A greater focus on economic development?

Ahmed Hussen is Canada's Minister of International Development. | Michael Swan photo

Canada’s Minister of International Development pledges support for MEDA’s efforts

Organizations such as MEDA and the Mennonite Central Committee are making lasting impact worldwide, Canada’s Minister of International Development says. “The work that you do may have multiple and multiple effects, over so many, not just years, but decades,” Ahmed Hussen said in a speech at MEDA’s annual convention. “Knowing that MEDA came out of MCC is, for me, another amazing surprise.”

Hussen was born in Somalia. He emigrated to Canada in 1993 and settled in Toronto, where he earned a law degree. Growing up in Somalia, he heard stories about education being supported through the efforts of the Mennonite Central Committee. Two people who benefited from that support made what he termed “incredible contributions.” His first cousin became a surgeon. After doing medical studies abroad, she returned to Somalia and performed surgery “on hundreds and hundreds of people, in the midst of a horrible civil war, and treated people on both sides, sometimes three or four sides (of the conflict).”

A friend of Hussen’s got his education from an educational institution set up by MCC in Somalia, came to Canada, and became the first Somali Canadian to become a lawyer in Canada. He later moved back to Somalia after the peace came. “This person, who was educated by MCC, wrote the first federal constitution of Somalia,” he said.

Since becoming minister of international development last summer, Hussen said he has emphasized the importance of Canada recalibrating towards more economic empowerment in its international development assistance. “Yes, there will always be room in our international development approach in Canada to respond to disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, as well as war. Disaster relief will always be there; humanitarian relief will always be there. … The development piece has to include economic development, and we have to always emphasize the importance of ensuring that people are permanently out of poverty.”

Canada needs to do that by being deliberate with its international development dollars and by leveraging private sector dollars, “something MEDA was doing way ahead of its time,” he said. “We need to leverage dollars from foundations and also leverage the efforts and financing from other partners as well.” MEDA has been involved in these efforts “way before it was cool to do so.”

“I want to tell you that as far as I am concerned, and if I can help it, you have an ally now in international development,” he said.
Hussen said that international development dollars are finite. “We may not be able to get every- thing in every budget.” Leveraging money from other governments and foundations that are “looking for a place to put their dollars that will ensure a sustainable return” won’t find a better partner than organizations like MEDA, he said. “We in the government have to find a way to support that process.”

“I will do what I can to make sure that we talk to you, benefit from your 70 years of experience, expertise, compassion, and belief in the ability of people to help themselves…” Half of Canada’s bilateral assistance is geared towards sub-Saharan Africa “because that’s where the biggest need is,” he said. With that prioritization comes a duty to ask how those dollars can have the biggest possible impact on the ground, he said. “I think there has to be room in there for organizations like yours to multiply our development dollars.”

Hussen believes that “the next wave of really prosperous people in Africa are not going to come from oil and gas. They’re going to come from agriculture, something that you know very well.” “Food security is a huge issue in sub-Saharan Africa. When folks, especially the youth, are not seeing agriculture as a viable career path, when women are having a hard time accessing capital or even accessing the legal mechanisms to own land and have the freedom to decide their own fate. In all of those discussions, you are at the heart of that because you bring 70 years of experience and know-how together. We need you; I need you, and I will be open to not only listening to you but actually having you guide us in how to get that job done.”

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