30 March 2011

Urban Denial

We know the world's population is urbanising rapidly. Is poverty also urbanising? 

Type in urban poverty trends into Google Scholar and top of the list is a paper that I co-authored, published in World Development in 1999. Not very encouraging. If you scan the World Bank and DFID web sites for urban work there is not much.

The one thing I did find is a powerpoint from 2009 by Judy Baker of the World Bank, presenting numbers (although where they come from I don't know) on the urban share of total poor (less than $2.15 a day 1993-2002) which show the numbers increasing for Latin America (no surprise), but also for South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. In the latter region the share of poverty in urban areas rises from 24% in 1993 to 31% in 2002--nearly one ppt per year.

For India we have a paper by Datt and Ravallion from 2010 which shows the share of India's poor living in urban areas rising from 25% in 1985 to 35% in 2005 or 0.5 ppt a year. So why no major emphasis on urban poverty in the development agencies (or research organisations?). Is it because:

  • urban poverty and rural poverty are so similar in nature? (they are similar in many ways but some key differences revolve around environmental externalities due to population density, violence, and fragile tenure)
  • the policies and programmes needed to reduce urban poverty are similar to rural poverty? (again, some are, but some --such as municipal public goods provision--need to be very attuned to urban contexts) 
  • there is now a rural bias? (Michael Lipton, a guru, will not like me saying it, but have we gotten lazy about assuming urban bias still prevails-those who shout loudest are in urban areas near policymakers and they get their needs met first)
  • all the 40 and 50 year old development professionals were taught to understand rural poverty and not urban poverty? (I think there is something to this--I have fond memories of Bruce Johnston's Integrated Rural Development)
  • the data on urban poverty are so weak and non-existent? (they are pretty poor--just check out these World Bank data pages)
  • of path dependency? (yep, its so easy to keep on doing what we are doing). 
It is probably all of the above and more. So we need to wake up to urban poverty. It is growing as a share of overall poverty--in all regions. Compares to rural poverty it has different manifestations and determinants. It has different solutions. The rural model will not always apply to the urban. Let's not be urban deniers any more.

28 March 2011


Today, the Humanitarian Emergency Response Review (HERR), an independent review commissioned by Andrew Mitchell and Chaired by Lord Ashdown, released its report. The Report contains 40 recommendations for DFID.

These 40 recommendations come under 7 headings:

  • Anticipation: develop a global risk register for DFID and others
  • Resilience: build resilience into core DFID business
  • Leadership: make sure the best leadership is in place in big crises
  • Innovation: particularly in mobile technologies, satellites and data management and display
  • Accountability: Support mechanisms to give recipients of aid greater voice
  • Partnership: create new donor partnerships with BRICS, Gulf States, private sector
  • Strengthen the humanitarian space: reaffirm principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality.

Five quick reactions from a quick read:

1. Anticipation. The report cites the example of Mozambique. In 2006 it asked the international community for 2 million pounds for flood preparation. It failed to get it. The floods came and the international system spent 60 million pounds. Stupid behaviour on the part of the international community, right? Difficult to say because there will be many more such pre-potential crisis requests to assess than there will be actual crises to respond to. Clearly the quality of the pre-potential crisis evidence is vital and this will have to be improved if confidence is to be built up. I would like to see routine evaluation of all crisis-predictive information--by organisation and by context so we know who to listen to and who to block out.

2. Resilience. Great, but what is stopping the linking of development and humanitarian spaces? We have been arguing for this for ever. Development generates risks that need to be anticipated. Humanitarian work knowingly and unknowingly opens and closes pathways for future development. For DFID--at least where it works in more fragile contexts-- the walls between these silos must be torn down. I would urge DFID to think more radically about how it organises itself to do this.

3. Giving aid recipients more choice and voice--great. DFID-- you should do this in your development programmes too.

4. Impact. Nice section, including the lack of drama in reporting a lack of drama. Showing something bad did not happen as a result of action is, at first glance, less compelling than showing something good happened. This tendency needs to be fought tooth and nail.

5. The messages in the HERR offer the potential of good connections with the BAR and the MAR: the bilateral and multilateral aid reviews. It would have been good to have had more connection pre-publication, so it is imperative to make connections now and in the future (see point 2).

