At a glance
- Sweden is the sixth largest donor, with ODA at US$6.3 billion in 2020 (current prices, US$6.1 billion in constant 2019 prices). Sweden is, however, the largest donor in proportion to the size of its economy: the country spent 1.14% of its gross national income (GNI) on official development assistance (ODA) in 2020.
- Since 1975, Sweden has exceeded the United Nations’ (UN’s) 0.7% target for the ratio of ODA-to-GNI. Since 2008, it has maintained its long-term commitment to spending around 1% of its GNI on ODA.
- According to the government’s budget, ODA levels are set at SEK52.3 billion in 2021 (US$5.5 billion in 2019 prices), which would represent a 9% decrease over 2020 in US$.
- The Swedish government’s 2016 ‘Policy framework for Swedish development cooperation and humanitarian assistance’ is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It outlines eight focus areas: 1) human rights, democracy, and the rule of law; 2) gender equality; 3) the environment and climate change; 4) peace and security; 5) inclusive economic development; 6) migration and development; 7) health equity; and 8) education and research.
- Gender equality and women’s empowerment are central to Swedish foreign and development policy. Sweden was the first country to implement a Feminist Foreign Policy, launched in 2014, which applies a gender equality lens to every element of the country’s foreign policy framework.
- Sustainable use of natural resources, marine resources, environmental preservation, and combatting climate change are other key priorities reflected in Sweden’s multilateral engagement. Sweden is the highest per-capita contributor to the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility.
- Based on the projected growth of Sweden’s GNI in its Spring Amending budget 2021, Sweden’s ODA is expected to increase by an average of SEK1.9 billion (US$200 million) per year during the period between 2021 and 2024. The current government’s commitment to the 1% ODA-to-GNI standard is expected to remain in place, despite mounting pressure from some opposition parties to cut funding levels. Thematic priorities are also expected to remain unchanged for the rest of the current government’s term.
- In November of 2019, the government announced the ‘Drive for Democracy’ initiative, which aims to deepen and strengthen longstanding efforts to promote and protect democratic processes and principles around the world and remains a key priority for the Swedish government. Sweden is likely to place higher demands on partner countries to live up to their rule of law standards following multiple instances of democratic backsliding, aggravated in the last year by the pandemic.
- In 2020, the government adopted two new strategies for the humanitarian sector — a new strategy for its development cooperation with UNOCHA for 2020-2022 and a new humanitarian assistance strategy for 2021-2025. Both aim to strengthen Sweden’s implementation of humanitarian assistance and place an increased focus on protection for people in crisis in areas difficult to reach. Gender and climate perspectives are also integrated into both strategies.
Sweden is the sixth-largest donor in absolute terms and the largest in proportion to the size of its economy
In 2020, Sweden’s ODA stood at US$6.3 billion (current prices), making it the sixth-largest donor among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in absolute terms. In relative terms, Sweden is the largest donor among DAC members: ODA stood at 1.14% of Sweden’s GNI in 2020, up from 0.96% in 2019. Sweden’s commitment to development cooperation remains one of the strongest in the world; Sweden took first place in the Center for Global Development’s 2020 ‘Commitment to Development Index’.
Sweden has exceeded the United Nations’ (UN’s) target of 0.7% ODA-to-GNI ratio since 1975, and since 2008 it has been committed to spending 1% of its GNI on ODA. Sweden’s ODA in 2020 slightly exceeded the 1% target as the economy in 2020 performed worse than the GDP forecast made in the 2020 budget. After reaching US$5.2 billion in 2019, ODA increased by 17% to US$6.1 billion in 2020 (in constant 2019 prices), an increase largely due to contributions made to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).
The current government is supportive of the 1% commitment (as are all parties except the far-right Sweden Democrats and the center-right Moderates) meaning that beyond 2021, ODA levels are likely to remain closely linked to Sweden's economic growth.
The 2021 budget sets ODA at SEK52.3 billion (US$5.5 billion in 2019 prices, which are used throughout this profile to allow for comparability). While this amount remained fixed in the Spring Amending Budget (published in April of 2021), SEK2.7 million (US$290 thousand) was reallocated within the overall ODA envelope to cover the exchange rate fluctuations that have increased the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency's (Sida) administrative costs abroad. The government has reiterated the importance of ensuring that the COVID-19 response does not crowd out other essential development funding, although, in reality, all COVID-19-related funding has come out of the overall ODA envelope.
