Championing debt relief as part of Canada’s global response to COVID-19

Championing debt relief as part of Canada’s global response to COVID-19

Debt relief has been a long-standing sustainable development challenge. Calls from civil society organizations to “drop the debt” and efforts by governments to do so are not new – such as through the Heavily Indebted Poor Country initiative. Nevertheless, the impacts of COVID-19 on countries across the developing world have breathed new life into calls for debt relief. Debt servicing crowds out funds for healthcare, education, infrastructure and other essential government investments in people’s welfare. According to the One Campaign, 64 countries globally, 30 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, spend more on debt servicing than in public health.

Prior to the COVID crisis, existing debt burdens were a cause for concern. The United Nations Task Force on Financing for Sustainable Development highlighted unsustainable debt as a key risk in 2020, noting that “44 percent of least developed and other low-income developing countries are currently at high risk or in debt distress.” As one analysis of the situation in Africa shows government debt as a share of GDP grew from just under 32 percent between 2010 and 2015 to over 50% in 2020. Countries such as Cape Verde and Mozambique are recording debt levels over 100%.

In response to this reality, civil society organizations, notably through efforts spear-headed by the UK-based Jubilee Debt Campaign, called for the immediate cancellation of 69 poor countries debt payments for 2020, including to private creditors. African scholars and governments have also called for relief. Experts at the US-based think tank, The Brookings Institute, agree, arguing that there should be a “two-year standstill on all external debt repayments, both interest and principal,” including with relief for middle-income countries. Further, they note that the IMF and World Bank should be empowered during this time to undertake comprehensive debt sustainability assessments for impacted countries to inform further debt restructuring.

In response to this reality, on April 15 members of the G20 agreed to debt relief for least developed countries and other low-income countries for the remainder of 2020, which is expected to free up $US 20 billion for developing countries. What this means is that countries will not be required to make debt service payments in 2020 though their interest will continue to grow and payments will be required later – in other words, the initiative does not amount to debt cancellation. Moreover, the G20 is considering how a new issuance of Special Drawing Rights (think international reserves) by the International Monetary Fund could be made available to help countries deal with short-term liquidity constraints though no agreement was made on this front.

China has stated that it, too, supports the suspension of debt repayments but has not committed to forgiveness in the current crisis. China is a major player when it comes to borrowing in Africa. It is estimated that 20% of African government debt is owed to China. Rather than cancelling debt, China is more likely to postpone loan payments, offer debt restructuring or a debt/equity swap. For China, like other major debtors, debt cancellation or forgiveness could mean funding more debts, as it would improve African government’s debt ratio, creating opportunities for governments’ to borrow more from commercial or other creditors.

So, where does this all leave Canada? Here are three recommendations for the Government of Canada to consider.

Ensure Canada’s COVID-19 response does not create additional debt burdens

As noted by the Jubilee Debt Campaign and others, there is a need to ensure that COVID-19 related investments do not create further debt for countries tackling the crisis. Canada’s first phase of global COVID-19 response funding includes $30 million to address requests for assistance from Canada’s development partner countries. As Canada faces requests for financial and in-kind support, funds should be provided as grants rather than loans to minimize impacts on future debt burdens.

Champion debt relief beyond governments and other initiatives to provide countries with further liquidity

Canada’s track record on debt relief bodes well for championing debt relief as a critical part of the COVID-19 response. At the same time, Canada is not the largest player and the composition of developing country debt holders includes governments, multilateral financial institutions and, increasingly, commercial creditors, complicating debt relief measures. The International Monetary Fund has provided debt relief to its 25 poorest members. There is room for other multilateral institutions to follow suit. Canada can use its position across multilateral institutions to support similar debt relief initiatives. There is also an opportunity for Canada to join European counterparts calling for the allocation of Special Drawing Rights for low-income countries. Moreover, Canada could champion one proposed solution which is to transfer Special Drawing Rights from wealthier countries to low-income countries.

In addition, the World Bank has called on commercial lenders to participate in debt relief alongside bilateral donors arguing that they cannot “free ride” on the debt relief provided by others. Canada can play a role in supporting efforts to deny legal standing to cases suing Southern countries for debt repayment and supporting the World Bank’s call on commercial lenders to participate in debt relief alongside bilateral donors.

