There is an undoubted nervousness in the international development community about future funding levels from the economically richest countries in support of work of developing countries and their international partner agencies to combat poverty and other MDGs. This nervousness has a sound base as we all look at the levels of public debt in Europe and the USA and the stock market and currency slides and/or volatility.
Countries are no different than people: crowds provide cover. When one person jumps, the rest could follow. There is safety in numbers. It would only take one "donor" country to significantly decrease its financial commitment to development action for others to possibly follow suit.
So, the butterflies must have been really fluttering in the tummies of policy makers, funding agencies, developing countries, UN agencies, the NGO movement, and the whole rest of the tapestry of people and agencies invested in development action as we all waited for the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties in the UK to hash out the policies (and therefore investment) that would be the basis for their coalition government. Money is not the first thing in international development - effective strategy should lead, of course. But money sure does help.
Those butterflies must have smiled (do they smile?) and settled as they read the details of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat (now the Government) coalition agreement. I quote from Section 18: International Development
"The Government believes that even in these difficult economic times, the UK has a moral responsibility to help the poorest people in the world...We will honour our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid from 2013, and to enshrine this commitment in law" and, this is vitally important, "will stick to the rules laid down by the OECD about what spending counts as aid."
So, if I understand correctly the intentions of the new coalition government, this commitment will be one of the core guiding principles of the UK Government for the next 5 years. And that makes it really difficult for any other country to reduce its commitment. If a new British government, facing one of the most difficult economic circumstances in 80 years, can retain this commitment and essentially have a "no way" response to any cuts proposed for international development, then more negative approaches from other economically rich countries become very tough.
Specific to communication and media development, there are some very interesting parts of the Coalition agreement.
There will be an emphasis on supporting "the development of local democratic institutions (and) civil society groups" - this will necessitate development communication strategies - voice, social organisation, dialogue, debate, and other core elements for our field - there is just no other way to do this kind of work. In this context there is specific mention of "media".
On the direct "voice" theme, there is a commitment in the coalition agreement to "create new mechanisms to give British people a direct say in how an element of the aid budget is spent". It will be fascinating to watch this communication process be planned and implemented. But it does prompt a rather large communication question: if this is good for the British people (in this context the 'givers'), then why should that principle not be extended to the countries receiving that aid? Why should they not have mechanisms that give them a direct say in the spending priorities for their own communities and countries? It is, after all, their country and community.
Of course, there is still much to be judged as all of this rolls out; but both the funding commitment and some of the core strategic elements of the agreement mean that we are all in a much better place than so many of us feared. Now the butterflies can be replaced by synapses firing as we all look for effective ways to reduce poverty and make positive action on other priority development issues.