On March 11 DFID hosted its second international development conference. The theme was on accelerating progress on the MDGs—what to do differently? Can this be a turning point for achieving the MDGs? The DFID summaries of the conference are already up on their website.
Overall I thought the conference was a success. There was a renewed sense of energy, generated by reminders of what has been accomplished in the last 10 and 20 years and the commitment of people like Amina Az-Zubair, Ashraf Ghani, Uday Khemka and Peter Madden.
The Secretary of State, Douglas Alexander, asked us to focus on 3 things: accountability, innovation and resilience. I think we responded well on the first, less so on the last two.
1. Leadership and accountability were high on the agenda. Not the usual laments about “political will” but instead: (a) talk about contracts rather than compacts between rich, emerging and poor countries, (b) talk about building leadership not just waiting for it, and (c) the idea of putting in place mechanisms to pressure and embarrass leaders into being more responsive, things like commitment indices, stakeholder audits, transparency funds, constituent feedback and impact assessments. True leadership is when investments are made in assessment mechanisms that may prove inconvenient for those in power but which nevertheless promote the greater good. Without this commitment technology in place, I fear there will be no acceleration of progress towards the MDGs. Without them failure to accelerate the MDGs has less of a consequence for those in power. As Nick Stern said in a different context, these mechanisms are a way of sharing the risk between rich and poor. Much of this will give meaning and content to MDG8 on partnerships.
2. Resilience. This is a word we hear a lot about these days, partly because of climate change, partly because of the financial downturn. But what does it really mean? Yes, its about complexity, adaptability, diversity and incertitude, but then? Our STEPS Centre at IDS is working to give resilience meaning in a development context.
3. Innovation. There were too many of the familiar faces to guarantee new sparks of innovation would fly. I always believe the best innovations come from lateral rather than unilateral thinking. There were some fascinating and talented private sector people present, but they were too few to really influence collective thinking. New alliances are a large part of IDS’ new strategy and one of the reasons is to help our thinking burst out of the international development bubble.
Women’s empowerment: the need for this came through strongly, but with few concrete ways of accelerating progress. Yes, we need greater participation of women at all levels of government and civil society (including the private sector) but how do we do that? Quotas? Leadership schools? A greater focus on secondary and tertiary education? Financial incentives? Social movements? Legal system? Is there an overarching theory of change that connects across the many different pathways?
The need to strengthen MDG7: Nick Stern reminded us that the 2005 Commission for Africa hardly mentioned climate change. Saleem Huq reminded us that the 1992 G8 world of Rio was very different to the G20 world of 2010. I made the point that climate change should reframe development around new forms of partnership between rich and emerging countries, between the public and private sectors and between wellbeing today and in the future. Forget “development = adaptation”; it is development as we know it which has to adapt.
Hunger and nutrition: this is a session I presented in. While the three presentations (social protection, agriculture, nutrition) were individually fine, they did not connect very well which is symptomatic of the wider disconnects. I wanted to delve into how the Brazilian leadership negotiated and mediated between 94 (I think) agencies in the fight against hunger. That takes determined leaders, but how do we find and develop them?
Omissions: One cannot do everything in one day (and we tried), but there was hardly any mention of HIV/AIDS, at least in plenary or in my breakout group on hunger. It was striking and it made me wonder why? It’s not as if MDG6 is outperforming all the others. It’s not as if DFID does not think the issue is not vital. Working out why certain things were headlined by the conference and others were not is part and parcel of the politics of the policy process!