Room for improvement in development aid

In its latest report, Less pretention, more ambition. Development aid that makes a difference (Minder pretentie, meer ambitie. Ontwikkelingshulp die verschil maakt), which was presented to the Dutch Minister for Development Cooperation, Bert Koenders on 18 January 2010, the WRR observes that development aid needs to be organised more professionally and to make more of a difference.

In a world in which issues such as security, migration and climate change are increasingly demanding global answers, helping disadvantaged countries is also increasingly in our own interests, the WRR argues. The current practice of development aid is, however, characterised by a high degree of fragmentation and a lack of focus. To increase the effectiveness of aid, the Dutch government should concentrate on ten countries with which it builds a lasting relationship. Additionally, the Netherlands would do well to focus on those areas where it excels internationally and has added value to offer, such as agriculture and water management. This demands a separate organisation, which the WRR calls NL-AID, so that aid activities no longer are tasks of rotating diplomats but are placed in the hands of experts in the relevant fields.

Aid should also be more clearly focused on development. At present, most aid is directed towards improving the living conditions of the recipients. Whilst this offers short-term relief to many people, it does  not give them enough opportunities to meet their own needs independently in the longer term. Self-reliance for both individuals and nations should henceforth be the explicit objective of development aid. This needs to be married to realistic expectations: development depends on so many factors that aid can do no more than make a modest contribution.

The WRR also highlights the fact that development policy is still focused too little on issues falling outside the scope of traditional aid. Stability and security, terms of trade which facilitate development, a fair tax system which does not tempt businesses to avoid tax in developing countries, less stringent intellectual ownership rights for poor countries, more scope for knowledge-sharing, and a better thought-out migration policy could all ultimately be more important for the development of countries than traditional aid. Policy in the future needs to focus on this much more urgently.

About the WRR

The Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) is an independent advisory body which provides the Dutch government, both on request and on its own initiative, with advisory opinions on a range of topics from a long-term perspective. The topics on which the WRR advises are wide-ranging and relate to social issues with which the government may be confronted in the future. The WRR presents its advisory opinions in the form of public reports, which may be both exploratory and advisory in nature. More information on the WRR may be found at:

Minder pretentie, meer ambitie. Ontwikkelingshulp die verschil maakt (Less pretension, more ambition. Development aid that makes a difference), WRR Report no. 84, ISBN 978 90 8964 226 4, is available from bookshops and from Amsterdam University Press.

The following have also been published in the context of this report: WRR Investigation no. 21 Doing good or doing better. Development policies in a globalizing world by Monique Kremer, Peter van Lieshout & Robert Went (eds.), WRR Web publication no. 40 Verschuivende vensters. Veranderingen in het institutionele landschap van de Nederlandse ontwikkelingssamenwerking(Moving windows. Changes in the international landscape of Dutch development cooperation) by Paul Hoebink, WRR Web publication no. 41  Internationale publieke goederen: karakteristieken en typologie(International public goods: characteristics and typology) by Robert Went.