A USAID official in South Africa

How South Africa Can Maximize the Impact of Its New Aid Agency

Last week, South Africa announced that it plans to establish its own foreign aid agency this year. It is intended to be operational by the middle of the year, and will be called the South African Development Partnership Agency. It’s an interesting development, seeing an aid recipient national also become a donor. It puts South Africa in a unique position to provide aid.

Realistically, South Africa isn’t going to be a leader in terms of donation volume – this is not going to be an important aid agency on the basis of money. There’s no point just doing what all the other donors are doing, only smaller. Instead, the South African Development Partnership Agency needs to lead based on its technical strength. It needs to find a specialty, and do it well.

South Africa is an obvious candidate to champion South-South cooperation, and it looks like the development partnership agency is already focusing on that. Connecting developing nations to share expertise and proven solutions is something no other donor agency is doing. That would be a good fit for South Africa; a partner, not just a donor.

Alternately, the agency could focus on health, specifically the health issues of SSA. South Africa already supplies public health expertise to the whole continent of Africa. The South African Development Partnership Agency could be Africa’s health agency. Or the world’s.

Finally, the South African Development Partnership Agency will need to decide what kind of agency it is. Will it hold technical expertise within the agency, or will it fund technical experts to do work? Both approaches have value. USAID shifted from a technical agency in the 70s to a contracting agency a decade later, and Administrator Rajiv Shah is now trying to change back to the expertise model.

South Africa has a chance here to create a kind of aid agency the world has never seen before. An agency that truly understands – from the inside – the challenges of receiving foreign aid and using it well. If they capitalize on that chance, and lead the way to something new, it could affect they way all donors give their aid, for the better.