As I sit down to work on my third annual letter, governments in every corner of the world are facing tough decisions about how to reduce spending. Although foreign aid accounts for less than 1 percent of governments’ total budgets, it is one place being considered for cuts. As a result, health and agricultural assistance that saves lives and puts poor countries on a track for self-sufficiency is at risk.
The world’s poorest will not be visiting government leaders to make their case, unlike other constituencies, so I want to help make their case by describing the progress and the potential I see in key areas of health and development. Perhaps it is ironic for someone who has been so lucky to talk about the needs of those who have not.
I believe it is in the rich world’s enlightened self-interest to continue investing in foreign aid. If societies can’t provide for people’s basic health, if they can’t feed and educate people, then their populations and problems will grow and the world will be a less stable place.
Whether you believe it a moral imperative or in the rich world’s enlightened self-interest, securing the conditions that will lead to a healthy, prosperous future for everyone is a goal I believe we all share.
Many people don’t have a clear image of the benefits aid actually provides. That’s not surprising, because aid covers many different areas. Also, in the past some aid was sent to countries to buy friendship without real regard for its impact. However, today a significant portion of foreign aid is spent on hugely beneficial programs that improve people’s lives in both the near and long term.
Despite the threat to aid budgets, one thing that makes me optimistic about the future is the courage of leaders who are finding ways to make the welfare of poor people a priority. Under David Cameron’s leadership, the United Kingdom set a great example by keeping its promise to grow aid spending despite the cuts it had to make. It is inspiring to see a leader stand up for what he believes is right, even when it isn’t easy.