International development: Ministerial speech

Lecture titled "Our long-term vision for international development in the post-COVID era" delivered by International Development Minister Neil Gray to an audience at Strathclyde University, Glasgow on 2 March 2023.

As we come together this evening, it is at a time that there is perhaps more unrest and uncertainty globally than ever before.

Last Thursday, I led a debate in the Scottish Parliament marking the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It was an opportunity for the Parliament to express its solidarity with the people of Ukraine. An opportunity to stand together, to reflect and remember those impacted by the events of the last year.

Illegal wars, such as Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine are a reminder to us that we must continue to stand for human rights, for democracy and for the rule of law.

I am proud that the people of Scotland have, alongside the Scottish Government, stood up in support of the people of Ukraine, offering both moral and practical support over the last 12 months.

For our part, during last Thursday’s debate, I announced to the Parliament that the Scottish Government would provide a further £1 million contribution in humanitarian support for the people of Ukraine. Adding to the £4 million in financial aid and the £3 million worth of medical supplies we committed at this time last year. It is important that we continue to show that solidarity, globally.

However, I am equally very mindful that the humanitarian impact from the Russian invasion of Ukraine is being felt far beyond Ukraine and its borders, indeed far beyond Europe.

Global attention continues, rightly, to be on Ukraine.

But we should not, we cannot, forget the other - often hidden - humanitarian crises which continue to wreak havoc on peoples’ lives. Every day, people around the world suffer from natural and man-made humanitarian disasters – caused by earthquakes, climate change, drought, pandemics and conflict. Just in recent times we remember Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Burkina Faso and the Horn of Africa, to name just a few.

Just as we have stood in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, the Scottish Government has continued to step up when humanitarian crises impact on other countries. To ensure Scotland plays its part in any requests for assistance. To support this, we continue to commit £1 million per annum to our Humanitarian Emergency Fund, through which we provide contributions not only to high profile Appeals by the Disasters Emergency Committee, but also to these lesser known humanitarian crises.

The Horn of Africa is one of those hidden, or forgotten, humanitarian crises, and one that is affected by lack of water, by drought. We know, for example, that it is facing one of its most severe episodes of drought in decades, with the driest conditions seen in over 40 years. The impact on food supplies has been made worse by global grain supply disruption as a result of the war in Ukraine.

Last summer, the Scottish Government provided £250,000 from our Humanitarian Emergency Fund for charities helping deal with food insecurity in the Horn of Africa.  Since then, the fifth consecutive rain has under-performed and the forecast for the March-May 2023 rainy season indicates below-average precipitation further exacerbating the situation. This is a situation that we are actively discussing with the Humanitarian Emergency Panel.  

We also recognise, however, that basic human rights are increasingly under attack outwith humanitarian situations. We hear too, from organisations like Amnesty International, of the unprecedented surge in attacks against those who protect and promote human rights in their own countries. In countries such as Afghanistan, human rights defenders stand against the horrific persecution and violence faced by women, and by ethnic minorities.

In light of that, the Scottish Government is also proud to fund a Scottish Human Rights Defender Fellowship Programme. This programme offers Human Rights Defenders working in difficult conditions temporary respite and an opportunity to undertake research, develop skills and build networks through visits to Scotland.

This programme sits squarely with our commitment that I spoke to earlier - to international solidarity, of embedding a human rights approach in all our work, and of speaking out with clarity of purpose and compassion, in support of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.  

The global challenges which we face today – climate change, pandemics, conflict – serve as a reminder to all of us of our global interconnectedness. That what happens in the Global North also affects the Global South and vice versa. That we must work together in facing these global challenges. That global solidarity is key to realising all our human rights.

Human rights of course lie at the very core of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and thus the UN Sustainable Development Goals which came into force in January 2016. They foresaw a world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination; of respect for race, sex, ethnicity and cultural diversity; and of equal opportunity; a just, equitable, tolerant, open and socially inclusive world in which the needs of the most vulnerable are met.

We are now halfway towards that 2030 timeline set by the UN for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals globally.

With that timeline in mind, the Scottish Government’s own contribution internationally, through our enduring relationships with our partner countries – Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia and Pakistan – and our development investment in those countries – remains vital.

I therefore want to say a huge thank you to Professor Sir Jim McDonald. Firstly, for the invitation to speak this evening in Strathclyde University’s series on “Perspectives on International Development. For the opportunity to set out “Our long-term vision for international development in the post-COVID era.”  But also, for your very warm welcome to Strathclyde’s Centre for Sustainable Development.

