Making the case for good development

Three Myths That Block Progress For The Poor, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Annual Letter, is a great primer for understanding why good development is a great investment for individuals, for governments, and for the world. In it, the B&MG Foundation provides a multi-media approach to dismantling some of the most commonly held misconceptions about poverty, and about the effectiveness of international aid.

It was released just a few weeks prior to Canada’s most recent federal budget, concurrent with INGO Engineers Without Borders and the Canadian Council for International Co-operation sprearheading a campaign to engage Canadians in pressuring the Harper government to maintain foreign aid at last year’s levels. The good news is that the foreign aid budget was maintained; less rosy is the fact that it was maintained at 2012 levels that had been slashed from 2011 by $380-million (or 7.5%).

It’s impossible, of course, to draw a straight line from the EWB/CCIC advocacy (supported by a number of organizations, including U.S.-based ONE and CFTC) and the government’s decision to leave foreign aid untouched this time around. But what is clear is that there’s a growing movement to raise awareness of the value of foreign aid and specifically, to address the commonly-held but erroneous beliefs that many have about its effectiveness and results. While the Gates Foundation’s letter presents U.S. data, the parallel Canadian situation is roughly the same.

As Bill Gates writes in his introduction, “the belief that the world can’t solve extreme poverty and disease isn’t just mistaken. It is harmful.” It’s a call to action to help educate and overturn the misconceptions that are getting in the way of the good work that is being done.

Myth One: POOR COUNTRIES ARE DOOMED TO STAY POOR
As Gates points out, incomes and other measures of human welfare are rising almost everywhere, including in Africa, and many of the countries we used to call poor now have thriving economies. The percentage of very poor people has dropped by more than half since 1990 (which still leaves close to a billion living in extreme poverty, however.)

Myth Two: FOREIGN AID IS A BIG WASTE
While not the only one, aid is one of the more cost-effective and efficient tools to use to improve peoples’ lives, This myth is a particularly virulent one because it gives political leaders an excuse to cut back on aid—meaning that fewer lives are saved, and it takes even more time before countries can become self-sufficient. The myth itself makes the aid less effective.

Related to this myth is the belief that countries, including Canada, allocate far more of their total budgets to foreign aid than they really do. When pollsters ask Americans what share of the budget goes to aid, the average response is “25 per cent.” When asked how much the government should spend, people tend to say “10 per cent.” The reality is, in the U.S. and Canada, less than one per cent of the federal budget is allocated to foreign aid. So if we’re spending less than one per cent, but people generally believe we should be spending 10 per cent – then that means all of us should have been pushing not just for aid to be maintained, but for it to increase by at least nine per cent, right?

Myth Two has a lot of “sub-myths” in it, and it’s worthwhile to unpack them all and have the essential data points handy for the next time you hear one of these beliefs pop up in everyday conversation.

Myth Three: SAVING LIVES LEADS TO OVERPOPULATION
Simply countered, as education rises and poverty levels decrease, family size also decreases. Not to mention the fact that, as Gates notes, “anxiety about the size of the world population has a dangerous tendency to override concern for the human beings who make up that population.”

The entire site is a worthwhile read and an essential reference – plus, it’s a clever and fun design that we think you’ll find interesting and, we hope, you’ll consider sharing.