Between 2014 and 2017, costs of hosting refugees in Sweden accounted for a large share of the country's reported ODA, peaking at US$2.3 billion in 2015 (34%), before gradually dropping to a decade low of US$263 million in 2019 (5% of total ODA). These costs are likely to remain low in coming years (US$147 million budgeted for 2021), although the use of Sweden's ODA budget to cover refugee-related costs remains a point of debate.
Following the general elections in September of 2018, negotiations regarding the formation of a coalition government succeeded in January of 2019. The Social Democrats continue to lead a minority coalition with the Green Party and are now supported by the Center Party and the Liberal Party. Defining issues of the previous government, including the feminist foreign policy and the fight against climate change, continue to be prioritized, along with other issues such as the COVID-19 crisis, democracy, and migration.
Unless otherwise indicated, all data in this section is based on the grant-equivalent measurement system. For more information, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.
Sweden’s policy focuses on democratic governance, gender equality, SRHR, climate, and environmental resources
The Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are central to Sweden's policies, and the government seeks to be a leader in implementing them both nationally and internationally.
The government's 2016 'Policy framework for Swedish development cooperation and humanitarian assistance' outlines the overall objectives of Swedish development cooperation and sets eight focus areas: 1) human rights, democracy, and the rule of law; 2) gender equality; 3) the environment and climate change, and the sustainable use of natural resources; 4) peace and security; 5) inclusive economic development; 6) migration and development; 7) health equity; and 8) education and research. Gender equality and women's empowerment (against the backdrop of its feminist foreign policy), human rights, and climate change remain flagship issues for the government (see box). The promotion of democratic governance is also a priority. The latest OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) peer review, published in June of 2019, commends Sweden for its leadership on peace and conflict prevention, environmental sustainability and climate change, and gender equality.
Sweden’s key development priorities:
- Gender equality and women's empowerment: Sweden's leadership is widely recognized in this area; feminist foreign policy governs overarching orientation of foreign policy.
- Climate change: Sweden is one of the largest per capita donors to the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility; bilateral ODA focuses on marine resources.
- Democratic governance, human rights, rule of law, and freedom of speech: Sweden has high standards for partner countries on rule of law and human rights.
In 2014, Sweden was the first country in the world to launch and implement a feminist foreign policy, allowing it to use all of its foreign policy tools (including development cooperation) to address gender equality globally and take a more systemic approach to the issue. In addition to mainstreaming gender in all its development programs, Sweden published its first development cooperation strategy specifically for gender equality and women's empowerment in May 2018. The strategy focuses on the full enjoyment of human rights by all women and girls, including through work on normative frameworks, discrimination, gender-based violence, safety, and security for actors and organizations that promote gender equality, and increased access and use of sex-disaggregated data and research. It is backed by a funding envelope of SEK1 billion (US$106 million) for 2018-2022.
Sweden is also committed to environmental protection and resilience, and disaster risk reduction, with a special emphasis on marine resources. In its 'Strategy for development cooperation in sustainable environment, climate and marine resources, and sustainable use of natural resources' the government set aside SEK6.5 billion (US$687 million) to promote progress in these areas between 2018 and 2022. This focus is also demonstrated at the multilateral level; Sweden is the largest per-capita donor to both the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Sweden committed SEK2 billion (US$212 million) to GEF for 2018-2022 (+50% in SEK compared to 2014-2018) and almost doubled its contribution to GCF to reach SEK8 billion (US$846 million) for 2020 -2023.
Sweden defined three objectives in its 2018-2022 'Strategy for development cooperation in the areas of human rights, democracy and the rule of law': 1) inclusive democratic societies; 2) equal rights for all; and 3) security, justice, and accountability. Women's and girls' enjoyment of human rights is central to the strategy. Human rights, democracy, and the rule of law have been a high priority since the formation of the current government in January of 2019, particularly for the Center and the Liberal parties, which are not members of the ruling coalition, but upon whose support the minority government depends to pursue its policies.
Conflict prevention and humanitarian assistance are also seen as key priorities. Conflict prevention focuses on women, peace, and security, including training and integration of women in peace negotiation processes. Sweden's humanitarian assistance is needs-based and presented separately from development focus areas in the 2016 'Policy framework for Swedish development cooperation and humanitarian assistance', but there is a focus on strengthening cooperation and increasing synergies between humanitarian initiatives and long-term development cooperation.
Sweden provides strong support to multilateral organizations
Sweden is a strong supporter of multilateral systems. Core contributions to multilateral organizations account for about one-third of Swedish ODA (33% in 2019). This is below the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) average of 41%; however, when contributions passing through multilaterals that are earmarked for specific purposes are added, this share rises to 58% (DAC average: 55%; see below for more information on Sweden's multilateral engagement).
