But some critics have taken examples of places where aid is not working to argue that all aid is bad and that it should be reduced or abandoned altogether.
These views are misguided.
More than 200 years ago, Adam Smith observed that: \’\’No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.\’\’ Central to making a society flourishing and happy is helping people find ways to increase their incomes.
The World Bank\’s Commission on Growth and Development has put it succinctly: \’\'[Economic] growth is not an end in itself. But it makes it possible to achieve other important objectives of individuals and societies. It can spare people en masse from poverty and drudgery. Nothing else ever has.\’\’
Over the past few years I have had a crash course on poverty and how it can be overcome. I have spoken with the likes of the Nobel Peace Prize winner and pioneer of microfinance for the poor Muhammad Yunus, and the development economist Jeffrey Sachs. I have been on field trips with the chief executive of World Vision Australia, Tim Costello, and met people who are benefiting from development projects run by various organisations and charities.
What I have learnt is that economic development projects, funded by aid, can and do work. They work by tackling poverty on many levels – by introducing initiatives such as education and skills training, agricultural development and access to finance, technology and markets.
At their core, these projects work because they are all about empowering people – giving a community a hand-up, not a handout. They\’re about teaching a person to fish rather than giving them a fish. They\’re about setting up a community to succeed and stand on its own two feet.
The ongoing challenge is to identify how we can help initiate and sustain the development of the poorest countries
There is no blueprint, but there is broad agreement that the changes necessary for development must come from within the society itself – they cannot be imposed from outside.
The Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has noted the key ingredients to successful development are ownership and participation. That is, he says policies imposed from outside may be superficially accepted, but for transformation, you need people owning a project and participating in it.
I travelled to Ethiopia last year and visited projects where World Vision Australia is working with coffee farmers to give them low-energy solutions to their agriculture and other needs. The project was aimed at lifting their export commodities and increasing crop yields.
The story of one man I met, Dukale, is one of the most inspiring stories I\’ve come across. He is an example of how economic development projects help communities to lift themselves out of poverty.
Dukale has five children and grows coffee on a small farm. A lack of opportunities meant he was unable to finish primary school. Instead his father taught him coffee farming but, despite a strong work ethic, he was later unable to earn enough money to take adequate care of his family.
He joined a World Vision coffee co-operative, where he learnt more efficient and organic cultivation, and income diversification opportunities. He was helped to improve his coffee yield, and ensure his methods are sustainable and do not harm the local environment.
He has installed a converter to harness the methane gas from manure from his two goats and a cow to power the stove he cooks with and the lights his family read by at night. Most importantly, it also powers a roadside cafe he operates to sell coffee to make extra income. He can now look after the day-to-day expenses of his family and save for the future.
Dukale\’s farm and the cafe have become so successful that he now employs other people from his community, so not only is he lifting himself out of poverty, he is providing families around him with the opportunity to change their future too.
Because economic development is complex, field projects take many forms: microfinance programs to enable the poor to purchase income-producing assets; education and training to increase employment prospects; and advocating on behalf of the poor for land rights, roads and social safety nets to see them through times of hardship.
History has shown development is possible, but not inevitable. Our challenge in the developed world is to help people to be more productively involved in the economy, to raise themselves out of poverty, and achieve a life with choices for their children – all without handouts. From what I have seen, economic development projects do work. They are the best answer to one of the biggest social issues of our time.