In short, good report but it is clear to me that HERR needs HIM: Humanitarian Integration into the Mainstream of development. How to make it happen is another question, but this is a good start.
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When is a Land Deal a Land Grab?

A new report will be released this week in concert with the international conference on the global land grab to be held at IDS next week.

The Journal of Peasant Studies (JPS) Forum on global land grabbing, with three leading commentators, debates the sometimes hidden impacts of land deals and sets the scene for wider debates at the upcoming conference. The conference papers are available here.

Klaus Deininger, a senior economist at the World Bank examines the risks associated with single owners of large land holdings and the institutional reforms needed to make land deals successful. Olivier de Schutter, the UN Rapporteur for the Right to Food and Professor of Law and Human Rights at the Catholic University of Louvain, promotes small family farms and human rights in the context of contemporary debates on land grabbing. And Tania Murray Li, Canada Research Chair and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, examines how land deals can lead to dispossession and "rural exclusion".

Saturnino Jun Borras at the Institute of Social Studies in the Hague, Ruth Hall at the Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies in South Africa and Ian Scoones at IDS, are founder members of the Land Deals Politics Initiative which is organising the Global Land Grab conference.

It will be interesting to see what the evidence says about when a de jure land deal is simply a de facto land grab and whether there is anything public policy can do to prevent one turning into the other. Will do a post later next week.
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23 March 2011

What should INGO’s do differently in the next 5 years?

What should international non-governmental organizations(INGO’s) do differently in the next 5 years? This was the question posed by Trocaire--one of Ireland’s most respected INGOs--in its Leading Edge 2020 horizon scanning exercise.

This was the first time the process had been made public—previous exercises had been internal to serve Trocaire’s strategy formulation. IDS Fellows, Rosie McGee and Andy Sumner, provided some support to the process. Yesterday I attended the launch of the report in Dublin, where some 200 of the Irish development community gathered.

The report analysed some data trends, but was mainly a distillation of the views of 90 development professionals selected for a diversity of perspectives and positions about where development was going in the next 10 years and what this meant for the future role of INGOs.

The top 3 “burning questions” for INGOs that emerged from the interviews were:

1. Advocacy: how do INGOs protect their independence and ability to speak out on issues that may be unpopular with important stakeholders? In other words, to what extent does funding compromise stance?
2. Downward accountability: How do INGOs ensure that they are as (or more) accountable to the people they reach as they are to the development partners that fund them?
3. Flexible and responsive: How can INGO’s experiment and innovate without falling victim to development fads?

We had many excellent speakers, including Jan O’Sullivan, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Fr. George Buleya of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi, European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs, Brendan Rogers the DG of Irish Aid and Fionnuala Gilsenan head of civil society at Irish Aid and Lorna Gold and Justin Kilcullen from Trocaire. Of particular interest to me was Michael Woolcock’s presentation.

Michael is at the World Bank and is the kind of person who should be driving change in the organization, but his message is not easy for large development organizations to hear. He summarised a recent paper on how he thought the aid architecture needed to evolve towards: (a) a new ecology of giving (including investor driver and recipient driven, new philanthropies, new bilaterals), (b) low transactions costs (e.g. the global giving model of web based investing in specific projects), (c) the need for real-time results on what is working and why—no waiting around for 5 years for the impact study, (d) monitoring and evaluation that is attuned to and supplied by local knowledge, (e) support for change processes that are seen as legitimate, and (f) the creation of space for equitable contestation of aid interventions.

This agenda, especially (c)-(f), resonates strongly with me and links to the people powered evaluation I have mentioned in earlier blogs.

What did INGOs take away from the day? The report did a good job of surfacing a number of difficult issues, including:

• The need for INGOs to position themselves more clearly—at one extreme there is service delivery with high levels of government funding and at the other end of the spectrum an independent voice, less dependent on government support, funded mainly by individual contributions. Choices about where to be in this spectrum must be made by each INGO reiterating what kind of change it is trying to support and how it thinks it can do that.

• More and better advocacy, but to whom and for what? It seems to me that INGOs have two potential sources of legitimacy—their relationships with grassroots organizations in recipient countries and their relationship with their home citizens. I would like to see the INGOs focus more on influencing the non-ODA parts of the Irish Government on things like CAP reform, international financial transactions regulation, energy policy, narcotics regulation, small arms treaties, and intellectual property regimes. These governance decisions have huge implications for development, but are often outside the remit of the bilateral aid agencies.

