Andrew Mitchell: Beyond Aid

Speech by the International Development Secretary at the Wellcome Trust looking at at a more holistic approach to development

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell

Andrew Mitchell’s speech to the Wellcome Trust looks at a more holistic approach to development and Britain’s wider efforts in beating poverty

I can’t think of a better place to give this speech than here at the Wellcome Trust, one of the early pioneers of British philanthropy.

Ladies and gentlemen, the concept of the modern charitable foundation wasn’t born in Washington or Seattle. It wasn’t born in New York or Atlanta. It was born right here in Britain more than two hundred years ago when the two Thomases - Coram and Guy, along with the likes of William Wilberforce and John Radcliffe - ignited the great tradition of British philanthropy that continues to this day.

The Wellcome Trust is part of that proud tradition. Founded by Sir Henry Wellcome some seventy five years ago, it was to become a beacon of medical research, its work known and admired across the world.

Wellcome’s dedication and generosity live on today, with the Wellcome Trust, now the second largest charity in the world, investing an amazing £600 million a year in the research of illnesses such as malaria, pneumonia, TB and HIV.

Sir Mark, I want to pay a very public tribute to you and indeed, to the many other institutions which, like the Wellcome Trust have blushed unseen for decades. Through your work in some of the most testing environments, you prove that poverty may be a complex challenge but that the right investment in the right place at the right time can deliver results that are nothing short of transformational.

So, in this of all venues, it is fitting that I argue tonight that there are many tools that we can bring to bear in the fight against poverty. That aid, vital though it is, is just one of those tools. And that by taking an approach that draws on the best of everything that Britain has to offer, we can set the bar of our achievement even higher.

Of course, aid - smart aid - is incredibly important. We have only to look at parts of the Horn of Africa to see why this matters.  Thanks to British funding:

  • 1.68 million Ethiopians had food to eat in May and another 2.4 million in June and July
  • 40,000 people living in the Dolo Ado refugee camps have shelter and
  • more than 300,000 refugees in camps in Dadaab in northern Kenya have safe drinking water.

So, yes, when it’s spent well, aid can indeed work miracles. But aid alone is not the solution to tackling the deepest, most grinding poverty.

That is my subject tonight.  And my argument has two elements.

First, that as well as committing significant (and hard earned) financial resources through our aid programme,  this Coalition Government is tackling poverty in other ways: including by working together to tackle conflict and insecurity and to galvanise the private sector.

Second, that Britain’s offer to the world - and especially to the poorest - comes from all of us, not only from government.  Britain’s inventors, its economists, its academics, its judiciary, its entrepreneurs, have, for centuries been a powerful catalyst for growth and development way beyond these shores. And indeed, this country continues today to have a tremendous offer to make to the world, which comes from our charities, our world class institutions, our generous and globally-facing citizens, and our world class researchers - especially on science and technology. 


A holistic approach to development

I have worked hard since coming into office to turn the Department for International Development into a Department of State, rather than an NGO moored to the side of government. Because development is about more than aid. It requires a whole of government effort. DFID has always been good at what it does. But it could be so much more. Previous Cabinets have thought about development. But they have not done enough to address development implications and impacts of policies - known in the jargon as ‘policy coherence’.

As Development Secretary in the Cabinet, my job is to ensure that this happens. And I judge my officials not just by how well they administer British aid, but by how effectively they collaborate with colleagues across Whitehall in shaping UK Government policy, across a range of issues, to be as effective as possible in promoting poverty reduction.

Let me give you some examples of where DFID is now working as a Department of State, on issues beyond aid. And where this Coalition Government is bringing development into its wider policies: ‘policy coherence’ in action. 

Conflict and security  

It’s obvious to anyone who has set foot in a country affected by conflict, like Afghanistan where I was only last week, that no one can be sure of the basics of an education, of basic health, let alone the chance to flourish, while conflict and insecurity are the norm.

This Government’s position on conflict and security is very firmly based around the three inseparable pillars of defence, diplomacy and development.

I have a seat on the National Security Council alongside the Defence and Foreign Secretaries and other Cabinet Ministers. The National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review went far beyond narrow issues of military hardware and asked how best we defend ourselves at home and abroad, recognising for example that girls’ education in Pakistan can be a powerful weapon in our armoury. Our recently published tripartite strategy ‘Building Stability Overseas’ commits us to looking upstream to prevent conflicts as much as downstream to help countries after war - what the military call ‘getting left of the bang’.

