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Discussion paper

This engagement is now closed

The consultation took place from May to July 2016.

Table of Contents

Message from the Minister

Both at home and overseas, Canadians care for the poorest and most vulnerable. They expect their government to help create a world that is peaceful, prosperous, just and inclusive—a world where human rights are protected for all. A safer and more stable world leads to a better place for Canada and Canadians. Canada has a strong and proud tradition of working internationally to promote these goals, including through our international assistance, which supports poverty reduction, promotes peace and security and responds to humanitarian emergencies.

Photo of the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau© Jocelyn Riendeau

When 193 United Nations member states adopted the document Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015, we agreed to the ambitious goal of eradicating poverty by 2030 and “leaving no one behind.” Canada is committed to achieving this objective.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called on me to consult with Canadians and partners to refocus Canada’s international assistance on helping the poorest and most vulnerable and supporting fragile states, and to ensure that our assistance priorities are aligned with the 2030 Agenda. The aim is to rethink our international assistance policies and programs so we can respond better to the challenges and opportunities of the new global context.

As one of many international assistance actors and donors, Canada needs to make choices. We need to focus on areas where we can make the most difference. We need to build on our comparative advantages, and use more innovative programming mechanisms and partnerships to achieve lasting results.

In my first months as Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, I have already identified some specific areas where I believe Canada could make a difference. For example: We must empower women and girls and protect their rights, as they are equal agents of change in the development of their communities and countries. We must urgently address climate change and support inclusive clean growth, including through support for clean energy and sustainable agriculture. We must protect human rights, including for women and refugees, while promoting accountable governance, peaceful pluralism and respect for diversity. We must generate new opportunities for youth, so that their despair does not become a risk for global stability and security. And we must continue to respond to human suffering and instability brought on by crisis and disaster, including the hardships facing refugees and displaced populations. These areas echo the issues highlighted in my mandate letter, which also includes mandates to strengthen the evidence and rights base that guides Canada’s valuable work on maternal, newborn and child health, to make Canada a leader in innovation and effectiveness, to address development financing issues, and to ensure a strong engagement in La Francophonie.

In the coming weeks, we will seek views from experts, partners and engaged citizens on these areas and other issues as we develop a new international assistance policy, funding and delivery framework. We will reach out in a variety of ways to stakeholders in Canada and around the world, including in developing and fragile countries. I will work closely with other Cabinet colleagues, particularly the ministers of Foreign Affairs, International Trade, Defence, and Finance, to ensure we use all of the diplomatic, trade, development and security tools at our disposal to make Canada a leader in international assistance innovation and effectiveness. I will also take into account related discussions on fragile and conflict-affected states underway as part of the defence policy review.

In this discussion paper, we lay out some of the challenges and opportunities for Canada’s international assistance and highlight key questions to guide consultations with Canadians. I encourage you to be part of this important conversation. Your input will help to strengthen Canada’s role in the world and ensure that our assistance helps those who need it most. I look forward to hearing from you.

Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau
Minister of International Development and La Francophonie

The global context

Over the past three decades, the world has made considerable progress in reducing poverty, improving well-being and fostering peace and security. Extreme poverty has been cut in half, a much higher number of children are now attending primary school and the overall health of the world’s population has improved substantially.

In some countries and regions, conflicts have been resolved peacefully and governments that are more responsible and accountable to citizens have taken office. For example, in Tunisia, the “Jasmine Revolution” in 2011—a wave of protests by the country’s citizens—led to more open and accountable democratic institutions, free and fair elections, a new constitution and a pluralistic society, where people with diverse beliefs live peacefully side by side. In Colombia, official peace talks could end the last internal armed conflict in the Americas, creating new possibilities for regional security and prosperity.

Box 1: Global progress

  • Education: In 2015, 90 percent of children in developing nations were able to attend primary school. Footnote 1
  • Water: From 1990 to 2015, 2.6 billion people gained access to cleaner and safer drinking water. Footnote 2
  • Nutrition: Today, 793 million people around the world are undernourished. That’s 216 million fewer people than in 1990–1992. Footnote 3

We live in a time of exceptional opportunity, a time of rapid scientific, medical and technological advances. Cellphone technology now enables farmers to connect to the internet for the first time, allowing them to track weather forecasts, monitor market prices for their crops in real time and do their banking. Women’s and girl’s access to the internet is creating new opportunities for them to participate and make their voices heard, enabling them to obtain information that is essential for their health, and for connecting to markets and economic opportunities. Increased mobility of people within countries and across international borders has in many cases accelerated innovation, entrepreneurship and growth.

Social media is mobilizing citizens to take political action against dictators and is shaping the way people think about key issues, such as the plight of refugees. Technological advances are driving down the price of solar power and creating new market opportunities.

But important economic, social, environmental and security challenges remain. Extreme global poverty persists, with 702 million people (9.6 percent of the world’s population) estimated to be living on less than US$1.90 a day. Currently, the majority of people living in extreme poverty—mostly women and children—are in middle-income countries. However, lower-income countries continue to have the highest rates of extreme poverty. In 15 years, more than one half of the world’s poor could be living in fragile and conflict-affected states.Footnote 4 Most of these states will be located in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Share of the world population living
with less than 1.90$ per day (2011 PPP)

Share of the world population living with less than 1.90$ per day (2011 PPP)

Other significant problems remain. These include gender inequality; hunger and child mortality; insufficient access to quality primary education, health care (including reproductive services), water and sanitation; and environmental degradation and fragility. Access to clean water deserves special mention, as its scarcity affects health outcomes, food security, economic growth and conflict.