• How to make the results agenda work for learning and improvement. Brendan Rogers urged participants not to be intimidated by the results agenda—he reminded us that it is not as if we had all suddenly discovered the need for results, but that the increased focus must not generate undue burdens, and must not deter us from working on less measurable issues. In fact, by linking their two sources of legitimacy (citizens in Ireland and citizens in recipient countries) INGOs could inject citizen voice into the results process.

So, INGOs: be less obsessed with ODA and focus on other government departments, focus more on global public goods that your own government can affect, such as climate, trade, and security regimes, and try to focus on transformative actions.

Will the results agenda disincentivise these kinds of activities? As I have said many times before, it could, but it needn’t. With a bit of creative thinking, we can measure the “meaningful” and not just the “amenable”. The INGOs, working with research organizations—south and north, east and west--could (and should) be at the forefront of new ways of defining and measuring impact.

21 March 2011

The World Bank's Social Protection Strategy Refresh

While in Addis, I had the opportunity to interact with Laura Rawlings and her World Bank colleagues on their draft Social Protection (SP) strategy refresh (see powerpoints here).

The key features of the new strategy:

  • a move from social risk management (mitigate, cope with and reduce risk) to a 3P framework (Prevention against a fall into poverty, Protection against loss of human capital, Promotion of opportunities and livelihoods)
  • helping countries build context-specific SP programmes, especially in lower income countries
  • emphasising promotion, through the labour market and other routes
  • focus on governance, particularly social accountability
  • harnessing other sectors through SP (e.g. nutrition)
  • investing in knowledge management

I welcome this evolution of the strategy. The 3P framework is something we have pioneered at IDS, through our Centre for Social Protection, so it is great to see it being used by the Bank.

The main regret is that the T (for Transformation) from our framework has been dropped from theirs.

The "T" argument is that many shocks arise from the social and political power structures within society and that SP should, whenever possible, try to influence these rather than simply respond to them. In other words, can SP change the rules of the game? There are ways of doing this that involve changing power dynamics in a micro way. Transferring resources to women is one way of shifting power balances (although it can create problems for women if they are merely "fronts"). But there are other ways of doing this, via supporting citizens to claim rights to SP. The Bank's focus on social accountability may be the way they (partially) deal with this.

There is more attention to political analysis within the strategy which is a step forwards. Back in 2007 I was urging the Bank to do this (see here), but it is a shame that there is not a greater emphasis. There are at least 3 reasons for such an emphasis (a) SP is inherently political--it is wrapped up in ideology about the role of the state, (b) SP represents one area of intense negotiation and settlement between state and society, and (c) SP is open to vote buying.

I was pleased to see the emphasis on knowledge management, although I would like to see a greater focus on drawing on experience from front line operations, especially given the emphasis on building context specificity. Having more decentralised Bank staff helps but is not sufficient for this to happen--the Bank must reach out to partners in country to identify and mobilise knowledge and expertise that does not make it into the economics peer reviewed journals.

I congratulate the Bank on this evolution of the SP strategy and hope to see more boldness on the political analysis (upstream and downstream), on the structural drivers of vulnerability and on diversified knowledge management.

If you would like to share your views with the Bank, here is the email address: spstrategy@worldbank.org

18 March 2011

When Three Tribes Don’t Go to War

This week I was a participant in a World Bank-DFID-Economic Commission for Africa-IDS workshop on "Making social protection (SP) work for climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR)".

The key questions: should these three tribes (SP, CCA and DRR) work together to improve the ability of government and development partner agencies to support individuals, communities and states to manage risk and live with uncertainty? If so, what are the incentives to do so and the constraints holding us back?

The workshop was in Addis Ababa, where major investments in social protection are taking place (the Productive Safety Net Programme or PSNP), where natural disasters (e.g. droughts) are common and where climate change is thought to be changing rapidly.

