SUBMISSION OF EVIDENCE TO THE INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
SUB-INQUIRY INTO THE PHILOSOPHY OF AID
DIRECTOR DESIGNATE, FIREFLY INTERNATIONAL
Employment: For summary to date, see (99+) Jane Salmonson FRSA | LinkedIn
2021: Recently recruited to post of Director of Firefly International, a small Scottish international NGO supporting children affected by conflict. Firefly promotes peace and stability in communities affected by conflict. It works in partnership with local NGOs in Bosnia, Turkey (with Syrian refugees), Syria and Gaza. Its primary objective is to improve the lives of children in those settings by providing opportunities for them to learn and thrive. A secondary objective is to support the strengthening of Firefly’s local NGO partners. www.fireflyinternational.org
2015-2021: CEO Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland (NIDOS) which reconstituted as Scotland’s International Development Alliance in 2017. The Alliance is a membership organisation comprising c. 200 members, mostly NGOs based or represented in Scotland, but also universities, companies and individuals who align with the Alliance’s vision and mission. www.intdevalliance.scot
The Alliance’s work falls into 3 broad strands, all directly relevant to this inquiry:
To help its members to build their capacity, improve their impact and strengthen their support base.
To represent its members and the people and communities they work with, to local, national and international decision-makers.
To engage people and organisations in Scotland with international development issues and encourage their informed support.
2014-2015 Regional Programmes Manager, Southern Africa, CBM, an international federation of disability organisations working with local partners to tackle poverty, prevent blindness and improve the lives of disabled people. https://www.cbmuk.org.uk/
2006-2014 Coordinator, Overseas Development Fund, L’Arche UK, an international federation of communities with people with learning disabilities. The federation links independently constituted local organisations in 38 countries around the world
2000-2006 Mercy Corps Scotland, Executive Director. Led the European side of dual HQ’d, US and UK, international NGO Mercy Corps. Oversaw implementation of European and UN-funded programmes including in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Darfur, Eritrea, Kosovo and Zimbabwe. Emphasis on working in countries in conflict or recovering from conflict. Managed relations with donors including (then) DFID, ECHO, EC, (then) National Lottery Charities Board, UN.
-Chair, Humanitarian Emergencies Fund
-Member, Integral Human Development Committee, Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF)
-Board member, Signpost International
-Board member, 500 miles
-Advisor to the Board, Kenyan Women in Scotland Association (KWISA)
2.1 One distinct aspect of aid and development worthy of dedicated review by the International Development Committee is the contribution made to international development by civil society organisations, both in the UK and in recipient countries. My experiences over the last 20 years have given me extensive insights into this, especially where international NGOs based in Scotland and their in-country partners are concerned.
2.2 Firefly International (a small Scottish NGO I join as Director next month) brings these perspectives to the Inquiry:
-Work with children affected by conflict, for their long term health and wellbeing
-Work in conflict/post conflict/refugee settings
-Long term partnerships with local NGOs, timeframes not set by donor project funding.
-Support with capacity building of local NGO partners, including organisational strengthening and sustainability.
For example, Firefly’s partner in Bosnia, Svitac, has grown its own financial contribution to the funding its programme to around one third of total cost. At the outset, Firefly was Svitac’s sole funder. Firefly’s secondary objective to grow its Bosnian partner and enable it to fulfil its potential as an autonomous local NGO, is being successfully met
-Contribution to peace-building aims of civil society locally.
-Funded almost exclusively by donations from private individuals
-Supporter base initially built among young people (the charity was founded by an undergraduate at Edinburgh University) and subsequently maintained by continuing engagement with young people. The new Ellie Maxwell award initiative is an example of this. See: Ceremony recognises first Ellie Maxwell Award winners | The University of Edinburgh
-Strong contribution of volunteers at all levels.
Volunteer-led, projects co-ordinators all voluntary. Paid time in UK equivalent only to one p/t employee. Small number of paid professional staff with each project in-country, c. 15 across the 3 projects (Bosnia, Syria, Gaza).
3.1 What do you think international aid should be for?
Its purposes fall into two main strands, one at micro- and one at macro-level, which are sometimes interlinked or concurrent:
-At micro-level. Responding to the needs of people and communities adversely affected by poverty, inequality, conflict and the deprivation of their full human rights. This is a niche where small NGOs such as Firefly and its local partners can be particularly effective. It can reach into the grassroots, targeting needs and meting them with the best, localised context-specific responses. Small NGOs can be fleet of foot and can navigate their way around systemic problems where the larger INGOs sometimes find it difficult. Local NGOs can adapt and move where they need to, working with low profile and within boundaries set by authorities in-country, continuing to respond to local needs with optimal results even in very tough circumstances. Sometimes they can keep going where larger agencies cannot.