While the overall number of conflicts between states is relatively low by historical standards, conflicts withinstates has climbed over the past decade. Fragility and high levels of violence in some regions undermine regional and global stability: fear and insecurity are forcing tens of millions of people from their homes into uncertain and dangerous conditions. Worldwide, one in every 122 persons is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum. Footnote 5 The average length of time people are displaced is now 17 years. Footnote 6 Desperate people are undertaking dangerous and perilous journeys in search of new lives, but they face resistance, and there is growing disregard for their human rights and dignity.

The humanitarian response system is under tremendous pressure. The United Nations’ global humanitarian appeal has almost quadrupled in the last 10 years, rising from US$5.9 billion to US$20.1 billion.Footnote 7

For millions of people in developing countries, the effects of climate change, such as changing weather patterns and rising sea levels, directly jeopardize their livelihoods, health and security. In some countries, climate change has the potential to roll back hard-won economic and social gains.

A tremendous amount of work remains to be done to eliminate poverty. How we go about that work is critical. Official Development Assistance (ODA) is a key resource for least-developed countries. However, private flows of money to developing countries (e.g. remittances sent by individuals to loved ones, private-sector investments) now exceed ODA and other official flows. 

Improved domestic resource mobilization—for example, through well-managed taxes and tariffs—can add significantly to the resources a country has at its disposal to deliver basic social services and confront poverty.

The development ecosystem has also changed. Emerging powers and middle-income countries are increasingly providing international assistance, at times through new mechanisms and institutions. Large philanthropic foundations have been at the forefront of global action on core development challenges, including through collaboration with the private sector. Civil society organizations (CSOs) are leveraging new technologies to generate innovative approaches to development. We will need to work in new ways, including by engaging in diverse partnerships, activating global coalitions and cooperating with non-traditional actors.

In short, the global context for Canada’s international assistance has evolved. And while progress has been made, new and complex challenges have arisen. There is a growing international consensus that further progress on poverty reduction will require a coordinated effort comprising many actors, including governments, international organizations, foundations, CSOs, the private sector and private citizens.

We know that we can meet these challenges. The coordinated action needed builds on the existing strong foundations of global solidarity. Countries like Canada are driven by a moral imperative to provide international assistance, not only because it is the right thing to do but because we recognize that a peaceful, just and prosperous world benefits us all.

The good news is that such a momentum has started. With the adoption of the UN’s Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (“the 2030 Agenda”) and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, 2015 was a watershed year for the international community in laying out a coordinated approach to these global challenges. Footnote 8 Key characteristics of these approaches are:

In 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau joined other world leaders in adopting the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, which promotes ambitious action by all countries towards a low-emissions and climate-resilient global economy.

If 2015 was the year to set the new global agenda, 2016 is the year to begin implementing it. It is now up to countries and peoples everywhere to support and fully implement the SDGs and the climate change commitments. Canada can play an important role in this effort, using the new global agenda as a framework for action.

Canada’s international assistance

Canadians are a compassionate people. They expect their government to reflect the values they embrace, including inclusive and accountable governance, environmental responsibility, respect for human rights and diversity, and generosity of spirit. In that vein, Canada’s development assistance helps to reduce poverty, create new opportunities for the world’s poorest and most marginalized, and build more inclusive societies. Our humanitarian assistance saves lives and alleviates suffering. Our international assistance also promotes peace and security and helps developing countries to benefit from global trade. International assistance is good for the world, but it is also good for Canada and Canadians. Everyone benefits from a more stable, peaceful and prosperous world.

Canada has long been an active and engaged international donor. In 1950, it joined the Colombo Plan to support economic and social development in the Asia-Pacific region. In 1968, it established the Canadian International Development Agency and in 1970 the International Development Research Centre. Furthermore, Canada was a founding member of the Development Assistance Group of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Over the years, Canada has led or supported global initiatives on sustainable economic growth; food security and nutrition; gender equality; health; education; democracy and governance; and stabilization and reconstruction.

Canada’s Bilateral Countries of Focus and Development Partner Countries

Canada’s Bilateral Countries of Focus and Development Partner Countries

Through these efforts, Canada has earned a reputation for effective collaboration with developing-country partners in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. Working with partners in Canada and around the world, including other donors, international organizations such as the UN and La Francophonie, international financial institutions, CSOs, researchers and innovators, and the private sector, we have produced concrete results in sectors such as agriculture, water, natural resources management, public sector management, infrastructure and energy.

Canada's international assistance: Historical values of the international assistance envelope

Canada's international assistance: Historical values of the international assistance envelope


  1. The International Assistance Envelope (IAE) is the Government of Canada’s primary budgeting and planning tool for international assistance expenditures.
  2. 2014/15: The increase to Canada’s IAE compared in 2014-15 is attributable to exceptional circumstances: i) the provision of two loans to Ukraine (for a total of $400 million) to support macroeconomic stability; and ii) a change in Finance Canada’s reporting schedule for Canada’s contribution to the International Development Association (World Bank), which resulted in two calendar year payments being recorded in fiscal year 2014-2015.
  3. 2015/16: Projected preliminary expenditures

Canada’s commitment to principled development engagement is enshrined in law. The Official Development Assistance Accountability Act establishes poverty reduction as the central focus of Canada’s ODA.Footnote 9 The Minister of International Development also has a legislative mandate “to foster sustainable international development and poverty reduction in developing countries and provide humanitarian assistance during crises.” Footnote 10

Renewing Canada’s international assistance

The time is right for Canada to re-examine and re-think its international assistance policy. Evolving global challenges and the 2030 Agenda require Canada to consider new priorities and new approaches. If Canada is to re-engage internationally in a meaningful way by working with partners at home and abroad to meet global challenges, we need to ensure that our international assistance policy, funding and delivery frameworks are relevant and effective. We also need to ensure that our efforts are coherent across government.

