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Overseas aid spent on children has a tenfold return, charity calculates

07 May 2024

World Vision

Image from the Putting Children First report

Image from the Putting Children First report

NEW research by the charity World Vision and the accountants Ernst & Young Australia suggests that every $1 of overseas-development funding that targets children has a measurable benefit of $10.

The calculation is made in Putting Children First for Sustainable Development, published on Tuesday, which quantifies the social and economic benefits of Official Development Assistance (ODA), and its long-term impact.

The researchers used what is described as a “robust analysis of the economic impacts of these investments”, using a unique algorithm tool that was developed by Ernst & Young to identify and classify child-related ODA. The analysis was the work of several months. They found a return of $10 on each dollar spent, made up of direct benefits of more than $7, together with a “social multiplier” of indirect benefit of nearly $3. Indirect benefits come through programmes that support and empower children, their families, friends, and wider communities.

The report cites, as an example, a programme to change attitudes towards child marriage, which has both a short-term impact — i.e. more girls complete their education and avoid some of the health complications caused by early childbirth — and also a longer-term impact: they grow up with better health, which results in being able to make a greater contribution to their family’s income when they become adults.

More than one billion children across the globe, the report says, live in poverty, without basic needs such as shelter, food and water met, and with inadequate access to health services and education. This has lifelong consequences. Yet, despite the measurable positive impact of aid, only 12 per cent of the $207 billion annual figure for ODA is specifically aimed at children, made up of five per cent in direct aid, plus a further seven per cent via broader programmes, the report says. Children make up 46 per cent of those in need of aid.

World Vision is calling for the UK Government and its global counterparts to increase aid targeted at children by a minimum of ten per cent, by reallocating spending priorities within the existing aid budget. In preparation for the impending General Election, the charity has launched a petition asking the next Government to ensure that children’s voices are heard in policy making.

The charity is also calling on the Government to appoint a special envoy for children within the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and to commit to a child-rights strategy. It wants the Government to use its influence at the next G20 summit and the Summit of the Future to ensure that children’s needs are not forgotten.

“Prioritising ODA investment for children makes sense,” the report concludes. “Investing in children impacts more than just a single life; it creates lasting improvements to the development and welfare of children, communities and nations. It offers value for money, and is the best way to achieve donor objectives and the SDGs [Strategic Development Goals]. Investing in children benefits the
child today, enables the best future for them, and gives the greatest chance of sustainable development for the entire community.”

Fola Komolafe, the CEO of World Vision UK, said last week that the research proved the “enormous value and impact” that ODA had on the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children. “We’re seeing in this report that it’s more than a moral argument: there’s actually an economic rationale behind making an investment in children,” she told the Church Times. “So it’s reinforcing the fact that you can’t develop good policy, you can’t get sustainable development, you can’t deliver the SDGs for 2030, if you’re not putting children at the heart of all the decisions that are being made in the world.”

Social value was difficult to measure, because the picture was so complex, she said. “Historically, it may have been slightly easier to do — but when you overlay Covid, the geopolitical context, the climate crisis, conflict, all of that, the inputs are complex.” The Ernst &Young research methodology was “unusual, but very solid and comprehensive”, she said. “A lot of analysis and detail went into it, because if you’re going to challenge the Government, then you need to make sure that your algorithm is very solid.”

She said that she had had a productive meeting last week with Andrew Mitchell, Minister of State for Development and Africa, specifically about nutrition. “He was reinforcing the commitment that the Government has towards children,” she said. “All the indicators are that this is something that the Government, perhaps now more than ever, is taking more seriously. So that gives me hope that, with the right evidence base, with the right data points, then change can happen.”

She has also met Lisa Nandy, Labour’s Shadow Minister for International Development, and is encouraged by the “genuineness” of these early conversations.

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