Canadian government working on a matchmaking site for foreign aid

The Canadian government is working on a project that it hopes will revolutionize international development the way matchmaking websites revolutionized dating.

WASHINGTON — The Canadian government is working on a project that it hopes will revolutionize international development the way matchmaking websites revolutionized dating.

Instead of bringing together love-starved singles, the project would introduce strangers with shared interest in development, including for-profit companies, non-profit organizations, governments and international agencies.

The government promoted its plan during this week’s global financial meetings in Washington, where International Development Minister Christian Paradis touted it at meetings, a public forum and in an interview.

The idea flows from the government’s desire to align development priorities more closely with private-sector projects — the idea being to increase the long-term economic benefits.

In an interview, Paradis cited one possible example: a mining company opens a mine, governments contribute to nearby infrastructure such as roads and wells and NGOs work on farming projects that would allow the surrounding community to feed itself.

The Canadian plan is to build a single online platform, so these different players can find each other. Hence the nicknames, “development dating site” or “development harmony” given to the project by some of the people working on it.

“(It) would serve as an online marketplace, a knowledge-broker, and accelerator of innovative finance models,” Paradis said Friday.

“It would help reduce the time required to structure investments and forge new partnerships.”

He later explained that the site wouldn’t set policy. All it would do is introduce parties, so they could then make decisions based on their own monitoring and assessments.

The government hopes to have an early demonstration ready for an international aid summit this summer in Ethiopia, where countries will discuss new financing models for development as the UN moves beyond the Millennium Development Goals that expire this year.

It plans to have a more complete version ready for showcasing next winter, at the Davos economic summit. The World Economic Forum is one of the partners on the project, as are the Dalberg development-consulting firm and the Global Development Incubator. People from Mastercard and the Gates Foundation have been participating, albeit more informally.

The partners are creating a non-profit company that would sell memberships to the site — much like Canada’s MERX public-procurement website.

They expect to have a contract with an IT company within a week or two, and have already begun working with a branding agency on marketing plans.

One person working on the project conceded Friday that the project’s current official name, Global Finance Exchange, doesn’t inspire the imagination. Hence the branding agency.

The official said that one early use for the platform could be to match parties working on issues related to the Harper government’s signature aid priority, maternal and newborn health.

Paradis said in an interview there’s lots of desire out there to get disparate actors talking to each other. But it keeps butting up against the reality that these players operate in different silos.

“What does it take to have a more co-ordinated approach? That would be sharing information, and I think you need such a platform to do that. This is what we’re doing here.”

At Friday’s World Bank event, the head of an equity fund applauded the trend toward involving private enterprise in international development planning.

“We will create more jobs than all of your aid budgets do,” Gerhard Pries, the Canadian chief executive at Sarona Asset Management Inc., told the gathering of international policy-makers.

“We will create good jobs.”