IFAD Lecture: Oxfam's Winnie Byanyima on the future of aid in a post-2015 world

Written by Adam Vincent

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director Oxfam International, gave the inaugural IFAD Lecture at the recent 38th session of the Governing Council, IFAD's annual meeting of Member States. Her talk, entitled The Future of Aid, discussed the relevancy and future of aid in a post-2015 world.

"I cannot pretend that we don't need aid," Byanyima said, "but good aid needs to work itself out of a job." Although aid has the potential for great change, too often donors prioritize their own needs over those of their partners, she suggested. Aid should primarily benefit people at the grassroots, catalysing investments and empowerment. It needs to support the poor and marginalized so that they can find their voice and take a more active role in their communities.

First and foremost, local people need to be "in the driving seat" of partnerships between governments, businesses and rural communities, Byanyima explained. Farmers are rarely asked what they need or want, she said, and programmes responding to these desires are "even rarer." Aid should support the progress that citizens envision. Smallholder farmers are not mere beneficiaries, Byanyima noted; they are potential "innovators, investors and voters" who could flourish with the proper support.

Furthermore, aid needs to work against corruption. According to Byanyima, tax avoidance costs developing countries (and their citizens) €123 billion each year. Aid should support governmental efforts to build "efficient and effective" financial systems that help channel more aid to those who need it most. Additionally, she said, aid needs to be sustainable and not tied to "protectionist policies" or other schemes that benefit donor countries.

Challenges for a post-2015 world
Byanyima went on to list the three challenges post-2015 rural development must address: climate change, inequality and women's empowerment.

Oxfam's Winnie Byanyima gives first IFAD Lecture. ©IFAD/Flavio Ianniello
First, Byanyima said future rural development strategies must respond to the reality that the "poorest and most vulnerable are being hit hardest by climate change." Changing and unpredictable weather patterns are affecting crop yields, leading to hunger and malnutrition. As a result, Byanyima warned, by 2050 there could be 25 million more malnourished children – the equivalent to all the children in Canada and the United States.

Second, Byanyima called inequality "possibly the biggest challenge of our era." Proper aid should tend to people, not just plants, she said, and focus on improving food security and income in addition to crop yields. Aid needs to support the poor and marginalized – who "are often politically, socially and geographically remote from development decision-making," she said – in finding their voice and influencing resource distribution. Donors must also ensure that their donations are benefitting smallholder farmers, not reinforcing oppressive power relationships.

Aid must empower women
Finally, Byanyima noted that aid should empower women, specifically. Gender inequality starts with the low value placed on girls, she said, which then extends to public decision-making. The resulting cycle of marginalization devalues girls' lives, impeding their access to education, resources and opportunities. As a result, even though they work more than men, women farmers are still often rendered invisible.

IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze with Oxfam Executive Director
Winnie Byanyima. ©IFAD/Flavio Ianniello
Unrepresented in investment decision-making, women may miss out on the benefits of aid. Men tend to value productivity-raising investments, for example, whereas women tend to prefer investments that save time and add value. If you were to ask women in a Tanzanian village what investments they most needed , Byanyima said, they would likely say a water pump close to the village could save them hours of time. Aid needs to especially recognize the needs of women, which may otherwise be overlooked, she added.

Byanyima concluded by recognizing the incredible progress in the Millennium Development Goals era, during which "we have seen the fastest reduction of poverty in human history." Aid has played a significant role in this achievement, she said, but there is still work to do: We must continue our commitment to rural development, with a keen eye to climate change, inequality and women's empowerment. We must find not only agronomic solutions but also social, political and environmental ones. There is still a place for aid in the future of rural transformation, Byanyima said – but it should work toward its own eradication.