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Foreign Aid May be Imperfect, But It Has Done Africa Good

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This evening Andrew Mwenda and Lord Boateng will debate on the merits of foreign aid to Africa at the Cambridge Union. In anticipation of the main event, Cambridge student Pippa Calvin argues in opposition to this week's motion.

This evening, the Cambridge Union will be debating the motion 'This House Believes Foreign Aid has Done Africa More Harm than Good.' Whilst this is a controversial issue, I believe that it has a simple answer: No.

The nature of foreign Aid is an issue that has long been in need of discussion. One cannot deny that the way in which the Western world donates Aid to other countries is flawed, and needs to be readdressed. By Aid, I mean all kinds of voluntary charitable donations, whether from governments, private organisations or individuals like you and me.

The problem with Foreign Aid seems to be that in the Westernised world, we put too much emphasis on how much money is given, and we neglect to consider the consequences. For example, governments are judged on what percentage of GDP they devote to Foreign Aid; multi-nationals or celebrities often use charitable giving to boost their profile; and individuals give to charity often to feel as though they've 'done a good deed.'

What we neglect to address is whether or not our money actually gets to the right people, or benefits them in any way. Whilst many organisations are happy to donate large sums of money to build healthcare or youth centres, the recipients are left with little support after the centre has been set up. In the same way, the individual can donate £10 to Oxfam and leave it at that.

In my opinion, we need to change our attitudes towards charitable giving, and ask more of the organisations we support. Organisations such as www.givewell.org seem to offer a solution to this problem. An independently-funded organisation, they work to evaluate charities based on stringent criteria, in order to assess how much good they do and what the return is on donations. Not only examining the charities' finances, they go deeper and find out how donations are used, how cost-effective and transparent the charity is. Interestingly, they only recommend a shocking 2% of all charities they have researched to date. Yet again, this leads me to believe that we need to be more stringent about who we give to.

Additionally, we need to make sure the real problems are addressed; this can be done by listening to the recipients in local communities about what they actually need, as opposed to wasting resources. Encouraging people to help themselves by way of microfinance seems to be a way in which you can get your money to the right people, knowing how it will be spent, and giving someone the means to be self-sufficient.

In the same way, we need to ensure that governments donate responsibly; how can we be sure that donations are not ending up in the hands of corrupt governments and drug lords?
Many statistics lead us to believe that aid donations foster dependence instead of independence, and therefore stunt economic growth. However the evidence that correlates these two principles is murky at best, as we cannot be sure of the correlation between International Aid donations and economic growth or productivity statistics.

I would argue that aid is better than no aid. Whilst the system of foreign aid is in need of dramatic change, and we must consider the long-term effects of donations, whether a result of government policy or modest donations from individuals; we must continue to help as many as we can who are in immediate need of help. Despite all its shortcomings, you would be hard pressed to argue that Foreign aid to Africa has done more harm than good.

In conclusion; although it is easy to feel disenchanted with the idea of charitable giving, we cannot simply suspend charitable giving whilst we consider its effectiveness; we must continue to do what we can, and ask more of the charities that we give to. It falls to both governmental policy and the individual to take greater responsibility of Foreign Aid to developing countries. It is also worth noting that individuals in the USA give one hundred times more to charity annually than the Gates Foundation. If we are to apply the same reasoning to the UK, there is no reason why we cannot all influence the way in which Foreign Aid is donated and distributed.

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