Rudd neglects friends in the Pacific

21 March 2011

By Jenny Hayward-Jones, Director of the Myer Foundation Melanesia program, Lowy Institute for International Policy

While Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has been busy pursuing Australian foreign policy interests in North Africa and managing the consular response to the earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, he is unlikely to have had time to keep an eye on the neighbourhood.

This is probably not helping to counter perceptions of gradual erosion of Australian diplomatic influence in the Pacific Islands region (this despite very generous aid spending and a successful hosting of the Pacific Islands Forum in Cairns in August 2009). Even Hillary Clinton has found time to worry about the Pacific in the last month.

Nowhere is the decline of Australia's diplomatic influence in the Pacific more apparent than in Fiji. Fiji's Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, is due to host the Melanesia Spearhead Group (MSG) leaders' summit on 31 March. It will be an occasion for Bainimarama to demonstrate regional leadership and thumb his nose again at Australia, which he blames for the delay in him taking the Chair of the MSG.

The more interesting aspect of this particular leaders' summit is that both East Timor and Indonesia will participate as observers, and that Luxembourg has been invited as a special guest.

Indonesia's invitation has predictably frustrated the West Papuan independence movement, which is used to having its agenda pursued by Vanuatu at MSG meetings. This article in the Vanuatu Daily Post questions whether Indonesian aid had encouraged the MSG to issue an invitation to Jakarta. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced new areas for cooperation when he visited PNG in March 2010 but it's unlikely this is the main motivation behind the MSG's agreement to grant Indonesia observer status.

Indonesia and East Timor at least have genuine interest in and sympathies with the members of the MSG. But the invitation to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is a little odd.

Luxembourg is the second smallest member of the EU, which is a major donor in the region. But it does not hold the rotating presidency so is unlikely to be formally representing the EU. Although Luxembourg is one of only five countries to spend more than 0.7% of their GNI on aid, it does not appear to extend this largesse as far the Pacific Islands. If the lure of aid was the determining factor for an invitation, surely China, which funds the MSG Secretariat, would have merited an invitation.
Could it be that Luxembourg, a competitor for Australia's candidacy for a temporary seat at the UN Security Council, is seeking an opportunity to lobby for more votes? And is this really any stranger than Kevin Rudd speaking at the African Union?

The members of the Pacific Islands Forum (excluding Fiji) first committed to support Australia's candidacy for a 2013-14 temporary seat at the UN Security Council in 2008 and reiterated that support last year. Canberra would hardly have been counting on Suva's vote, and an invitation to the MSG was never in prospect. But DFAT might want to be checking that Port Moresby, Honiara and Port Vila remember their commitments.

The strenuous efforts of Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, in flying the Australian flag all over the Pacific, are undoubtedly constructive and praise-worthy, but they only partly compensate for the Foreign Minister's lack of attention. Mr Rudd is yet to visit any Pacific Island country as Foreign Minister. His last bilateral visit to the region – to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands — was in March 2008 when he was Prime Minister. Other visits as Prime Minister included travel to Niue for the 2008 Pacific Islands Forum and to Papua New Guinea for a special leaders’ meeting on Fiji in January 2009.

Pacific Island governments could hardly fail to notice the conspicuous absence of the Australian Foreign Minister from their shores while he pursues new friends further afield. They may conclude that courting new friends should be their priority too.

This blog was cross-posted with The Interpreter.

Photo by Flickr user adrian.

Aid & development linkage

21 March 2011

By Danielle Cave, Editorial team, Interpreting the Aid Review

  • WikiLeaks exposes the extent of illegal logging in Peru


  • Duncan Green from Oxfam Great Britain blogs on evaluating aid programs on the basis of ‘value-for-money’


  • For subscribers to the Australian Financial Review, this article, discusses the potential role of Australia’s private sector in rebuilding Japan – through private public partnerships (thanks Hugh)


"Never use a crisis hashtag for anything other than important information related to the crisis. This seems a simple rule for everyone following breaking news on Twitter. If you just want to be sad for Christchurch, or pray for Japan, or show support for Libyans, delete the hashtags, and your sympathies will only be broadcast to those who have already opted to follow you." (Via @michelle griffin of The Age)


  • Following James Brown’s blog on Educating Afghanistan, this article by Nell Kennon of World Vision Australia, discusses the complexities of delivering Australian aid to Afghanistan (I was not aware that Afghanistan is now the fourth largest recipient of Australian aid, totalling $123 million in 2010–11).


  • While the Pentagon defends foreign aid as being essential to national security, a new bill has been introduced in the US congress that seeks to cut foreign aid to countries that “don’t like” the United States (by forcing Congress to vote on whether to give aid on a country by country basis). In a 5-minute speech (video below) Texas Congressman Ted Poe  raised a handful of reasons why the US should cut aid to a number of countries, he seems keen to start with China, namely because of the United State’s unpopularity in some of these countries: 

"And last thing I want to say is most of these countries we give money to, they don't even like us. There was a poll done by FOX News yesterday that said 82 percent of the people in Egypt don't even like Americans. Well, why do we keep giving them money? We don't need to pay them to hate us."  


US Foreign Aid 101

19 March 2011

This neat video explores the strategic reasons for addressing global poverty via a US foreign aid budget. Most American's drastically overestimate how much the US gives in foreign aid and assistance. It would be interesting to see the outcome of an Australian-based poll that asked how much Australia gives in foreign aid and assistance.



Happy Friday!

