29 December 2011

10 Predictions for 2012

"Our assessment is that the Egyptian Government is stable" Hillary Clinton January 25, 2011.

Yep, it's that time of year, when the mind is free to wander, wishful thinking has its day, hostages to fortune are taken (see Sec. Clinton above), and some wild ideas are let loose.

As usual, I remain uncomfortable in predictions, especially about the future, nevertheless, here goes:

1. Development assistance will increasingly resemble an hourglass. For the rush of sand to the bottleneck of the hourglass read the run up to the MDGs and the dwindling club of ODA eligible countries. What kind of development world are we slipping into and what do we want that other half of the hourglass to look like? In the rush to 2015, we are not doing such a great job of thinking about the 2016+ world. We all need to do better at this future game.

2. The nutrition bubble will last for more than 1000 days. I have not witnessed anything like it--the interest in getting rid of undernutrition seems here to stay, for a while, at least. Many of the investments are 5-6 years and so this guarantees their longevity beyond 1000 days. The 1000 days is a brilliant marketing construct (the first 1000 days of life is a vital window of opportunity to intervene to address undernutrition--beyond this period Q2 1 nutrition violations are irreversible). Whether this transformation of nutrition within the development agenda can be locked in will depend on how we are able to transform thinking about nutrition, getting a better balance between health and development perspectives and making it as much a political issue as a technical one.

3. Hunger will not rise up the agenda unless there is another major food price spike. It used to be the nutrition stakeholders that looked like a rabble. Now the anti-hunger lobby looks disorganised and toothless. What will it take for hunger to move up the development agenda? Either a crisis (on top of the existing crisis of hunger) or the construction of a movement. Let's not wait for a new crisis.

4. Business accelerates its shaping of development, the development community continues to shrug. Walmart, the world's biggest corporation and China, the world's most populous country have been quietly building a partnership that is beginning to shape consumer behaviour towards green products and increasingly concentrate power in the global retail industry. Chinese consumers are worried about food safety, the Chinese government is worried about its reliance on fossil fuels, and Walmart wants to increase market share in China and become a world leader in green sourcing. It seems to be working, but we don't really know because the rest of us are not paying enough attention.

5. Say hello to SDGs, wave goodbye to MDGs? Rumours are that at the upcoming Rio+20 meetings a suite of Sustainable Development Goals will be unveiled. I can only hope that there will be some coherence with the thinking around the post-2015 goals. It is surprising when we look back at 1999 and realise how little environmental sustainability was folded into the MDGs. With all the political revolts of 2011 will we look back at 2012 from 2016 and wonder why there was so little discussion of political sustainability in any new set of Goals?

6. Politics will become more unruly. My colleagues in the Participation, Power and Social Change Team at IDS have been highlighting this trend for a while, but the Arab revolts and the Occupy movements (due to be focused on Washington DC in an election year) have brought protest to the fore. Even TIME magazine made "The Protester" its Person of the Year (back in 2006 it was "You" as in You Tube). It remains to be seen how much of this is enabled by Facebook (800 million users and counting) and other social media platforms, but we will see more of it in 2012.

7. Central Asia will rise on the development agenda. Long forgotten, despite being on Europe's doorstep, many of the Central Asian countries have poverty rates stubbornly set at 30%. They have booming GDP due to natural resource price rises, weak institutions, growing inequality, frozen conflicts and bad environmental records. With the West's declining commitment to Afghanistan, elections coming up in Russia and other countries in the region and will we see protest and unrest in the Caucases?

8. Don't expect much leadership from the US on international development in 2012. On to a different kinds of caucases, the Iowa ones. At least it does not look as if Ron Paul (let's get rid of foreign aid) will get enough traction in the Iowa Republican nominations to survive beyond the Hawkeye State, but 2012 will be about the election and about dealing with the fallout from the Supreme Court's decision on the challenge by 26 States to national healthcare. The FY 2012 budget saw about a 15% cut in the non war related development assistance, which while not great is much better than was feared in the summer. But the wild card might be if Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden swap places (as Robert Reich predicts). On an Obama-Clinton ticket things will get interesting for foreign assistance. Obama will probably be re-elected and he definitely will with Hillary on the ticket (her predictive ability not withstanding) to energise "the base".

9. We will finally get more balance in the impact debate. We will find the right mix of concern with internal and external validity and the right mixes of quantitative and qualitative methods. DFID will publish a review by Elliot Stern and coauthors that I believe will be a helpful contribution to the debate, a debate in which the pendulum is swinging back to a different (i.e. increased rigor is here to stay), but more balanced place. What we really need are blends of these methods driven by the issues, rather than method driven dogma.

10. The world will not end on December 21, 2012. This is the date at the end of the Mayan Long Calender. I did not know about this until someone mentioned it to me in a comment on this blog. But the world cannot end on December 21, 2012 because the UK's Research Excellence Framework deadline is October 2013. I just can't see the UK's higher education funding council, HEFCE, allowing it.


Dominic Furlong said...

Like this post, so I've featured it in my round-up of global development end-of-year round-ups: a 'meta' round-up, if you like.

Read it here: http://dominicondevelopment.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/globaldev-roundup-a-roundup-of-2011-roundups/

Happy New Year and see you in 2012.

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