University of Richmond
14 April 2013
Mr. Ban Ki-Moon
Foreign Aid - The Way Forward
Dear Mr. Ki-moon,
I am honored to be given the opportunity to address this letter to you and express my thoughts about the future of foreign aid and how to effectively aid the bottom billion in order to end extreme poverty around the world. I understand that the UN has a large budget at their disposal for the next year and I am writing to you before our meeting next week to humbly present and argue my point of view regarding where the money should be spent so as to be most effective in aiding the poor.
Under the official UN target of giving 0.7% of GNI as ODA, which is met by almost no country, the Western world has given $2.3 trillion over the last five decades (Easterly, 4). While income levels for the poorest have risen partly substantially over the last decades, today almost half of the world population still lives below $2.50 a day and we are not likely to meet the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 (globalissues.org). This should make us wonder about how effective our current aid system really is. I want to propose a two way strategy to start a process of change within the UN as an institution, as well as within the people working for the UN, which should begin next year but will take a longer time to be truly implemented in the thinking of the people. The ideas I will propose do not merely touch the organizational and structural level, but shall also appeal to way people operate personally and motivate to some extend a rethinking of methods applied for years. By splitting the budget into two parts I want firstly to invest a good part of the money, which I shall call the restructuring budget, into restructuring the UN and its connected organizations and secondly I want to invest the rest of the budget, which I shall call the field budget, into operations and trainings in the regions where help is needed most. I will firstly address the issue of identifying the causes of poverty and the accuracy of economic indicators. Secondly I will explain the usage of the field budget with which I do not only want to tackle those problems that are already working successfully, but I also want to provide more training, explore feasible options beyond the aid system and most importantly argue for the full inclusion of local people. Lastly I will elaborate on the use of the restructuring budget with which I particularly want to address the problems and potentials associated with accountability and quantitative analysis. My whole approach is very much focused on the individual; I believe the power of the people, who are characterized as the “victims”, has been for too long given insufficient consideration͘ I therefore want to embed my propositions within a wider structure with the main focus on the individual, which is best expressed by the following quote by Lao Tze:
“Go to the people. Live among them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build on what they have. But for the best leaders, when their task is accomplished, their work is done, the people will remark, “We have done it ourselves” (Lao Tze).
Before one can address the issue of poverty one has, if possible, first to understand what causes poverty and what are the best methods to overcome it. The causes of poverty are highly interrelated with a wide range of factors, from economic and social to political and security issues; there cannot be identified any clear causes of poverty. We usually understand poverty as living below a certain level of income, such as $1 or $2 per day. While this is certainly true it should also not be neglected that this does not capture the entirety of poverty. Even people who have say $4 or more per day are still by no means in any position to escape poverty, since they might still be forced to live in the poorest area and are constantly confronted by security threats scared for their life and the life of their dependents. Furthermore it is important to realize that this also means that economic growth does not automatically translate into human development. For example already the 1996 Human Development Report opened with the fundamental statement that “economic growth, if not properly managed, can be jobless, voiceless, ruthless, rootless and futureless” (UNDP, 1996). This leads to the conclusion that it is by far not enough to simply create economic growth, since this is not a guarantee for sustainable human development. But even if the causes of poverty cannot be identified unequivocally, we still can learn from our past experiences with human development worldwide.