Make longer term debt restructuring a priority beyond the current crisis

The need for longer-term debt restructuring cannot be forgotten once the immediate crisis passes. As noted above, countries were already struggling under unsustainable debt burdens before the global pandemic exacerbated already fragile economic and social welfare systems. Canada has been a willing player in past debt relief initiatives as a founding member of the Paris Club (informal group of creditor countries) and participant in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. In 1999, Canada established the Canadian Debt Initiative to further forgive the debts of countries to Canada that completed the Heavily Indebted Poor Country initiative process. Beyond the immediate crisis, Canada can play a global leadership role in championing the ongoing need to support debt sustainability for developing country partners.


Shannon Kindornay is the Director of Research, Policy and Practice and Erika Richter is the ODA Campaign Coordinator at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation.

Call to localization in the time of COVID-19

Call to localization in the time of COVID-19

Now in its 100th year of service, with experience in more than 50 countries during times of calm and crisis, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has learned again and again the value of working with local partners to shape and customize programs. Standardized best practices and multilateral coordination are essential in times of complex global crisis, but they are not sufficient to ensure an effective response.

In the case of COVID-19, we are all facing the same microbe impacting the same basic human biology. On one level, this is a medical problem, with likely universal technical solutions. Highly standardized programming may seem to be the most effective and efficient approach to reach the most people.

Unfortunately, our world is too complex for one-size-fits-all approaches, even when we are all facing the same virus. A key lesson of MCC’s century of experience is that standardized responses are damaging and counterproductive if they are not balanced with deep localization of the work. When programs are imposed without local ownership, they are frequently ineffective and even resisted. When local priorities are ignored, project activities and resources are often redirected and subverted. When people’s values and culture are not respected, communities are unlikely to engage let alone change deeply ingrained behaviours.

As MCC and our local partners around the world respond to COVID-19, we are striving to to be a bridge between the global and the local, the academic and the practical, international “best practices’” and what is wanted and needed on the ground. The reality is that COVID-19 will not have the same impact around the world or between groups, and neither should it have the same response. Factors such as income level, displacement, citizenship, age, gender, social inclusion, and access to health care that made communities and individuals vulnerable before the pandemic will be there during the virus’ outbreak

While it often means smaller, more customized projects, MCC has tried to prioritize this understanding in our response to the pandemic. For example, in Mwenezi, Zimbabwe, the community asked that the COVID-19 response be built in a way that would leave the community better positioned to also deal with cholera and other waterborne diseases they struggled with before the pandemic. In Assosa and Bambasi, Ethiopia, farmers asked us to work with them and the government to develop strategies that would also protect the harvest and safeguard the gains that were so painstakingly won over years of community agriculture work. In Nikopol, Ukraine, the local priority was to protect those without homes and the frontline staff who cared for them. In Haiti, while some partners safely scaled back community-facing work, others like our sexual and gender-based violence response partner in Bomon had to sustain and expand work that was made more difficult, yet more necessary, by the pandemic.

Effective, cost efficient programming requires deep local knowledge, adaptation and ownership as well as international best practices and coordination. As Canadian NGOs, we are well positioned to be this bridge and help facilitate sustainable, contextually informed and evidence-based work around the world through our local partners. As a sector, our learnings about the importance of localization cannot be put aside in this time of crisis. It is needed now more than ever.


Photo caption: Emma Themistoc, head of MCC partner SOFA (Solidarity with Haitian Women by its in initials in Haitian Kreyol) in Beaumont, Haiti. These rural offices, called Daybreak Centers, support women who have suffered gender-based violence by accompanying them through legal and medical processes, providing microcredit, and offering psychological and social support. Emma has been a key voice advocating for sustaining and increasing this work during the pandemic, despite the increased challenges COVID-19 poses, recognizing the need to respond to increasing incidents of gender-based violence. (MCC photo/ Annalee Giesbrecht)


* This blog is the third in a new series by CCIC that showcases leadership and innovation in Canada’s international development and humanitarian sector to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keeping an eye on COVID-19: Operation Eyesight’s approach to leveraging its network in times of crisis

Keeping an eye on COVID-19: Operation Eyesight’s approach to leveraging its network in times of crisis

COVID-19 is a health crisis whose impacts will devastate economies and increase inequality around the world. In addition to concerns here at home, there is also a striking and urgent realization that health systems in developing countries are not equipped with the means necessary to cope with the current and rapidly evolving impact of the pandemic. Recent figures outline a rise in numbers of cases throughout Latin America, Africa and South Asia, and, give way to fears of subsequent waves of pandemic peaks, particularly as China battles a second resurgence in COVID-19 cases. Many of Canada’s civil society partners operate in countries around the world where health systems need support and have the ability to respond quickly and with flexibility. With partners overseas working at reduced capacity in the face of the pandemic, Canadian partners are playing a much-needed role in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and reducing the negative socio-economic impacts of the virus on communities and vulnerable populations. 