In Libya we acted quickly to respond to a crisis, deploying the first ever UK-led International Stabilisation Response Team. This team was able to gauge what help the National Transitional Council might need during the lead up to a political settlement and to support the United Nations in its post-conflict planning.

Now, DFID is working closely with the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and the Treasury, helping Libyan policemen and women to uphold the law, encouraging a vibrant civil society to hold their leaders to account, and supporting government officials as they begin to plan their budgets.

We also invest in longer term action to prevent conflict. For example, in Sierra Leone, DFID, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence shared their expertise with the army and the police force, helping each to provide a more effective service.


The role of diplomacy in tackling conflict and insecurity cannot be over-stated.  In the Foreign Office we have an unparalleled hub of diplomatic expertise and influence overseas. Foreign Office diplomacy daily plays a vital role in helping countries to resolve conflicts and in fostering the basic rights and freedoms that are the building blocks of political legitimacy and economic growth. The examples of its impact are too numerous to recite, so let me mention just three:

  • training local journalists in Bangladesh to keep the government on its toes through investigative reporting
  • encouraging Egyptian women to stand for parliament and
  • working with the Minister of Justice in Mozambique to combat child trafficking and sexual abuse

Private sector

Just as peace is a prerequisite for development, growth and private sector development are the route out of poverty to prosperity and off aid. That is why I have set up the Private Sector Department in DFID, as the crack SAS troops who will help put private sector development and engaging with private enterprise at the heart of everything we do. It’s why the Government has reformed CDC so that it will make investments which not only wash their face, but which also pioneer new business frontiers and generate tangible development outcomes - the productivity gains, increased employment and better services that poor countries so urgently need.

And it’s why the Prime Minister went to Africa last summer, accompanied by myself and Lord Green, the Trade Minister at BIS, supported by UKTI, to make the case for growth as the surest path to economic progress and better livelihoods for poor people. All three of us gave the strongest message that investing in Africa isn’t just a savvy thing to do, it will also open opportunities for millions of poor women and men to earn or venture their way out of poverty.

The other message which the Prime Minister took to Africa was about trade and the importance of global and regional trade rules which allow poor countries and people to trade themselves out of poverty.

Britain has always been a great trading nation and one of the most open economies in the world. The Government’s White Paper on Trade and Investment has development concerns and arguments at its very core.

And our Joint Trade Policy unit - in which officials from DFID and BIS work alongside each other - ensures that the issues that affect developing countries are clearly in the frame in our trade policy.

Climate change

It’s not only on trade that we want to make sure the rules of the game work for developing countries - and where there are win-wins for the UK.

Take climate change. We know that climate change threatens to reverse the progress we’ve made in reducing poverty in the world’s poorest countries. Britain is setting an example to others in tackling climate change, as recognised in the Commitment to Development Index published recently by the Center for Global Development.

On the global stage, we are pressing for progress in international negotiations while at home, our Climate Change Act is the world’s first long-term legally binding framework of its kind.

Through the Advocacy Fund that I recently launched the UK will help developing countries participate actively in negotiations on both trade and climate change.

But we also need to know how the climate is changing and how it will affect countries around the world.

So we should take pride in the fact that the Met Office Hadley Centre is arguably the world’s premier body for climate research.

And that we’re spearheading innovation in clean energy and in developing the technology that will allow poorer countries to adapt to floods, droughts and other climatic events.

My Department is playing a part in all of this, working alongside the Foreign Office, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whose Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Bob Watson, is one of the leading lights on this subject. 

Corruption and transparency

We’re showing equally robust leadership on setting and upholding the rules of the game on corruption and transparency.

Britain has a long history of fighting crime. It was another Conservative Minister, Robert Peel, who established the modern concept of the police force.

Nearly two hundred years later, others are looking to us to take a similar lead on tackling corruption. And we are.

We have our own International Anti-Corruption Champion, Ken Clarke who - as a result of the actions of this Coalition Government - now has recourse to the statutory support of the Bribery Act.

We’re working with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Metropolitan Police, the City of London Police and the Crown Prosecution Service to hunt down money-launderers and bribe-payers that fuel corruption in developing countries. The results? 

