By – Alinea Asia Pacific team

As the world’s fastest-growing region, the Indo-Pacific plays a vital role in defining global stability and development. The recent launch of Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and Australia’s Official Development Assistance budget summary 2022-23 reflect the region’s growing significance. These commitments, together with Australia’s forthcoming new development policy, provide an opportunity to rebrand how Australia and Canada support Indo-Pacific development. New donors, complex development issues, and outdated aid modalities require donors to change the way they respond- this includes Australia and Canada. Ways of working to date are being referred to as ‘colonial’ and proving increasingly ineffective. Development programming based on the principles of inclusion, diversity, and partnership will enable effective, equitable, and sustainable investments in the region.

Australia and Canada’s priorities

Investment in climate action is a priority in the region for both Australia and Canada. Climate action forms the largest portion of Canada’s investment. Australia has doubled its climate finance commitment for 2020-2025, signalling a shared response from Australia and Canada to the growing concern of climate change consequences in the region.

While this focus is a welcome shift, it is critical to ensure that the prioritisation of investments in climate change go hand-in-hand with the interests of the area’s people. This requires working in partnership with local communities and organisations, advancing gender equality, and ensuring more vulnerable groups are not left out of development processes. Australia and Canada also need to consider appropriate representation in existing and new regional bodies to ensure priority development issues are addressed in these regions globally. Australia and Canada need to work collaboratively with local stakeholders to adapt and mitigate the many consequences climate change will bring, such as increased numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) and continued vulnerabilities to natural disasters. Renewed policies and partnerships to support labor migration and respond to humanitarian crises need to be considered. Australia and Canada could meaningfully demonstrate their commitment to gender equality by significantly targeting resources to address gender-based violence and gender inequalities.

What can Australia and Canada do to improve?

Invest in local partners and local expertise – good development policy is one built on the principles of inclusion, diversity, and partnership. Localisation means valuing, trusting, and leveraging the existing expertise of the partners countries where we are working. Australia and Canada must look strategically to long-term partnerships with organisations who are already making changes on the ground. This could include greater engagement with grassroots organisations working on challenging issues (such as gender, human rights, disability, and transparency) as these community groups tend to be natural leaders, have extensive local networks, and will help to ensure the sustainability of development investments.

Look to a greater presence in regional bodies to position both countries on equal footing with Indo-pacific countries. Canada’s commitment to establishing a new office of the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada is a good start. A presence and participation in regional bodies could help to ensure Canada and Australia are seen to be working in real partnership.

Continue to strengthen people-to-people linkages. Canada and Australia should continue to build people-to-people linkages to those in the Indo-Pacific region. A scale-up of Global Affairs Canada’s Technical Assistance Partnership-Expert Deployment Mechanism (TAP-EDM) Project could be one of the ways. Similarly, Australia may want to expand its current exchange programs for volunteers, scholarships and workers to enhance knowledge, information, cultural and skills exchange.

Prioritise the community level as a space where change is more likely to occur. It is important to recognise the benefits of, with, and through coalitions and networks. Canada’s Women’s Voice and Leadership Program and Australia’s MAMPU Program in Indonesia are some great examples of programs to learn where partner countries and local organisations lead.

Lastly, continue to ensure robust monitoring and evaluation and rigorous performance management of development programming. A greater willingness to invest in quality monitoring, evaluation and learning processes (and documenting this) is required. This includes investing in program performance reviews, independent evaluations and, if in place, annual health checks against progress in bilateral country strategies.