In this context, CCIC member, Operation Eyesight, is pivoting its work, that typically focuses on eye health, to leverage its network of partner hospitals around the world to support effective, community led responses to the pandemic. 


Flattening the curve 

Operation Eyesight is harnessing its relations with government and partner hospitals in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to help “flatten the curve.” Operation Eyesight, with program teams already located in partner countries around the world, is in a unique position to maintain its commitment to sustainability and empower communities on a larger scale.  On April 13th, the organization launched its COVID-19 response that will leverage local resources and expertise, easing the delivery of service for those in need. Kenyan staff are helping Kenyan citizens, working in ways that are locally grounded, and as such, effective. 

Operation Eyesight’s response is also focused on addressing the increased challenges women and girls face as the primary caretakers in most families. With good hygiene and handwashing as the first line of defence against COVID-19, Operation Eyesight continues to focus programming on clean water, safe hygiene promotion and sanitation through access to hand washing stations, soap and hygiene kits. Shortages of medical supplies are also a significant challenge – in Canada – but also in other parts of the world. Operation Eyesight is ensuring essential supplies such as sanitizers, soap and medication for eye infections remain accessible. Finally, as a novel virus that is rapidly evolving and with new research emerging daily on the impacts of and measure to prevent COVID-19, healthcare workers and frontline staff need access to the most up-to-date information at all times. Operation Eyesight has begun educating front line health workers on infection, prevention and control measures. It is also supporting the distribution of educational materials related to COVID-19 to keep front line health workers and the most vulnerable informed.  


Hospital partners have improved capacities to respond 

Operation Eyesight works with 55 partner hospitals in 6 countries to train frontline workers, nurses and community health workers on prevention, infection and control measures for Covid-19.  The organization plans to reach 600 000 individuals in Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, India, Zambia and Nepal through their health awareness and educational activities with a focus on women, girls and persons with disabilities. They are also ensuring Vision centres and hospitals are implementing strict sterilization protocols to make them COVID-19 free. 


Supporting the prevention of community transmission  

Through door-to-door distribution of health materials in local languages as well as hygiene kits, Operation Eyesight and its partners are working to prevent community transmission of the virus. In addition, they plan to install hand washing stations at water points, schools and vision centres across Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana, India and Nepal. These will not only help families in need but also serve as demonstration units for the broader community to build their own. In Zambia, they plan to rehabilitate 60 boreholes to bring a clean source of water to rural areas.  


A community health worker distributes hygiene materials in India.


Empowering communities to become leaders    

In communities across 6 countries, Operation Eyesight will provide training to over 1500 community health workers to educate communities, with a particular emphasis on women, girls and people with disabilities. Village level water, sanitation and hygiene committees will be formed to train members to adopt appropriate hand washing and social distancing practices critical for the prevention of COVID-19. This approach aims to empower communities in their own response to the pandemic and prevent hospitals and health systems from being overwhelmed.  

Canada’s international development and humanitarian sector is quickly pivoting to meet new demands. Organizations like Operation Eyesight are demonstrating Canadians’ commitment to assisting those in need around the world. Quick and determined action and shifting operations are not only helping the most vulnerable abroad but act as a symbol of Canada’s response to a challenge that is faceless and knows no borders. Canadian civil society organizations are key to the global response to COVID-19. Their ability to quickly shift gears, leverage relationships and openness embody the innovation required to address the current climate and ensure that we recover better going forward.  




*By Arianna Abdelnaiem, Research Assistant at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC). 


* This blog is the second in a new series by CCIC that showcases leadership and innovation in Canada’s international development and humanitarian sector to the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Centre of Expertise on the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse: Serving Canadian international development and humanitarian aid organizations 

Centre of Expertise on the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse: Serving Canadian international development and humanitarian aid organizations 




Contribute to organisational culture change within the Canadian International Cooperation community by providing online resources, training, and consultation services to enable organizations in the sector to adopt gender-responsive best practices to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse in their operations, with their partners, and particularly towards women and girls. 




