The UKs new International Development Strategy misses the philanthropy mark


The UK has a proud history as a world leader in international development, and aid support has both saved and changed lives around the world. The Government’s new International Development Strategy (IDS) sets out the priorities for the newly formed Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and aims to link foreign policy with development to meet its stated Global Britain vision.

The cuts to the UK aid budget have dominated recent discussions around international development. Spending on aid is truly life-saving and should be seen as a necessity. Therefore, along with others in the sector, CAF has raised concerns that a target below 0.7 per cent of GNI (gross national income) undermines the UK’s standing as a world leader in this area.

The cuts also have a disproportionate impact on smaller international development charities, and the effects will be realised for a long time to come. Last year’s Spending Review included a welcome announcement of a return to 0.7 per cent of GNI by 2024-25, but this needs to be realised as soon as possible, especially in the context of the war in Ukraine and the tumult in global food supply.

Sector voices such as Bond have highlighted the scarcity of details on protection for human rights and civic space in the IDS, and a lack of concrete information on how funding will be spent to support projects and organisations that are locally owned. Furthering this ‘localisation’ agenda has also been of importance to CAF. Civil society organisations on the ground – as well as growing local cultures of giving and the infrastructure that underpins it – are central to increasing community resilience and sustainability, as well as supporting wider democratic development.

What about philanthropy?

Also absent from the IDS is the role of philanthropy and cross-border giving. That is surprising since philanthropy has become a prominent player in the field of international development and aid. Global health provides an obvious example. In the two-year budget cycle of 2018 and 2019, the USA provided 20 per cent of WHO’s budget, whereas the Gates foundation contributed $531 million, equating to 12 per cent of WHO’s budget Philanthropy can and is playing a greater role in international development. The Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation is the primary multi-stakeholder vehicle for driving development effectiveness, and brought in philanthropic funders as significant partners a while ago, publishing their Guidelines for Effective Philanthropic Engagement in 2020.

The IDS mentions innovation in relation to development financing, tackling climate change, improving global health and investments in digital and technological capacities, as well as research. But innovation often happens with and between those working in development to create solutions to improve resources to the Least Developed Countries, as well as in high-risk and volatile environments.

Many of these partnerships involve charities and philanthropic partners. Take for example Fintech for International Development (F4ID), a sustainable social enterprise and partnership between Save the Children, Standard Chartered and Barclays. Its ground-breaking solution Lotus 20 provides a block-chain enabled digital supply and payment platform where NGO funds go straight to merchants, thereby lowering the risk of aid diversion, and enabling local suppliers to provide essential goods and services to beneficiaries in remoted environments. It has the potential to reach millions of individuals, even in high-risk areas where moving funds across borders for supplier payments, and cash or voucher programmes, are limited (often due to money-laundering and terrorism financing concerns).

Then there are philanthropic partnerships and grant-making programs that are transforming communities and drawing in a diverse set of corporate and individual donors around shared agendas. Two examples which CAF has been involved in spring to mind. Firstly, the Deutsche Bank Ocean Resilience Philanthropy Fund, which is bringing philanthropists together to support projects that restore, conserve, and strengthen vulnerable marine ecosystems by focusing on advancing nature-based solutions. And secondly, AstraZeneca’s Step Up! Global Grants Programme which focuses on the UN Sustainable Development Goal to reduce early death from non-communicable diseases. Since it launched in 2010 it has reached 30 countries, more than 5 million young people and trained more than 20,000 health workers.

What next?

The focus of the IDS on gender equality, climate change, conflict prevention and poverty reduction are all hitting the right notes. But the Government could do more to find new opportunities to build-up partnerships, bring in new partners, generate additional resources, and drive forward innovation around shared agendas.

Then there is the opportunity provided by recognising philanthropy more widely. The UK is well-positioned to develop as a market leader for global philanthropy and social investment. If various types of funders make use of the UK as a well-regulated hub for their philanthropic giving and investments, then this could create possibilities for collaboration to underpin and deliver towards the wider international development goals. As we, and others such as the Beacon Collaborative, have pointed out, there are policy-changes that could help position the UK as a centre of excellence for international philanthropy. Part of this is working around the nuts and bolts issues of existing processes and removing barriers to enable greater opportunities for cross-border giving.

Recent geopolitical events have highlighted the urgency for reform. The IDS could present a platform to align conversations and ignite change in adjunct policy areas that can help make go aid go further in the end and ultimately reach more lives.

Daniel Ferrell-Schweppenstedde is Policy Manager at the Charities Aid Foundation

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