Educating Afghanistan

17 March 2011

By James Brown, Military Associate, Lowy Institute

Whilst capacity building in Afghanistan is a worthy in its own right, a realist assessment suggests that for development assistance to be in Australia’s national interest it’s important that the Afghan people know what we are contributing. It’s not clear that many Afghans or Australians know about the excellent work we are doing in developing the new Afghanistan.

Australia’s aid program in Afghanistan is delivered in a number of ways. In the Southern province of Uruzgan, Australian capacity building is directly delivered through both civilian agencies and the military. At a national Afghanistan level Australia’s aid is often more indirectly delivered. We are a significant contributor to the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund, an overarching development program administered by the World Bank on behalf of donor countries and charged with implementing the Afghanistan National Development Strategy. AusAID is also engaged in capacity building in the Afghan national ministries – particularly in health, education, and agriculture.

The Asia Foundation conducts polling in Afghanistan to determine Afghan community attitudes and includes a section devoted to local perceptions of development work. In 2009 that survey reflected that Australia’s development efforts were largely not recognised across Afghanistan, and particularly in Kabul where aid recognition was higher for countries like China.

The poll also captures what development priorities are according to Afghans in different parts of the country. Though education needs rate lower in outlying provinces, education is the second most desired good in the Afghan national capital. Education is also the development area in which most Afghans recognise the contribution of foreigners.

Whilst there has been considerable development of primary and secondary education in Afghanistan since 2001, there has been less development in the tertiary sector. Afghanistan is currently graduating 40 000 high school students a year and most of these struggle to find a place in a world-class university.

In the long fight against extremist violence in Afghanistan, education is the critical weapon. Allowing tertiary students access to a wide spectrum of ideas – from both their own country and the western world – is the surest way to reduce the hold of groups like the Taliban who command support through a narrow interpretation of the world. There is ample scope for development of the Afghan tertiary sector by countries like Australia.

By happy coincidence, the chancellor of Afghanistan’s largest and oldest university, Kabul University, is an Australian who taught at Macquarie University in Sydney for several years and wrote his masters thesis on the topic of development in Afghanistan. Whilst AusAID has been increasingly active in Kabul, it is yet to embark upon direct development of Afghanistan’s tertiary sector. Where Australia has offered direct development to the Afghan education sector it has been very successful. The joint Australian-Malaysian program to train Master Teachers for Afghanistan was cleverly conceived and well delivered. It has provided a model for culturally appropriate capacity building with a very direct impact.

Such a project could leverage Australia’s expertise in the delivery of distance education and build upon previous educational IT-based development projects like the Virtual Colombo Plan. It would also be highly visible, as most future Afghan leaders will pass through Afghanistan’s few universities. A more directly delivered Australian development project in the Afghan tertiary sector would fill a niche need in Afghan development in which few other countries have established a presence. 

Both images by flickr user colleen_taugher.

The final blog countdown...

16 March 2011

By Danielle Cave, Editorial team, Interpreting the Aid Review

In January, with support from the Myer Foundation and AusAID, the Lowy Institute launched a new aid blog - ‘Interpreting the aid review’.

Since its launch, Interpreting the aid review has been blogging daily alongside The Interpreter (the Lowy Institute’s prolific and internationally regarded foreign policy blog). With the aid review set to conclude in early April, so too will this dedicated Australian-based aid & development blog.

With one month to go, we hope even more individuals and organisations will reach out and contribute to this unique discussion on the future of Australia’s aid program, (the budget of which is set to double to $8-9 billion by 2015-16). 2011 has already proved a rather fascinating time for development assistance worldwide and this has been reflected in a range of blog posts published on the Lowy aid blog.

A diverse range of topics have found their way onto our blog, from geo-coding, Asia’s strategic shocks, the involvement of civil society & the role of women in development, Australia’s disaster relief   capabilities, to Australia’s global policy challenges for 2011 and much more.

The geographic direction of Australia’s aid program has thus far stimulated the most debate (evident herehereherehere  and yesterday here). There have been regular and insightful comparisons with the United States, UK and Canadian aid programs. In depth that I believe the mainstream Australian media failed to achieve, we tackled the question, 'does charity begin at home?'.

It has been fantastic to have so many international institutions come forward and contribute their opinions and expertise, including the Asia Foundation (which runs a very good Asia-focused blog), UNICEF, the Center for Global Development (US development think-tank) and The Royal Bank of Scotland to name just a few.

We poached Bob McMullan’s blog post which outlined ‘3 big picture challenges’ for the aid review panel and Rowan Callick’s blog essay ‘Sinophillia or Sinophobia? Either way, the Chinese are coming’, which looked at Chinese aid in the Pacific. More on this topic will follow in the coming weeks.

The aid review word cloud created quite the stir and we have briefly heard from the very busy aid review panel, I, for one, would like to hear more. We have also published posts from a handful of NGOs and policy think-tanks (here, here, here and here).

We even acquired an exclusive from UK Foreign Secretary William Hague (well, sort of).

Looking at blog traffic, the majority of visitors (now averaging approximately 1000 per weekday, a little less over the weekends) are Australian-based (having deleted, of course, any traffic from blog admin staff, spam and anything slightly suspicious). However, it’s interesting to note that approximately 15% of all traffic is coming from the United States, 5% from Indonesia, 5% from China, with the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Thailand, India, New Zealand, Philippines and the Netherlands rounding out the top dozen overseas visitors.

Interested in which blog posts have recorded the highest readership? So far, the most popular have been: 12, 1110, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and the most read - 1. Obviously this ranking favours the older posts (and I think readership will vary greatly over this last month), doesn’t take into account the blog posts that people have sent around via email and can't measure whether a reader actually enjoyed or agreed with what they were reading – although, of course, you do have the option to voice your opinion via a comment or three.

