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The history of Danish development assistance

Denmark has a long tradition of development cooperation and assistance.

A doctor talking to an AIDS patient as part of the Danida-supported project Reach Out. The project distributes medicine to patients free of charge but also helps with, for example, counselling and school fees for the children.
Photo: Mikkel Østergaard

Development work has been a key link between Denmark and the surrounding world since the end of the Second World War.

From the small beginnings in 1945 to extensive efforts today, Denmark has played an active role in reducing poverty and strengthening sustainable development around the world.

Denmark’s development assistance activity from the 1950's to date

  • In the 1950s, the Danish development assistance effort was channelled almost exclusively through the UN system.
  • In 1962 Denmark established its first overall bilateral development assistance programme for the developing countries under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Development cooperation was characterised by testing approaches and building up a development assistance administration as such. The name Danida appeared in 1963 as a contraction of Danish International Development Agency and, subsequently, Danish International Development Assistance.
  • From the beginning of the 1970s there was growing emphasis on poverty orientation as the basis for the allocation of Danish development assistance. In 1971 the organisational framework was established when the Act on International Development Cooperation was adopted.
  • In the 1980s, the environment, gender equality and human rights were established as important factors in all Danish-supported development activities.
  • The 1990s saw an administrative reorganisation when Danida went from being an independent unit to being part of a single-string service in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The reorganisation also meant that development assistance became a high-profile element of Danish foreign policy.
  • In the new millennium Danish development assistance was expanded with large-scale interventions in conflict areas such as the Balkans, the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq. Development assistance was also utilised as an active instrument of foreign policy in new areas such as conflict resolution, the struggle against terrorism and the promotion of good governance.
  • In 2010 about 40 per cent of Denmark’s bilateral assistance went to social sectors, not least education and health. The focus of bilateral assistance was on a limited number of partner countries and sectors, while multilateral assistance was primarily granted through the UN, the World Bank, the regional development banks and the EU.
  • In 2012 Danida celebrates its 50th anniversary.
  • In May 2012 the Danish Parliament unanimous adopted the development strategy ‘The Right to a Better Life’. The Strategy has four core objectives: human rights and democracy, green growth, social progress and stability and protection. The strategy can be found here.
  • On the 1st of January 2013 the new Act on International Development Cooperation came into force. The act specifies that the purpose of Danish development cooperation is to reduce poverty, and promote human rights, democracy, sustainable development, peace and stability. More information about the act can be found here.
  • The strategy The World 2030, encompassing the Sustainable Development Goals, was adopted in January 2017 by a broad political majority in the Danish Parliament. For the first time Danish development cooperation and humanitarian action is combined in one strategy.
  • On the 1st of January 2017 the new amendment to the Act on International Development Cooperation came into force. This amongst other things incorporates the Sustainable Development Goals. More information about the act can be found here.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark
Asiatisk Plads 2 
DK-1448 Copenhagen K
Tel. +45 33 92 00 00
Fax +45 32 54 05 33
[email protected]



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