There has always been an “aid industry.” But since the 2008 global financial crisis, the role of large corporations in leading aid and global development efforts has reached unprecedented levels.
Today, CEOs of major multinationals sit on UN panels charting the future of global development; the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is partnering with Wal-Mart and Chevron; and NGOs like Oxfam and Save the Children have joined hands with corporate behemoths Unilever and GlaxoSmithKline.
With traditional budgets under increasing pressure, there is growing concern that cost-cutting drives within donor agencies are fueling a mass outsourcing of projects to the private sector—and, in some cases, a new willingness to “partner” with large corporations in both the design and delivery of aid efforts. Investments in the private sector by development finance institutions like the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation are also exploding: In 2010, such flows exceeded $40 billion; by 2015, they’re expected to surpass $100 billion.
Journalists Matt Kennard and Claire Provost look at who is benefiting—and who is profiting—from this new “private sector turn” in aid. Does this 21st century, corporate-led global development drive hold the answer to today’s challenges or, as critics claim, is it little more than a multi-billion dollar handout to the One Percent?