This review is an opportunity to identify which strengths Canada brings to international assistance efforts, how to capitalize on those strengths to foster innovation, and how to best achieve results. This review will help us to determine how we can do this. It will be based on consultations, evidence and international best practice, and will serve to guide Canada’s international assistance and support implementation of the 2030 Agenda. It will help position Canada as a global leader in international assistance.

For the purpose of guiding consultations, a number of issues have been identified that are critical to promoting sustainable development, including creating the conditions for peace and stability. In each of these areas, Canada has particular experience, expertise and skills to contribute—our “value-added” to the global effort.

Empowerment of women and girls and the protection and promotion of their rights through advancing gender equality will be at the heart of Canada’s international assistance. This feminist lens will be applied throughout all of Canada’s international assistance activities, including in the following areas:

Water—a key element in environmental sustainability and climate change—must also be a fundamental consideration in our international assistance efforts. Indeed, water has a direct bearing on so many of the issues critical to promoting sustainable development.

This review will also look at how Canada can best use its resources to address challenges in global international assistance and make as much of an impact as possible. We will need to look at new and innovative approaches and partnerships. We will also need to improve our programming mechanisms and processes, as well as our financing tools, to make them more flexible and responsive, and more accessible to a broader range of partners. We will need to determine the appropriate balance between multilateral initiatives, country-to-country engagement and support for the international assistance work of Canadian partners. And we will consider the lessons of past efforts, including both the successes and the shortcomings.

In examining these issues, this review will seek to answer the following fundamental questions:

The following sections look at the issues identified above in more detail and pose additional questions to help focus our discussion with Canadians and other partners.

International Assistance by Thematic Priority, Global Affairs Canada


Global Affairs Canada: $3,439.4 M

Canada's total international assistance: $ 5.8 B


Policy issues

Health and rights of women and children

Even in 2016, millions of women and girls are unable to enjoy their full human rights and continue to be denied the same opportunities as men and boys. The UN report Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016 highlights continued problems of discrimination, violence and socio-economic disadvantage.Footnote 11 Gender inequalities exist in all sectors and spheres of public and private life and have a disproportionately negative impact on women and girls. A woman in South Sudan, for example, is more than one hundred times more likely to die in childbirth than a woman in Canada.Footnote 12 Women and girls comprise about half the refugee, internally displaced and stateless population.

Great strides have been made to ensure that children and youth become active members of the global community. Nevertheless, children in Sub-Saharan Africa are 14 times more likely to die before they reach the age of five than are children in developed countries.Footnote 13 Access to high-quality education remains a significant challenge: 250 million children are unable to read, write or count even after four years of schooling.Footnote 14 Globally, up to 1.5 billion children are subjected to some form of violence,Footnote 15 and an estimated 15 million girls under 18 years of age are forced into marriage every year.Footnote 16

Today, the world is home to more young people between the ages of 10 and 24 (1.8 billion) than at any other time in history.Footnote 17 This population could have an overwhelmingly positive impact on our common future if young people, especially girls and young women, are able to develop their capabilities, have access to education and can find fulfilling opportunities to contribute.

Adolescence (age 10-19) is a critical period, yet because of gender inequality and discrimination, many young women in this age group are denied their rights. In low- and middle-income countries, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death in young women aged 15-19 years.Footnote 18 Globally, young girls account for 62 percent of HIV infection rates among adolescents.Footnote 19 In Sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 59 percent of people living with HIV are women and HIV prevalence among young women (aged 15-24 years) is more than twice as high as among young men.Footnote 20

Canada’s international assistance policy must recognize the autonomy and agency of women and girls. Empowering women and girls and promoting their equal rights means making it possible for them to take control of their own lives and bodies. It means they gain skills, develop self-confidence and self-reliance, and speak out on their own behalf. It also means working with boys and men to ensure they value equality, practise respect and speak up when they see discrimination. By empowering youth and creating economic opportunities for them, we build inclusive societies and create the conditions for peace and stability.

Gender equality is a catalyst for progress in all aspects of society. A strong economy requires that women and girls be treated as full and equal members of society. Full participation by women and girls reduces poverty, generates sustainable economic growth, strengthens accountable governance and fosters peace and security. It is therefore critical to prevent the rollback of the international commitments to gender equality secured in the 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action and the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action.Footnote 21 We cannot aspire to ending global poverty if half the world’s population is not part of the discussion.

The 2030 Agenda commits to ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere, achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls to become healthy and productive citizens and agents of change in their societies. It also calls for investments in children and youth (boys and girls), including a goal on education.

As the international community implements this agenda, it will need to address a plethora of issues, including: girls’ education; sexual and reproductive health and rights; women’s economic empowerment; women, peace and security; women’s participation and leadership; ending child, early and forced marriage; and sexual and gender-based violence.

Canada’s response. Canada was one of the pioneers of the “women in development” approach and has been an international leader on gender equality since the 1980s. For nearly 20 years, gender equality has been a key factor in Canada’s development assistance decisions. Canada has worked to advance the rights and empowerment of women in areas such as decent work, food security, education, health and sexual and gender-based violence.

