Department for International Development

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The UK Department for International Development (DfID) was set up in May 1997 by the incoming Labour government. Headed by a cabinet minister, it made fighting world poverty its top priority. Previously the aid programme was managed by the Overseas Development Administration (ODA), a wing of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. According to DFID, this move 'marked a turning point for Britain’s aid programme, which until then had mainly involved economic development'. [1]

CDC, formerly the Commonwealth Development Corporation, is the private equity arm of DfID.

Support for privatisation

UK aid money, managed by DfID, is increasingly being used to promote the privatisation of basic services, such as education and health, in developing countries. It does this by:

  • funding and supporting private companies wanting to access these new markets;
  • engaging in 'market builing' activities;
  • encouraging developing country governments to improve the climate for private investment from the UK and elsewhere.

DfID's belief in the private provision of public services is outlined in a 2012 'operation plan', which describes the private sector as both a 'generator of wealth' and a 'provider of critical basic services'.[2]

Promoting UK commercial interests

Promoting UK commercial interests is a central part of the UK Government‟s foreign policy.

While DFID says it is not able to use staff time or financial resources to promote UK commercial interests, it will 'help sign-post business to partners, facilities and other Government Departments that may be of assistance'.[3]

Private sector involvement in policy

DfID explicitly states that it is involving private companies in 'directly shaping and implementing development programmes and policy.'[4]

Private Sector Department

DfID's Private Sector Department 'provides a hub' for DFID‟s engagement with the private sector. It's job is to:

  • act as a 'thought leader';
  • provide technical expertise and information;
  • strengthen DFID‟s capability to work with the private sector.

It says it 'aims to spend more than half of its time working with private sector and other external partners, as well as other parts of DFID, to accomplish development results.' It is involved in UK centrally-funded programmes, policy departments, regional and DFID Country Offices and CDC, as well as the private-sector wing of the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, and the multi-donor Private Infrastructure Development Group.

The Impact Programme

The Impact Programme ( is a DfID initiative that aims to 'catalyze the market for impact investment in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia'.[5]

PwC coordinates the Impact Programme, provides its communications, and oversees monitoring and evaluation.

The programme has two core components:

  • two investment vehicles managed by CDC: the DFID Impact Fund and the DFID Impact Acceleration Facility.
  • a range of market building activities that 'seek to reduce barriers and bottlenecks in the impact investing value chain.' These include 'network building', communications and research.

A presentation of the programme's 'theory of change', however, acknowledges that its success hangs on a number of 'external factors' including: 'local and regional policy and regulatory environments' and 'public perceptions' of impact investing. [6]

Impact Fund

DfID's Impact Fund is a 13 year, £75 million impact investment Fund of Funds managed by CDC. It made its first investment in January 2014 in Novastar Ventures, a venture capital fund. Novastar investments include Bridge International Academies, a controversial private, for-profit provider of education in developing countries.

Girl’s Education Challenge

The Girl’s Education Challenge is DfID's flagship £355 million education project (2011-17), through which DfID promotes private sector (and NGO) providers of education and ‘strategic partnerships’ that provide match-funding to private sector partners.

Management of the programme is again led by PwC and a consortium of Nathan Associates, FHI 360 and Social Development Direct.[7]

Projects under the programme include:

  • A partnership with Coca-Cola to 'bolster the educational and economic opportunities of more than 10,000 marginalised girls and young women in Nigeria’. The initiative – ENGINE (or Educating Nigerian Girls in New Enterprises), in which the two parties will have jointly invest nearly £7 million – will promote female 'economic empowerment' across Coca-Cola's 'value chain’. The project is seen as openly benefiting Coca-Cola's sales strategy in Africa.
  • An education project in Kenya managed by pro-privatisation consultancy Adam Smith International. The Kenya Essential Education Programme (KEEP) is a two year, £25 million programme that conducts ‘action research into low cost private schools for the poor’ and aims to enroll 50,000 more children into Kenyan private schools by 2015.
  • A DFID partnership with edu-business giant, Pearson and non-profit Camfed in Tanzania and Zimbabwe, which aims to enable girls to enrol in secondary school and ‘harnesses Pearson’s wealth of expertise in providing innovative learning and training materials’. Pearson is also training and certifying Camfed 'Learner Guides'.[8]

Twenty one of the 37 programmes that DfID is funding through the Girls Education Challenge fund ‘have an edtech [education technology] component’, according to an official at DfID.