-At macro level: Responding to the needs of countries of lower and middle income status, with development assistance to support them with their development priorities and plans.
3.2 Is international aid effective at reducing poverty?
Yes, it can be effective at reducing poverty but this is not always the case. Mistakes can be made, and are made, by donors and by their implementing partners. Sometimes aid is only effective in the short term, rather than sustainably. Corruption and inefficiency both militate against aid effectiveness in some cases. Poverty reduction of course happens outside the arena of international aid, as witnessed by the dramatic rise in living standards amongst vast swathes of the population in the Peoples’ Republic of China, deriving from economic growth in that country. International development assistance is perhaps most effective at reducing poverty when it is designed in tandem with economic growth objectives. The part it can play in reducing poverty should perhaps have a stronger focus on marginalisation, ie working with governments and civil society in-country to support inclusion of all elements of society and reduce marginalisation.
3.3 How should the rules and norms of international aid be set?
At international level. This happens already through OECD DAC but the limitations of the membership of DAC to donor countries is unhelpful. Recipient countries should be equally involved in reviewing and agreeing rules and norms. UN is the best forum for this, and the precedent has to some extent been set by the discussions that took place internationally around agreeing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The rules and norms underlying the composition and operation of the OECD DAC became outdated by the spirit of universality which framed the agreement of the SDGs.
3.4 Who decides what success looks like and how do we measure it?
Again, the SDGs with their targets and indicators have set a precedent. How effective the indicators actually are, is yet to be seen. Much will depend on how robust statistical data is, in each country especially donor recipient countries. We are already close to the target date (2030) for the SDGs to be met. It will soon be time for any successor initiative to be drafted. The quality of measurement used in providing SDG indicators in each country will be an indicator itself of the extent of the requirement to refine or overhaul the system for evaluating success.
3.5 Should aid be finite and, if so, what should be the trigger to ending it?
Yes, aid (as macro-level development assistance) should be finite. Triggers to ending it should include one or more of the following: when recipient countries decline further aid (eg India); when the extent of corruption is judged unacceptable to donors; when the delivery of aid is so unsafe that it imperils either or both deliverers and recipients (eg currently in Afghanistan) and when poverty levels are reduced sufficiently to reach re-classification by the World Bank (eg to upper middle income). Aid at micro-level, and short term humanitarian relief, should not be time-bound, or considered finite in the same way. It should continue as long as need exists and responses to need are working. Firefly in Bosnia’s partner organisation, Svitac, exemplifies this. The civil war may be twenty-five years in the past but communities remain deeply divided and in some areas the daily situation is extremely tense. Under such circumstances, Svitac’s therapeutic activities open to children from all ethnicities to come together to relax and to enjoy play with other children, remains as valuable and relevant now as in the immediate aftermath of civil war.
3.6 Should aid be conditional, and what should those conditions be?
Development assistance should generally be unconditional except in rare, short-term, context-specific instances. It should be driven, unqualified, by the objectives set out in the OECD DAC definition.
Official development assistance (ODA) is defined by the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) as government aid that promotes and specifically targets the economic development and welfare of developing countries
It is tempting to apply conditions where serious human rights abuses are concerned, e.g capital punishment, but we do well to remember that the world’s largest donor nation, the US, allows execution in some states. Imposing conditions can fuel criticism on the relationship between aid and colonisation and on the exercise of power by donors over recipients.
Micro-level aid to local NGOs to meet needs at grassroots level need never be conditional, beyond requiring compliance with the internationally accepted norms of good practice.
3.7 Is it helpful to distinguish between humanitarian aid and long-term development spending?
Yes, and some of the problems surrounding public perceptions of aid stem from confusion between the two. The widespread use of the word ‘aid’ is itself unhelpful. We should clearly distinguish development assistance and humanitarian aid. The two concepts are different and it would be helpful to improving public understanding of both to clarify the difference.
3.8 What are the benefits and motivations for donors and for recipient countries?
Giving development assistance allows donor countries to contribute towards human and environmental progress, as responsible outward-looking members of the international community. The concept of ‘global public investment’ refers to this. It can add to a donor country’s ‘soft power’.
Recipient countries can use development assistance to advance development in vital sectors such as health, education and physical infrastructure, where their own taxation base is insufficient to fully fund them.
3.9 What are the risks and drawbacks for donors and recipient countries?
Donors countries risk opposition from electorates who have not ‘bought in’ to the benefits of development assistance and humanitarian aid, especially during times of unusual economic hardship at home. There is political risk in maintaining the levels of development assistance allocated in a previously more favourable economic climate.
