UK Aid: We Must Protect Our 0.7%

Jan 25, 2017

Here, our Director, Josephine, leads us through her thoughts on recent news headlines about UK Aid. She strongly advocates that we should be more vocal about good-news stories and celebrate the work of the sector more. We must also do all we can to protect our 0.7% commitment.

The UK is committed to spending 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) on aid every year. It’s vital that we stick to this pledge.  

My organisation, Feed the Minds, has not featured in the recent news stories about development money being “wasted”. We have just been getting on with our work, transferring knowledge and skills to tens of thousands of people through local partner organisations every year. There is nothing exciting about us in relation to the news about development – we are not huge, our staff salaries are very modest and we don’t deliver cash transfers. Rather, we run education projects which include basic literacy training coupled with vital life skills.

Working with new mothers in Nepal.
Working with new mothers in Nepal.

Our work gives a huge number of people in some of the world’s poorest locations an opportunity to transform their lives by giving them relevant education skills – skills that stay with them for the rest of their lives. For someone who missed out on school because of their gender, their disability or because they lived in a conflict area – or simply because their family was poor – the skills of reading, writing and calculation are truly life changing.

A participant in one of our projects in South Sudan, James, said “Education is a right for all. Now I know my rights – everybody has his or her own rights and nobody will prevent me from education.”

Education makes a world of difference.
Education makes a world of difference.

Our work is delivering lasting change in a cost-effective way. Our approach, with education projects implemented through existing local organisations, is very cost effective. This, coupled with being relatively small, enables us to monitor all costs very closely, so I can say with confidence that we are delivering value for money. The transformational opportunities available for the people we work with are extremely exciting and I personally feel that my job is a privilege – I get to witness the impact the UK’s commitment to aid makes to people’s lives on a daily basis. But do these stories of change and hope get given the same level of coverage by the media?

I am worried about the recent focus on money set aside for development being “wasted”, but let me immediately add that I am not in the slightest bit worried about serious scrutiny of development and what it achieves. It’s something I welcome and value and an important part of what journalists should investigate. However, I am seriously worried about the lack of understanding of the complexity of development some of the critics are allowed to display. Some media outlets have allowed a shallow mix of political views about “helping our own country first” and reactions to particular elements of development work to be reported without any wider context, and without understanding how they fit into the bigger picture.

There’s a lot of serious research and thought on development based on a strong community of practitioners and academics – but this seems to be ignored at the moment, with the spotlight put on certain isolated activities within larger programmes.

What repercussions could this have for development organisations who honestly strive to make the world a better place and reduce rapidly growing inequality and poverty? There are countless groups working on this on many different levels – civil society organisations like Feed the Minds, the immensely important global international development agencies, support from government agencies for development, as well as the private sector. In my 30 year career focusing on human rights and development, I have seen how the impact of the work we do can quickly change what appear to be hopeless situations into solutions. International development effort makes a difference – the majority of the time. Sometimes it’s not as successful as it should be and we must be fastidious with our monitoring of impact and expenditure; we owe that to our donors, and more importantly, we owe it to the people we support. Evaluation matters too, learning more about successes and failures can help us to continue to perform better. But to reduce or divert funds earmarked for development to other areas or completely abandon our 0.7% target, the UK will detract from people that live precarious lives in very vulnerable situations, which is something we should remain proud to commit to.

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Lifelong learning.