We must move away from the patronizing and outdated aid narrative. That is the message from Jonathan Glennie, a writer and campaigner on human rights and international cooperation.
In his recent book, The Future of Aid: Global Public Investment, Glennie writes that words matter and that the aid narrative is embarrassing. Rather, we should adopt more “horizontal language” in order to enable a coherent, ambitious and effective global response to the numerous challenges the world currently faces.
Although some aid programmes have contributed to major improvements in people’s lives all over the world, aid has often been ineffective and may even result in negative consequences.
International public finance, that is required to address global challenges in the decades to come, is woefully inadequate. And rather than aid, which offers an obsolete approach, Glennie argues that we should be talking about Global Public Investment (GPI)—which is a new form of international public finance for sustainable development. Such finance, which should be available and accessible to all countries, is a much bigger idea than aid.
Much of the book critiques the claim that aid is temporary. Rather, Glennie argues that we need to have public investment at the international level in perpetuity. He points to the European Union, which facilitates large-scale transfers between member countries not necessarily to eliminate extreme poverty but to continue the process of convergence.
We need something similar at the global level where we appreciate the importance of public money as complimentary to private money, and international money as complementary to domestic money.
For starters, Glennie points to the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals and the need for more money to achieve these goals in the years ahead. Domestic resources, he claims, is insufficient to address the challenges the world currently faces and will face in the years ahead.
His proposal is to turn around the donor-recipient relationship and encourage even the poorest countries to contribute 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income to international development. The fundamental idea behind GPI is that when everyone contributes, then everyone benefits. This would in turn require a transformational governance structure where everyone sits around the table—a structure that mitigates the fact that some countries have more money and contribute more than others.
Although refreshing, I find that much of what Glennie writes is highly influenced by the polarized aid discourse in the United Kingdom. It is also not clear which parts of the current aid regime we should keep and what we should discard.
Most importantly, I do not believe that simply getting rid of the baggage that surrounds aid will rid the world of self-interests and the politics that determine much of what countries are willing to do for each other.