Sweden and America Link Arms on Development Assistance

If we asked a random sample of people what the world of 2030 might look like, what sorts of answers would we get? Amid predictions of advances in medicine, transportation and communications technology, we would no doubt expect some dire hypothetical scenarios: If population growth continues at current rates, if the gap in income equality continues to widen, if gender discrimination continues to curb the participation of women in developing countries, if nothing is done to mitigate the effects of climate change, disaster is sure to follow. While solutions to all of these challenges continue to concern policymakers, development assistance agencies, and civil society groups worldwide, one critical problem finally appears soluble within a generation: extreme poverty.

The Millennium Development Goal to cut the 1990 rate of extreme poverty by half was officially achieved in 2010. Despite this milestone, over 1.2 billion people worldwide live on less than $1.25 today. World leaders have taken note, and are taking action. In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama pledged U.S. cooperation with allies to “eradicate…extreme poverty in the next two decades.” The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda is committed to ending extreme poverty by 2030. In the meantime, development agencies in the United States and Sweden have resolved to accomplish their efforts in the fight against extreme poverty by partnering up.

The United States and Sweden have long been two of the top donors of foreign aid, disbursing over $36 billion in official development assistance during 2012. The bulk of these funds were administered by each country’s lead development agency: the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in the United States, and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) in Sweden. Through decades of experience, we have learned that foreign aid spending alone will not solve the problem of extreme poverty.

To succeed, development assistance must be focused, sustainable and results-oriented. Humanitarian assistance and immediate alleviation of human suffering will continue to be necessary where the need is greatest, and our two countries spent over $4.6 billion during 2012 in humanitarian assistance to provide shelter, sanitation, health services and other necessities to people in conflict and post-conflict areas.

At the same time, our long-term focus continues to be sustainable development that will help people in the world’s least developed countries pull themselves out of poverty for good. This goal required some fresh thinking — a new model of development that combines policy reforms and private sector and donor investments to harness the ingenuity of a growing community of innovators and entrepreneurs.

As our two countries discussed how our partnership could be most effective, we acknowledged that some of the best solutions to the development challenges we face will not come out of the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Stockholm or the State Department in Washington DC, but from the resources and specialized knowledge of the private sector, the courage and dedication of civil society organizations, and the workshops and desktops of entrepreneurs and inventors around the world. In recognition of this often untapped potential, USAID and Sida over the last two years have teamed up with the private sector and civil society groups on three global grant competitions known as the Grand Challenges for Development which together are worth more than $123 million.

The Grand Challenges for Development, as part of this new model of development, aim to identify game-changing ideas to power agriculture with clean energy, empower citizens and improve government accountability through mobile technology, and transform the way water is used to ensure food security in parts of the world most vulnerable to seasonal climatic extremes.

The groundbreaking nature of the U.S.-Swedish development partnership was underscored by the visit to Stockholm last November of USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. Standing alongside Sweden’s Development Cooperation Minister Hillevi Engstrom, Dr. Shah announced a bilateral cooperation agreement between USAID and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) worth 2.6 billion Swedish kronor ($400 million). This unprecedented pact will help generate solutions to extreme poverty through groundbreaking science and technology cooperation and the establishment of productive partnerships.

During his visit, Dr. Shah also signed on to a partnership with Volvo Group (complementing an existing partnership between Volvo Group and Sida) to expand technical training efforts in 10 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, equipping a generation of automotive technicians with the skills they need to succeed in the global economy.

Joining together and expanding our partner networks sets U.S.-Swedish development methodology apart. Development assistance which actively solicits participation of partners across the public sector, private sector and civil society is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Many of these partners bring their own funding, technical expertise and local knowledge to the table, which makes the entire development process more focused, effective and sustainable. We will soon announce a new manifestation of this partnership that elevates our ability to leverage our combined intellectual resources and achieve breakthrough development solutions through the transformative power of science, technology and innovation.

The U.S.-Swedish development partnership has only just begun, and there is a long road ahead to a future free from extreme poverty, but the first steps have been extremely encouraging. As we move forward together, U.S. and Swedish development experts will continue to seek innovative partnerships, solicit inventive ideas and solutions, and encourage involvement of the private sector.

A move that is emblematic of commitments made at the Busan High Level Forum in December 2011 and which the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation will revisit in Mexico City in April: to promote our multi-stakeholder alliance approach to development challenges and to engage a wide range of actors on ways to eliminate extreme poverty and improve the lives of millions of people in developing countries.

What will 2030 look like? Whatever else the future may bring, the United States and Sweden are working toward a brighter, more hopeful, and more prosperous 2030 for the 1.2 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day. We can achieve this, and look forward to collaborating with governments, businesses, groups and individuals that want to join us.

Mark Brzezinski is the US Ambassador to Sweden and Bjorn Lyrvall is the Swedish Ambassador to the United States.

Image: (Photo: Flickr/jpellgen/CC License)