With a focus on organizations and beneficiaries of Canadian aid, Digna seeks to meet the following objectives:  

  1. Help the Canadian international development and humanitarian sector’s organisations to improve their ability to prevent and address sexual exploitation and abuse within their organizations and towards their beneficiaries, particularly women and girls.   
  2. Raise awareness of gender-responsive good practices to prevent and address sexual exploitation and abuse; and  
  3. Increase the access to and the use of gender-responsive resources to prevent and address sexual exploitation and abuse. 

We encourage and want to support organisations of the sector to commit to PSEA in several ways, including through signing the CCIC Leaders Pledge on Preventing and Addressing Sexual Misconduct, through adherence to international guidelines, and ongoing efforts to adopt good practices that inform policies, procedures and partnerships.  








What's in a name?

The word “Digna” is Latin for “worthy.  Digna supports the Canadian international development and humanitarian sector to be worthy of the trust placed in them by Canadian citizens, by our Government and by millions of beneficiaries of Canadian official development assistance around the world.

The Canadian sector is diverse, including organizations of all sizes – from small groups operating on the commitment of just one or two volunteers, to large registered charities with multiple offices and hundreds of employees. It has groups that focus on a single health clinic, school, or orphanage, to multiple-disciplinary development agencies supporting multiple development goals in complex systems and rapid response humanitarian organizations.

Digna’s logo seeks to represent this diversity in the variety of sizes and colours of circles, grouped in a wider circle to evoke movement and synergy, with one space left open – a placeholder for those still to join, an opening for influence beyond our nation and our sector and an acknowledgement that the work is never complete.  

We strive to be worthy; to be Digna! 




In April of 2018, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC) invited representatives of its diverse membership to form a Steering Committee on the Prevention of and Response to Sexual Misconduct. In its first meetings, the Steering Committee defined its mandate to include supporting the broader development and humanitarian sector in the identification and implementation of best practices and the securing of resources to maintain this work.  

In the following months, the Steering Committee authored the “Leaders Pledge  and secured the commitment of more than 100 organizational CEOs to promoting cultures of PSEA within their organizations. It also strengthened connections between the civil society organizations represented by CCIC and the working group on preventing sexual exploitation within Global Affairs Canada. 

In the spring of 2019, CCIC submitted a proposal to Global Affairs Canada, on behalf of and in collaboration with the Steering Committee, to partner in developing a resource centre to facilitate PSEA coordination across the sector. With the support of Global Affairs Canada, CCIC began the work of developing Digna in the fall of 2019. 



Open Letter

To learn simple steps to PSEA, we invite you to read this open letter that Brigitte Demers, Digna’s former manager, has addressed to the organizations of the international humanitarian and development assistance sector of Canada.




More resources available here soon.

Global Affairs Canada Funding

Digna is made possible through the generous financial support of the Government of Canada. 






Call for nominations to the CCIC Board of Directors

Call for nominations to the CCIC Board of Directors

CCIC’s Board is composed of 14 Directors, elected to represent the diversity of our membership. At our AGM in June, members will be called upon to renew the mandates of some directors which seek re-election at the end of their two-year mandate. In addition, following the resignation of one director, members will also be asked to elect a new member of the Board.  In preparation, a call for nominations is now open and members are invited to submit the nomination of candidates by completing and returning this form by May 8 to Mona Murango at


In preparation for this call for nominations, the CCIC Board Governance, Nominations and HR Committee has reviewed the present Board composition and our Board diversity policy. While overall Board diversity is strong and reflective of membership-wide diversity, the Committee nonetheless wishes to share some areas where it feels additional representation would be welcome. Nominations which present one or more of the following characteristics would help to round out Board diversity even further.


  • Bilingualism in Canada’s two official languages
  • Youth
  • First Nations
  • Global South / Cultural Diversity
  • Faith community affiliation
  • Labour movement affiliation
  • Prairie provinces representation


The characteristics above are not requirements for nominations and it is acknowledged it would be highly unlikely for any one candidate to tick all of these boxes. These are provided only as a guide and to encourage nominations which may assist in further expanding the diversity of voices on the CCIC Board.