For example, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to the HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics. Increasing new infections rates for that demographic group are alarming. For that reason, Canada has pledged $785 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria over the next three years to accelerate the response and urgently save the lives of women and girls. This is why Canada has also accepted to host the Fifth Replenishment Conference of the Global Fund in September 2016.

Furthermore, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Canada is supporting work to ensure that the perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence are held to account and that measures are put in place to prevent these crimes from happening, including in United Nations’ peacekeeping operations. In addition, through a new global partnership with the United Nations Population Fund, Canada is supporting the delivery of contraceptive supplies in developing countries in an effort to improve services tied to sexual and reproductive health.

Canada recognizes the immense promise of children and youth in developing countries and is working—notably in the areas of health, education and ending violence against children and youth, including protecting their rights in situations of armed conflict—to help them reach their full potential. For example, Canada has worked to mobilize political attention and action to protect an estimated 230 million children living in conflict situations. However, the world is witnessing an increase in the number of children directly and deliberately targeted in conflict zones, including the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. Canada can do more to prevent and respond to these grave violations of children’s rights.

In the area of maternal, newborn and child health, Canada has made a valuable contribution. However, a more comprehensive approach is required, one that addresses the root causes of high maternal and child mortality at the community level, such as adolescent pregnancy, gender violence, women’s lack of power in household decision-making, and the unmet need for family planning. Such an approach would include supporting the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls, particularly adolescent girls. Canada has already begun to expand its efforts in this area.

In April 2016, Canada was elected to a seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women for 2017 to 2021 in recognition of our constructive contribution to the Commission’s work on improving international gender equality standards.Footnote 22 This contribution included playing a lead role in finding agreement on strong language—for the Commission’s main body of work, its Agreed Conclusions—on Indigenous women and girls, civil society and ending violence against women and girls.

In the education sector, Canada aims to increase access to high-quality basic education and promote skills for employment, especially for women and youth. Building on these efforts, we can do more to ensure that children, especially girls, complete secondary school.  We also need to support formal and informal education in conflict and crisis situations.

Canada is committed to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, both at home and abroad. But much more remains to be achieved, and our expertise and leadership are more important than ever. We can do more.

Discussion points

  • Building on our commitment to a feminist approach and support for the gender equality goal of the 2030 Agenda, where should Canada focus its international assistance efforts in this area? Can Canada take advantage of specific opportunities to demonstrate new or continued leadership on women’s empowerment and gender equality?
  • How can Canada’s efforts to support well-being and empowerment better benefit children and youth, including in the education sector?
  • What strategic role can Canada play in advancing health-related SDGs to improve the health of women and girls, including adolescents, in particular their sexual and reproductive health and rights?

Clean economic growth and climate change

Over the last 25 years, economic growth in the developing world has been instrumental in lifting more than one billion people above the extreme poverty line (US$1.90/day). Indeed, no developing country has been able to reduce poverty without sustainable economic growth.

The private sector creates 9 out of 10 jobs in developing and emerging countries.Footnote 23 More efficient and inclusive markets and trade—in agriculture, natural resources, manufacturing and services—can generate greater employment opportunities, increase incomes and reduce food insecurity for the poor. New and emerging technologies—including clean energy—allow developing countries to accelerate growth. Economic growth is not only about creating jobs for individuals: it can also generate revenues for governments to help provide inclusive social programs and services for their citizens, such as education and health care.

However, economic growth led by the private sector alone is not a panacea. Growth that is environmentally and socially sustainable requires adequate public policies, institutions and rule of law. These are necessary to protect investors, the environment and human rights so that the benefits of growth can reach the poorest and most vulnerable people.

While many countries have benefited from growth, inequality remains high. Of the world’s poor, 72 percent (960 million) live in middle-income countries, where they do not experience the benefits of growth and lack access to opportunities and resources, including education, health care, financial services and formal employment—all of which limits socio-economic mobility.Footnote 24

Indeed, inequality can also fuel violent conflict and political instability. Women, children and youth and marginalized groups are especially affected by growing inequality.

Current patterns of economic growth are unsustainable and contribute to the acceleration of climate change, posing huge risks for the planet, including its people and their prosperity. These risks are particularly acute for those in developing countries, which are vulnerable to changing weather patterns, rising sea levels, food insecurity and water scarcity.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change considers climate change a severe threat to future sustainable development, whose impact will be felt across all sectors.Footnote 25Indeed, climate change and environmental degradation are often directly linked to development challenges such as health, gender equality and peace and security. It is increasingly likely that the combined effects of rapid population growth in high-risk areas, environmental degradation and the impacts of climate change will increase the frequency and scale of environmental migration and displacement.

The 2030 Agenda recognizes that achieving truly sustainable development requires urgent coordinated action. Action is needed to control and adapt to climate change to move to more environmentally sustainable and inclusive growth practices targeted at the poor and in areas such as energy, consumption, agriculture and land and water management. Clean economic growth will require new knowledge and skills; providing training and skills development opportunities for the poorest and most vulnerable will be essential if they are to benefit from evolving social, economic and technological progress.

Canada’s response. The lessons we have learned at home can also be shared abroad. Canada recognizes the importance of economic growth for reducing poverty and promoting shared prosperity. To foster private-sector investment and growth, Canada has helped developing countries create business-friendly environments while promoting the growth of small businesses and entrepreneurs, access to finance and credit, business support services and vocational and technical training. For example, in partnership with civil society and the private sector, Canada is helping the residents of Quirulvilca, Peru (especially women, youth and people with disabilities) have a more influential voice in community planning. This project also provides loans for small business start-ups and enables local leaders to promote sustainable development.