Thanks too to Dr Tracy Morse for her kind remarks in introducing me. As Sir Jim has said, I know she spent many years living and working in Malawi until very recently, playing her part in creating and sustaining important health partnerships between Scotland and Malawi.

I should also like to give a special mention to another long-standing friend of the Scottish Government here this evening, that Sir Jim has already referenced, Professor Andrew Goudie, Co-Director for the Centre for Sustainable Development. As many of you here will know, Andrew was the Scottish Government’s Chief Economic Adviser in 2005, when the Government’s formal relationship with Malawi was first developed, and an initial Fund for international development work agreed. No mean feat, given the fact that we’re operating at the margins of the devolution settlement.

From that original Co-Operation Agreement between the Scottish Government and the Government of Malawi signed in November 2005, the Scottish Government’s International Development Fund was established. With its initial focus on Malawi.

Our international development programme has of course evolved significantly since its inception 2005 – and I’ll be speaking about that this evening. But it is testament to that strong relationship between the two countries, between our peoples, that Andrew is just one of the many citizens in Scotland, and many of these colleagues around the room this evening, who remain supportive of and engaged with that the Scotland-Malawi relationship to this day, that I am incredibly proud of.

In that regard, I was also interested to learn that Strathclyde University’s “Malawi Millennium Project” led directly to the “birth” of the Scotland Malawi Partnership in 2004. One of the civil society networking organisations which the Scottish Government continues to core fund, and part of our wider support for civil society in Scotland to engage in global citizenship. Something that is important to me, that has been very helpful to me in the last year.

It’s great too to see such a diverse audience here this evening, from civil society organisations, and from Strathclyde University itself, including its students.

Those of you who are students here are of course following in the footsteps, as Sir Jim has set out, of your famous former alumni, including Dr David Livingstone himself who attended classes at what was then called “Anderson’s University” – Strathclyde’s predecessor and founding university.  Dr Livingstone first gained his diploma from the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 1840.

It is believed that what then changed the course of his life, essentially to become one of Scotland’s earliest and most famous explorers - a “global citizen” - was meeting the well-known anti-slavery campaigner Reverend Ralph Wardlaw. This at a time when the UK had just abolished slavery in most British Colonies, legally at least.

As we know, this meeting ultimately led to Dr Livingstone setting out for Africa, with an anti-slavery agenda firmly embedded in his psyche. His anti-slavery stance saw him look for opportunities for commerce in Sub-Saharan Africa with the intent that these would end the East African Slave Trade.

Today, the newly revamped David Livingstone Museum in Blantyre uses his campaign against the East African Slave Trade as a springboard for the next generation of global citizens - our young people. To explore and discuss Scotland’s own history and role in slavery, and the ongoing impact of colonialism today, as well as modern day global issues such as the climate emergency and our personal responsibility to the planet.

This year, on 1st May, we mark the 150th anniversary of Livingstone’s death, at Chief Chitambo’s Village, where Livingstone’s heart was buried at his request. This village lies within what is now Central Province in present day Zambia, the Province where the Scottish Government’s international development investment in Zambia is principally focused.  Dr Livingstone remains perhaps Scotland’s most famous explorer, as well known in Malawi and Zambia today as he is in Scotland.

As a physician and explorer, the links that he created with Malawi, Zambia and Botswana also remain live to this day. And can be said to have formed the historical basis for Scotland’s unique links to these countries – something that is evident from the Scottish Government’s own international development programme, where both Malawi and Zambia form two of our four partner countries, along with Rwanda and Pakistan.

However, just as the Livingstone Centre itself is considering the issues around Livingstone’s legacy, so we too must be cognisant of the historical basis for the connections with our partner countries, of our colonial history in particular.  Our shared history requires a thoughtful approach to our future relationship, and perhaps some uncomfortable conversations at times, as we strive to ensure our partnerships are indeed equal.

My talk this evening is titled “Our Long-term Vision for International Development in the post-COVID era”.

Our Vision within international development, set out in 2016 and reaffirmed in our 2021 Review, is that:

through embedding the UN Global Goals, Scotland will contribute to sustainable development and the fight against poverty, injustice and inequality internationally”.

Our new Principles, a key outcome of our Review, also emphasise our overarching ethos for our international development work. That:

“International Solidarity in an interdependent world means embedding a human rights approach in all our work. We speak out with clarity of purpose and compassion, in support of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

That commitment to international solidarity in terms of our international development investment has always been - will continue to be - based on a partnership approach.

