The recent coalition of the European Union, the United States, and Bulgaria to establish a fund to support hundreds of Libyan children infected with HIV while under the care of six Bulgarian nurses is a fascinating example of what might be possible in dealing with international problems. The nurses were sentenced to death by firing squad in Libya last year and wait for the results of their final appeal, due in January. Libya felt that the nurses must be criminally culpable if hundreds of children could be infected with HIV while under their hospital care. Bulgaria felt that these nurses were being punished for a tragic misunderstanding about the cause of the disease. Now this new trans-Atlantic coalition of donors may be able to defuse the crisis.
The episode raises the question of whether such fresh thinking could be used to address some of the major development challenges facing the world. Thus, if states implement the Millennium Summit's suggestion, foreign aid to developing countries should rise from $80 billion today to as much as $130 billion in 2010. How should the world handle this massive increase in funding?
If donors proceed with business as usual, many poor countries will be overwhelmed by the bureaucratic requirements of dealing with the new flow of aid. There will be a multiplicity of donors, all seeking special recognition and attention. The aid game of caring more about getting political credit for aid instead of achieving development goals will continue.
What can be done? The common response of donors is coordination, which amounts to each donor telling the others what it is doing. While this sort of coordination helps, it really does not solve the problem.
A better approach could be to organize special assistance groups, which would be in charge of coordinating the international aid efforts for specific countries. For example, a donor organization from Portugal, the United States, and Japan might form a special assistance group assigned to Mozambique. This group would select an agency or a nongovernmental organization to manage project development, fundraising, delivery, monitoring, and evaluation. The special assistance group would also be in charge of making sure there is a high level of coordination between the local and national authorities, NGOs, and the international donors.
There would be local and international oversight of these aid efforts. Donors and recipients would at last have one number to call, be able to speak in their own languages, and more productively measure the effectiveness of their work. Eventually, a single audit of all international aid efforts for a single country would be developed.
The Millennium process should look beyond Africa's borders. Georgians, Moldovans, and the Kyrgyz need as much attention as African nations because they too are battling severe levels of poverty. For these countries, a local alliance of Americans, Europeans, and Chinese, for example, might deliver assistance that will become an integral and sustainable part of local development. Countries like India, Russia, or Japan should be integrated into international donor schemes. This way they could better accept others to help them at home as well.
In other words, what we do not need in meeting the Millennium Challenge is to create a new organization seated in New York or Brussels with a few thousand staff. The point is to avoid parallel or even divergent structures and confusion of objectives. The need is for an organization that would serve as a confederation of various aid efforts — deregulated, decentralized, but coordinated.
This scheme can be tried and implemented on a small scale. Let Europeans and Americans get together — ministries, foundations, and assistance professionals — and establish a few such working groups. With little expense, local aid delivery initiatives can be launched in a few years, and the results can be evaluated. Europe and the United States worked well together in Ukraine a year ago and do so in Iran and elsewhere today. Both the European Union and the United States have to involve civil-society organizations for better implementation of their joint projects. Eventually, USAID and Tacis, the respective technical assistance organizations, could create joint foundations.
Both Europe and the United States have been scared away from creating new schemes or structures. Yet, the problem has not been the scheme or structure itself, but the approach. Aid is not just about sums of money, as important as the percentage discussion might seem. The core is a new mechanism of international/local delivery like the one now attempting to save Libyan children and Bulgarian nurses.
Charles William Maynes has served as president of the Eurasia Foundation, a privately managed nonprofit organization supported by the United States Agency for International Development and other public and private donors, since 1997.