Government Funding for International Development in Canada: An Explainer

Written by Gurleen Grewal

Global Affairs Canada’s Civil Society Partnerships Policy

The landscape of government sector funding has an impressive array of lengthy acronyms and frightening official procedures, but it is an excellent resource for organizations hoping to implement innovative international assistance projects. In their Civil Society Partnerships Policy, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) outlines their approach to “enhancing effective cooperation with Canadian, international, and local civil society organizations.” The goals of this policy are to increase the efficacy and positive results of Canada’s contributions to international assistance, cultivating a “strong and vibrant civil society sector.”   

Small and Medium Organizations for Impact and Innovation

One of the objectives of GAC’s Civil Society Partnerships Policy is to “establish more predictable, equitable, flexible, and transparent funding mechanisms.” Working towards this objective, the Government of Canada launched the Small and Medium Organizations for Impact and Innovation initiative. This initiative allocates $100 million over five-years (2017-2022). It dedicates this funding to small and medium Canadian civil society organizations. Global Affairs Canada clarifies the division of this budget into three streams of funding: $76 million for thematic programming, $18 million for development innovation, and $6 million for capacity-building, knowledge-sharing, and public engagement. The Small and Medium Organizations for Impact and Innovation initiative hopes to increase the diversity of GAC’s partnerships and the efficacy of their investments in international assistance. It encourages small and medium organizations (SMOs) to engage in international assistance efforts that align with the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP) by promoting “gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.”

The Innovation Window

The Small and Medium Organizations for Impact and Innovation initiative has two distinct programming windows: the Innovation Window and the Development Impact Window. Under the Innovation Window, the Government of Canada offers funding for “innovations that have the potential to address important challenges aligned with Canada’s new Feminist International Assistance Policy” and improve upon existing practice. Though this funding window is not yet open, SMOs can regularly check for updated information on applications and eligibility criteria.

The Development Impact Window

The Development Impact Window funds thematic programming by SMOs. Global Affairs Canada’s calls for preliminary proposals under this window are currently active, and there is one open call for preliminary proposals that “enhance economic empowerment, well-being and inclusive economic growth for women in Ghana.” Both Canadian and Ghanaian organizations are eligible to conduct projects in Ghana, and GAC hopes to attract projects with an estimated size of $5-10 million. The upcoming call for preliminary proposals, set to launch in June 2018, concerns the improvement of “citizen participation in the health sector in Haiti.”

Digital Resources for Small and Medium Organizations Seeking Funding

Extensive digital resources are available to SMOs seeking funding under the Development Impact Window. In addition to offering funding guidance, GAC uses a results-based management guide to outline how SMOs can organize and present their projects. Exploring the results of past calls might be productive for SMOs looking to identify the characteristics of past successful proposals. To this end, GAC also provides a how-to guide for applying for funding through a call for preliminary proposals. They disclose the evaluative methods they use to select successful proposals. According to GAC, the projects that are successful in their request for funding are those that best display four qualities: strategic alignment with the objectives of the call, answering to the operational requirements of the call, appropriate technical designs, and programming that complements but does not copy other proposals in the same call.  

How Global Affairs Canada Assesses Proposals

To demystify the process of assessing proposals and allocating international development funding, Global Affairs Canada reveals what happens after a call for preliminary proposals closes. Their transparency helps prospective funding applicants better understand how to submit strong proposals. GAC considers the preliminary and full proposals together, and evaluates the strength of a proposal accordingly. They encourage funding applicants to practice concision by not repeating information in the different parts of forms. Instead of ranking proposals in a competitive process, GAC focuses on how well an individual proposal (preliminary and full) responds to the assessment criteria. They avoid similar or overlapping projects, and prefer innovative proposals that “offer a higher percentage of cost share,” and secure multiple sources of funding, “including private sector sources,” that can complement the potential GAC funding. GAC continually stresses that submitting either a preliminary or a full proposal does not guarantee funding. Rather, they use preliminary proposals to identify applicants whose full proposals are most likely to receive funding.

By combining funding opportunities from government and private sector sources, SMOs can realize innovative programs for international assistance and development. Preparing to submit a funding proposal in response to a call can be an overwhelming process, but using the digital resources that GAC provides applicants can develop proposals that illuminate the positive potential of their projects. The current scope of government funding available to SMOs hoping to pursue international assistance projects that promote gender equality can help strengthen communities and civil society.


Gurleen Grewal is a fourth-year student at Simon Fraser University. She is pursuing a Major in English and a Minor in Biological Sciences, and will begin her MA in English next year. She volunteers with the UBC Skin Cancer Awareness Network, the Embark Sustainability Society, and the BCCIC.