With one more month to go we would like to build on and enhance the discussion thus far. There are a number of topics, themes and countries which, I believe, need more coverage including, for example, the Pacific Island region (PNG & the Solomon Islands are the 2nd and 3rd largest recipients of Australian aid), the value (or not) of providing aid to Indonesia (arguably one of Australia's most important bilateral relationships and largest aid recipient), transparency in aid spending, global discussions around aid effectiveness, the links between national security and aid, the role of multilateral institutions in delivering aid and engaging with new aid donors (Brazil and India, for example). There are obviously many more topics that bloggers could explore and I encourage you to use the comment section to voice your opinion on what you would like to read. 

In addition, it would be valuable to see more contributions from the large international NGOs (all of whom put in submissions to the aid review), Australian government officials (we know you are reading, Canberra is our top traffic city followed by Sydney, Seattle and Beijing), the multilateral banks (both the World Bank and Asian Development Bank have offices in Australia and are well across all relevant topics) and it would be great to hear more from the private sector, which do so much in the area of development (both directly and indirectly) but has thus far failed to aggregate and communicate these activities to the Australian public (beyond a corporate social responsibility webpage).

The development community in Australia is small. The section of Australia’s development community who choose to take part in the public discussion on Australia’s aid program is an alarmingly tiny portion of this already small community. The objective of this Lowy aid blog is to provide a public forum for ideas, opinions, information and research to be discussed and debated by anyone and everyone who harbours an interest in Australia’s doubling foreign aid program. If you are reading this – that means you.

Image by Flickr user wwarby.

Focused aid – less is more

15 March 2011

By Annmaree O'Keefe, Lowy Institute Fellow and Editorial team, Interpreting the aid review 

Which countries and regions should receive Australian aid is one of the questions that the Australian aid review team is looking at (and has been discussed at length on the Lowy aid blog here, here, here, here and here). As the aid program currently stands, the widening of its geographic reach in the past couple of years is in stark contrast with the recommendations coming out of the recent aid reviews undertaken by the world’s most generous aid donors – the USA and the UK. 

The recommendations from the UK’s review of its bilateral and multilateral aid programs, released earlier this month, had a heavy emphasis on an aid program that should be more focused. As a result, DfID will be pulling out of 16 countries and reducing the number of countries where it has dedicated bilateral programs to 27.

Some of the countries where the UK will end its direct aid make for interesting reading from Australia’s perspective. They are China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Iraq and Vietnam. According to DfID’s website, some of the programs will close immediately while others will close over the next five years.

The reason given by the UK Government for pulling out of China is that it no longer needs British help, an observation which Australia’s aid review team may also be considering. Vietnam’s elevation to a middle-income country by 2012 and the fact that it’s on track to meet six of the Millennium Development Goals are two factors at the heart of the UK’s decision to leave that country.

This financial year, Australia’s bilateral aid allocations to China and Vietnam are $22 million and $96 million respectively with Vietnam among the top five recipients of Australian overseas development assistance.

It’s not just the UK’s bilateral program that will see a tighter focus in future. The multilateral review has recommended the suspension of British contributions to four UN agencies – UN HABITAT, International Labour Organization, UN Industrial Development Organization and the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction – on the basis that their contribution to UK development objectives has been poor.

In addition, four other organisations have been put on notice to reform their operations or DfID funding may be cancelled. These four are UNESCO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, International Organization for Migration and significantly, the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Selectivity and focus are also the hallmarks of the US Government’s inaugural Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) commissioned by Hillary Clinton and released in December last year (see my earlier blog). The QDDR highlighted the need to focus aid investments and to be more selective across a range of countries and sectors. This reflected the position set out by President Obama in his Presidential Policy on Global Development issued four months earlier.

This reinforcement on focus and selectivity by the world’s leading donors (in dollar terms, the USA and the UK are respectively the largest and second largest donors) sends a strong message that an effective aid program and a geographically disbursed aid program are not necessarily compatible. As Matt Morris asked in his blog, Six Lessons from UK’s Aid Reviews, is DfID (and I would add the US) setting the benchmark for other donors? And to paraphrase his next question, how will Australia respond?

Image by Flickr user Tim Morgan.

Aid & development linkage

11 March 2011

By Danielle Cave, Editorial team, Interpreting the Aid Review

  • Sam alerts Interpreter readers to a neat animation showing where America’s aid dollars have gone since 1985 (note the heavy Middle East focus).


  • Is microfinance a neoliberal fairytale? This Guardian journalist believes that "critics of microcredit make some convincing arguments that need urgent rebuttal from the organisations that have ploughed huge sums into it".



  • Let the battle of the blogs begin – Cuba is finally online. Until now Cuba’s dial-up internet access has been the world’s 2nd slowest, after Mayotte, a French territory in the Indian Ocean. Now, Cuba is set to welcome broadband (courtesy of Venezuela). With currently, only 3% of Cubans using the internet it is unclear what this will all mean for ‘internet freedom’ in the country and the implications for Fidel Castro’s twitter, which this week became the first Cuban twitter account to surpass 100,000 followers.