Recipient countries may become unduly dependent on development assistance. This can become a disincentive to building their own taxation revenues and allocating funding generated from natural resources to development.
4.1 Should the UK have an aid budget? Why is this?
The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy by GDP, and a member of the UN Security Council’s Permanent Five. If the UK is to play its part as a full member of the international community, as befits its ranking and its status as a mature democracy, it would be unthinkable for it not to have an aid budget.
4.2 What should be included in the UK’s international development strategy and what does the economic growth model set out in the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy mean for the development strategy?
The UK’s international development strategy should emphasise recommitment to the targets of the SDGs and the importance of the target date of 2030. It should emphasise its adherence to the primary purpose of aid as defined by the OECD DAC. Within the context of the Integrated Review it should distinguish between the different objectives of security, defence, foreign policy and development while at the same time setting an objective to improve the UK’s performance in achieving better policy coherence.
4.3 Should all donors work towards the collective aims set out in the Sustainable Development Goals or should they have flexibility to pursue their own priorities and development strategies outlined by recipient countries?
All donors should indeed work towards the collective aims set out in the SDGs. If they were instead to follow their own priorities and the development strategies outlined by recipient countries (where these are outside the very broad parameters of the 17 goals), this would militate strongly against the formation of a new, successor initiative to the SDGs post 2030, and therefore against international collaboration on increasingly grave transnational threats such as the climate emergency and pandemics.
4.4 Is there a ‘gold standard’ that donors should aspire to and are there examples of best practice among donor countries?
There is no ‘gold standard’. However, there are indices on aid effectiveness such as that researched and published by the Centre for Global Development. See: Aid Effectiveness | Center For Global Development (cgdev.org)
4.5 How is the UK Government held accountable to the UK taxpayer and the countries and communities where the programmes it funds are delivered?
The UK Government is held accountable to the UK taxpayer through the publication by (previously) DFID and now FCDO of its activities including income and expenditure, and by scrutiny from bodies such as NAO and the International Development Committee.
Lines of accountability to the countries and communities where the programmes it funds are delivered are weaker and less transparent. They are variable in their robustness according to the different political and economic contexts of those countries and communities, and their development data collection and analysis capacities.
5.1 What impact does aid spending have on international power dynamics?
Aid has considerable impact on international power dynamics, as witnessed worldwide by the rise in significance of China as a donor, including through its Belt and Road initiative. Aid spreads influence, builds relationships between donors and recipient countries, affects international perceptions of donor countries and is a component of soft power.
5.2 How does international aid interplay with other sources of income such as international trade, remittances, domestic tax bases and philanthropy?
Aid as development assistance does interplay with other sources of income but to be more effective and more wisely deployed and received, it should continually (because political and economic circumstances are ever changing) be reviewed, and where necessary redirected, in line with changes of other sources of income such as those mentioned. This would help to better avoid ‘aid orphans’ and gaps, help ensure the building of inclusive societies and help ensure that aid does not disinhibit international trade growth or the growth of domestic tax bases and philanthropy. Development assistance should be as well targeted as possible, hence well informed and up-to-date.
5.3 What is the role of different development actors such as International financial institutions, multilateral organisations, large International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs), small INGOs and national NGOs?
The role of IFIs and multilateral organisations is to use their relative economic strength and collective knowledge to fuel global public investment collaboratively, to help build a better, fairer, safer world. They work with governments from top level down. The role of NGOs, small and large, as a part of civil society, is to work with civil society, from the lowest levels upwards. The ‘N’ in non-governmental organisation is very important. While NGOs, especially the larger ones, can and do work as implementing partners for IFIs, multilateral organisations and bilateral governments, they are and must be advocates not mere contractors. If they are close to the people they exist to support and to represent, they must use that closeness to help give voice to local people. Advocacy at an international level is vital for human rights to be observed and to ensure, as pledged by the SDGs, that the goals are only met when they are met for all.
Small NGOs, as discussed above, have a particularly important role to play at grassroots level. Local NGOs, in lower and middle income countries, and especially in countries affected by conflict, deserve considerably more support from the international development community, including in the UK. They are in the frontline of delivery of programmes at local level and of facing existing and new threats from growing authoritarianism. They witness social justice, and injustice, from a small-scale, local perspective. They reflect the courage, determination and dedication of the local people they engage as volunteers or employees. The UK’s new aid strategy should give enhanced attention to role of these highly significant development actors working at micro-level in the countries they also wish to support with bilateral development assistance.