New DfID chief plans aid for trade, and Rio hopes for the best: This week in development news

The 2016 Olympic Games kick off in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the first South American city to host the international competition. Photo by: alobos Life / CC BY-NC-ND

The 2016 Olympic Games kick off in Brazil, a Chinese billionaire wants to use Bitcoin technology to make charitable giving more transparent, and U.K. aid-watchers greet the new DfID chief with mixed reviews. This week in development news.

Priti Patel, the United Kingdom’s new secretary of state for international development, said she wants to “leverage” the country’s $14.6 billion aid budget to secure trade deals with emerging economies. Patel’s statements — and her general stance on tying aid more closely to U.K. economic interests — has divided development professionals grappling with what to make of the post-Brexit foreign assistance landscape. Many remain skeptical of Patel’s intentions, and some have pointed out that linking aid to trade could be a violation of international law. Others have expressed optimism that Patel could encourage better coordination among the various government agencies now tasked with spending U.K. aid dollars. “We’ve seen the aid strategy push a lot of aid money to other departments, and we want to see a cross-government approach to development that has tax, trade, migration policy working together,” Charlie Matthews, head of policy at ActionAid International told Devex.

The world turns its attention to Brazil Friday as the opening ceremonies kick off a fraught 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the first South American city to host the international competition. A presidential impeachment trial, environmental pollution and the Zika virus outbreak have cast a shadow over the host nation and city and drawn attention away from more optimistic headlines, such as the inclusion of a refugee olympic team in this summer’s games, and the fact that Rio is, by many accounts, a captivating place. Critics point to Brazil’s investment of billions of dollars in preparation for the games, which they say have benefited luxury real estate developers at the expense of neighborhoods in need of better infrastructure.

Jack Ma, a Chinese billionaire entrepreneur, is planning to use the same technology that records Bitcoin payments to improve the transparency of charitable donations to philanthropic organizations. Ma’s company Ant Financial plans to use blockchain technology, a system for tamper-proof distributed databases that continuously expand as new data records arrive, to track online payments to Chinese charities. Chinese philanthropy has seen a rapid increase in recent years, but the sector has been plagued by scandals and mismanagement, according to the Financial Review. UNICEF is also reportedly looking for a developer to research applications of blockchain technology to the organization’s work in the developing world. Devex will be exploring additional applications of this technology to development challenges.

Just five months after the Millennium Challenge Corp. suspended a $473 million compact with Tanzania over concerns about elections in the Zanzibar archipelago, the U.S. government pledged $407 million in aid to the country. Some Tanzanians are taking the aid commitment as a sign the U.S. government is pleased with the direction Tanzania is heading. “Although the MCC initiative and this new funding are two separate programmes, this new aid commitment is a sign that Tanzania is heading in the right direction,” Haji Semboja, an economics professor at the University of Dar es Salaam, told Reuters.

Hillary Clinton became the first woman in American history to accept a major political party’s nomination for president. Clinton has a long track record of support for U.S. development programs, and many in the U.S. aid community are asking what her development agenda, appointments and priorities would look like as president of the United States. With less than 100 days remaining until the presidential election, Devex spoke with insiders and experts to ask what they would expect a Clinton presidency to mean for U.S. development programs and partners.

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About the author

  • Igoe michael 1

    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.