The Common Good

Bono and Jeff Sachs on Foreign Aid: Ending Dependency

During a recent trip to the African nation of Ghana, John Mulholland of the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper spoke to Bono (lead singer of U2 and co-founder of the ONE Campaign) and Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs (former director of the United Nation's Millennium Project) about the future of foreign aid.

Mulholland asked Bono and Sachs, who have collaborated for years on projects to help alleviate global poverty and disease, how they might respond to skeptics of the efficacy of foreign aid.

Below are excerpts of their answers.

Jeffrey Sachs: There are good ways to do things and bad ways to do things with aid. Aid works when it's practical, when it's focused, when it's targeted, when it's an investment, when it is part of a strategy; and aid does not work when it's money handed over in an envelope to a friendly ally, especially in a war zone or when it's a payoff for some other diplomatic support. It needs to be seriously managed, professionalized, results-based .... What's the bottom line? What are the results? What are we getting out of it? And it's being made into a very practical contract, in essence, between donor and recipient.

This is how it should be done. And when it is done that way, diseases can be brought under control, food productivity can rise, basic infrastructure can be built, kids can be educated, population growth can slow down as girls complete secondary education.

Bono: Clearly no one likes the culture of dependency. No one's arguing for it. We're arguing to end it. I think there's something a bit funky about aid as it stands right now. The two most important parties involved in the transaction – the taxpayer who's providing the resources and the person who needs those resources to stay alive or keep their family alive – are the two people who know the least about what's going on. So that has to change....The obfuscation of the facts that's going on is really a fog to excuse inaction. And we had to put out a fire in the United States that suggested there was massive corruption in Global Fund grants. There wasn't. There are some instances of corruption involved. The Global Fund is audited objectively, audited independently and prints on its own website when things are not what they should be – i.e., they out themselves.

These are then taken by critics of aid to be a reason to not do it, but it's rather the opposite. Transparency should give us confidence to go ahead. Think about it: there's 3.3 million people on anti-retroviral drugs from the Global Fund. And 1.3 million pregnant women not passing the virus onto their children. You have 5.6 million orphans involved in some sort of care made possible by the Global Fund. And 8.6 million cases of tuberculosis diagnosed and treated. ...Yet we've to go to Congress every year and fight for those budgets. In Germany, we have to fight for the Global Fund. In the UK we're campaigning with partners for a doubling of smart lifesaving aid for the Global Fund.

Read the interview in its entirety HERE.

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl.

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