Save the Children’s COVID-19 learning pathway: Resources for everyone and anyone

Save the Children’s COVID-19 learning pathway: Resources for everyone and anyone

Canada’s international cooperation sector, like others, is part of the frontline response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Daily operations are changing. Events have been cancelled. Schools, businesses and government buildings are closed unless essential. Physical distancing is a part of our functioning and the main tool to help control the spread of the virus. And as we all adapt to this new reality, Canada’s international development and humanitarian sector is innovating to support local communities in Canada and abroad, to hold fast hard won sustainable development gains and help Canada and the world emerge stronger, more connected and resilient than ever.   


At the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, we are committed to sharing stories of solidarity and innovation as Canada’s international development and humanitarian sector responds to the crisis. The first in this series, we are excited to share four ways our member Save the Children is supporting the most vulnerable communities here at home and communities abroad. 


  1. An action agenda to protect hard won gains for children 

The organization’s 5 point Agenda for Action to Protect a Generation from COVID-19 seeks to encourage Canada to come together with the international community at-large in global solidarity to deliver the following actions to protect a generation of children’s rights: 


  • Disease containment and mitigation 
  • Global financing 
  • Support for family finances 
  • Education and learning 
  • Children’s safety and protection 


  1. Adapting to new realities

In response to COVID-19, the organization has quickly developed a COVID-19 Program Adaptation Framework and Guidance tool, in order to provide a steer guidance for its 120 Country Offices to  identify appropriate adaptations based on context and phasing of the crisis ((Preparedness, Initial Response, Large-scale response, Recovery), recognizing that communities and programs will move through different phases at different times and through different waves of an outbreak throughout an entire 12 – 18 month (or more) period. .  The guide can also be used by other CSOs or national responders.  This effort is meant to guide Save the Children Country Offices to help to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and to the extent possible, preserve children’s rights to survive, learn and be protected.  


  1. Helping to keep children’s education on track

In an effort to fight COVID-19, schools across Canada have closed to control the spread of the virus. Valuable instruction and learning time for children is being lost as a result. Save the Children’s commitment to helping children and families in uncertain times is no different in the context of this pandemic. The organization has developed highly accessible and innovative resources to support and keep children’s health, mental well being and learning on track during this time, and beyond. Resources include a how-to talk to children about coronavirus, suggestions for relaxation and family learning activities, tips on incorporating reading, math and numeracy skills in daily routines, and even tips for grandparents staying connected to grandchildren during separation. 


  1. Educating diverse stakeholders on COVID-19

In collaboration with Humanitarian Leadership Academy, Save the Children has also set up a COVID-19 learning pathway, on Kaya, a global learning platform. This resource focuses on capacity strengthening of its audience through up to date tools, resources, training and educational videos that enable quick, informed and efficient responses to COVID-19 for the international development and humanitarian sectors, and beyond. The pathway contains e-learning programmes for support to humanitarian responses, soft skills and remote working capacity strengthening, a library of downloadable resources related to work and operations in the context of a pandemic, and key sector guidelines and policies, to name a few. Resources, courses and videos cover a range of critical topics such as public health, child protection, education, gender, leadership and management, wellbeing and resilience. The user-friendly platform, accessible on mobile, computer and in a variety of languages, is tailored for just about anyone seeking to improve their skills and knowledge to better prepare and respond to crises overall, not just COVID-19. Since its launch in mid-March, the platform has been accessed by over 3000 people from partners all over Canada. 


Like other members of our sector, Save the Children is showing its commitment to innovate and support families and children during times of uncertainty – whether it be in the field or through online learning opportunities such as COVID-19 learning pathway.  Confined to our homes, Save the Children is harnessing e-learning to make the most of this difficult time through platforms accessible to all.  


This is the kind of leadership and innovation that Canadians have come to expect from Canada’s international cooperation community. In the coming weeks, CCIC will showcase the stories of solidarity, resilience and innovation from our sector. We may be physically distant, but our members are more connected than ever in their efforts to combat the impacts of our shared global challenge with strength, humility and grace.  




*By Arianna Abdelnaiem, Research Assistant at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC). 


* This blog is the first in a new series by CCIC that showcases leadership and innovation in Canada’s international development and humanitarian sector to the COVID-19 pandemic.