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UK aid is vital, but our ultimate goal is to help countries support themselves

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This article by International Development Secretary Alok Sharma appeared in Prospect Magazine on 5 November 2019.

The world is rapidly changing—and with it, we face new global challenges.

131 million girls are out of school. 100 million people in developing countries could be pushed into poverty by climate impacts as soon as 2030. Africa’s population is booming and around 20 million jobs a year need to be created just to keep pace.

UK aid is responding to our changing world and tackling the great challenges of our time. It is transforming lives in the poorest countries and making the world healthier, safer and more prosperous for everyone.

I have been lucky to see this first-hand as International Development Secretary.

During my trip to Ethiopia, I met inspiring girls learning how to code during a summer camp, backed by UK aid. Mekdes, who is 16, told me “education is a weapon that can change the world.” I could not agree more. Girls’ education matters. It empowers girls to fight against inequality and helps give them, and the countries they live in, brighter economic futures.

We are also championing sexual and reproductive health rights for women and girls, with UK aid giving more than 20 million access to safe family planning every year, saving tens of thousands of lives.

Last month, I met activists and experts to discuss what more the UK should do to tackle preventable deaths of mothers, new-born babies and children under five in developing countries. Women deserve respectful, dignified healthcare no matter where they live, or where their child is born. The senseless injustice of preventable deaths must end.

During the summer I stood at one of the busiest crossings along the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I met health workers, community leaders and children. And I saw the vital support UK aid is providing to combat Ebola and stop it crossing borders. Helping to keep communities safe.

Diseases are a threat to us all. And so is climate change. I met scientists working at the University of Cambridge who, with DFID support, are developing advances in crop engineering to protect plants from climate change, pests and diseases. In turn, this will mean people in the developing world will have enough food to eat while protecting the environment. With the UK hosting the global COP26 Climate Summit next year, we will drive even more ambitious action to tackle climate change.

But for me, the ultimate goal is about supporting countries to help themselves—to become economically self-sustaining. We want to support the poorest countries in determining the future of their people.

Governments around the world collectively spend around $140bn every year on aid. However, the United Nations estimates an additional $2.5 trillion is required annually in developing countries to meet sustainable development goals.

Governments cannot do this alone. We must mobilise private sector investment to help meet this challenge. That is why I have launched an International Development Infrastructure Commission, bringing together leading experts to turbo-charge investment in quality infrastructure projects in developing countries. The Commission will make recommendations to improve the planning, delivery and financing of infrastructure projects, to make investment more attractive to businesses and investors.

Infrastructure is the backbone of economic growth. It improves access to basic services such as clean water and electricity, creates jobs and boosts business.

The UK is also helping the poorest countries raise finance in their own currencies, reducing the risk and cost associated with borrowing in foreign currencies. We supported the first East African Green Bond in Kenya, that will help fund environmentally-friendly housing. And we are working on other currency bond initiatives.

I have also announced a UK aid package to mobilise over £500m of private sector investment, creating more than 50,000 jobs in sub-Saharan Africa. The package will support financial start-ups and entrepreneurs and boost economic growth across the region. As a result, 12.5m people, half of them women and girls, will have better access to financial services.

By providing financial advice and mentoring, and increasing access to bank accounts and loans, UK aid is helping female entrepreneurs overcome the $42bn financing gap faced by small and medium-sized African businesses owned by women.

The UK-Africa Investment Summit in London in January 2020 will take this further, bringing together businesses, governments, and international institutions to promote fantastic investment opportunities across Africa. It will build strong partnerships and unlock investment needed to deliver more exports, jobs and economic growth for British and African businesses. Women and girls will be at the heart of this.

It is my ambition that within 10 years our partner countries will raise 10 times more resource through private sector investment and their own tax revenues than they receive in UK aid.

Ultimately, we want to help countries to help themselves. To build sustainable economies. To become our trading partners of the future.

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