Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

What Sweden Knows (And You Should Too)

October 09, 2012

This week, I’m traveling with Bill Gates as he visits Paris and London to make the case for smart investments which can save and dramatically improve people’s lives.  I should note that the trip started in the Middle East, where Bill was meeting with government officials and others in the region to encourage greater cooperation on development issues. But the visit to Europe comes at a crucial time, as nations are under increasing pressure to cut public spending.

Yet despite some of the headlines you might read - particularly in the UK – international aid is saving and improving tens of millions of lives. 

That means that with each passing year, more children are saved from disease and more families are lifted out of poverty. This in turn leads to more self-sufficient countries that are graduating as aid recipients– as we’ve seen from the growing economic power of the G20 and the extraordinary emergence of countries such as Turkey and South Korea.

Austerity is tough and millions of people are feeling the pinch across Europe as spending cuts bite. But now is not the time to turn our backs on those less fortunate, especially when a relatively small amount of smart investment in development can transform people’s lives.

Sweden has long understood the importance of generosity to the world’s poor and vulnerable. One recent newspaper headline you may not have read is: 

Sweden increases aid budget by $363 million” in 2013. That is 1.02% of GNI - well above the 0.7 percent GNI target which many countries in Europe committed to achieving by 2015. 

At a time when other countries are cutting back, Sweden – already a generous aid donor to the developing world – has prioritized development assistance with an emphasis on immunization, family planning, and child survival. Sweden knows its funds are saving lives because the country measures results very closely and has taken steps to make its aid funding more transparent. By focusing on fewer countries and sharing information online about its budget, priorities and the projects its funds, the quality of Sweden’s aid is constantly improving.

In addition to the remarkable example of Sweden, the collective aid budget of the European Union continues to deliver impressive results. Between 2004 and 2009, EU aid has helped more than 9 million children get into primary school, vaccinated more than 5 million children against measles, and given more than 31 million people access to clean water.  

This month, Europe’s leaders are negotiating the aid budget for the next 7 years and some are proposing deep cuts that will directly cost lives. On Wednesday, our partner ONE is kicking off a Europe-wide effort to raise awareness of what’s at stake. You can follow along on Twitter at #Lifesaver. You can also test yourself on how much you really know about EU aid with this video.

For instance, how much does Europe’s aid budget work out to be per person in the EU?  

When it comes to aid, it can be easy to focus on what isn’t working. But this shouldn’t distract us from the overwhelmingly larger context of the tens of millions of people who are alive today and the families that are now thriving.  

The economic situation shouldn’t be a reason to turn our backs on the poorest – but should instead remind us of the importance of maintaining our commitment and increasing the quality of aid towards programmes that we know work. 

This is the message that Bill will bring with him to London and Paris and the rallying cry he’ll continue to sound globally in the months ahead.

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