Support for pro-private sector organisations

DfID has financialy supported a network of organisations that are focused on promoting private sector involvement in health and education through: policy and regulatory change, 'thought leadership' and research, and elite networking.[9]


  • HANSHEP, aka 'Harnessing non-state actors for better health for the poor' (; This is a group of governments, plus Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation set up in 2010 and managed by MDY Legal to promote private sector health provision (and improved performance by private sector healthcare providers) in developing countries. It is DFID’s principal vehicle for promoting the increasing role of the private sector in health: DfID funds a HANSHEP programme to promote 'public private partnerships' in health (the 'Health PPP Facility'); the 'Health Enterprise Fund', which finances firms offering 'low cost healthcare delivery in Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria' and the 'African Health Markets for Equity' partnership, a $60 million investment with the Gates Foundation that promotes private healthcare firms in Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana. DfID also funds a HANSHEP programme that aims to train developing country officials to negotiate and manage PPPs in healthcare. The 'Training & Capacity Building to Strengthen Private Sector Policy and PPPs' programme is implemented by the World Bank Institute.


  • SABER, aka the World Bank’s 'Systems Approach for Better Education Results' (; it aims to ‘improve the regulatory environment for private provision of education’ in Africa and South Asia. It understakes analysis and makes ‘recommendations on how developing countries can 'better leverage private sector expertise and resources' in education.
  • Center for Education Innovations (; sister organisation to the above, launched in 2012 with DfID funding and coordinated by the Results for Development Institute promotes private sector involvement in education through bringin together a 'network of innovative education programs', which then serves 'as a platform for collaborations'.
  • RISE, or 'Research on Improving Systems of Education' (; a multi-country research programme launched in March 2015 that aims to find 'practical answers to hard questions about how to reform existing education systems'. It is managed by Blavatnik School of Government and consultancy Oxford Policy Management, with the research led by Center for Global Development (see below). It has received £27.6 million from DfiD – £21m for research in up to five countries, and £6.6m for 'expert advice and management', and a further £6m from the Australian government.[10] Its 2017 annual conference was hosted by


  • Global Impact Investing Network (, DfID-funded network of investors set up in 2007 at a meeting chaired by Rockefeller Foundation. Among other things, it is 'map[ping]... the policy and/or regulatory environment in which basic services investments take place’ in developing countries.
  • Centre for Global Development (; Washington-based think tank (it describes itself as a 'policy crucible') that works to 'change the policies and practices of rich countries and powerful institutions to reduce global poverty and inequality'. DfID has provided £6m to fund research into how to improve access to education and health systems in developing countries. Its biggest donor is Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A London office – the Centre for Global Development in Europe – was set up in 2016.



Former Ministers

Secretary of State for International Development

Minister of State for International Development

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development

Special Advisers

Former Special Advisers


  • Mark Lowcock, Permanent secretary, June 2011 -
  • Nick Dyer, Director General, Policy and Global Programmes, November 2013 -
  • Joy Hutcheon, Director General for Country Programmes, responsible for overseeing DFID’s policies, its relationship with multilateral agencies, and overseeing DFID’s donor relations and global initiatives. October 2011 -
  • Lindy Cameron, Director General, Country Programmes

Non-exec directors

  • Vivienne Cox, Lead Non-executive Director; appointed to the board December 2010. She is a non-executive director of Pearson (from January 2012) and GlaxoSmithKline (from July 2016) and was a non-exec director of Rio Tinto (2005-14), and Climate Change Capital (2008-14). Cox is the former CEO and Executive Vice President of BP’s Gas, Power and Renewables businesses, and had over 25 years experience with the company.[13] She was also appointed to the government's Airports Commission in 2012.
  • Richard Keys, Non-executive Director; appointed March 2013. Former senior partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he spent 37 years holding various positions including 'Global Chief Accountant and member of the Global Assurance Leadership Team leading a team of partners and professional staff across more than 30 countries. His roles have included responsibility for many top global clients where he has advised and worked closely with many boards, audit committees and senior management.' He also spent a period on secondment to the UK government and 'had an extensive involvement in the UK privatisation programme'. He is a director of Merrill Lynch International, Wessex Water Services, NATS Holdings, Sainsbury’s Bank and is a council member of the University of Birmingham.[14]
  • Tim Robinson, Non-executive Director (and advising on the department’s digital strategy), appointed May 2013. He is CEO of the LGC Group, formerly the Laboratory of the Government Chemist, which is an international life sciences measurement and testing company – it supplies forensic science services to the police and acts as the Government’s official chemist, testing food and drugs for safety. He was previouslt chair of Glory Global Solutions (cash technology solutions) and CEO of Talaris (now part of Glory Global Solutions), Xafinity (Pensions BPO, consulting and software company) and Senior Vice President of the worldwide Civil Security Division at Thales Group. Tim was a non-exec director of UKTI.
  • Sally Jones-Evans, Non-executive Director; appointed September 2016. She worked in general management and HR executive roles in Lloyds Banking Group.
Former directors
  • Eric Salama, non-exec director from May 2013 - 2017. He is Chairman and CEO of Kantar, the consumer insight division of WPP. He is also described as 'a Consultant of the British government on the questions of education, industry, creation and e-business.'[15]