Gender equality, governance and environmental sustainability are integrated into these efforts. The economic empowerment of women and youth is a strong focus of our programming on economic growth. Canada also recognizes that strong and well-governed business, industrial, labour and financial institutions can foster inclusive sustainable economic growth and contribute positively to economic and social stability. We invest in young people so they have opportunities for education and training to meaningfully contribute to their communities and societies.

We also place a strong emphasis on environmentally sustainable agriculture—a key sector also for food security and for job creation. For example, Canada has trained smallholder farmers in climate-smart agricultural practices, supporting both clean growth and improved food security. 

Combatting climate change is a shared global responsibility.Footnote 26 We are all in this together. Canada views climate change not only as a challenge but as an opportunity, including for developing countries. Addressing the issue of climate change will provide an opportunity to build a clean-growth, environmentally sustainable economy that will also create new jobs. It is an opportunity to work with our developing country partners to reimagine and improve all facets of human activity and put these on a sustainable footing—from energy, to transportation, to urban planning.

Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Canada will increase its support to initiatives on climate change, committing $2.65 billion—an historic level of funding—to help developing countries take climate action.Footnote 27 This pledge includes support to help developing countries move to low-carbon economies, sustainably manage and protect their natural resources and adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.

The challenges are clear. All countries must seek to stimulate inclusive, clean and sustainable economic growth. Through its international assistance, Canada must find ways to support the efforts of developing countries to generate economic growth that will benefit all members of their population—without increasing environmental risks and exacerbating the adverse effects of climate change. Canada can help to achieve this goal by partnering with a wide variety of actors in sectors such as clean energy, agriculture, forestry and water—a key element for ensuring environmental sustainability and addressing climate change. Canada is working with provinces and territories to meet its targets domestically and is doing its part to support developing countries to meet their climate-related commitments.

Discussion points

  • Where has Canada added value in promoting clean sustainable economic growth?
  • How can Canada support developing countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change?
  • Are there niche areas within climate and environment (e.g. water, biodiversity, land use, agriculture, energy) where Canada could further focus its international assistance?

Governance, pluralism, diversity and human rights

Inclusive and accountable governance, peaceful pluralism, respect for diversity, and human rights allow people to lead a life of dignity and participate in decision-making that affects them. They are also a source of strength, fostering social cohesion and promoting equitable economic prosperity. Human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. When human rights are respected—and diversity and inclusion are promoted—real opportunities and tangible benefits arise, locally, nationally, regionally and globally.

Significant advances in democracy, governance and human rights have contributed to a better quality of life, greater security, important reductions in poverty and more equitable societies around the world. Greater numbers of people are able to exercise their rights now than at any other time in history.

Unfortunately, not everyone has shared in the benefits of this impressive historic evolution. Indigenous peoples, migrants and the forcibly displaced, sexual minorities, faith communities and ethnic groups—and women within all these groups—continue to be victims of egregious violations and abuses of their rights. Migrants and refugees, for example, despite their potential contribution to receiving countries and host communities, are increasingly subject to xenophobic and racist reactions, including border closures.

Diversity of thought, experience, gender, age, origin, language and culture are too often treated as a threat. Restrictions on civic space are on the rise. Corruption and weak institutions prevent governments from generating and using revenues effectively in support of the public good, fuelling insecurity and conflict.

Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda (peace, justice and strong institutions) acknowledges the role that peace, stability and respect for human rights, as well as effective governance based on the rule of law, play in contributing to sustainable development. Other elements of the 2030 Agenda reinforce this view. Our collective challenge lies in giving practical expression to this fundamental understanding.

Canada’s response. Governance and human rights are fundamental elements of Canada’s international assistance. We make governance a part of all development assistance policies and programming, and we support specific governance projects. For example, Canadian assistance has promoted reform of the justice system in West Bank and Gaza, improved tax collection in Mali and strengthened government institutions in Ukraine.

Canada has consistently been a strong international voice for the protection of human rights—including the rights of women and girls—and the advancement of democratic values. Under Canadian law, all Canadian official development assistance must be consistent with international standards of human rights.

Creating a peaceful and pluralistic society in which diversity is celebrated as a strength, human rights are respected and inclusion and good governance are the norm may seem like an enormous task. But progress toward this goal is possible. Some of our experiences—both the successes and the failures—offer valuable lessons for other countries with increasingly diverse populations. Canada has rich resources to share, in its public sector, universities, community organizations, judicial and electoral bodies, professional and labour organizations and private sector.

Canada’s identity as a bilingual, multi-ethnic democracy with an inclusive approach to diversity and citizenship and a vibrant civil society enables us to work constructively with others on issues of accountability, inclusion and pluralism. As Prime Minister Trudeau has said, “We know how to govern in a way that is inclusive, transparent, respectful and effective. We can share that expertise with other countries and their citizens.”Footnote 28

We should explore opportunities to intensify Canadian efforts to support inclusive and accountable governance. We should consider new ways of promoting respect for human rights, including considering adoption of a rights-based approach to development. We should examine how youth could be better engaged in policy-making and action. We should find new ways to work at the local level, particularly to support civil society organizations. And we should be more innovative in promoting digital inclusion, including, for example, by harnessing technology for civic engagement and democratic development.