Sweden channels almost a third of its bilateral ODA through civil society organizations (CSOs; 32%), well above the DAC average of 20%. The government recognizes CSOs' key role in reducing poverty, strengthening democratic development, and supporting human rights, especially in countries that are not democratically governed.
Refugees costs have gone down; humanitarian assistance is on the rise; democratic governance and human rights are funding priorities
In 2019, the largest share of bilateral ODA went to the 'government and civil society' sector (22% of bilateral ODA or US$785 million, up from US$615 million in 2015). More than half of the funding in this area goes to projects supporting democratic participation or human rights. These areas are likely to see further increases in funding due to the government's growing concern with these topics. Within the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweden, between January and February of 2021, contributed an additional SEK150 million (US$16 million) to sustain its efforts towards strengthening democratic governance and greater respect for human rights in Asia and the Pacific region (SEK100 million or US$11 million) and Southern Africa (SEK50 million or US$5 million). Moreover, in light of the setbacks to democracy, aggravated by the pandemic, higher demands are being placed on partner countries to live up to the rule of law.
Humanitarian assistance remains a growing funding area for Sweden, with a particular focus on conflict-affected areas. Accounting for 14% (up from 12% in 2018) of bilateral funding, it became the second-largest spending area of Sweden's bilateral ODA in 2019. Funding to the sector has steadily increased in recent years, growing by 34% from US$367 million in 2015 to US$490 million in 2019.
Costs for hosting refugees reported as ODA have greatly distorted Swedish ODA statistics over the past years. In 2015, Sweden received a particularly high number of asylum seekers. Consequently, ODA costs for hosting refugees went up significantly that year, reaching a peak of US$2.3 billion (34% of total ODA at the time). These costs have gradually decreased, reaching US$263 million (5% of total ODA) in 2019. This US$263 million makes disbursements for in-country refugees the third-largest spending area of Sweden's bilateral ODA (7% of bilateral ODA). According to budget documents, refugee costs are expected to remain low in the coming years: they stood at 5% (or US$248 million) of total ODA in the 2020 budget and 3% (or US$147 million) of the total ODA budget for 2021.
Virtually all of Sweden's ODA consists of grants (98% in 2019). The remaining 2% (US$64 million) is made up of capital subscriptions (equity investments) by the MFA into Swedfund, Sweden's state-owned development finance institution.
Sweden’s funding targets low-income countries and countries in sub-Saharan Africa
Sweden's bilateral ODA primarily targets partner countries in 'sub-Saharan Africa' (meaning the countries of Eastern, Western, Central, and Southern Africa, according to the African Union's designations) and low-income countries. The high volume of earmarked funding to multilaterals and funding to CSOs, as well as in-country refugee costs, are counted as bilateral ODA but cannot be allocated to specific countries; this distorts OECD data about recipients of Swedish ODA (see figure below). When excluding funding unallocated by region (40%), sub-Saharan Africa was the recipient of over half of Sweden's bilateral ODA in 2019 (51%). Funding to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) grew significantly until 2015 and has hovered around 15% since. In 2019, it stood at US$288 million.
The 2016 'Policy framework for Swedish development cooperation and humanitarian assistance' states that bilateral funding must be focused on the lowest-income and most vulnerable countries. This policy is backed by funding data: more than half (53%) of Sweden's bilateral ODA is allocated to low-income countries (when excluding funding not allocated to a specific region, 50% of total bilateral ODA) in 2019. Sweden has recognized that an increasing proportion of global poverty is found in middle-income countries, but the government is likely to continue to strengthen its focus on fragile states.
The Swedish development agency, Sida, has bilateral development cooperation with approximately 35 partner countries, the largest number of which are in 'sub-Saharan Africa' (see box)
Sida’s partner countries for bilateral cooperation
- Sub-Saharan Africa: Burkina Faso, the DRC, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
- Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar
- Europe: Albania, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Moldova, North Macedonia, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine
- Latin America: Bolivia, Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala
- Middle East and North Africa: Iraq, Palestine, Yemen
Sweden is a strong supporter of the UN system
Sweden financially supports multilateral organizations both through core contributions (33% of total ODA in 2019; US$1.7 billion) and through earmarked funding (26%; US$1.3 billion). Funding to multilateral organizations is disbursed in line with the January 2018 'Strategy for multilateral development policy', which defines the orientation of Sweden's multilateral engagement and provides guidelines to the three main stakeholders for this area: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Sida, and Swedish embassies.