Our big shift has been to our new Principles. Where we listened to the voices of the Global South, looked at the great work we had already achieved and looked to learn lessons from our partners. From this, we developed the key areas which I will look to discuss.

These Principles have been agreed across all Cabinet Secretary areas in Scottish Government, and will be guiding all of our international development work. They are:

  • partner country led development
  • equality
  • amplifying global-south voices
  • inclusion and diversity
  • collaboration and partnerships
  • being innovative, adapting and sustainable
  • embracing technology, and
  • being accountable, transparent and safe -  to local communities and to the general public in our partner countries and in Scotland.

At its core for us across this is equality, we want to put the Global South in the driving seat of our policy-making, programming, defining our strategies, shaping project delivery and wherever possible implementing with us. This is a major pivot and is a journey that we are still in the midst of.

These Principles sit alongside, and work with the commitment to take a  feminist approach which we will mainstream in our spending. And to pursue an “equalising power” agenda with our partner countries. Equalising power is also referred to as “Shifting the Power”, and is a movement, driven by the Global South, that calls on us all to adopt new behaviours and work approaches to international development, shifting both power and resources, to promote more equitable development that is people-led.

A key part of this commitment we have made on equalising power with our partner countries, and one that has been lauded by UN Women in Malawi as a “world first”, has been our establishment of a Global South Panel.  The Panel, which has now been meeting monthly for almost 6 months, enables the Scottish Government to access a wider and more diverse range of voices and experience. We are able to test our approach and programming with the Panel, on a continuing basis, beyond our Review.

In designing our new programmes, we are therefore guided by these three underpinning approaches – our new Principles, of taking a feminist approach, and of pursuing an equalising power agenda . Together, they ensure that we embed a human rights approach to our programming.

Let me now set out the new shape of our programme.

Firstly, on financing our new programmes - we are growing our spend:

  • we have set out our commitment to start to increase the International Development Fund to £15 million per annum in this Parliament, so to 2026 – we have already started that incremental process, with an increase from £10 million to £11.5 million;
  • we have also committed to maintain our separate £1 million per annum Humanitarian Emergency Fund;


  • our Climate Justice Fund is also increasing across the Parliament, trebled to £36 million over this parliamentary term, with innovative funding for Loss and Damage a key part of that. A world leading element of our work.

Secondly, on the geographic focus of our international development fund spend, I can confirm that the Scottish Government remains committed to our existing partner countries, in line with our 2016 Strategy. Therefore:

  • Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda will continue to form our sub-Saharan African project base, with an increased focus on support for south-south cooperation and knowledge sharing,
  • in Pakistan, we will maintain our ongoing focus on support for equalities, through a programme of inclusive education for women and girls,
  • and we will also maintain our multi-country humanitarian approach, through our Humanitarian Emergency Fund.

Thirdly, the future sectoral focus and shaping of our International Development Fund investment.  It is here that you will start to see some changes in our programming as we move in to the next financial year 2023/24, from April, and we implement the outcomes of our COVID Review.

Following discussion with our partner countries during the review period, the key thematic priorities for our investment in Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda are evolving to fit with their immediate priorities. In particular to mitigate the impact on women and girls of the COVID pandemic, and reduce attainment gaps.  A key consideration for us has been where we can provide financial investment, but where Scotland can provide added value through existing expertise in relevant subject areas.

We are therefore designing new programmes which will see a much heavier focus on investment on health and inclusive education.

One of our key new largescale health programmes will focus specifically on non-communicable diseases - NCDs. Globally NCDs are the leading cause of death and disability, killing around 41 million people each year. Indeed, many countries are facing a ‘double burden’ with increasing rates of NCDs coupled with ongoing high mortality from infectious disease. NCDs are inextricably linked to poverty, and amongst the poorest billion, more people under 40 are dying from NCDs, than HIV, tuberculosis and maternal deaths combined

The challenge of NCDs in low-and middle-income countries including Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia is well recognised, but remains critically underfunded. It is also an area in which Scotland has particular skills and expertise to share.

We are also committing funding for a new Health Partnership Programme, drawing on expertise and best practice from across NHS Scotland and supporting NHS Scotland Global Citizenship. Our intention is that this new funded Programme will create opportunities for high quality and effective global health partnerships, with reciprocal learning and mutual benefits between Scotland and our African partner countries.

