreign Minister, have to say when he gave a strongly worded speech last week on extreme poverty? Thanks to my mate Luke who forwarded me this link.

I was really pleased to hear the framework through which the Australian Government is operating. Here are a few of the points worth mentioning:

  • Bi-partisan support.
  • A recognition that “the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) hang in the balance”
  • Focus on increasing aid effectiveness.

Policy is the vehicle through which a government can exercise influence on issues like this. It can be crude and slow in delivery at times. Kevin Rudd indicated that the government is looking for ideas in how to always improve and have greater impact- that is a good offer which should be responded to in good faith when the performance of the government appears frustratingly less than what could be achieved.

This is the reason for the 10 City Bridge Run. Governments need the input of people to make a difference. Howls of protest serve a limited purpose, just as does long and unremarkable petitions which lobby for change. The 10 City Bridge Run seeks to create a ‘pictorial petition’ comprising of 24,000 photographs of ‘human bridges’ to be sent to all leaders of the G20 members states. The petition will applaud the resolute spirit of each government to achieve the MDG, and recognise the decisions that will be made at the G20 Summit in Seoul, and importantly appeal for change that ensures together we influence a reduction on child mortality before 2015.

The petition started with an idea. It is emergent and still needs work. It is at this point in time still in design. You can help. Please contribute to the crowdsourcing questions that will be articulated later tonight. Only by acting together will this initiative be able to achieve impact.

Kevin Rudd closed with a noteworthy reminder, leaving aside statistics and policy:

Let us not forget that we are talking about people who are part of our common humanity.

A Different Perspective

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The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis an...
The Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria

Yesterday I posted a blog titled: Did the Government Let Us Down? where I questioned claims that had been made that not enough had been given by own government toward the Global Fund which contributes towards the eradication of diseases: in particular HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB.

I was asking: how much money is ‘enough’?

Outcomes from the United Nations Donor Meeting held on 4-5 October sparked this discussion. The meeting announced that US$11.7 billion had been pledged in new funding over the next three years to support the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. This in fact represents the largest-ever pledge for the collective effort to fight the three pandemics and will allow the Global Fund to further support countries as they work to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) related to health.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commented in a more positive manner from the earlier claims which promoted my blog yesterday. He said:

At a time when so many Governments are tightening their belts at home, these commitments send a powerful message: It shows how seriously world leaders want to do the right thing beyond their borders, too.

What can we make of this? Two different claims, with the United Nations Secretary-General applauding this initiative. The esteemed members of the MDG Advocacy Group have shown support for what they describe as “the ample replenishment of the Global Fund”. The MDG Advocacy Group summarised it like this:

We can recommend no better and more timely investment on the planet to support the Millennium Development Goals.

That sounds like a call-to-action to build bridges with all the time we have available between now and 2015. 21 days to go before I start running (no more false starts!). Please step up and do what you can to influence extreme poverty. You might support this initiative with a $24 sponsorship, or from the time I commence running submit a photograph of a human bridge to be presented as a pictorial petition.

Any other ideas worth sharing? Let’s hear them!

Goodooga. Postcode 2831

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Goodooga Store. Photo Courtesy of

Goodooga, located 200 km from Lightning Ridge in Northern NSW has a population of around 270 people, of which more than 80% are Indigenous. Look it up yourself on googlemaps…it is real.

The town has a strong community spirit and is trying to survive by building grocery and petrol services to be run by a local cooperative.

What has this to do with extreme poverty you might ask?

Much has been written about aid- curse or cure.  A lot has been written about the adoption of enterprise and design initiatives to overcome the effects of poverty (for example, child mortality in so-called “Third World Countries”). Some of the health interventions are in the form of aid, and some are made sustainable through enterprise.

These situations are complex, and not just about the grandeur of a large institution or the macro-economics of how statistics might be improved.

What actually happens among real people matters. There is no silver bullet delivered by any rock star or politician to solve these problems.

Together, we can be part of the difference that makes a difference by making the bridges needed to ‘close the gap’.

Please support the 10 City Bridge Run to highlight small actions which will make a big difference in showing that the impossible can be possible. Please sponsor me with $24 here.

New York- UN MDG Summit Offers Hope

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United Nations

This week in New York, a United Nations Millennium Development Goals Summit is underway.