The unearmarked character of financing is one of three core principles outlined in this strategy for which Sweden strongly advocates at an international level. Large shares of what is reported as earmarked funding in OECD data is made up of funding to thematically focused organizations (e.g., the Global Partnership for Education) and funds, but not necessarily earmarked for a specific purpose within these funds. This is referred to as 'soft' earmarking. The second and third principles of Sweden's 'Strategy for multilateral development policy' highlight the need for a long-term perspective in engagement with a multilateral organization and the need to foster coordination across the multilateral system.
Within its multilateral engagement, Sweden is a strong supporter of the UN: 40% of Sweden's core contributions to multilaterals in 2019 went to the UN. Sweden supports UN reform efforts and pushes its 'women, peace and security' agenda within the UN. Its priorities in the UN include conflict prevention, peacebuilding, gender equality, global development, climate, and human rights.
Unless otherwise indicated, all data in this section is based on the cash-flow basis measurement system. For more information, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.
For more granular and up-to-date development finance data on Sweden, including information on where and in which sectors it is spending both ODA and non-ODA funds, please consult the IATI d-portal. IATI is a reporting standard and platform on which organizations and governments voluntarily publish data on their development cooperation.
MFA decides on strategy; Sida executes
The current Swedish government led by Prime Minister Stefan Löfvén of the Social Democrats (S), is a coalition between his party and the Green Party (MP). The government was sworn in in January of 2019, after lengthy negotiations following inconclusive results from the September 2018 elections. Löfvén, now on his second term in office, leads a minority government with the parliamentary backing of the Center and the Liberal parties. Both were former members of the center-right opposition 'Alliance'. As a minority coalition, the government is under great pressure from the opposition, particularly during budget negotiations.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) oversees development policy and financing and decides on core funding to multilateral organizations. Ann Linde (S) has led this ministry since September of 2019. Previously, she worked as Minister for Foreign Trade, with responsibility for Nordic affairs (2019), and as Minister of EU Affairs and Trade (2016-2018).
Within the MFA, Per Olsson Fridh (MP) was appointed Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate in February of 2021. He succeeded Peter Ericson, who had held the position in 2019. Upon his appointment, Fridh has expressed intent to prioritize work on COVID-19, climate change, democracy, and migration. He also hopes to highlight the importance of more sustainable socio-economic development. The pro-democracy portfolio was inherited from his predecessor.
Key development-related units within the MFA include the Department for International Development Cooperation, responsible for overall governance and evaluation of development cooperation and for coordination to draft the ODA budget. It also coordinates planning on thematic focuses and strategy for the Swedish development agency, Sida.
Other relevant departments are the UN Policy Department, responsible for support through UN organizations and thematic funds, and the Global Agenda Department, which coordinates the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Global Agenda Department also manages and develops the feminist foreign policy, including gender-equality issues in development cooperation.
Sida administers and executes development policy implementation in cooperation with civil society organizations (CSOs), embassies, and other government agencies. Based on strategic guidelines set by the MFA, Sida and Swedish embassies draft strategies for countries, regions, and thematic areas. These are then further refined by the MFA and approved by the government. Country strategies outline key sectors of engagement and provide indicative budgets for the timeframe (usually three to seven years).
Sida manages about 51% of Sweden's total ODA financing: SEK26.7 billion in 2021 (US$2.8 billion), in accordance with the strategies developed by Sida and the MFA. It also provides increasing amounts of guarantees (debt-backing), covering a wide range of areas (e.g., infrastructure, market development, agriculture, health, democracy, and human rights).
Sida is managed by a governing board, appointed by the Swedish government. Besides its Director-General (Carin Jämtin since June of 2017), who is responsible for Sida's operational activities, the board includes members of the public administration, private sector, and academia. Sida has about 800 employees, many of whom work at Swedish embassies and 65% of whom are women.
Sweden's development finance institution, Swedfund, is a state-owned investment fund that supports private-sector activities aimed at promoting sustainable economic development in sectors such as energy, infrastructure, and industry. It is supervised by the Ministry for Enterprise and Innovation and provides risk capital and investment for projects that alleviate poverty in low-income countries.
CSOs play a major role in Sweden's development assistance. In 2019, almost a third of the country's bilateral ODA was channeled through CSOs (32%), well above the OECD's Development Assistance Committee (DAC) average of 20%. Sida has increased its engagement with Swedish CSOs to identify new methods of delivering its bilateral programs and increasing the effectiveness of development assistance.