  • Laura Bush, Melinda Gates and the President of CARE made a formidable force on yesterday’s PBS Newshour discussing international women’s day, maternal health, the relationships between aid and security and the potential cutbacks to the US foreign aid program:


Banking on the poor in China

10 March 2011

By Brendan Rigby, co-founder of and Chapters Associate at Wokai, a peer-to-peer microfinance organisation based in Beijing  

Earlier last week, it was announced by the central bank of Bangladesh that the Banker to the Poor, the Father of Microfinance, Professor Muhammad Yunus was being sacked. The details, motivations, and ramifications are unclear and it remains to be seen whether he will step down. It appears to be politically motivated and based on the legal technicality of retirement. It is the latest in a string of events that are shaking the very foundations of microfinance. If you want to catch up, I highly recommend following the Center for Global Development’s David Roodman.

Professor Muhammad Yunus, Bangladesh and India are synonymous with microfinance. The Microcredit Summit Campaign estimated as of 2006, over 3,100 microfinance institutions (MFIs) were providing financial services to more than 113 million poor people worldwide. Indeed, the Indian subcontinent accounts for the majority of the world’s MFIs and borrowers. However, where is the world’s largest microfinance market? Bangladesh? India?

It is well known that the majority of the world’s poor now live in Middle Income Countries (MICs), most notably China and India. In 1990, about 93% of the world’s poor people lived in Low-Income Countries (LIC). However, recent research suggests that three-quarters of the world’s approximately 1.3 billion poor live in MICs and the remaining quarter, about 370 million people, live in the 39 LICs, which are largely in sub-Saharan Africa. It is not that they have moved, but that consistent and stellar economic growth rates have pulled countries such as China up the World Bank’s classification system.

Poverty in China is often overshadowed by average annual GDP growth rates of 9%. According to World Bank and UN statistics, around 200 million Chinese live on less than US$1.25/day; Bangladesh has a total population of 162 million. Furthermore, 482 million people live on less than US$2/day; greater than the populations of the US, Germany and UK put together. Although many are quick to point to the number of people lifted from poverty in China over the past few decades, poverty reduction is slowing down and a gap is opening up.

The rural-urban divide is the new Great Wall and can be seen from space (see image below, the western regions are coloured).

The average income of one of the 750 million who lives in rural China is less than 1/3 of that of a person living in an urban area. Then there are the 35 million, who have an average annual income of US$176. That is equivalent to the population of Canada living on about $0.48 a day. 66% of these extremely poor live in the Western Region and only 5% in the Eastern Region. This rural-urban divide can be found not only in wealth distribution and income, but also across human development indicators in education, health, and gender.

‘Microfinance must be an enormous sector in China’, I hear you saying. Think again.

Microfinance in China is an extremely underdeveloped and overlooked sector that deserves more attention than it is getting. Despite the numerical demand for microfinance services, China has only 22 microfinance institutions (MFIs) with approximately 1.6 million borrowers. China’s financial and banking regulation makes it difficult for entrepreneurs and small business owners to access loan credit, especially in rural China. This data would seemingly make a strong case for continued and targeted aid programs to China. However, DfiD (UK aid) in light of its recent aid review, has cut aid to China, and Australia’s own aid review and program in China is relatively small.

Discussions of Australia’s aid review have been largely exclusive of China’s development challenges despite the above figures and Australia’s strong bilateral relations. Should Australia’s aid program be targeting pro-poor growth initiatives and poverty reduction strategies in China? In 2010-11, the total Official Development Assistance (ODA) to China will total about A$37 million or about 0.8% of the aid budget. The programmatic focus in China is predominately on health and environment. Not unsurprisingly, the overlooking of China’s rural poor by governments both east and west has created opportunities for social innovation from the non-government sector.

Gaps in the market, unseen opportunities and tough regulation spur innovation and entrepreneurship. Step in peer-to-peer (P2P) platforms in microfinance, which leverage online tools and global networks to connect contributors with borrowers. Some commentators on microfinance see P2P platforms on a precipice. It is predicted that by 2013, P2P lending will exceed US$5 billion. P2P microfinance was recognised in by Harvard Business Review as one of the top 20 breakthrough ideas of 2009. P2P has global demand, contributor confidence because of its transparency and accountability measures, lender interest and technological support through web architecture.

Such platforms are redefining where charity actually begins. Prior to advances in communications technology and globalisation, you could really only donate to organisations within your own community. Now, you can take matters of development assistance into your own hands and donate to organisations and projects across the world. Global communities, migration and social networks are also redefining where ‘home’ is. Wokai, a peer-to-peer microfinance platform for China, provides new architecture for mobilising people to decide how they want to address the world’s most pressing issues.

Although largely benefiting from contributors outside of China, Wokai is in the process of establishing a partnership with a Chinese foundation that will enable it to scale up, fundraise, advertise and leverage the potential of the Chinese market. More importantly, it will offer a South-to-South (or in China an east-to-west) model of development cooperation and participation, which mobilises civil society and enables Chinese to support China. Young Chinese professionals in Shanghai will be able to support low-income entrepreneurs in rural Sichuan, and watch online as businesses and well-being grow. Such organisations and platforms offer a way to bypass traditional aid flows and channels, allowing everyone the opportunity to participate in development assistance and see the results.


Questions on Australia’s 2011 Aid Review

9 March 2011

By Bob McMullan, former Parliamentary Secretary for International Development and currently Adjunct Professor at the Crawford School of Economics and Government, Australian National University.

Australia is committed to doubling its foreign aid budget by 2015. This is a commendable objective and one that bucks the trend among most other major aid donors.

In this context, Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has announced a review into ‘the efficiency and effectiveness’ of the Australian development assistance program. Ideally, this should be the last ad hoc review. Australia would be better served by a review model similar to the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) process initiated by US Secretary of State Clinton.