Discussion points

  • How can Canada best help implement Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda—to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels?
  • How can Canada promote inclusion, advance respect for diversity and uphold human rights?
  • In what areas of governance can Canada’s international assistance have the most impact?

Peace and security

The international security environment continues to evolve. Challenges such as protracted violent conflict and terrorism are becoming more complex and difficult to resolve. This difficulty is in part due to emerging factors such as violent extremism and the impacts of climate change. The effects of conflict and violence are devastating, particularly for women, children and vulnerable groups. Secondary effects, such as the flight of refugees, mean that internal conflicts can also have significant consequences for regional stability and security.

Pursuing and supporting peace is important not only in its own right: the 2030 Agenda recognizes that there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace and security without sustainable development. Achieving sustainable development means ensuring that institutions, practices and customs are developed to reduce threats and resolve conflicts peacefully. Effective and durable transitions from instability to peace require strong and sustained political will and an integrated approach to security, justice, jobs and services. These transitions also require support for peaceful pluralism, gender equality, inclusive governance and respect for human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights.

Many countries continue to require regional and international support to address the security challenges within their territory and on their borders, from transnational crime and terrorism to the trafficking of people, weapons and illicit goods.

Canada’s response. International assistance is an important element of Canada’s overall approach to strengthening international peace and security (box 2). Canada addresses international threats to global security by focusing on the immediate challenges posed by instability while also addressing the underlying causes of fragility.

Canadian international assistance can help to foster the conditions for peace and prosperity by supporting stronger and more inclusive and peaceful societies governed by legitimate and accountable institutions. For example, Canada provides training to help communities establish alternatives to crime and violence, especially for youth.

In recognition of the strong linkages between peace, stability and gender equality, Canada promotes women’s equal participation in decision-making. It also seeks to ensure that the views and aspirations of women are included in the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, and that we support them in their role as agents of change. Canada also strengthens efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls, particularly by addressing impunity for acts of sexual and gender-based violence and working with boys and men to build their respect for girls and women.

Canada’s international assistance also supports stabilization of fragile states or those affected by violent conflict. Stabilization seeks to make timely interventions to help states prevent and respond to violent conflict. Assistance works to stop violence, ensure the provision of basic security, open up space for political dialogue, and forge pathways out of conflict. An important aspect of Canada’s stabilization efforts lies in supporting conflict prevention, mediation and post-conflict reconstruction efforts, as well as peace operations. For example, Canada provided support to the Colombian peace process and to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. Support was also delivered, through UN mechanisms, to areas newly liberated from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq.Footnote 29

Many states need help from other countries to address the security challenges within their territory and on their borders, ranging from crime, terrorism and the proliferation of weapons to the trafficking of people and illicit goods. For example, Canada helps countries strengthen their law enforcement systems so they are better prepared to respond to criminal or terrorist incidents—from prevention to prosecution. Some of these activities are carried out in partnership with the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, which also provide training to build capacity in the security sector. Providing technical expertise to states facing security challenges in turn reduces threats to Canada and Canadians.

Box 2: Defence Policy Review

The Minister of National Defence is currently reviewing Canada’s defence policy, including possible roles for the Canadian Armed Forces in providing support to fragile and conflict-affected states. Some of the issues addressed in that review relate directly to international assistance, including how to renew Canada’s commitment to United Nations peace operations, deliver comprehensive stabilization, humanitarian and development support to regions suffering from insecurity, and enhance efforts to prevent conflict.

Canada works closely with allies, multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and other actors on a range of peace and security initiatives. For instance, Canada supported legal assistance to the opposition negotiating teams in Syria and to investigations of war crimes in Iraq.

Violence and conflict, including terrorism and transnational crime, have evolved significantly in recent years and continue to present challenges to stability and to undermine sustainable development. To meet these challenges, Canada must ensure that its international assistance enables the development of peaceful, just and inclusive societies, promotes stability in fragile and conflict-affected states and helps reduce threats to Canadians and affected populations.

Discussion points

  • What specific strengths should Canada build upon to respond to peace and security challenges?
  • How can Canada align its international assistance efforts in peace and security with international approaches, including the 2030 Agenda?
  • What kind of international assistance partnerships should Canada pursue to achieve its peace and security goals?

Responding to humanitarian crises and the needs of displaced populations

Humanitarian needs have increased dramatically over the past five years. At this point in 2016, UN Global Appeals are already seeking to assist 88 million people, up from 53 million in 2011.Footnote 30 Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of catastrophic natural disasters. Global displacement has increased significantly. Other factors, including poverty and demographic shifts, complicate and undermine a community’s ability to withstand these disasters. However, humanitarian needs are still largely driven by protracted conflicts.

Today’s conflicts are increasingly complex and harder to resolve, and they have a disproportionate impact on civilians. Overall, there is a general trend toward declining respect for international humanitarian law and principles, and minority groups and marginalized communities find themselves at increased risk in far too many situations. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to intensified forms of sexual and gender-based violence, trafficking and other forms of abuse as crises reinforce and increase existing gender inequalities. Crises are not being resolved quickly, meaning millions will remain displaced for ever-longer periods, disrupting their education and livelihoods, resulting in loss of human potential.

The changing nature of conflict is also a growing concern for communities affected by humanitarian crises. In Jordan, for example, one in every 13 people is a Syrian refugee. In Lebanon, one in five persons are refugees, among them a high number of Syrian and registered Palestinian refugees.Footnote 31

The global community can do more to address crises when they happen and do more to help communities—including those hosting large numbers of refugees and displaced populations— become more resilient. This is true whether crises are driven by conflict or natural disaster. Resilience is about reinforcing the capacity of individuals, households, communities and institutions to cope with short-term and protracted shocks and, afterward, to emerge stronger—to “survive and thrive.” This could be achieved by addressing the underlying vulnerabilities of populations in crisis and by working together differently.

