2015: A fork in the road for Canada on foreign aid

Bill Gates’ visit is emblematic of a pivotal year globally, and a fork in the road for Canada.

This article was initially published in: EMBASSY, Wednesday, February 25, 2015— 11

Bill Gates is set to visit Ottawa to discuss the “Big Bet” that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is making in 2015.

This “Big Bet” was outlined in an aspirational letter that suggests that in the next 15 years, the lives of the world’s poorest people will improve faster than ever before—and that this change will happen through collective and targeted efforts in key areas such as child health, mobile banking and food systems across Africa.

With 2015 marking the next Canadian federal election and the end of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals—and, with that, the rise of a new agenda to guide universal sustainable development for the next 15 years—today’s visit by Gates is a reminder that 2015 is a pivotal year for our country.

This is the year we set the tone for Canada’s leadership for the coming generation.

Canada has a history of demonstrated leadership in key sectors of foreign policy. Most recently, the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development’s inclusion of support for increased local procurement in the newly updated corporate social responsibility strategy for Canadian mining companies demonstrates a strong path towards a focus on sustainable social impact outside of official development assistance.

Canada has also shown leadership in several important international development initiatives, from combating polio to improving the lives of mothers and children in the world’s poorest countries, including through last May’s $3.5-billion Saving Every Woman, Every Child commitment.

At Engineers Without Borders Canada we are ready to bet that an increased commitment to international aid, coupled with a focus on greater aid effectiveness would make Canada a tone setter in the post-MDG world.

We strive to make Canada’s collective aid efforts more effective. That is why EWB has championed the untying of aid, greater transparency in DFATD’s reporting and the creation of a Canadian development finance institution. In Africa, we have bet that through innovation, and through investing in the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs, we will have lasting impact. That is also why we started Kumvana, a premiere systems leadership program, investing in the next generation of African leaders.

The “Big Bet” made by Gates is ambitious and will require the support of both global leaders, and of thousands—if not millions—of informed, passionate individuals who care about eliminating global poverty.

Bill Gates’ visit is emblematic of a pivotal year globally, and a fork in the road for Canada. We could continue to trail in low levels of aid investments and safe bets in our efforts, and become an afterthought on the global development agenda. Or, together we could build a new narrative that harnesses the momentum from our successes and lessons from our failures of the past 15 years, so that Canada rises to the occasion and sets a tone of positive initiative, openness to innovation and commitment to build a world of dignity for all.

And Canadians seem to agree. Preliminary data from our recent polling efforts, to be released shortly, show that Canadians are more concerned about the level of poverty in developing countries than the citizens of any other G7 country. This clearly demonstrates that the majority of Canadians feel a sense of pride and moral obligation to decreasing global poverty, and believe that it is important for Canada to continue to play a leadership role in order to see much needed fundamental change within the next 15 years.

This year’s federal election is an opportunity for political leaders and candidates to demonstrate that they too share this belief in Canada’s ability to set, and reach, ambitious targets for global leadership towards the drastic reduction of global poverty within the next generation.

Canada’s unique offering, in this sense, can go hand in hand with the Gates Foundation’s “Big Bet.” We can increase our commitment to aid, and play a crucial role in ensuring that it is integrated with other mechanisms that foster sustainable development. And, if our recent successes are matched with political will and leadership to commit to aid, 2015 will indeed be a spectacular year.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made a big bet, it’s now time for Canadian leaders to make a bet of their own. And it just so happens to be the perfect year to do so.

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