top of page

Development Assistance Programmes…and Peace


How much do the institutions of Development contribute to Peace? Higher GNP means more funds are available for arms: longer life span and lower infant mortality have led to burgeoning populations and bitter, even deadly battles over land and water - and huge economic refugee outflows: empowered women benefitting from microfinance are too often at greater risk of family violence…and so it goes.

Can we create ‘global goods’ differently in order to avoid ‘global bads’? I doubt it. Violence is as old as humanity. When I visit museums around the world looking at what we can find out about antecedent civilizations long past, I am always impressed and depressed with two constants: weapons, and jewelry adornments. This is the way we are: focused on status and on weapons to maintain status - and battle with difference.

And I think that’s the clue: - how can we empower people to understand that they have decision power, to understand the difference does not automatically entail strife. Your status does not detract from mine.

Three flashbacks from my days as CIDA President:

A visit to an evening literacy class in West Africa – mostly but not entirely women, all have done a hard day’s work. As always, I have huge difficulty controlling tears as I listen to adults go over the basics of alphabet and then talk about WHY they need to know: to market; to read street signs; to know if they are cheated.

What a world that something so basic is not available to all. How can they enter a world of choice, understanding, and empathy for the world around their borders without being able to hear the views of others? Not that illiterate cannot: It’s just harder; maybe telephones help.

(I cannot but recall that as I listened and struggled with emotions, the woman behind me was methodically breaking each wing bone of the chicken under her arm to keep it from flying away…paradoxes tumble out. I flinch with each bone break, and gulp with each testimony.)

Lewis Perinbam calls by my office to ask if CIDA could partner with the Agha Khan Foundation and actually support their development efforts. Never been done before: Canadian support to a foreign, religious, Islamic entity run by a multi-millionaire with race horses doing goodness know what in goodness knows where? We did it. The results have been fantastic: schools, hospitals, employment - and a wonderful program to bring nurses out of darkness of ‘not nice women’ into a whole new world of being independent helpers - and greatly improving the health system. (If Canada has an instinctive reaction to disbelieve the worst of Islam, it is this program, the “Little Mosque”, Ismaili-Canadian citizens, and…and…and…I hope it is still going on.)

And finally: in Sri Lanka, beloved country of my first posting, as President I have been helicoptered in to meet with a Canadian engineering firm working to situate and build a dam for dry season irrigation of very poor migrants from the south. The Chief tells me they have used computers, satellites, the best new geological and soil analysis, to decide on the spot. He leans down and pulls out a fragment of a brick, hands it to me and smiles: this spot was chosen 2000 years ago for the first attempt to make a dam for the same purpose. I still have the brick. Humility is perhaps the foundation stone of Peace.


By: Margaret Catley-Carlson; President CIDA 1983-1989; President Population Council 1993 -1999: Deputy DG UNICEF 1981-83; Chair Global Water Partnership 2001-2010


Editors’ note: The e-mail accompanying the author’s story submission was signed “Maggie (over Greenland)”, because it was written and sent en route to a meeting.

A separate message followed: “It is pitch black on the plane – all are asleep. My computer is still awake and a guy walks by – the print is large. He turns around and says, “Excuse me, this is so rude but your print is large and your screen is bright and I saw ‘Aga Khan’ and ‘AKF’ and I thought “this cannot be”. He’s a dentist from Calgary, who is a member of AKF, has organized for them and been a longtime supporter. He was so surprised to see these words on a screen aboard a dark airplane – I was delighted to have one more example of a world that strives together, and in the same direction!”

bottom of page