There is global agreement on the need to help vulnerable countries—including those hosting large numbers of refugees and other displaced populations—become more resilient from the outset, including through finding creative and innovative approaches that improve the self-reliance and dignity of displaced persons. These approaches are particularly crucial for countries struggling to maintain stability and at risk of falling into fragility.

Donors need to engage with a broader range of partners—particularly local partners—in regions affected by crisis. Development assistance actors, for example, could do more in fragile states and during humanitarian crises to provide longer-term support for employment, housing or education. Peace and security programs—often put in place in the immediate aftermath of violence—can serve as bridges to the rebuilding of institutions needed for longer-term recovery. Humanitarian actors, including international CSOs, also need to assess how to better build and support local action.

The 2030 Agenda recognizes that more frequent and intense natural disasters, conflict, forced displacement and global health threats have the potential to reverse much of the development progress made in recent decades. The World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 will look to reaffirm the global commitment to humanity and humanitarian principles and to generate concrete commitments to improve humanitarian action.

Canada’s response. Canada is a leader in humanitarian assistance and a staunch promoter and defender of humanitarian principles. In 2015, Canada was the world’s seventh-largest bilateral donor of humanitarian assistance funding.Footnote 32 Canada has also worked to strengthen the broader humanitarian system, and played an important role in establishing the Principles and Good Practice of the Good Humanitarian Donorship initiative,Footnote 33 which are helping to guide effective global responses in this time of growing humanitarian need.

Canada also continues to explore more innovative ways of responding to humanitarian crises. For example, Canada is seeking to build greater resilience by strengthening, where appropriate, the longer-term capacities of local governments to provide critical public and social services. In Jordan, for example, where most Syrian refugees live not in camps but in Jordanian communities, Canada is helping municipalities deliver basic services such as road maintenance and building, street lighting and waste collection and management. These projects improve the living conditions of refugees and their Jordanian hosts, while helping to alleviate social tensions between these communities.

Canada is committed to strengthening the Canadian and international humanitarian response, and has an ongoing interest in improving the timeliness, flexibility and predictability of its assistance. New multi-year funding agreements with key partners will help to increase predictability and enable better planning. New funding mechanisms, such as pre-approved funding for the Emergency Disaster Assistance Fund in support of emergency appeals made by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Canadian Humanitarian Assistance Fund, managed by the Humanitarian Coalition, should enable a much faster, more flexible Canadian response to humanitarian need, based on the specialized expertise of our trusted partners. But the new context for humanitarian crises requires continuing innovation and adaptation, and Canada could do more.

Canada has delivered on its commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees. In fact, we have exceeded this number. As we continue to welcome refugees to our country and to integrate them into our society, Canada will work with other countries to expand resettlement and migration capacity globally, and we will share our expertise in integrating newcomers.

Discussion points

  • How can Canada support needs-driven, effective and timely responses to humanitarian crises with predictable yet flexible support?
  • How can Canada better support the protection of vulnerable populations in crises and strengthen respect for humanitarian principles?
  • How can we facilitate more comprehensive and coordinated responses to better meet the needs of populations affected by crises and optimize the impact of humanitarian, development and peace and security initiatives?

Delivering results

In 2015, Canada was the eighth-largest ODA donor among countries in the OECD Development Assistance Committee.Footnote 34 Development experts point to the UN’s ODA/GNI (gross national income) ratio of 0.7 percent as the ultimate target for bilateral assistance. Some donors have chosen to meet this goal. Others recognize the goal’s importance and look for opportunities to explore new approaches and to increase the focus on results achieved. Indeed, it is just as important to consider how Canada’s international contributions can best deliver results. Reaching the 0.7 percent target would require an estimated tripling of Canada’s annual international assistance budget by 2020. This would amount to an additional $10 billion per year—an unrealistic near-term objective in the current fiscal context.

While our ambitions need to be backed up with resources, we need above all to focus our efforts where Canada and Canadians can make a meaningful difference. As part of these efforts, we must make a hard assessment of how we deliver our assistance and with whom we deliver it.

Canada has an opportunity to build on the experience it has acquired to date, learn from others, and explore new methods, platforms and mechanisms to become best-in-class in international assistance innovation and delivery.

This review allows us to reconsider how we pursue technical cooperation, partnerships and program investments so that Canada’s “tool-kit” for international assistance is agile, ambitious and best positioned to meet 21st-century challenges.

Improving effectiveness and transparency

Canada has committed to improving the transparency, openness, effectiveness and accountability of its domestic institutions. The same principles apply to international assistance.

Over the last 15 years, the international community has worked to improve the transparency and effectiveness of its international assistance. Like-minded donor countries such as Canada have made significant progress in aligning their assistance with the plans and priorities of developing country partners. They have also harmonized their assistance between donors, increased their focus on results and improved mutual accountability between donors and partners.

Donor countries, together, have implemented new approaches to development. These include “challenge funds” that reward organizations for developing innovative solutions to specific development challenges; “debit cards” that provide direct humanitarian assistance to improve targeting and efficiency, and that also support human dignity; and mechanisms such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to maintain and expand responses to key global health issues.Footnote 35

Through the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI),Footnote 36 donors and other development actors are publishing more information about aid flows and projects, helping to improve accountability in partner and donor countries alike. As the new chair of the IATI governing board, Canada is well-positioned to expand and improve international aid transparency efforts.