10 years after the Millennium Development Goals were first announced, this is an opportunity for the world leaders of 150 countries to come together and review progress.

Australia is represented by our Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd.

What can we expect from this conference? The news bulletins have rung with the sounds of billions of dollars expenditure, and initiatives for improving education, health and eradicating poverty. What happens once the bureaucrats and politicians have finished on Wednesday? Is it really that easy to solve extreme poverty?

Translating the media spin into meaningful action is important. But it is good this Summit is being received with such optimism offering a hopeful future. A big change from Copenhagen.

See what AusAID, Australia’s Aid Program had to say here.

Please support the 10 City Bridge Run to highlight small actions which will make a big difference in showing that the impossible can be possible. Please sponsor me with $24 here.

Hugh Jackman in SMH: Help people to help themselves

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Hugh Jackman taking time out from X-Men Origins: Wolverine, to comment about extreme poverty

Check out the article written by Hugh Jackman in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: “The best development programs help people to help themselves“.

Hugh talks about his “crash course on poverty and how it can be overcome”.

His conclusion?

History has shown development is possible, but not inevitable. Our challenge in the developed world is to help people to be more productively involved in the economy, to raise themselves out of poverty, and achieve a life with choices for their children – all without handouts. From what I have seen, economic development projects do work. They are the best answer to one of the biggest social issues of our time.

More interesting perhaps are the range of views in the comments trailing the article.

How much money is enough?…Outrageous and all out of proportion?

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Lehman Brothers Rockefeller centre
Lehman Brothers Rockefeller centre

A lot has been written about the dispersement and efficacy of aid given towards addressing situations of extreme poverty. Some argue for it from a pragmatic analysis, like Jeffrey Sachs in his book The End of Poverty. Some argue for more of it from an ethical perspective, like Peter Singer does in his book The Life You Can Save. Some argue for a radical review of the current situation from a critical process of inquiry, like Dambisa Moyo in her book Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa.

Either way you look at it, and you ought to look at it and have an opinion about this issue, a lot of money has been spent, and a lot of money will be spent in the future yet to come. Jeffrey Sachs provides a good overview of how little people live on ‘per day’ if such a calculation was to be defined, with this percentage of the Earth’s population defined as “The Bottom Billion”, because they exist on a bottom rung of income of slightly more than US$1 per day. This line of the economic pyramid, is also defined as people who live at The Bottom of The Pyramid, otherwise referred to as “living below the line”.

“Is more aid or money the answer to extreme poverty?” is reasonably and often among the first questions argued, explored or defended. That is an important question, but this post is not about that.

This post is about the distractions we have in our relatively safe and comfortable lives that take us away from addressing the ugliness of suffering that some people experience. It is reasonable to ask “should we care and is this our problem?” All the same, the power of the media is well documented for its ability to take and hold our attention. Often these issues where our attention is distracted to is very important: the global financial crisis, the failed negotiations in the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen last year, and more recently in Australia a hung parliament where the election held two weeks ago remains stalemated.

Last week I read more about a sexual harassment case that opened in Australia where a $37 million claim for damages was being contested. That is a lot of money, and before the case went to court an offer to settle was made of slightly less than $1 million which was rejected.

As a White Ribbon Foundation Ambassador this year campaigning for the end of violence against women, I take the issue of sexual harassment seriously. In this instance, I question the relative merits of the claim, and the precedence this might set for other claims of a similar nature.

Can we pursue the eradication of extreme poverty in our generation, and at the same time accommodate the values of greed that are so prevalent in our community?

Fundraising…the answer? More aid?

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A glossy brochure, a high rate of fundraising, a slick looking five-year strategic plan and vision/mission statement.

Is this the answer to eradicating extreme poverty?

I contend that the greatest poverty of our time is poverty of spirit, and that if we can address that in ourselves and across our communities, much of what we need to do might become more evident.

Dan Pallotta has an interesting perspective in this regard. I discussed this with him briefly at the Social Capital Markets Conference in 2009 held in San Francisco. His current writing is bold to say the least. I am not saying I agree with everything he writes; in fact I don’t. But engaging in discussion around this issue is important…Time is short, and we must be sure to match words with action along with a great sense of urgency.

Building marketing potential? More aid? Increased effectiveness/efficiency in fundraising?

What do you think is important and needed to make change happen?