Revolving door



Support for genetic engineering

DFID has faced strong criticism both for the extent of its support for projects involving genetic engineering and for its lack of openness about the research. In September 2002, The Independent on Sunday reported that DFID had been running a '£13.4m programme to create a new generation of GM animals, crops and drugs throughout the Third World. The so far unpublicised programme has financed research in more than 24 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe into at least 80 GM projects ranging from long-life bananas to fast-growing pigs and fish.'[17]

DfID was accused by Dr Sue Mayer of GeneWatch UK of having 'deceived' the public about the scale of the programme. In a Leader comment, the Independent on Sunday said that the revelation that DFID had funded such a huge programme of GM research across the Third World was "deeply disturbing":

The whole programme legitimises and promotes technology still opposed by many Third World governments and their peoples. Britain has no business doing this. And it certainly should not continue without subjecting the work to the kind of public debate that ministers have rightly decided must be completed before any decision is taken to commercialise the technology at home.[18]

A significant number of DFID GM crop projects have been undertaken by the John Innes Centre which has also enjoyed tens of millions of pounds in investment from Syngenta.

Included in the DFID schemes were projects linked to a controversial £65m DFID aid programme in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh - a programme which critics allege will help push 20 million subsistence farmers off their land. The concerns about this DFID-backed project received wide-scale publicity as a result of media coverage of the findings of a citizens' jury with 'scenario workshops' (or 'prajapeertu') conducted among poor farmers and landless labourers in Andhra Pradesh who unanimously rejected the development proposals.[19]

The DfID's Director of Rural Livelihoods and Environment, Andrew Bennet, is understood to have been among those at DFID who encouraged criticism of those who conducted the research, Dr Michel Pimbert, of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), and Dr Tom Wakeford, then of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). DFID, which provides around 70% of both institutes' funding, even demanded the suppression of the report. Pimbert and Wakeford responded by accusing 'a few individuals within a major donor agency' of trying to 'silence critical reflections' by seeking to suppress a report that gave 'a bigger voice to poor and marginalised communities'.[20]

Bennet left DFID to join the Syngenta Foundation at the height of the controversy. Syngenta is the world's largest biotechnology company and Syngenta directors occupy 3 of the 5 seats on the Syngenta Foundation's board. Moreover, within months of taking up his new post, Bennet had, in the words of Paul Brown and John Vidal in The Guardian,

pulled off a coup by gaining a place on the governing body of the Consultative Group on the International Agricultural Research centres (CGIAR). This is the network of international public research institutions which have been the target of biotech companies for years but, until now, escaped infiltration. Critics are appalled. "CGIAR has unabashedly adopted the corporate research agenda, thereby accepting that it ceases to follow the original mandate of conducting agricultural research for 'public good."[21]

In fact, the CGIAR's own NGO Committee (NGOC) refused to toe the official line. It decided to freeze its relationship with the CGIAR pending a review of the CGIAR's research agenda. The NGOC observed:

The CGIAR is deviating from [its] mandate and is adopting a corporate agenda for agricultural research and development. CGIAR's consideration of Syngenta Foundation's membership is a clear indication of the trend towards the corporatisation of public agricultural research.[22]

