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Take part: 2015 is the European Year for Development

Dan Banik and Kevin Hsu – educators on the free online course, “What Works: Promising Practices in International Development” – explain why it’s a momentous year for international aid, and how you can get involved.

Pupils playing outside a school built with EU funds in Haiti
Pupils playing outside a school built with EU funds in Haiti, courtesy of the EU.

When its 28 member states are considered in aggregate, the European Union (EU) is the largest provider of official development assistance (ODA) in the world.

The EU has declared 2015 to be the “European Year for Development,” marking the first time Europe’s annual theme deals with “external actions and Europe’s role in the world.” Through this effort, the EU is keen to highlight its “commitment to eradicating poverty worldwide and to inspire more Europeans to get engaged and involved in development.”

This hopeful view faces potentially rough currents as nations weather economic hardship. After the UK’s foreign aid spending reached the 0.7% of GNI target, a first for the country, the government faced political debates about whether to enshrine this goal into law. (Attempts to block the law’s passage did not succeed.) Australia has drastically slashed its foreign aid spending, while USAID remains a target of regular criticism in the American media.

Even with its vaunted levels of development assistance, questions remain about whether aid from European donors, in its current form, is truly helpful to local populations. Furthermore, though EU citizens are generally supportive of foreign aid, according to the 2013 Eurobarometer survey, many profess to not know much about where aid goes or how it is deployed.

New global goals

2015 is also the year the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire, which means a new set of development goals for the world must be defined for the coming decade and half, whether or not all the MDGs have been achieved. Many actors, both governmental and non-governmental are actively seeking to shape this agenda.

Ideas about development aid are also shifting, with the emergence of new donor nations, larger private capital flows, and a broader understanding of what constitutes aid.

As the debate heats up, it is worthwhile to take a look at the positive stories – case studies that show that aid can indeed work.

Understanding what works

This is precisely what we do in “What Works: Promising Practices in International Development” – a new, free online course offered by University of Oslo’s Center for Development and the Environment (SUM) in partnership with the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at Stanford University.

Our course explores specific aid programs and interventions that have demonstrated a degree of success, and assesses the conditions that make these strategies effective. Along with University of Oslo and Stanford faculty, our teaching team features key instructors from the Global South, from our partners at the University of Malawi and China Agricultural University, making for a truly diverse experience.

We hope you’ll join us in exploring this crucial topic as the world sets the development agenda for coming decades. It is a momentous year for international aid, and a fitting time to arm ourselves with a greater understanding of “what works” in development.

You can join the free online course, “What Works: Promising Practices in International Development,” now or join the conversation using #FLwhatworks.

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