Some conclusions:

1. Participants, drawn from the three tribes, thought that the commonalities of approaches far outweighed the differences. SP focuses on individuals and households, helping with current consumption and protecting against asset draw downs. CCA focuses on helping individuals, communities and societies anticipate and respond positively to changes brought by a changing climate. DRR helps societies minimize exposure to major shocks and helps them prepare for the impacts of those shocks. SP is best at dealing with individual and aggregate risks. DRR is aimed at aggregate shocks. CCA is about uncertainty at the aggregate level (i.e. we don’t know what the probabilities of the shocks are because their drivers are new).

2. The potential for the three tribes to combine productively was thought to be large, and that it was feasible in practice. The combination of tribal difference and relatedness would seem to make them natural partners. They are all concerned with enhancing risk management, the capacity to live with uncertainty and the advancement of human wellbeing. But, in practice, given the constraints of how agencies and programmes are organized, can overlaps be created which enhance the effectiveness of each? For example, is it possible to design a cash transfer programme to households and communities (SP) that helps to (1) build the capacity to adapt to climate change (e.g. diversification of livelihoods and income sources or the capacity of the community to act on imperfect climate projection information) and (2) strengthens the preparedness for natural disasters (e.g. investment in flood barriers, infrastructure and storage) and so, in turn, enhances social protection to make it “adaptive social protection”?

3. The incentives for working cross-tribally are not that clear. The transactions costs of working together are non-trivial (getting beyond the very serious levels of jargon, the clunky administrative procedures, and the need for relationship building), so what are the incentives to do so? Obviously we all want to make our own tribes better, but working with other approaches is risky. What are the drivers? Well, for SP and DRR, is one incentive to collaborate to get access to the growing climate finance streams? For CCA programme managers, is the key incentive to collaborate with SP to become integrated into development activities? For the DRR, might the incentives be an enhanced ability to demonstrate impact in a results based context? (By linking to continuous SP evaluations it should be possible to make plausible estimates of the value of, say, flood barriers if there is a flood during the period of evaluation.)

4. Impact assessment on climate change adaptation is going to have to go beyond business as usual. CCA poses challenges to standard impact assessment techniques. Does it make sense to randomly allocate an intervention that increases the capacity to deal with a stress that is not likely to appear in the treatment and control areas at the same level of intensity? Moreover, the cycles over which the payoffs to enhanced adaptive capacities are visible are long—much longer than political cycles. So one approach is to invest in a portfolio of adaptive capacities that seem to make sense for the community/region, but never really knowing which has been most effective. An additional appraoch is to try to construct plausible (but not definitive) answers to the question of which interventions perform best against a series of artificial stresses? Perhaps one way forward is to use the behavioural sciences to construct scenarios and “games” to analyse how different groups of people (including those most vulnerable and practitioners and policymakers) respond to different stresses in terms of the choices they make. Not perfect, but they may be able to give us some ex-ante assessments of which adaptive capacities best meet a portfolio of stresses in a given context.

5. We need to learn better from people who are facing these risks and uncertainties on an everyday basis. Vulnerable communities and households don’t know anything about these three tribes, they just try the best they can to survive and thrive in the presence of changing risks. We need to find better ways of learning from these experts.

As someone who would identify with the SP tribe, I can now see much better scope for collaboration, not war, between the tribes—and will look to do this in the context of IDS skills, partners and audiences.

12 March 2011

Aid for Development in Less Free and More Corrupt Contexts

Andy Sumner and I are working with some excellent research assistants at IDS to complete a number crunch on the bilateral spend in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia (we thought we could do it quickly, but it is actually quite difficult to ensure that pre and post BAR numbers are comparable! DFID transparency gurus, please note).

What the numbers are showing so far is: (a) the spend is about as pro-poor as before, which is very good news, but (b) the spend is higher in countries where freedom scores are lower (Freedom House index) and where corruption scores are higher (Transparency International index).

The freedom and corruption outcomes are no big surprise since definitions of fragility (see Stewart and Brown) relate to state authority failures (the state cannot protect its citizens against violence and criminality), service delivery failures and legitimacy failures (the state has very little support from its citizens).

If we believe these indices, this means that aid does not only have a double responsibility, as Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell puts it, but actually a triple responsibility: make sure aid: (a) has a transformational impact on people's lives, (b) does this with an emphasis on value for money, and, vitally, (c) does not incentivise further closing down and corruption in recipient countries.