Privatising India

India was the biggest single recipient of British aid between 2003 and 2008, with £1 billion spent through DFID. Critical research by Corporate Watch writer Richard Whittell in a project entitled Dodgy development: DFID in India exposed the gap between the picture of development aid painted by DFID in the UK, and reality on the ground in India. DFID was accused of being involved in pushing the industrialisation of India, particularly mineral extraction and processing. It actively works with companies and corporations (many of them British), aiding them through helping privatise utilities and services and monetarise the economy to their benefit, with detrimental effects on the poorest people .[23]

Influencing reform

In response to an freedom of information request to DfID for access to the report “Orissa Drivers of Change”(2005-2006) prepared by consulting company GHK, which is openly talked about on their website, DfID denied access to the report, claiming that there was:

strong public interest in ensuring that DFID and the UK Government are able to promote international development and protect UK interests abroad. To do this there must be good working relationships with these other governments based on confidence and trust. Disclosing opinions and sensitive information relating to them would be likely to damage these relationships; harm DFID’s ability to work with and influence other donors in eradicating poverty and undermine the UK’s ability to respond to international development needs.
Disclosure would also be likely to inhibit the willingness of other governments or international organisations to share sensitive information with the UK government. It would significantly weaken the UK’s ability to deliver UK Government policy. [24]

(See the full Freedom of Information response here: Media:2nd_Orissa_DoC_response_DfID.doc‎)

The report (eventually obtained by other means) gives a detailed overview of the political economy of Orissa (the former name of Odisha in India), based on in-depth studies. In particular it examines 'the challenges faced in Orissa in meeting the Millennium Development Goals'. Like DFID's other 'Drivers of Change' reports, it is essentially a study of how to influence change in the State. What is intriguing about it is the amount of time it dedicates to analysing social movements and protest in Orissa .

On the subject of mining, the report details the make up and success rate of movements against a range of projects, including the Utkal alumina project which DFID had promoted as part of the Business Partners for Development programme in which they were a partner.[25]. The project was rapidly removed from the BPD site after protesters were shot by police in 2001. The tone of the report, which recommends enabling civil society to have increasing protest power to oppose projects, is in direct contrast to the policies of DFID to promote the same mining and industrial projects. This raises questions about who the report was for and who it was shown to. In the hands of the mining companies such a deep knowledge of protest could be a dangerous tool.


  1. DFID The creation of DfID, acc 12 December 2011
  2. DFID Private Sector Department Operational Plan 2011-2015, DfID website, published June 2012
  3. DFID Private Sector Department Operational Plan 2011-2015, DfID website, published June 2012
  4. DFID Private Sector Department Operational Plan 2011-2015, DfID website, published June 2012
  5. About, The Impact Programme website, accessed August 2017
  6. The DFID Impact Programme: Theory of Change, October 2015
  7. Girl's Education Challenge, DfID website, accessed August 2017
  8. Mark Curtis, Profiting from poverty, again, Global Justice Now, April 2015
  9. Mark Curtis, Profiting from poverty, again, Global Justice Now, April 2015
  10. What is Rise, Rise website, accessed August 2017
  11. Simon Bishop LinkedIn profile, accessed 6 October 2014
  12. Linkedin Victoria Crawford, accessed 6 October 2014
  13. DfID press release, 16 December 2010
  14. Richard Keys, DfID profile, accessed June 2017
  15. Bloomberg profile, accessed June 2017
  16. Centre for Global Development Funders Accessed 22nd January 2008
  17. Independent on Sunday (2002) Britain funds pounds 13.4m GM programme in Third World, Sept 15, acc 1 May 2013
  18. Independent on Sunday (2002) GM by the back door, Sept 15, acc 1 May 2013
  19. The Prajateerpu controversy, archive of emails on citizens' jury, 26 July 2002-29 Aug 2002, accessed in web archive 1 May 2013
  20. Alex Kirby (2002), UK aid for India sparks row, BBC News, 18 July, acc 1 May 2013
  21. Paul Brown and John Vidal (2002), Eco Soundings,, The Guardian, 13 Nov, acc 1 May 2013
  22. NGO Committee of the CGIAR (2002), Statement by the NGO Committee of the CGIAR, 30 Oct, acc 1 May 2013
  23. Richard Whittell, Corporate Watch Dodgy development: DfID in India Accessed 30/04/10
  24. John McGinn, DfID Openness Unit, 9th Sept 2011 Freedom of Information Requests F2011-287 response letter.
  25. Karin Tang and Richard Slater. ORISSA DRIVERS OF CHANGE, DFID India. Final Report. GHK. July 2006