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Department of Geography


The non-DAC states and the role of public perspectives in shaping the future of development cooperation

* Research outputs – see below.

An important area of study of the so-called ‘traditional’ donors concerns public perceptions of foreign aid activities (Smith and Yanacopulos 2004). Key issues include how donor governments and NGOs seek to engage the public; how donor publics perceive the moral and political purposes of foreign aid; and how they understand its impacts and consequences for both donors and recipients. Analysts have found that perceptions are dynamic and complex, but also often rather poorly informed, partial and simplistic. They can vary between humanitarian and development aid; on the perceived recipients; and in terms of official versus ‘private’ giving. Democratic governments seek to manage perceptions in order to legitimise and justify aid expenditure through outreach events, media releases, political speeches, White Papers and so on. Dominant narratives include the claim to compassion, the pursuit of national security, and particular constructions of the nation within the global order. Thus, how official aid is constructed (and to a degree, practiced) is in part shaped by public perceptions. These debates are evaluated in the literature survey on public perceptions of foreign assistance conducted for this project.

However, this area of enquiry has not, as yet, been directed toward the ‘non-DAC’ development partners. This term (which has serious limitations given its ‘residual’ character) refers to donors who are not members of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD. This is comprised of 23 members, all of which are industrialised western countries with the exception of Japan and, since the 1 January 2010, South Korea. The ‘non-DAC’ donors include some OECD states that are not yet members of the DAC, such as Turkey and Mexico; a number of ‘new’ EU states, such as Poland and the Czech Republic; Russia; the Arab donors, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; and a number of ‘developing’ countries, such as Brazil and Indonesia. These countries range from emerging powers like China and India to smaller economies like Thailand. Together, the non-DAC donors include countries keen to move closer to ‘mainstream’ foreign aid institutions and orthodoxies, and to those who wish to retain greater autonomy and bilateral freedom in their development cooperation practices, and indeed, some who are actively critical of the existing architecture and ideologies of foreign aid.

To date, it has been largely assumed (with some justification) that the development cooperation policies of Southern non-DAC states, such as India and China, are elite-driven; and that most of their publics are unaware of their government’s activities and agendas in this arena. We intend to critically evaluate to what extent this is in fact the case. The country case studies are China, India and South Africa. Although largely elite-driven and debated, we suggest that their governments are, to some extent and in different ways, careful about how they release and present information on their development cooperation ideologies and activities, and to various degrees this is an issue debated within the media. To these ‘Southern’ donors, we add Russia and Poland, both of which have initiated active foreign aid programmes. Poland has also been in the process of developing a programme of public engagement, and has made ‘development education’ within its own population a core agenda. Russia has recently intiated public and policy debates about its role as a donor.

Most analyses evaluating the ‘new’ actors have focussed on how their development cooperation activities support their diplomatic agendas, energy security imperatives, and economic relations. We propose supplementing these analyses with an evaluation of debates within the public sphere, focussing on:

  • Publicly available government documentation, official press releases and (in some cases) outreach events;
  • Media reporting on development cooperation/foreign aid (as donors and recipients); and
  • Responses/views from civil society organisations engaged in foreign affairs and/or ‘development’.

Questions include:

  1. To what extent and how governments seek to engage their publics; what agendas, interests and ‘moralities’ are constructed and claimed?
  2. How do different donor publics and civil society groups understand and define development cooperation?
  3. How are these activities publicly positioned in relation to South-South solidarities, the rising powers, the ‘African renaissance’, trade and investment, and other international relations and discourses?
  4. What do public perceptions and views on their foreign aid activities reveal about grassroots perspectives on the changing national and global geographies of power and development?
  5. To what extent and in what ways these domestic debates shape government policies, and with what implications for the future of foreign aid/development cooperation?

The project is being funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). However, the ideas and views expressed here and in the project findings are those of the authors alone.

Research outputs

In this section you can find the powerpoint presentations from the workshop on the 17 June 2011. Details about short briefing papers and future academic publications will follow.

Introduction (Dr Emma Mawdsley)

China: Dr May Tan-Mullins Presentation Summary document
India: Dr Emma Mawdsley Presentation Summary document
Poland: Ela Drążkiewicz-Grodzicka Presentation Summary document
Russia: Dr Patty Gray Presentation Summary document
South Africa: Dr Helen Yanacopulos Presentation Summary document


  • 17 June 2011, (Room G2, School of Oriental and African Studies, 2-5.45pm, followed by a reception): Workshop on ‘The non-DAC states and the role of public perspectives in shaping the future of development cooperation: project findings’. Booking via Emma Mawdsley. The Flier for this event has more details.
  • A lunchtime seminar will be held with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) later in 2011 on ‘The non-DAC states and the role of public perspectives in shaping the future of development cooperation: project findings’.

Project team