The key big picture challenges for the panel are:

  1. To match their ambition to the future $8 billion program, rather than being constrained by the more limited horizons of the current modest program; 
  2. To identify realistic opportunities for Australia to play a global leadership role in the development area as we have done with regard to people with disabilities in developing countries; and
  3. To make clear the balance of risks in the difficult development business. In pursuit of efficiency and effectiveness the inevitability of some failures must be recognised and accepted.


There are a large number of specific issues that the Review will need to address, but in most cases the result is predictable because of the momentum already established and the clear national and global priorities.

Some key areas where the potential for conflicting arguments and competing ideas lie in:

  • the geographic focus of the program;
  • the issue of Pacific integration;
  • the focus on security and governance;
  • climate finance; and
  • agriculture and resources.


Security and governance
Too high a proportion of Australian aid in the past decade was targeted at a flawed model of assistance to improve governance. Good governance matters but long term improvement in governance is more likely to flow from an educated and aware population than from an outside government sending in ‘experts.’

On the closely related issue of the security aspects of development, the Review needs to acknowledge that Australia should not apologise for recognising that its future security will be profoundly affected by the success of our development efforts. This is most obvious in Afghanistan but is also highlighted by recent controversy surrounding assistance to Indonesian schools. I have visited some of these schools and seen their importance to the development of Indonesia and for generating opportunities for the next generation of young Indonesians. But it is also profoundly in Australia’s interests for Indonesian families to have an alternative education option to radicalising influences.


Geographic focus
The point of contention over geographic focus is whether Australia can deliver assistance to Africa in a manner consistent with a commitment to efficiency and effectiveness. It is clear there is a case to do so as this is the part of the world where the commitment to the Millennium Development Goals is furthest from achievement. It is clear we will have resources to do so in an AU$8 billion budget. AU$500 million to Africa will leave AU$7.5 billion to do what we now do with AU$4 billion.

The question is: can the money be spent wisely and well?

Recent experience suggests that, with care and focus, it can. The current and prospective commitment to areas of Australia’s special knowledge, expertise or experience suggests that if we proceed cooperatively with partner countries and other donors, we can meet our criteria.

The proposition that we should focus on relevant areas of Australian expertise, agriculture and water has been well received. Building on a history of support for maternal health with special emphasis on training midwives is well focused. In putting these priorities before representatives of African countries, I found they were almost universally keen to add a fourth: mining. In these areas, working with regional bodies like the African Development Bank, we can deliver value for money for taxpayers and impact on the MDGs in Africa. Longer term, perhaps in the big scale-up years of 2014 and 2015, I strongly believe we should build on this basis by joining the African Development Bank.


Pacific integration
There are important issues about aid to the Pacific to be addressed. The Review has a strong basis to build on with the Partnerships model arising from the Port Moresby Declaration and the donor coordination based on the Cairns Compact. The key new questions to be addressed relate to broader issues of economic integration based on products, services, investment and labour flows and the remittances they generate. Another key to the future of the Pacific lies in the development of the tertiary education sector, at both university and technical levels.

Over the next decade climate finance will also have an increasing call on development spending and will need to be factored into planning. More...

International Women's day linkage

8 March 2011

By Andrew Carr, Assistant Editor of The Interpreter

A few years ago The Interpreter debated the question: why are there so few women in international relations? This 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, we note that Australia's Commander-in-Chief, Prime Minister and Shadow Foreign Minister are all women. But these should be routine, not standout facts.

  • 'Of the world's 188 directly elected leaders, just 16 are women. Women also hold only 19 per cent of the world's parliamentary seats' says Annie Lennox.




  • Why were the Middle East uprisings social media-aware and largely non-violent? One answer is the role of women.


  •  Australia's Foreign Minister pens an optimistic piece on the increasing role of women in the Middle East.


  •  You wouldn't normally associate James Bond with equality, but his boss M tries:



EDITOR'S NOTE: It is also worth tagging this video onto Andrew's excellent round-up (thanks Lucy):

This blog first appeared here in The Interpreter.

2 militaries are better than 1

7 March 2011

By Andrew Carr, Assistant Editor of The Interpreter

I like Sam's idea (Editor of The Interpreter) of designating key resources as national logistical assets for future use in disaster relief, but I think he doesn't go far enough. Australia's security apparatus is increasingly used for both its original 'hard' purpose of threat detection & deterrence (defence of the continent and forward defence), and a secondary 'soft' role of monitoring, aid-work, peace-keeping, stabilisatisation and re-construction. Rather than have resources and personnel from our Army, Navy, Airforce, Police and Emergency Services institutions available for both tasks, let's organise them based on this division of labour. If Australia is committing to a long term role of disaster response in the region, then we need an organisational change along with the necessary funding and support increases.

Most of the 7 peacekeeping missions Australia carries out involve a multitude of organisations. The military takes the lead, given its resources, reliability and logistic skills, but it lacks the policing skills often needed in crisis situations (hence the use of the Australian Federal Police in the Solomon Islands). Likewise it has to work with AusAID and outside development experts to develop its approach. Australia's military is also involved in controlling the flow of asylum seekers under Operation Resolute and whenever disaster strikes, such as with the Queensland floods or the recent earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Given we should expect the cost and frequency of disasters to rise, and the Australian government has seemingly embraced regional interventions over the last decade, creating a specialised organisation to cover the 'soft' roles is increasingly necessary. The creation of the Australian Civilian Corps and the Asia Pacific Civil-Military Centre of Excellence is a strong start, but we should have an over-arching organisation that houses all these resources and skills in the one place. This would likely entail a need to increase our forces to cover the dual use, however many of the positions would be ideal for the thousands of university undergraduates who study international relations or developing nations, and want to take a constructive role in our region.

