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.


3/17/2011 1:28:04 AM #
More on Australian aid to the Middle East, particularly to Afghanistan and Iraq would be interesting
3/23/2011 10:46:00 PM #
For the Pacific Island countries, the Australian Aid programme should focus and strengthen support on Health and Education. Health-  focus on maternal health as well as preventative health measures particularly dealing with NCDs. This can apply across all PICs given the rising number of Non Communicable Diseases(diabetes, obesity etc.). If we focus on the preventative side of health care then money saved from treating these cases can go into something that deserve more attention. Already most of our health care system across the PICs are drained and can not cope with these overwhelming problems.  In addition to all these are the ‘natural forces’ of migration esp. by qualified health professionals……... In terms of maternal health, there needs to be more resources poured into providing health care to remote areas- we need more infrastructure and training of community 'mid wives' who can help stop the number of unnecessary deaths. This is a huge problem in PNG and also in other parts of the PICs. The fact that we are also lacking data in this area also needs to be looked at and supported.
In Education, more scholarships to mid-professionals who should be able to apply the 'technical' skills that are usually professed by 'expats'. The Pacific is full of 'technical advisors' who lack basic cultural and traditional sensitivities to be able to see an 'impact' on the work they do. With all due respect, advisors have a role to play BUT not a full time paying job, robbing other 'local' people who are just as capable of delivering on the ground and in most cases more effectively. This is where most of the AID money is going to here in the Pacific----paying fat cat salary to those who profess that they can deliver on the ground. Meanwhile, 3-4 years later, we are all still figuring out why 'AID' has failed or why they isn’t enough impact on the ground. Look to the UN and any other International agency and see the amount of highly paid International Staff who are mostly on missions and will little time to really reflect on 'positive results'. Perhaps, they should only 'fly in' as and when required!! If Donor countries are looking at cutting back on their advisors as in the case now in PNG then it should also do so elsewhere. The Pacific is too full of expats with very little to show meaningful impact on the ground!!! As an NGO worker and a Pacific Islander, I have seen this over the years and continue to do so today!!And the fact that we are reminded about our lack of progress in development begs the question...where have we gone wrong?  We should start to seriously look at withdrawing funding from paying too much for 'too little'

There also needs to be more resources poured into Early Childhood given our growing 'young population'. More and more children under the age of 5 are denied access to early childhood education. This is the key to any future sustainable development...