By: Mark Brender and Paul Dewar
Published: Sunday, March 17, 2016
When it comes to foreign aid and global health, you won’t hear many discussions on the pitfalls of ‘sustainability.’ That’s too bad, because clarifying what we actually mean when we talk of sustainability as a pillar of successful global health projects would do everyone a world of good — starting with those we say we’re trying to help.
The question that needs to be asked is, sustainable for whom? Too often, the mindset of Western aid agencies is to ensure programs are sustainable for those who have resources rather than those in need of them. In mistakenly flipping the starting point, we end up with negative consequences on our intended impact of saving lives and helping to build a healthier future in developing countries.
The issue goes deeper the amount of money we spend on official development assistance, although that’s a good place to start. Under the Conservative government between 2012 and 2015, hundreds of millions of dollars announced and allocated in federal budgets to international aid and development programs were never distributed, and instead ended up being returned to the treasury. While disingenuous, it was at least consistent with an approach that would say the most ‘sustainable’ action of all is to never spend the money in the first place.