A new inclusive education programme is also under design at present, considering educational needs for girls and other marginalised students, where inclusion has been  negatively impacted due to the pandemic. And considering again how Scotland can best add value for our partner countries in this space.

We are also working on new Equalities programming. We will continue to invest in the innovative existing Police Scotland partnerships with the Police Services of Malawi and Zambia, which is focussed on specialist training for the protection of vulnerable groups including women and girls. And, we are establishing a new Women and Girls Fund.

That new Fund will be facilitated through a novel participatory approach, where womens’ rights groups in our partner countries will design what the Fund itself will be used for. This means that the voices of those with lived experience will be at the heart of the programme design. Funding via grants will then be direct to small civil society organisations in our African partner countries. We are currently working to contract a delivery partner to oversee the design and management of this new fund.

Also of keen interest to civil society organisations has been our announcement of new funding streams to support Global Citizenship. In addition to our ongoing core funding to networking organisations, we have been co-designing a new Fund for smaller CSOs in Scotland, Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda to access grants in areas such as institutional capacity strengthening. And through this new fund, we are also now offering direct funding to small CSOs in our partner countries, as part of our commitment to shift power South.

We shall announce further information on all these programmes in the coming months.

Our aim is for our new and bigger programmes, supporting our partner countries on health, education, equalities, renewable energy, water, and global citizenship, underpinned by and guided by our new approach, will ensure more strategic design and better implementation. And ultimately that means better and more sustainable outcomes from our investment for our partner countries as well.

Having talked about our new programming for our International Development Fund, I also wanted to say a few words about our Climate Justice Fund, and financing for Loss and Damage in particular. Although this sits in my colleague Mairi McAllan’s Ministerial portfolio, our climate justice work is also a very important part of the Scottish Government’s international development spend and contribution. I know too that it will be of keen interest to many here this evening.

Recent innovative initiatives by the Scottish Government in international development policy, such as our new Global South Panel, and action to address Loss and Damage as part of Climate Justice, have shown the positive impact that Scotland can make on global human rights issues.

At COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland became the first Global North country to acknowledge its moral responsibility to address Loss and Damage as an issue of climate justice. Our First Minister pledged a world first - £2 million of government finance to support practical action in some of the world’s most climate vulnerable countries.  

That pledge from the Scottish Government was joined by other Governments, including the regional Government of Wallonia and the Danish Government, of further funding to tackle loss and damage.  We then followed this at COP27 in Egypt with a further £5 million, focused on Non-Economic Loss and Damage.

In a recent interview published by the BBC just last week, Malawi’s President Chakwera said that the Scottish Government’s Loss and Damage Fund should be seen as countries taking responsibility for climate change together. And stated his belief that vulnerable countries like Malawi would feel better supported if the Scottish model was replicated by other countries. President Chakwera said:

"This fight belongs to all of us and I believe that this example will serve as a prototype of what could happen."

This evidences the global leadership role that Scotland can forge, even with small amounts of funding compared to larger donors – where the approach that we take has human rights at the heart of all that we do.

Therefore, as we move forward and our International Development Fund and Climate Justice Fund programmes evolve, we are building on many successful initiatives to date that have already contributed to positive development outcomes in our partner countries.

Citing just a few of these in recent years, with their focus of contributing to the achievement of the SDGs:

In terms of partnerships with universities, through our international development funding:

  • we have built a strong partnership with Strathclyde University over many years - our investment in your renewable energy expertise and partnerships with local Malawian organisations has enabled improvements in rural energy access in Malawi – supporting SDG7, clean and affordable energy.

      Through this partnership, last year, we launched a new Global Renewables Centre, as Sir Jim referenced, sited here in Strathclyde with that same university team. This new Centre will provide a hub for facilitating knowledge exchange on renewables with our partner countries, Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda and the Scottish Renewables Sector.    

  • we have also supported over many years the partnership between Glasgow University and Kamuzu University of Health sciences in Malawi, centred around health – SDG3.

      One key investment in that partnership has seen the establishment of  a state of the art, fully internationally accredited, clinical research facility focused on non-communicable diseases in Malawi. Known as the “Blantyre-Blantyre research laboratory”, this lab will allow researchers to compare the causes of poor health and low life expectancy in both Blantyre, Scotland and Blantyre, Malawi. The Blantyre-Blantyre project has been specially highlighted in a European Commission’s Africa Europe Innovation Partnership report as an exemplar of best practice between Africa & European institutions.