How to use aid for development in less free and more corrupt societies? An open question, and one that all of us should be trying help answer. I don't think it is about new forms of conditionality, but rather it's about the way that aid is used.

It seems to me that, whenever possible, aid should be directed to giving citizens "voice and choice". One obvious examples is cash transfers direct to households. These are set to expand within DFID and other aid donors. Another, less obvious but potentially transformative option is "people powered evaluation" -- citizens living in recipient countries delivering their verdict on the difference UKAid makes on the ground.

I do not have definitive evidence on whether it is practical or will make a difference (although IDS is currently involved in a randomised controlled trial of such an M&E system (versus a conventional M&E system) in the Philippines in the context of cocoa, coconut and rice production).

But if successful it would (a) give a more "grounded and rounded" view of the difference aid makes, (b) make stories of impact more convincing to UK citizens--being a counterpoint to those who argue that people in the UK defend aid more vigorously than people in recipient countries do and, crucially, would (c) promote openness, transparency and accountability in a way that puts pragmatism ahead of rhetoric.

If it worked, it could transform the aid debate by rounding out the transparency, accountability and results agendas and would build huge trust with the UK public.

In the context of cash on delivery it would be like giving sign-off authority on the delivery docket to citizens in, say, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Pakistan.

Guardian Development: Ghettoising or Mainstreaming Development?

I am a fan of the Guardian's Development site. It is increasingly informative, diverse and provocative. But I wonder if it is (a) making it "OK" for other sections of the newspaper to ignore development and (b) bringing in enough content from other parts of the newspaper, content that is not on development but is stuff that we should be thinking about?

On the first, it would be useful to hear the Guardian editors' reflections. It would be even better to have the stats on whether development stories are more or less likely to make it to the print version of the newspaper.

On the second, the challenge will be to be selective. Just today there were four stories that stimulated the development parts of my brain:

* the earthquake that has devastated Japan and is threatening the entire region: a chilling article by Bill McGuire on how many natural disasters can be planned for, but in the face of a Tsunami we are almost powerless (I can think of several counterexamples to these two assertions).

* cigarette packaging: this gets the Ben Goldacre "Bad Science" treatment--about how positions for and against banning branding on cigarette packets carry on happily ignoring the evidence (packaging design makes a big difference). How many development debates are like this? A lot, I think. But this one made me reflect on how incurious we are about how we communicate our findings in research. My sense is that the way results are framed and presented can have a huge influence on the likelihood of uptake and on the content of the message received. This is a huge research area waiting to happen.

* the UK census: a huge number of letters talking about what is personal data (individual records or anonymised data?), the design of the questionnaire itself and whether the commercial ties of the census company matters (it's Lockheed Martin!). All of these issues are hugely relevant in development fieldwork and will get more important the more research is focused on fragile contexts with fewer freedoms and more corruption.

* convoluted language: Simon Hoggart reports on RAND Europe courses on "pathway development". He makes fun of the way in which the course is advertised by the "Local Better Regulation Office" which uses phrases like: " The session will focus on local authorities who have gone through the process of developing their logic model, and now require additional expertise on how to develop indicators to measure achievements against outcomes".

We don't talk like that, do we?

08 March 2011

Women's Empowerment: A journey not a destination

One of the first phrases I heard at IDS when I joined back in 2004 was "women's emment". What is "women's emment"? I naively asked. The answer was: women's empowerment without the power.

The argument was that many governments, donor agencies and researchers had simplistic views of how power works. The view that power could be enhanced or bestowed simply through policy engineering was a way of side-stepping complicated reality and messy politics. The policy levers tended to focus on women as "two-dimensional economic agents", when in reality the success of policy levers was contingent on a whole host of contextual factors, factors often not seen, precisely because of the exclusive focus on the policy levers.

The above quotes are from a new forthcoming publication "Empowerment: A journey, not a destination from the Pathways of Women's Empowerment research and communications programme, of which IDS is a partner. The draft report is still being discussed with partners and it won't be released until later this year but it has already begun to inform thinking at IDS around our work on gender.

The Pathways research programme has been going for nearly 5 years and has been supported by DFID, the Norwegian and Swedish Ministries for foreign affairs and UNIFEM (a precursor to UN Women).