By creating a unique peacekeeping/disaster response force, Australia would free its military and police from the burdens they currently face, while better preparing ourselves to respond to likely increases in natural disasters and regional political instability within our neighbourhood. It would take some of the burden off our Aid officials, while giving them access to some of the country’s best resources for their work.

Image by Flickr user simminch.

Investing in the drug pipeline

7 March 2011

By William Wells, Director of Market Access, Global Alliance for TB Drug Development, New York

In her recent post, Dr Mary Moran raises some issues about AusAID’s potential for funding the development of new health technologies (e.g. drugs, diagnostics and vaccines suitable for low-income settings) that warrant further discussion. These point to the benefits of Australia’s development assistance efforts in supporting the product development partnership (PDP) model in general, and Tuberculosis (TB) drug development specifically. (Please note: A PDP is a non-profit organization that builds partnerships between the public, private, academic, and philanthropic sectors to drive the development of new products for underserved markets, more here). 

First, we should consider the unmet need and the potential benefit of the final product. For example, projected global costs for the treatment of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) – a commitment made by member countries at the World Health Assembly – exceed a billion dollars per year. But a novel regimen for MDR-TB could reduce drug costs 10-fold or more. This would put universal coverage within reach, not to mention reducing the burden on patients with treatments that are 4-fold shorter, with fewer side effects, and higher efficacy.

To realise this promise, we need true product development, including a series of trials that will meet the strict scrutiny of regulatory authorities.  PDPs can provide the coordination to put together a disciplined product development pathway, and thus avoid the wastage of resources on trials that do not lead to regulatory approval. In doing so, they draw upon the good will of governments, philanthropies, public health organizations, and industry partners.

Indeed the PDP model provides a way to maximize donor contributions through leveraging in-kind support. For neglected diseases (as Mary discussed on this blog here), the market typically does not provide pharmaceutical companies with sufficient incentives; they cannot justify taking on the full expense of a product development program. That is not to say that incentives are absent: as part of a neglected disease program, companies can learn about and enter new markets; access large, individual payers such as GAVI or Global Fund; motivate their own staff; and gain important reputational good will. As a result, these corporate partners typically contribute knowledge and time to PDP collaborations in amounts that greatly exceed their contractual obligation. For example, access to chemical libraries costs these companies very little, yet has enormous potential to yield a new drug for TB, or Visceral Leishmaniasis, for example. PDPs can leverage the direct financial support by donors to take advantage of such contributions.

This kind of product development for TB is particularly relevant to AusAID. In AusAID’s current priority regions, TB remains a major consequence and cause of poverty. Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific together account for greater than half the global burden of the world’s second leading infectious killer and eight countries in these regions (Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam) are among the 22 high-burden countries designated as focus countries by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Growing drug resistance and co-infection with HIV is complicating TB control in these regions, further limiting TB control programs’ effectiveness.

Research, which is the sixth component of the WHO 'Stop TB Strategy', is a critical part of the response to this situation. The TB drug pipeline was empty for almost 50 years but, thanks to investments by public and philanthropic donors, it now see's more activity than ever. However, donor interest in supporting product development for TB is slowing down. AusAID, which is poised to ramp up its development assistance, can help reverse this situation, and ensure that the development of critical new TB regimens stays on track.

Please note: the image used is a cropped image of a WHO 'Global map of TB'. Full map accessible here 


4 March 2011

By Danielle Cave, Editorial Team, Interpreting the aid review

It struck me when I accidentally stumbled across this brillant Bono image that it feels like months since Bono has been in my presence - his music, charity, advocacy, activism, his general super-celebrity stardom.

A quick google links me with his activities this year. He has, of course, been as busy as usual, meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma (Bono was 'taken by his warmth'), discussing the future of Africa's economic growth with the Guardian and pointing to the transformative role of social media at the World Economic Forum. No doubt he has staged a dozen or so rock concerts so far in 2011 on the side.

Rewind a few months and Bono was skipping around Australia spending some quality time with Foreign Minister Rudd discussing aid and poverty, 'exclusively' revealing his love for Australia in the Herald Sun, thanking Australian leaders for committing to spend 0.5% of GNI on foreign aid and launching World AIDS day in Sydney alongside Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard (which gave Sydneysiders yet another excuse to rally around the Harbour Bridge):



Now it seems, according to this blog post, Bono is set to announce plans for Live Aid 2011 any day now:

"It’s believed that three concerts will be held across the globe in Port-au-Prince, Tripoli, and Pyongyang with the venue for a fourth concert being pursued in a bidding war by Khartoum and Gaza. Monies raised from the event will go towards paying off the Irish banking and Sovereign debt, which is thought to be in excess of €0.5 trillion."    

Happy Friday!

 Flickr image by nimboo.

Who is the world's most typical person?

3 March 2011

by Sam Roggeveen, Editor of The Interpreter and Research Fellow at the Lowy Institute 

National Geographic crunches the numbers:



H/t TDW.

This was first published here in The Interpreter.

Are women the silver bullet?

3 March 2011

By Simone du Toit, journalist for Pharma in Focus

Most would agree that empowering women is a good idea, but increasingly it's shown to be a smart investment as well.

According to a recent Time Magazine article, when women do earn an income they reinvest 90% of it in their families, whereas men invest around 30-40%. Former chief economist at the World Bank Larry Summers once wrote that “Investment in girls' education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world," yet less than 2¢ of every development dollar goes to girls.

