26 November 2009

The Building Blocks of Human Development

For the past two days I have been at an EC-hosted consultation on how to configure governance architecture at the national and international levels to maximise efforts to address widespread malnutrition. Malnutrition is responsible for nearly a third of all child deaths, a third of the global burden of disease in the developing world and economic productivity losses of 3-5%. Nutrition status represents the building blocks of human, social and economic development.

Governance is crucial for nutrition because nutrition services are challenging to deliver. First because the determinants of nutrition are multisectoral. This means good work in one area (say health) is undone by vulnerabilities in other areas (e.g. food insecurity). Therefore nutrition reduction efforts require coordination across ministries where nutrition is usually not the number one priority. Second, reducing malnutrition requires a lot of behaviour change which is often very context specific (e.g. attitudes towards breastfeeding), so a strong capacity to adapt is paramount. Finally, malnutrition, unless it is very acute, is a silent killer and a subtle destroyer. Its presence is not easy to detect. It requires height and weight measurements to be compared to international standards. A high degree of vigilance is required. Capacities for coordination, adaptability, and vigilance need to be deliberately built up accordingly—among all stakeholders, not just governments.

The 2-day meeting also highlighted global and national nutritional trends. First, we don’t actually know what is happening post food, fuel and financial crises—highlighting just how difficult it is for our monitoring systems to keep up with the real world. Second, pre-crisis trends are encouraging in Asia (excluding India) and less encouraging in sub Saharan Africa (although there are exceptions and also the average rate is still lower than South Asia).

We had some terrific national-level presentations showing how strategic some of the nutrition leaders have been (e.g. Malawi, Brazil, Cambodia, Peru) in positioning nutrition within government (usually in a central location such as the Ministry of Planning and Investment or the Prime Minister’s Office), in setting up inter-ministerial coordinating mechanisms and in setting public goals in terms of outputs and outcomes.

Most people agreed that a global nutrition strategy would help raise the profile of nutrition on Davos-like stages (where it is not even on the radar screen) helping to generate more resources for the country level processes to focus them. Much inspiration was drawn from the reframing of global efforts to combat HIV/AIDS and the water security.

The importance of process in constructing this global vision for nutrition was brought home by the country level leaders. They insisted that global processes are not framed only by the multilateral agencies. Programmes that aspire to global reach need to be globally constructed, not from Washington, Brussels, New York, London or Rome, but from everyone who needs to play a role.

The EC hosted the meeting. The gathering sparked a re-commitment of support from the major UN agencies for the Standing Committee on Nutrition (SCN). The SCN has the potential to be a leading mechanism for creating interagency synergies at the global level if it can get its focus, governance and resourcing right. The meeting was thus important for that re-commitment.

The meeting was also important in that it helped maintain the immediacy and urgency of the malnutrition issue within the EC. The EC and the EU are major international development players and already exhibit strong leadership in food security. I hope they are also becoming convinced that they can and need to play the same European leadership role in the fight against malnutrition.

18 November 2009

A Davos for Education?

I just returned from the first World Innovation Summit on Education (WISE) in Doha. Qatar has made a long term commitment to convert its natural gas revenue into a world leading research capital. WISE was a further statement of intent.

With 6 or so US Universities already in residence at Education City, corporate R&D centres and Qatar University across the road, there are possibilities for new blends of research to generate global public goods in environment and energy. These possibilities need inclusive shaping and governing processes if they are to deliver for the world’s poorest and marginal. The Qatar Foundation funds much of this and seems open to such ideas. The three major themes of the conference were pluralism, sustainability and innovation. There were over a 1000 participants and 100 speakers drawn from all over the world.

My presentation was on Transformative Universities, describing some of the pioneering work done by our Participation, Power and Social Change Team in the area of blended learning. I highlighted their partnership work on the new Master’s in Development Practice being planned by Cairo University and Makerere University (led by Mariz Tadros) and the innovative Masters in Power, Participation and Social Change led by Jethro Pettit and Peter Taylor run by IDS for the University of Sussex.

This was my first large education conference and it was interesting how the sector is:

· looking beyond enrolment--grappling with delivering and assessing quality
· looking for ways to incorporate new ICT technologies
· struggling to deliver education in fragile contexts
· looking for ways to flexibilise rigid higher education systems
· missing the plurality of systems that one sees in health

The WISE conference wants to position itself as the annual global conference on education with the profile, if not necessarily the model, of Davos.

There seems to be a need for such a forum. Some are worried that this might diminish the role of UNESCO, but the new Head of the Agency was there and enthusiastically supported the initiative. If the sector is to address the above challenges, my sense is that UNESCO and the rest need all the help they can get.

11 November 2009

Rajiv Shah at USAID?

I just heard that Raj Shah has been nominated by the Obama Administration as the new Administrator of USAID. It is good news that this important agency is finally getting some attention from the Administration. Raj was the head of health and then agriculture at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, so he has a good breadth of experience. I have had a few interactions with Raj over the past two years. Some people who are worried about the Foundation's potentially unchecked influence (and about AGRA in particular) will not like this appointment. I don't know who the other contenders were, but I do know that Raj cares deeply about the resources under his stewardship actually having a positive impact on the poorest groups in society. In particular he is seriously committed to fixing the broken feedback loop in international development by creating spaces to listen to smallholder farmers and families who have a hard time getting access to good quality health care. If his nomination is confirmed I encourage you to get in touch to tell him how you think USAID should be reshaped.

09 November 2009

Commitment Technology

If you have not seen the new HungerFree scorecard report from ActionAid, then I suggest you check it out. Why? It is the first report that rates countries -- rich and poor -- on their commitment to reducing hunger. What do they spend on sustainable agriculture and social protection, do they have laws on the right to food and do they uphold them?

The index ranks Brazil, China, Ghana, Vietnam and Malawi as the top 5 countries with a commitment to reducing hunger, with India at 22. Luxembourg, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Denmark and Sweden are the top donor countries.

This index is a good start, but needs to be (a) more fine grained and ground truthed, (b) expanded to multinationals, multilaterals and large NGOs and (c) evaluated to see if it has been used by civil society and the media or whether it has changed anyone one's behaviour. We hope to work with ActionAid on the next version.

03 November 2009

Dudley Seers: A seer in name and nature

Last week Sir Richard Jolly delivered the 10th Dudley Seers Memorial Lecture at IDS.

Dudley Seers passed away in 1983. He is widely acknowledged to be one of the Institutes's most influential Fellows and Directors. One of Dudley's great strengths was to bring a freshness, vividness and originality to a seemingly intractable problem. These are the very things that the current IDS continues to strive to do. His challenges to economic orthodoxy were numerous and well-known. He was one of the first voices calling for the "dethronement" of GNP as a measure of development. He was always at pains to point out that the international coexistence of rich and poor was crucial to understanding the problems of the developing world.

The current discussions around the measurement of economic performance and social progress (see the Commission chaired by Joseph Stiglitz) and the build up to the Climate Conference at Copenhagen show how prescient Dudley Seers' work would prove to be.

Richard Jolly gave a fine talk about UN Ideas That Changed the World, drawn from his new book. With the uncertainly about how to re govern the market, these ideas -- sustainability, human development, human rights, social development, women's empowerment--are needed now more than ever.