The new development offer floated by the Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt MP – in her reflective and challenging maiden keynote speech to Bond Conference last month – must not fail to consider the role that young people are playing to deliver the hoped-for expectations of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The empowerment of young people in Britain and globally will be critical to making a reality of our promise to Leave No One Behind. As a sector, we must work harder to properly engage with people in the communities within which we work, and build trust that can last the test of time.
Penny Mordaunt has called for more collaboration – more ‘joined-upness’ as she puts it – between the sector and our armed forces, alongside greater collaboration on development across Whitehall departments and more synchronised planning. As I put it to her when she took questions following her address: as a fellow serving member of the armed forces myself, I appreciate not just the sentiment, but the vision from which she has drawn to indicate these proposals. Indeed, both our chosen branches of service – the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force respectively – work hand-in-hand with disaster relief agencies to deliver support when it matters most. However, such an approach must ensure that we rebuff the legacy of development from a bygone era laden with colonial consequences, poverty porn and north-south saviour mentality. A return to such imperialism-laced rhetoric – which unfortunately was an undertone to her speech – about British contribution to international development is ill-informed and a grave mischaracterisation of the most resilient and entrepreneurial local communities, some of whom are faced with the consequences of actions in which we, in the Global North, have blindly been most complicit – the brutal effects of climate change and political instability to name just two.
Instead, in seeing recipients of UK Aid as changemakers and partners in development, rather than simply beneficiaries, we can make the British public proud of our work. By being more transparent and more accountable – radically and dynamically so – we must be unashamed in our willingness to collaborate with each other and, on an ethical basis, with the private sector to deliver change to our policies, programme delivery and governance.
As an ex-International Citizen Service volunteer, I know that when used innovatively, UK Aid works. Like over 30,000 young people in more than 25 countries across the world since 2011, I have had the profound experience of working alongside a diverse and passionate team of UK and in-country volunteers and staff, giving up their time and offering their skills in tandem to prove the power of young people to steer meaningful development in local communities, which in turn, facilitates their economic independence from foreign aid.
Young people now account for over half of the world’s population and we are now face to face with Peak Youth. It only makes sense that the voices and actions of young people count too, as achieving long-lasting development will require all aboard and all hands on deck. As a Naval servicewoman, I hope Penny Mordaunt will agree.