But the 2030 Agenda challenges us to do more. It sets out a robust global ambition to change the way we approach sustainable development and the way we work. And, since the 2030 Agenda is universal—applying equally to all countries—Canada also needs to ensure the coherence of its domestic and international policies and initiatives.


The innovative and effective solutions vital to the success of the SDGs depend on revitalized and new partnerships and new forms of action. Innovation helps actors to work smarter, faster and more efficiently, which is essential for bold and transformative action to happen. Canada’s international assistance needs to be informed by the best evidence and cutting-edge tools, reflect local needs and priorities, benefit from dynamic collaboration between Canadian and international actors, and drive the most cost-efficient models to deliver development innovation and impact.

Canada has performed consistently well on many measures of aid effectiveness, and in some specific instances we have been policy and program pioneers. Consider, for example, Canadian support for gender equality, our attention to the importance of micronutrients and our whole-of-government collaboration in fragile states. 

But such Canadian efforts, whether implemented by government or civil society, have often been isolated experiments. We have had limited opportunity to assess their long-term impact and apply lessons more broadly. While ensuring prudent stewardship of tax dollars, our programming and financing mechanisms and approaches for international assistance need to be more flexible, better adapted to support innovation and more responsive to local needs and capabilities. They need to enable, not stifle, innovation. While Canada may not be the world’s largest development donor, we can lead the world in using evidence and creativity to design more effective methods of achieving tangible development results.

We can deliver better results for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people if we can take advantage of technological breakthroughs and connectivity; new business models, forms of partnership and policy practices; and behavioural insights. The “data revolution” provides an opportunity to develop high-quality and open national statistics with support for innovative usage of big data to more effectively monitor global progress and strengthen accountability.

Our international assistance decisions need to be informed by the best evidence, reflect local needs and priorities, enable sensible risk-taking and benefit from dynamic collaboration, including with local governments and civil society. Our partner countries must also be able to draw on home-grown experts and innovators—leaders like those supported by Canada’s International Development Research Centre. In addition, our programming and development financing mechanisms need to be nimble and responsive, empower local actors, create incentives for constructive collaboration and deliver cost-efficient innovation and impact. Our diplomatic, trade, and international assistance actions must be better aligned, and must also engage Canadians more actively and openly. An innovation agenda could help us achieve these goals.


To achieve the SDGs, the 2030 Agenda calls for a new multi-stakeholder partnership among all countries and institutions, together with other actors such as civil society and the private sector. And the Addis Ababa Action Agenda for Development recognizes the necessity of mobilizing all available resources—particularly private-sector financial resources—to eradicate global poverty and achieve sustainable development.

Canada has a proud tradition of mobilizing international coalitions and cooperating with other countries and CSO partners to address global challenges. It is the Canadian way, rooted in a history of constructive diplomacy that advances our interests and projects our values in the world. But we cannot rest on our laurels.

We need to explore new forms of partnership with a broader range of development actors to leverage their ideas, assets, goodwill and resources. And we need to critically examine how we work with local and international CSOs, the private sector, local governments and other international assistance actors such as emerging donors, foundations and diaspora groups. There is an opportunity to move beyond a “service-delivery” model of partnership to new and more flexible models of collaboration. These models include leveraging and maximizing efforts with multilateral organizations, financial institutions, other government partners, local actors and the private sector—each of which brings to the table distinct assets, knowledge, networks and financial resources.

Canadian, international and local CSOs are essential partners for Canadian international assistance. They often have specialized knowledge and skills, creativity, agility and community connections, as well as capable, committed staff. Local and international CSOs are often the drivers of innovation, and they play an important role in engaging citizens on key sustainable development issues. The great diversity of Canadian CSOs is a strength that allows Canada to respond in innovative ways to challenges in developing countries and fragile states. This review is an opportunity to discuss how to establish more productive partnerships with a broader range of CSOs.

Similarly, in seeking effective solutions to global challenges, Canada could explore further opportunities for collaboration with the private sector—in Canada and in our partner countries—particularly in areas like clean energy. The private sector is the main driver of economic growth and employment in the developing and fragile countries where we provide assistance. By collaborating with private-sector actors who adhere to responsible business and investment practices, we can make greater strides in creating good jobs, increasing private investment and unlocking innovative solutions to difficult development challenges.

We need to determine how best we can use our international assistance resources and our non-financial assets (such as our network of embassies, local knowledge, convening power, and access) to build these partnerships, including mobilizing private-sector resources and expertise for sustainable development results. We also need to move to a new type of engagement with developing countries, recognizing that countries determine their own development paths and are doing so selectively in partnership with traditional and emerging international assistance actors.

Discussion points

  • What concrete steps could Canada take to make its international assistance delivery approaches and mechanisms more efficient, effective and innovative? How can we promote greater coherence between our development, trade and diplomacy efforts?
  • How can Canada foster development innovation?
  • Which organizations, communities, coalitions or partnerships should Canada work with? How best can we work with them to deliver our international assistance objectives?
  • How can we engage a wider range of partners to leverage the resources and expertise necessary to achieve the sustainable development goals?
  • How can we enhance broader engagement of Canadians in our international assistance efforts?
  • Are there additional tools or mechanisms that Canada should add to enable it to deliver international assistance more innovatively? How can current approaches and mechanisms be strengthened?

Key reference materials

The global agenda and related efforts

Data sources


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