IDRC cuts regional offices and ends innovation programme

Women have been among the beneficiaries of the Innovation for Inclusive Development Programme Copyright: Flickr/Gates Foundation

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Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) has announced that it is closing two of its six regional offices, and terminating support for its "Innovation for Inclusive Development" programme, as it seeks to absorb an 11 per cent cut in its annual budget.

The cuts, in an organisation that is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading champions of research for development, form part of an overall reduction of Can$4 billion a year in public spending over the next five years which was announced by the Conservative government at the end of last month.

The government argues that the cuts which will lead to a 7.6 per cent decline in foreign aid over the next three years are needed to rein in Canada’s budget deficit. But it has decided to exempt contributions to international finance organisations such as the World Bank.

Heaviest hit in proportional terms by the reduction in the aid budget will be the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), whose budget will be slashed by Can$319.2 million by 2015.

The IDRC’s budget will be cut by just under Can$23 million in the 2012/13 budget year, out of its previous Parliamentary allocation of Can$207.4 million.

In deciding where the cuts will fall, the IDRC says in a statement on its website that it has followed a number of principles, including aligning itself with the government’s international development priorities, and protecting programming "as much as possible".

The IDRC says it will consolidate its presence in Asia into one office in New Delhi, India, and in Sub-Saharan Africa into its Nairobi office. Both offices will, however, be expanded to maintain their monitoring and networking functions in the regions.

Regional offices that will be closed are the West and Central African office in Senegal, which coordinates the organisation’s work in 24 countries with support to nearly 100 institutions, and the Southeast and East Asia office in Singapore, which covers 12 countries in the region.

In announcing the changes, the IDRC stressed that it would continue to honour existing external partnerships, and that all current grants including those in programmes and regions most affected by these changes would be maintained. 

Nevertheless the government’s decision to cut the aid budget has been widely criticised by Canadian organisations that are active in technical assistance projects.

George Roter, founder and chief executive officer of the Canadian branch of the international organisation Engineers Without Borders, said in a statement that his organisation was "disappointed that the government has cut aid at a time when there is growing evidence that aid works and is a cost-effective investment".

Paul Dufour, a former IDRC official who works as a consultant on science and international affairs, said that at a time when the Conservative government had described its 2012/13 budget as being strong on innovation, "it is unfortunate to see that this has not translated to protecting and enhancing IDRC’s own innovation programme".

"Rather, its closure, along with the elimination of IDRC’s global presence in key regions of the developing world, will seriously compromise IDRC’s long-standing legacy in support of research and innovation," Dufour told SciDev.Net.

Editorial note: The IDRC is one of the donor organisations that support SciDev.Net.