Sida manages half of Sweden’s ODA budget
The current government is committed to allocating 1% of Sweden's gross national income (GNI) to official development assistance (ODA). This share is outlined in each year's budget and the total of all funding sources contributing to it is referred to as the 'ODA frame'. The 2021 budget proposal, approved by Parliament in December of 2020, sets the ODA frame at SEK52.3 billion, or US$5.5 billion in 2019 prices (used throughout this profile to allow for comparability).
'Budget Area 7: International assistance' covers 90% of the 'ODA Frame' (SEK46.8 billion, or US$5.0 billion). The remainder consists mainly of, assessed contributions to the EU (5% of the ODA frame), spending to cover the costs of hosting refugees in Sweden (3%), and management costs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA; 1%).
Budget area 7 includes all funding managed by Sida (the Swedish International Development Agency). Sida manages about 51% of Sweden's total ODA financing (SEK26.7 billion, or US$2.8 billion in 2021). This funding is divided into seven areas: 1) bilateral cooperation; 2) thematic cooperation; 3) humanitarian assistance; 4) funding for Swedish CSOs; 5) research cooperation; 6) capacity development and agenda 2030; and 7) information and communication.
'Bilateral cooperation' programs are guided by regional and country strategies, which assign indicative budget allocations. These strategies are developed by the MFA, Sida, and the various embassies, and approved by the government.
The 'thematic cooperation' program entails three main envelopes: 1) human rights, democracy, and the rule of law; 2) sustainable development; and 3) sustainable peace. As for country-based bilateral cooperation, each of these areas is governed by a strategy that defines spending ceilings and main funding areas.
Budget Area 7 also includes the MFA's funding lines for core contributions to UN agencies and other multilateral funds, as well as for multilateral development banks, debt relief, and 'strategically oriented grants' (see table).
Sweden's 2020 ODA state budget
|Total budget area 7 (International Assistance)||46,829||4,952|
|Funding for Swedish CSOs||1,875||198|
|Capacity development and Agenda 2030||710||75|
|Information and communication||155||16|
|Multilateral organizations (UN agencies) and funds||10,487||1,109|
|Multilateral development banks; debt relief||4,670||494|
|Strategically oriented grants||989||105|
|Administrative costs (including Sida's)||1,863||197|
|Costs of hosting refugees||1,392||147|
|MFA administrative costs||476||50|
|Other (e.g., funding for some UN agencies)||1,049||111|
|Total ODA ('ODA frame')||52,285||5,529|
The government allocates funding to specific areas from June to August
The Swedish budget process runs over a two-year period. It starts in the year that precedes its implementation and continues during the current fiscal year; the ongoing budget can be amended in spring and autumn.
- Sida develops its draft budget: By March 1 of the year before a budget comes into force, Sida submits its draft to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Sida's full budget is organized by strategies consisting of regions, countries, and broad thematic priorities (such as 'sustainable social development'). Sida's leadership and regional departments are the main decision-makers regarding budget requests.
- Ministry of Finance develops the Spring Fiscal Policy Bill: From March to April, the Ministry of Finance develops the Spring Fiscal Policy Bill based on each ministry's expenditure estimates. It includes ministerial expenditure ceilings for the next three years.
- Government presents the Spring Fiscal Policy Bill to Parliament: In mid-April, the government submits the Spring Fiscal Policy Bill to Parliament. The first decision on the overall ODA volume is made. Once determined, major changes to ODA volume are rare. The ODA budget is tied to the GNI level. This is followed by a debate in Parliament, which approves the budget bill in June.
- Minister for Development decides on specific budget lines: In July and August, the MFA's Minister for International Development Cooperation allocates further funding to expenditure areas within the main ODA budget. Broad budget lines (e.g., Sida's own budget) and allocations to specific budget items (e.g., Sida's thematic budget line on 'sustainable social development') are decided at this time.
- Government presents budget bill to Parliament: The government presents its budget bill to Parliament in mid-September (at the latest on the 20th), except during election years when this may be postponed until November 15.
- Parliament debates and amends budget bill: Debates take place from early October to early December. The Committee on Finance discusses the government's draft expenditure ceilings for all budget areas. The Committee on Foreign Affairs may propose amendments to specific allocations within the ODA Budget Area 7. Usually, under a minority government such as the current one, the government must negotiate closely with the opposition.
- Parliament votes on budget bill: In mid-December, the Parliament makes the final decision on the budget bill. The government then sends its annual appropriation letter to Sida, which specifies overall funding to Sida and the allocation of funds by regions or thematic issues.
The Spring Amending Budget Bill may be used to divert or reallocate funds originally allotted for the current year. The ongoing budget can also be amended in September when the government presents its budget bill to Parliament for the next year.