  • more than £160 million of assets frozen
  • £20 million of stolen assets recovered by developing countries and
  • 18 more cases underway

We’re the only development department in the world to be taking such an innovative approach to fighting corruption. I’d like to see others following our lead.

The Government intends to do more - we have already announced plans for the new National Crime Agency, a powerful body of crime fighters which will make a significant contribution towards tackling economic crime, including bribery and corruption.

Taking a tough line on corruption also means cracking down on individuals who are corrupt, particularly those in positions of power and influence or who benefit from such corruption. The Government is clear that these individuals are not welcome in the UK.

Within DFID, I have personally championed a new culture of transparency, a culture that extends to those bodies which are funded by the Department.

The more open the process, the fewer the opportunities for theft and malpractice.

We can see this in Africa where the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative has led to 150 companies reporting $130 billion of payments.

Or in Ghana, where drug-testing carried out under a medicines transparency pilot allowed the government to prevent sub-standard antibiotics being sold to its people.

Be in no doubt, Britain has been right out there, leading from the front, taking the fight to those who dare to try and misuse our taxpayers’ funds. British companies have to play by the rules and we expect others to do the same.

These are just a few examples of where a co-ordinated approach across Government on a range of issues that go beyond aid is delivering real results for development.


Britain’s offer to the world

So, I turn now to my second argument: that Britain’s offer to the world and especially to the poorest doesn’t just come from government. Britain’s brilliant charities, its generous globally facing citizens and its world class researchers all play their part. In other words, Britain’s offer to the world comes from all of us. The Government’s role is to recognise, celebrate, support and catalyse this.

We only have to look back through history to see that Britain has for centuries played a more subtle role in development, by laying the scientific, legal, economic and intellectual foundations that have helped whole generations to pull themselves out of poverty. Some of the most powerful weapons in the fight against poverty came from Britain. Each started a small revolution that was to change the world:

  • the steam engine
  • the electric battery
  • Penicillin
  • the contraceptive pill
  • the world wide web

This tradition is just as vibrant and relevant today. Just four years ago, 19-year old Emily Cummins, from Keighley, West Yorkshire designed a solar-evaporation refrigerator, meaning that families and hospitals previously dependent on an unreliable electricity supply could finally store foods and medicines.

Britain didn’t just give the world the physical tools of growth. We helped to create the soft infrastructure, the ideas that allowed growth to take root and flourish:

  • The repeal of the corn laws, which paved the way for free trade and which was described by Richard Cobden as “the greatest revolution that ever happened in the world’s history”
  • The ideas of Adam Smith, now widely regarded as the founder of modern economics
  • The touchstone of human rights, Habeas Corpus, that most hard-won and cherished of principles

The point I’m making is that none of these can be characterised as being specifically about aid. Yet, each has been the catalyst that has driven growth and stability in other countries and economies.

It’s an alchemy that continues today, where everything that is best in Britain: our scientists, universities, police, courts, civil society, is being brought to bear in the fight against global poverty.

Britain’s brilliant charities and institutions

Let me dwell for a moment on what’s happening at a grassroots level in towns and villages across the country, where Britain’s brilliant charities have their roots.

When it comes to Britain’s approach to development, the Big Society agenda - the empowering of individuals and communities - is already there to be seen.

If you’re in any doubt, ask yourselves which of the following was founded here: Save the Children, Oxfam, VSO, Barnardo’s, Christian Aid, Cafod, Action Aid, WaterAid, SightSavers. The answer is, of course, all of them.

Other British organisations testify further to what Britain has to offer.

Take health.

Britain is the scene of some of the most exciting of healthcare innovations. New ideas and techniques are being developed every day and our expertise is in great demand. NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, is the envy of the world, with China, India, Brazil and South Africa all keen to draw on its expertise.

NHS Global is a new initiative that showcases some of the most exciting of those developments with a view to exporting them to other countries. Where profits are made they will be reinvested in the NHS. It’s still at an early stage of development, but already it’s enabling us to help Saudi Arabia as its government redesigns its healthcare offer.

Last year the Prime Minister also launched the Health Partnership Scheme, linking health institutions in the UK and in developing countries.

Britain’s generous, globally-facing citizens

And if you’ve travelled overseas to visit any of the projects run by these organisations you’ll have noticed just how many of the volunteer workers hail from these shores. The generosity, commitment and courage of these women and men is something of which we can all be proud.

