The head of the U.K.’s aid agency announced the first ever challenge fund exclusively for small charities, as well as a new capacity building initiative to help boost public trust in the third sector during a wide-ranging speech to civil society groups.
Speaking at the annual Bond conference in London on Monday, international development secretary Priti Patel also emphasized Britain’s role as a global leader in development and said the country should exert its influence to encourage other governments not to “turn your back on the world.”
The minister said the small charities challenge fund would be launched this summer to provide financing to U.K.-registered civil society groups operating overseas with an annual income of less than 250,000 pounds. These groups have traditionally missed out on opportunities to work with the Department for International Development, she said. Charities can apply for grants of up to 50,000 pounds and the fund will have a total budget of 4 million pounds over next two years.
This is to be coupled with a new DFID partnership with the Charity Commission to help charities manage projects and handle government money more effectively in a bid to win public approval for their work amid increased scrutiny and hostility from U.K. newspapers about the foreign aid budget. This capacity building is in response to what Patel described as the need for the British development sector to renew its “license to operate.”
“Britain boasts an extraordinary number of small grassroots charities and organizations who, quite frankly, do an amazing and often highly innovative work in some of the poorest places in the world,” she said. “This fund is there to help the best of our smaller charities, to expand and to deliver even more effectively for the world's poorest.”
Patel’s speech was welcomed by charity bosses, who described it as a clear indication of her support and commitment to the sector and her department. Patel previously has been outspoken in her criticism of aid spending and was quoted in 2013 suggesting DFID should be closed.
However, when asked about the future of Britain’s development policy on Monday, Patel was reassuringly robust in her defense of the sector, describing the U.K. as playing a “global leadership” role in development and saying that it should set an example for other governments to follow.
“We should be doing more of … using our voice internationally to call upon others in the world and say to them, don't retreat, don't move away or turn your back on the world, we need to work collectively together and be united if we are going to solve some of these big issues such as poverty.” she said.
She also confirmed some of the international development department’s focus areas moving forward, including women and girls, tuberculosis, noncommunicable diseases, family planning, and disability — which she referred to as “the most under prioritised and under resourced areas in development.”
Alex Thier, executive director of the London-based think tank, the Overseas Development Institute, said he was pleased to hear such a strong commitment to U.K. aid from the minister.
“This was the strongest, most full throated endorsement of aid for the U.K.,” he said. “I think what we heard her say today is that: I am taking responsibility for U.K. aid spending as part of our national objectives and that it’s fundamentally important to leave no one behind and support our allies around the world.”
Thier’s sentiments were supported by Tamsyn Barton, chief executive of Bond, who said it was clear Patel “sees Britain playing a strong role in development,” and that Bond welcomes her “commitment to robustly defend the rights of civil society and to work closely with the sector.”
Sir Ciarán Devane, executive director of the British Council, called DFID’s new challenge fund for small civil society groups “an enlightened move” as it will help foster the next generation of larger organizations.
“Every civil society organization or charity was founded at some point by somebody and was tiny, we didn’t magically appear out of nowhere as a fully funded brilliantly effective organization, so I think it’s really good because out of that will come the next Oxfam, the next WaterAid,” he said.
An organization that could stand to benefit from the new small charities challenge fund is
Hand in Hand, a U.K.- registered, women’s economic empowerment organization in Kabul, Afghanistan. Founder Seema Ghani said that while she supports any initiative that helps smaller organizations like her own, she believes development interventions will only work when government is also supported.
“I always advise projects should be … working with small, medium, and large — and large could be the government. Just focusing on one will not answer the problem. For example NGOs like us, we can reach certain places, but at the same time the government needs support. How long are the NGOs going to be able to run the operations?” she asked.
Discussing the new partnership with the Charity Commission, Chairman William Shawcross said: “Helping small and medium sized charities deal with today’s huge risks is crucial. This work will be key in building capacity to ensure these charities can operate to the highest standards.”