Roughly nine of 10 youth programs are aimed at boys, more than 70% of people who live below the poverty line are women and 60% of the world’s chronically hungry people are female, according to World Food Program statistics. Also, women are traditionally more likely to be denied a loan by a bank and often face high levels of financial discrimination.

One problem for impoverished women is that banks are designed to service those who already have money. They make more money on a large loan than a small one and savings accounts containing meagre funds are not highly sought after. CGAP, an independent policy and research centre developed to advance financial access for the world's poor, says the less fortunate have few options:

"Credit is available from informal commercial and non-commercial money-lenders but usually at a very high cost to borrowers. Savings services are available through a variety of informal relationships like savings clubs, rotating savings and credit associations, and mutual insurance societies that have a tendency to be erratic and insecure."

So what’s the solution?

One proposed by well known Nobel Peace Prize recipient Professor Muhammad Yunus, during his tenure at Chittagong University in the 1970s, is microfinance.  Yunus began by experimenting with small loans to poor women in a small Bangladesh village and went on to establish Grameen Bank in 1983. Its success is widely credited for stimulating the establishment of similar institutions around the world. (It should be noted that Yunus himself is currently facing some serious legal allegations discussed here and here, and in fact as we go to print, he has just been removed as Managing Director of Grameen Bank).

Microfinance (further information here) is a general term describing financial services to low-income individuals, or to those who do not have access to typical banking services. Is has also emerged as a highly effective tool for empowering women. According to Kiva, a micro-lending website for the working poor, many qualitative and quantitative studies have shown access to financial services improves the status of women within the family and community, while violence against women was reported as declining.

“Women have become more assertive and confident. In regions where women's mobility is strictly regulated, women have become more visible and are better able to negotiate the public sphere. “Women own assets, including land and housing, and play a stronger role in decision making,”.

The private sector has pushed this idea one step further with innovative skincare brand Dermalogica pledging to extend microloans to 24,000 women worldwide though its 'Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship' (FITE) program. Developed with Kiva, the program targets low-income women in the US and in 56 other countries. The skincare company provided a $500,000 grant to develop the campaign and contributes US$1 every time a consumer goes to and enters a code printed on FITE-themed packaging that the company is using for five of its best-selling products. Customers are also able to lend between $25 and the entire amount of the loan if they choose, and can even team up with celebrity endorsers.


Foreign aid and strategic shocks

1 March 2011

By Rory Medcalf, Program Director of International Security, Lowy Institute

In looking at the global context of likely future demand for Australian development assistance, it is worth thinking about key countries and scenarios where strategic shocks might greatly change the picture. For comprehensive surveys of what might lie in store, I recommend these two ambitious future-mapping reports, one from the US National Intelligence Council and one from the British Ministry of Defence, some of the most creative analysis that the Western intelligence community has done in the public domain.

Here are a few potential shocks and crisis zones to ponder:

Pakistan - this is where a lot of the most troubling global strategic trends converge and meld. These include demographic pressures, an education deficit, religious extremism, dysfunctional urbanisation, ethnic and communal strife, corruption and other failures of governance, terrorist violence, failing infrastructure, vulnerability to natural disasters, water insecurity, disease, and potential for accelerated impacts from climate change. That is not to mention nuclear proliferation, interstate tension and great-power rivalry. Taken together, all of this means not only, strong humanitarian imperatives for donor nations to increase aid flows to Pakistan in the years ahead, but also very strong security imperatives. The combination of humanitarian and global strategic concerns will make Pakistan a special case.  A key question here of course is how aid donors might weigh the reasons for delivering greater assistance against the worsening security situation on the ground. In zones like Pakistan, the proportion of aid spending  that will need to go towards paying for security – whether foreign contractors or local protection – will keep rising.

North Korea - as Lowy Institute analysts have written in the final chapter of 'Power and choice: Asian security futures', a strategic discontinuity on the Korean peninsula would be no great surprise. And it would more likely be the collapse or destabilisation of the North Korean regime than a reprise of the Korean War. There would be massive pressure for international intervention, including by the United States to secure North Korea's nuclear weapons, by regional powers, and of course by South Korea, to assist the population and restore order. The humanitarian crisis arising from North Korean regime collapse would include outflows of refugees, both into China and potentially into South Korea. If North Korea were on the verge of famine conditions at the time of this crisis -- a real possibility -- then the need for external assistance would be all the greater. Likely key donors in a Korea post crisis situation would include South Korea, the United States, China and Japan. Japan, unlikely to deploy troops for the stabilisation effort, would be called on instead to bankroll much of the aid effort, and this would have a profound impact on Japan's ability to sustain development assistance elsewhere in the world.

New post-conflict situations - it is highly likely that within the next decade there will be at least one new major sub-state or even regional armed conflict. Whether in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, Central Asia or the Asia-Pacific, this new conflict, and its post-conflict (or mid-conflict) reconstruction phase, would place new strains on development assistance budgets. In an age of saturation media, including social media, populations in developed countries might well be persuaded support aid to such new trouble zones, however briefly. Donor fatigue that had set in from old and enduring problems and conflicts might be set aside in place of responses, however short-lived, to big new catastrophes. And emerging powers and donors, such as China and India, might be motivated to focus some of their development assistance on the new conflict zones to enhance their own geopolitical influence and prestige.

