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Believing in Overseas development assistance – For a Better World by Dr Peter Graves

“Peter: would you like to come to a meeting that has the potential to save the lives of 40,000 children every day?” In 1986, this innocuous-sounding call from a work colleague was coincidental with helping save the life of a child in Canberra, one week earlier. With other similar donors, a donation of my rare blood type helped transfuse that baby newly-born of parents with RH-negative and RH-positive blood. Together we saved a child’s life with the right aid.

The right aid has also reduced the daily preventable deaths of the world’s children from those 40,000 to currently 14,000. I’ve learnt this has been achieved through the efforts of United Nations’ agencies like UNICEF, non-government organisations, plus national governments through their Overseas development assistance budgets. Influencing those budgets is difficult, as an individual seeking to increase them or direct them to projects for the world’s poor. It’s been a personal journey of discovery learning how to have influence on those budgets and to answer the question: what difference does one person make?

First I discovered the contrasting debates: between overseas direct investment in infrastructure like roads, dams and bridges that might deliver benefits in the developing world eventually, versus the immediate needs of people then living on one dollar a day. Less than the price of a cup of coffee in Australia. When I first walked the corridors of the World Bank in 1987, I thought it was a good place to forget about the poorest of the world’s poor: deep carpets; quiet offices far removed from the impacts of its US$14 billion budget. However, change did come.

My perceptions were changed by the 1990 World Summit for Children (WSC) at UN Headquarters, as 71 heads of state and government united to put children first for resources. Earlier, at 2,600 Candlelight Vigils for Children the citizens of our world had gathered to show their support, including the Vigil I attended in Canberra where I wrote the speech for the Pakistan High Commissioner. Subsequently, WSC was described as The Mother of All Summits, in leading to the increased signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, (CROC).

Part of CROC inspired me to try changing the UN’s peacekeeping policy in the 1990s. Under Article 38(4) of CROC States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict. With the end of the Cold War, there was discussion of the Peace Dividend: seeking alternative uses from cuts in military expenditure because no-one had enemies anymore. My 1993 proposal of Blue Berets Caring for Children sought to add this protective article and its imperative “shall take..” to the mandate of UN Peacekeeping Missions.

An informal example existed. In 1991 after the first Gulf War, a similar operation (Habitat) had been undertaken in northern Iraq by Australian troops supporting refugee Kurds and their children. Following extensive personal discussions, I found support from a former RSL President, Lt-General John Sanderson (former Commander of the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia), the Australian Minister for Defence, the-then Director of ADF Peacekeeping. My proposal did not receive the key support of the Foreign Minister. However, later in 1994, it was supported by the Chief of Staff of the Defence Force of Ireland: a country whose military forces are only committed overseas on UN peacekeeping missions. Later events in Srebrenica, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria are just some circumstances where the world’s children continue to die in poverty without this protection.

Later a small light came on about effective poverty reduction, when I subsequently learned of the benefits from microcredit financing. Small loans like $100 grow thriving businesses such as raising goats, providing families with their food, housing and children’s education. The 2005 International Year of Microcredit highlighted these benefits, most famously identified by Professor Mohammad Yunus. Formerly of Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, he was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his decades of inspiration as banker to the poor.

Yunus also advised the World Bank on the principles of lending $50, at a time when its smallest loan was $50 million. With my long-standing professional interests in impacts and outcomes, it’s very pleasing that the World Bank now has a segment on its “results”. It hadn’t in the 1980s. From these lessons learnt, I have since directly funded the results of one program that trained Afghan women to be paralegals (becoming defense counsel in domestic violence cases) and another in Ethiopia operating on rural women with fistulas. In Afghanistan, I hope those women retain their skills and in Ethiopia I know they return as fully-participating members to their villages, through local skills and Overseas development assistance.

Believing in the benefits of Overseas development assistance means active involvement with key people and agencies of influence, domestic and international. The continuing needs of more than 700 million people existing on a daily US$1.90 mean we can each make a difference to reducing their hunger and poverty. For a child’s life and a better world.

Peter is a Campus Visitor at the Development Policy Centre, lecturing at the University of Papua New Guinea. He was a federal public servant for four decades. Peter has promoted the benefits of overseas development assistance since he helped start Results Australia in 1986, which generates the public and political will to end poverty around our world.


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