24 January 2010


The terrible earthquake in Haiti has generated a lot of discussion in the media about the logistics of humanitarian aid: Which countries are giving it? Why is it taking so long to get there? Who is in control? Who is getting the aid? What is the role of the military?

These are important issues and questions and addressing them will help save lives and provide relief to a shattered nation.

But there is a set of less newsworthy questions, the answers to which will help determine the development trajectory of Haiti, post-quake.

1. Will the earthquake's aftermath redefine the relationships between citizen and state?

• The state’s capacity to provide public goods, not strong in the first place, will be severely compromised. Will this result in reduced liberty under the banner of enhanced security? And is that appropriate in the circumstances?
• Will the destruction of papers and social networks result in some residents losing their citizenship status and hence their ability to make claims on the state?
• Will this power vacuum combined with all the new humanitarian actors result in Haitian citizens having a weaker voice in decisions around reconstruction efforts?

2. Are the media becoming too big a part of the story?

• Does media interest lead development agencies to make rash choices to demonstrate action rather than do most good?
• Do the media exacerbate competitive tensions among relief agencies and create bottlenecks to cooperation?

3. What is the impact of the response of US residents on Haiti and what is the impact of the tragedy on attitudes in the US?

• How important will US social networks and remittances be in supporting the survivors?
• Has this hardened or softened US attitudes about the effectiveness of the UN as a coordinating force?
• Will the attitude of the American taxpayer towards development be influenced positively by the earthquake, or will it be seen as a one-off act of humanitarianism?
• Will anyone draw parallels with New Orleans in 2006?

4. Have the lessons learned from the 2004 Tsunami been used to strengthen the response to Haiti’s earthquake?

• Is the gap between geological data and development relief monitors as large as in 2004?
• Have the global preparedness mechanisms put in place in 2005 been helpful?
• Is NGO coordination (national and international) as good--or better--than in 2005?

The relief effort is not about getting Haiti back on its feet—it never really was. But the current work represents the first step in building more resilient development pathways for Haiti. The choices that the Haitian government, its people, and the outside agencies make in response to questions like those above will shape those pathways in profound ways. The incredibly hard task of thinking about medium term development amid the tears and the rubble needs to begin now.

The MDGs: Means-Free Development?

I’m on my way to a workshop at the UN which is part of a dialogue about what comes after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. The MDGs were conceived of in the 1990s, a relatively stable period for development. They are the outcome of a political process. They served as a human development counterweight to the economic development framing of the World Bank and IMF. They captured the results based management culture of that time.

Have they been a force for good? There is no uncontestable evidence either way. ODA has increased, but it is hard to link the existence of the MDGs to it. Some national development plans highlight the MDGs, some do not. It may have helped advocates of aid to make their case, but we don’t know. It may have distracted attention away from issues not captured in the goals, targets and indicators (infrastructure is often mentioned) but that may be due to other factors.

Against a backdrop of increased uncertainty on how to stimulate development best, many are asking the question, what should we do about the MDGS after 2015? There are several camps, including these:

• MDGs are needed but we need better outcome goals and indicators
• MDGs are needed but the outcomes need to be shaped by a much more broader global process
• MDGs are needed, but they need to reflect models of change about how development occurs. They must cover a combination of outcomes and behaviours. They must apply to rich, emerging and poor countries.
• MDGs are too reductionist. They need to be replaced by redistributive institutions and structures that specify the kind of global society we wish to live in.

My take on the MDGs is that the global community needs some kind of commitment mechanism. But it must:

1. Articulate the kind of world we want to live in. Outcomes are vital, obviously, and a different set may be warranted 15 years on. But the means are equally vital. Do we care about rights and justice? What about representation? If so, we must have targets for how the rules of the game need to change, particularly at the global level.

2. Apply to all countries, not just the poorest. The indicator of rich country behavior that is regularly monitored is the 0.7% of gross national income to ODA. Other features of rich country behavior (e.g. on climate, narcotics, finance, arms) need to be monitored.

3. Reflect the preferences of each country. There is no blueprint for development. We know a lot about the things that are helpful. But the exact combination of legislation, policies and spending will reflect national contexts, politics, capacities, and priorities.

4. Allow everyone to assess efforts as well as outcomes. It is too easy for countries to say they are doing one thing while doing another. Progress (or lack thereof) in the current MDGs does not shed any light on performance of individual actors. We need more monitoring of effort as well as the results of those efforts.

Whether these are the right attributes of such a commitment mechanism and whether the MDGs will be fit for purpose should be discussed not just by development insiders in New York, but all over the world and by those who would not describe themselves as development workers. I will be sure to update you on the conclusions of the workshop and whether it changed my mind.

04 January 2010

Ten Predictions for 2010

Given the magnitude of Western debt and the need to pay it down at a rate that does not disrupt any signs of growth, 2010 may well be the most benign year for development between now and 2015. The big cuts will come in 2011 onwards. We need to make the most of 2010. Here are 10 “predictions” which may help.

1. China’s view will become the bellwether of all development agreements. As Copenhagen signalled, it will be impossible to have any agreement on any development issue without China’s blessing. In an increasingly G2 world, only one of the G’s has developing country bona fides, even if no-one really considers it to be one, and its voice will count the most in any development agreement.

2. “Minilateralism” is the wave of the future. Global governance is broken. To expect 193 countries to agree on anything that has teeth is unrealistic. Yet, the list of issues in global governance’s inbox is mounting. Until some alternative to the 193 is found, smaller clusterings of countries (coined as minilateralism by Moises Naim) will find ways to do business, with the membership and size of the clusters being issue-driven. As we saw in Copenhagen, these clusterings can breed distrust and scupper the potential for 193-country deals, but that may not be such a bad thing if it spurs some more creative forms of global governance.

