In this paper we suggest that 2011–2012 may mark a paradigm shift in dominant constructions of ‘foreign aid’ and a substantive shift of power within the architecture of global development governance. We evaluate critically the emergence and central principles of the ‘aid effectiveness paradigm’ over the last 10–15 years, and the various internal and external pressures that have mounted around it. We then discuss the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, a global conference which was held in Busan, South Korea in 2011, which we suggest can be seen as a pivot point in the emergence of a new ‘development effectiveness’ paradigm. Among other things, this elevates the role of the private sector and re-centres economic growth and enhanced productivity to the core of mainstream ‘development’ thinking. At the same time, the emerging aid architecture aims to enrol more fully the ‘(re-)emerging’ donors and development partners, and is likely to involve more differentiated commitments to global aid targets and renegotiated ‘norms’. This paper provides a commentary on the debates, omissions and achievements of the Busan High Level Forum, with the wider aim of providing critical insights into the current state of flux around foreign aid norms, institutions and governance.