There’s a lot going on back here in Britain too and it’s happening organically. Sponsored fun-runs, Fairtrade coffee mornings, office bake-ins, high-end receptions, the way we participate in and give to Comic Relief - more generously this year, despite tough economic times, than ever before: there is a spirit here that unites us. We want to build on that.  Let me tell you briefly now about a couple of ways in which this government is taking steps to build on the innate generosity of the British people:

First, we’ve launched the Global Poverty Action Fund that provides match-funding for organisations to pioneer trail-blazing initiatives and to make a deep and lasting impact on the lives of poor people. The Fund has already identified projects that will help more than 5 million people.

And second, earlier this year we launched UK Aid Match - a scheme that promotes and endorses the great work of our international development charities. Through UK Aid Match, the government matches, pound for pound, public donations to international causes, so giving the public a say over a portion of the aid budget. We’ve already matched Save the Children’s Born To Shine appeal, and over the next few weeks we expect to be able to match a number of Christmas campaigns.

The truth is, this country has been “doing development” for years. To anyone who’s out there playing a part, however small, I tell you this: this Government is on your side. We want to energise, to rev up, to link, to kick start those many small platoons of enterprise that are fizzing with commitment. 

Britain’s world-class scientists

The final group I want to draw attention to this evening is Britain’s world-class scientists. Britain is in the vanguard of original thought and especially scientific research on development, which every day is pushing back the frontiers on global problems - like disease - that affect poor countries and people.

Britain has more Nobel Laureates than most other countries in the world. Indeed, it was a British doctor, Sir Ronald Ross, whose work on malaria was to win him the second-ever Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1902.

It should come as no surprise then, to learn that it is British scientists who have been at the forefront of many life-changing discoveries.

Take Rinderpest, a disease that wiped out 80% of cattle in Africa from the Horn down to the Cape.

This year Rinderpest was eradicated. Eradicated. A disease that’s been around since the birth of civilisation. A disease written about in ancient Chinese scripts and Roman texts. That afflicted even Charlemagne’s cattle. A disease of historic and epic proportions. Eradicated. And eradicated largely thanks to the efforts of a British scientist, Walter Plowright, who helped to create the first effective vaccine against the virus.

The impact of Plowright’s work has been simply enormous: a very quiet revolution of which we can all be proud.

Britain has also lent its support to a worldwide effort to re-invent rice, testing new varieties that are more productive, resist the extremes of flooding and drought and which, in just three Asian countries, have already delivered staggering economic benefits of $1.46 billion a year.

What an amazing, almost incredible, annual return for a relatively modest research investment.

Or take Sleeping Sickness, for which the main treatment until recently involved arsenic. It was a painful and potentially fatal process, sometimes described by patients as “fire in the veins”. Now, a safer combination of drugs has now been developed thanks to a British-backed collaboration between the private, public and academic sectors. Without this collaboration, people would still be dying, often in the most unimaginable agony.

This Government wants to help British scientists to ramp up their efforts.

While recognising that science is by its nature unpredictable we will, amongst other things:

  • map the spread of drug-resistant malaria
  • develop an affordable meningococcal vaccine to fight meningitis
  • improve the diagnosis of TB and Malaria and
  • give small farmers the miracle of new technologies - from seeds to SIM cards

Right across the UK, our scientists and universities are working at the very cutting edge of innovation. Which brings me back to where I started in saluting the vital and world class work that the Wellcome Trust does.  Thank you once more for your warm welcome this evening.



Ladies and gentlemen, this year marks the fiftieth year since the Department of Technical Co-operation, DFID’s closest predecessor, first opened its doors. We’ve come a long way since then. But as we look to the future, immense challenges remain. In tackling them we will use every means at our disposal.

Because as I have argued tonight, when it comes to the fight against poverty Britain will always have far more to offer than Government policy, important though that is. Far more to share than aid, even though it remains the right tool in the right circumstances.

Our offer to the world is a rich tapestry of British commitment and endeavour.

My point is this: the leadership that this Coalition Government is displaying on development is just a part of the leadership that Britain as a nation has displayed for centuries. I am proud that we are playing a tiny role as part of that great tradition.

Updates to this page

Published 11 November 2011