In all of this, one complete wild card would be the use of a nuclear weapon. Some security experts are genuinely worried about the risk of nuclear use within the next 10-20 years, and we cannot simply dismiss this out of hand. Whether a terrorist attack or ‘localised’ nuclear exchange, for instance in an India-Pakistan conflict, dealing with the aftermath of nuclear use would be the kind of catastrophic event that could immediately become a top global humanitarian priority. Bringing relief, reconstruction and security to a zone affected by nuclear attack would pose barely imaginable challenges to the international aid community, the host authorities (if they continued to exist) and security forces.

Aid effectiveness can be more than money: check out Canada

28 February 2011

By Annmaree O'Keefe, Lowy Institute Fellow and Editorial team, Interpreting the aid review  

For a good part of last week, the main dailies of Canada were running a story on how Canada’s Minister for International Co-operation, Bev Oda, had misled parliament about the way the federal government had handled its decision not to fund a major Canadian development and human rights NGO, Kairos.

It seems that a submission from CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency) recommending $7 million in funding had sat in the minister’s office for a couple of months. It was only just before the previous grant to Kairos was about to expire that the minister made her decision. It now emerges that she had approved the submission but that subsequently, someone had inserted “not” and in effect, reversed the approval.  Some months after having denied in Parliament that she and her office had been responsible for the adjusted submission, Minister Oda has now admitted that her office had inserted the word “not” and so changing her original decision. 

The speculation around Ottawa is that it was the Prime Minister’s Office that had insisted on the reversal.

Much of this story is really about how Canada’s own domestic politics are being played out by its prime minister, Stephen Harper, and how the opposition parties are now using this incident to determine whether Minister Oda can be found in contempt of Parliament. And that’s more to harm the Harper Government than out of regret for the loss of funding for Kairos.

But domestic politics aside, this incident highlights a moral conundrum for donor countries. Canada and other developed countries, including Australia, have identified improved governance, administrative transparency and tolerance for dissent on the part of their recipient partners as important goals of their aid programs. This incident, which is expected to draw more debate when Canada’s Parliament resumes, is at odds with those goals. The contradiction between international aid rhetoric and domestic reality is emphasized by the fact that Kairos is a generally well-respected Christian human rights and aid agency but one that is occasionally critical of federal policies.

As the Australian aid review moves into its final stages, it’s unlikely that the effects of domestic political positioning on the effectiveness of Australia’s aid program will figure, if at all. But somewhere, it’s probably worth keeping in mind the moral conundrum that this type of domestic incident can present – and Canada is not alone in this - and the message it sends to partner countries.

Image by flickr user United Nations Development Programme.

Aid & development linkage

25 February 2011

By Danielle Cave, Editorial team, Interpreting the aid review

  • This week, the Guardian’s ‘global development’ section covers UK aid to India, uprisings in the Middle East, unemployment in South Africa and the World Social Forum



  • Poverty, inequality and revolution? Who’s next? And what do they all have in common?


  • World Vision USA responds to development bloggers around the world who have criticised their decision to distribute 100,000 misprinted NFL t-shirts to developing countries in Africa



  • A social network for the development sector? Launched in December 2010 by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, Jumo, aims to connect people with NGOs, development projects & provide users with news and updates from the 'social sector'. This video below will shed more light. (Chris is quizzed on a range of topics including his role in Obama’s social media campaign, his view on facebook going public (he retains a 1% share), and politicians hitting twitter)


Ready for disaster relief

24 February 2011

by Sam Roggeveen, Editor of The Interpreter and Lowy Institute Fellow

A wonderful Ruddism from Tuesday's joint press conference with Attorney-General Robert McClelland, held to announce Australia's assistance to New Zealand for earthquake relief. The Foreign Minister said:

"...all relevant deployable assets in Australia are either ready, being made ready or in that state of readiness."

The speech-maker's instinct is there: he rhythmically repeats a word or phrase ('ready'), changing the context slightly each time. But he runs out of steam two-thirds of the way through his list. After all, if these 'relevant assets' are either 'ready' or 'being made ready', what else is there? Just 'state of readiness', I guess. Oh, dear.

On a more substantive note, I would draw readers' attention to an October 2010 Lowy Institute presentation by Professor John McAneney on the increasing rate and cost of natural disasters. As Professor McAneney put it in our 5-minute interview, the logic is quite simple: there are 'more people living in dangerous places with more to lose'.

The Australian Government can expect to be called on more often to bring relief from natural disasters, whether at home or abroad. And that almost inevitably brings the Australian Defence Force into the picture, particularly its amphibious fleet, which we have learned is in a poor state of readiness.

There is relief on the way, with a Spanish shipyard having just launched the hull of HMAS Canberra. Along with a sister ship, Canberra will be the largest vessel in the RAN's history.

With their cargo capacity, helicopter facilities, on-board hospitals and command & control capabilities, these ships are going to be incredibly useful for responding to natural disasters. They are built to stage landings of Australian troops on enemy soil, but they are far more likely to be used for peacekeeping and disaster relief work. So why not get serious about those roles by designating these ships as national logistical assets, and operate them jointly with law enforcement bodies like the Australian Federal Police, development and disaster relief agencies like AusAID, and various NGOs?

This is an idea I floated on The Interpreter in 2008 (contrary views here and here) and is worth revisiting now, given Australia's own recent natural disasters and our upcoming leap in amphibious capability. Tell us your views and/or comment below:

A version of this blog first appeared here in The Interpreter.

Image by flickr user Marion Doss.

Beached az: Christchurch, New Zealand

23 February 2011

Following the devastation of yesterday's earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, I direct you to this week's video, put together by the writers of 'beached az':