In terms of our investment in partnerships with civil society organisations and multilateral organisations through our International Development Fund, we have recently supported:

  • improved health and sanitation in vulnerable communities and schools of the Southern Province of Rwanda through our partnership with Wateraid and Scottish Water;
  • equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, and strengthening of health systems, in Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia during the pandemic - through a strategic new partnership with UNICEF,


  • supported health outcomes in Zambia through projects run by disability charities like CBM for community hearing care and rehabilitation of disabling hearing loss.

Again, on equalities, through our Pakistan programme we have provided international development funding since 2013 to create a scholarships programme for women and girls - partnering with the British Council in support of SDGs 4 and 5 (quality education and gender equality). Our “Scotland Pakistan Scholarships for Young Women and Girls” fund graduate studies for Pakistani women, as well as providing underprivileged young girls at secondary school level with scholarships. This ensures their education is not hindered due to financial constraints – an issue faced by a majority of the girls in Pakistan. And our virtual visit I took part in online, you can see the demonstrable impact that support has had on young women and girls in Pakistan. A really heart-warming virtual visit that I was able to take part in.

On water, for over a decade there has been a water policy partnership between Water Division officials in the Scottish Government and their counterparts in the Malawian Government.  Our two Governments have worked closely together, sharing knowledge on water governance, legislation and institutional co-operation. In support of SDG6, clean water and sanitation.

That innovative partnership between our Government Water Departments has led to a co-delivered, large scale data collection exercise. This in turn has helped create a database of location and condition and functionality of Malawi’s rural water infrastructure to complement the urban water companies data. Building on that a great deal of capacity building across all tiers of Government and institutions is supporting enhanced planning and management of water resources in Malawi.

Scottish colleagues from SEPA and JHI are in Malawi right now working with the new Malawi Environment Protection agency and the National Water Resources Authority to build capacity, support regulatory and licensing design work as those agencies move more into operational mode. A real sharing and mutual support approach, learning from each other and supporting better global water governance, to protect the vital resource that is water in an ever changing global climate.

What then to conclude is our overall vision as our approach to International Development continues to evolve, in response to global challenges and in response to asks of us by our partner countries?

As we pursue the approach that I have described, and with new programming coming on-stream over the next year, both through our International Development Fund and our Climate Justice Fund. In recent years we have seen that smaller countries like Scotland can, overall, have a disproportionally positive impact on global issues, where there is that will and strength of leadership to do so.

Firstly, in terms of our development investment, what we are aiming for is that our funding, modest though it is, comparatively is, can create transformative impact in our partner countries.

Continuing to work in partnership, but focusing our budget and portfolio appropriately will lend itself to that - and will also meet the clear asks of our partner countries during our Review.

Selecting sectors in which Scotland can provide added value beyond our financial contribution, through sharing our knowledge and expertise in areas such as health, inclusive education, equalities, renewables and water.

Taking a feminist approach to our programming, and mainstreaming gender equality throughout our new Programmes, will ensure that we design interventions to have a positive impact on gender equality and the empowerment and rights of women and girls.

Secondly, I continue to believe that Scotland has a key role in providing ethical leadership on global issues such as equality, non-discrimination, human dignity, rule of law, sustainable development, climate justice and fair trade – underpinned by a human rights approach. Through this Scotland will continue to support and contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its aim of catalysing meaningful, transformative change and social justice.

Thirdly, Scotland has a proven role as a bridge builder between the Global South and North – including supporting and encouraging advocacy by, and in support of, the global south. That was clear at COP26, and equally is clear on issues such as vaccine equity.

Fourthly, and linked to that last point, the importance of supporting global citizenship in Scotland itself remains a key part of our vision and commitment on international development.

In my opening remarks I referred to the largescale global challenges that we have faced and continue to face at this time - the climate emergency, the global pandemic, and to ongoing humanitarian crises. All of these have highlighted the need for international solidarity when tackling global issues.

For the Scottish Government itself, this year marks 18 years since the start of our programme, and the original formal Cooperation Agreement with the Malawi Government. I should say I was reminded that the traditional gift or symbol for an 18th wedding anniversary is porcelain – “Elegant yet delicate, porcelain symbolizes the care put into marriage to keep it going strong for 18 years”. There is certainly an analogy in there of the care that has been put into our international development relationships, by so many, to keep them going strong.

In concluding tonight’s Guest Lecture, I would like to thank each and every person in Scotland who works tirelessly towards that better world. For our part, the Scottish Government will also continue to ensure that Scotland values global solidarity and acts as a compassionate global citizen.  

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