3. Copenhagen will energise, not demoralise, those fighting for climate issues to be higher up the agenda. I have mentioned Copenhagen twice already. Climate change is a window into the future for so many issues – the relations between market and state, between private and public behaviours, and between the rich countries and the emerging ones—but what does it say about climate change as an issue? Whoever was to blame for the Copenhagen agreement, the outcome told us that negotiations as usual will not work. The rich countries want emerging countries like China and India to tie their growth to emissions (as in targets for reduced emissions). But China and India want emissions tied to growth (as in targets for the carbon intensity of any growth achieved). China and India are never going to limit their growth to meet emissions targets, but they are more likely to limit their emissions per unit of growth. The sooner the rich countries agree to this, the sooner we can get the global agreement we need. It’s time to reboot the negotiations using a different operating system, and I think the Copenhagen outcome will crystallise this for many people.

4. The Commonwealth will become more important in development. The Conservative Party’s Green Paper envisages a greater role for the Commonwealth in development. The Queen’s Christmas speech also highlighted the contributions the Commonwealth, now celebrating its sixtieth year, could make, emphasising the fact that over half of its 2 billion “members” are under 25 years of age. It is also interesting that Rwanda, a country with no British colonial past, applied and was admitted to the Commonwealth in November 2009. How the grouping of 54 countries will become more important for development remains to be seen, but in a world groping for mechanisms for collective action, don’t rule out this rather controversial institution.

5. USAID will become more relevant to international development. Diminished in the Reagan years, and never fully recovered, USAID is widely regarded at best as a sleeping giant, and at worst as an organisation more interested in bureaucracy than development. That is about to change. The new person in charge is Raj Shah. In his mid 30’s and is one of the youngest administrators in an already young Obama Administration, he comes without much State Department baggage. Based on his work at the Gates Foundation, he will make USAID more development focused, more outcome focused, and more people focused. I expect moderately extraordinary things.

6. Food and nutrition will slowly slip from the top table of the development agenda. Much as I hate to say it, I cannot see food and nutrition being the subject of a high level meeting in Number 10 any time soon. Of course, something could be prompted by another food price spike, but I have been disappointed by the international community’s response to the 2007-2008 food price increase and I would not expect anything different next time around. In the past 2 years there has been no serious recalibration of what is acceptable (Why is an increase in the number of hungry from 850 million to 1 billion a crisis? Why isn’t 850 million a crisis?), no re-think of the structural causes of hunger, no serious reform of the global infrastructure and no significant new resource flows (will the L’Aquila billions materialise? Will they be additional? And why only billions? One thing 2009 has given us is an understanding that governments can do trillions). We need much stronger civil society commitment mechanisms to change the dynamic. We need indices that monitor inaction on hunger that are as robust and noisy as those which monitor corruption.

7. Africa will get back onto the international agenda, briefly. 2010 is potentially a big year for international attention on African development. It is five years after the Gleneagles G8 commitments, the Commission for Africa, Live8 and the rest. It is also the year the World Cup debuts in Africa. African GDP has quietly grown in the past 12 months, giving some cause for optimism. Moyo’s 2009 book was in large part an unsubstantiated polemic, but it did give many pause for thought about the way the donors frame relationships with African countries. 2010 will be an opportunity to re-set donor relations with African countries, one in which there needs to be more talk of relationships beyond aid.

8. Economics will change, but only at the margins. Last year was a bad one for the economics profession. Core assumptions about the rationality, individuality and certainty of decision making came under fire--from economics Nobel Prize winners, no less. How will economics respond in the next year? A steady reformation was on-going before the fall of Lehman. The shift in production in the industrialised countries from commodities to knowledge-based services has accelerated the greater communion of economics and psychology. We also need some greater link up with history (Ha Joon Chang is leading the way on this front) and with politics (we need more Dani Rodrik’s please). But these are marginal shifts at the moment. We need the undergraduate text book writers to really take up the challenge of reinventing economics for the next generation of economists.

9. DFID will undergo evolution not revolution. Whichever party forms the next UK government, DFID will pay more attention to market-friendly mechanisms. We will see more attention given to the assessment of impact, to mechanisms to validate and organise evidence, to ways of signalling reputation, to innovative alliances, to methods for soliciting beneficiary feedback, and to new ways of engaging with UK taxpayers. All of this will be more valuable, but more difficult in fragile contexts. The key difference between the parties will probably be the pace of change rather than the direction.

10. People power in development will move into a new age. 2010 will mark the 5th birthday of YouTube. In 2004 YouTube did not exist, now it gets 1 billion views a day. In 2003 China and India had 100 million internet users. Today that number is 350 million. In most African countries the number of internet users has tripled or quadrupled in the past 5 years. In 2004, 2 in 10 households in the developing world had a mobile phone subscription while today it is 5 in 10. These trends will accelerate and we will find ever more uses for them in development. I feel we are now at the cusp of their greatly expanded use in development. I already see many applications: UNICEF in Malawi using mobile phones to monitoring infant nutrition status in real time, international NGOs using mobiles to monitor potential famines, the use of YouTube to connect organisations’ field and headquarter operations to promote the sharing of front line innovations, and the use of mobile video to monitor rights abuses. Will this new technology foster a profound new wave of participation in development and change? I think so.