The Pathways report makes 12 key points:

1. Direct interventions for women's empowerment such as quotas and legal reforms are needed, but in themselves are not enough. Here the issue is with the lazy view that these kinds of reforms are sufficient to bring about change. The Pathways team would, I think, argue that they are a necessary but insufficient step on journeys of empowerment.

2. Women's organising is vital for sustainable change. (As we have seen in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya, by combining efforts individuals can bring about change.)

3. Recognising and supporting those within the state responsible for implementing women's empowerment interventions is crucial. Formulating and launching policies is one thing, but those implementing them need support if they are to enable rather than block the goals of the policy. "Lady health workers" in Pakistan, for example, are vital to deliver quality health services, but are also sources of inspiration for other women and their daughters.

4. We need to address multiple structural constraints to women's empowerment. Here the emphasis is to "revalue longer slower processes thorough which women gain a sense of their self-worth".

5. What's empowering to one woman is not necessarily empowering to another. For example, the rise in religious observance in Bangladesh--the conventional view of secular society is that this is necessarily problematic, but there are examples in the programme of how engagement with religion though a better understanding of Islam can help women challenge unequal gender relations

6. Popular culture can be hugely influential in challenging stereotypes and in redefining what is normal or acceptable. Television and video in particular have a powerful role in challenging the existing representation of women and men

7. Using participatory methods research on empowerment can be empowering. Through activities like first person narratives using video, a critical consciousness of one's own ideas, values and actions is another key step on the path to empowerment

8. Women's empowerment is mediated through relationships. Constituencies of allies, whether in landless women's organisations or within development finance institutions are vital for change to occur

9. Global institutions should support existing local institutions and resist going in with pre-existing agenda. When there is time, one can have the best of both--in Egypt conditional cash transfers were successfully adapted from the Latin American model

10. Making policies work means supporting existing spaces and creating new fora for public engagement and debate. Policies do not become real for people until they are talked about

11. Move beyond seeing women as victims and heroines and seeing them as real people. The first view leaves women with little sense of their own power, and the second places unfair burdens on them. It is the third one that will help external support find ways of helping women negotiate the tough empowerment process

12. Empowerment is difficult to quantify. Focusing on a predictable set of outcomes can be unhelpful. Here the argument is that empowerment has many dimensions, and focusing on one (say women's income, because it is more measurable) may omit other dimensions (such as violence from their intimate partners) that are moving in the opposite direction.

My reactions:

1. This is an impressive piece of work. Yes, I am biased because IDS is involved, but as someone who spent a lot of time in the 1990s doing the kinds of policy research that this report questions, I find it nevertheless to be fair and insightful

2. But I do think it overstates the "two dimensionality of women" argument. The focus on women's income was always a proxy for women's control and for women's freedoms. The economic bargaining models used also explicitly modelled negotiating power and a woman's external options, reflecting structural inequalities, such as freedom of movement, employment rights and voting rights. Inevitably many researchers and policymakers ignored these nuances and focused on "women's income" as the sole story

3. I really liked the emphasis on popular culture as a shaper of development and change processes, and this shaping ability is only going to get stronger in the "twitterati" culture. This will also stimulate the public debate this gives everyday shape to rather abstract policies

4. If I were working for a financing development agency (global or otherwise), the implications for me would be to:

  • recognise that the impacts of legal reforms, quotas, conditional cash transfers to women, girls education initiatives will be greatly enhanced if (a) they are home grown or home adapted and if (b) support is given to those charged with implementing them--both at the public policy level and at the grass roots
  • support women's organisations and other less formal collectives as a source of innovation in the everyday context (taking empowerment where and when one finds the opportunity
  • work with the media and entertainment communities, not as passive conveyors of messages, but as development actors who have a responsibility to shape and stimulate public debate
  • demand creative approaches when quantifying empowerment. Don't be daunted by it, but don't be seduced by easy answers. It is multidimensional, but so too is well-being and we have indicators for that
  • recalibrate expectations about how long empowerment takes and adjust your programmes accordingly
  • think about my own empowerment journey and all the contingencies along the way, think about the multiple pathways that lay ahead of me and the everyday decisions that led me in one direction rather than another and try to transfer that thinking to my professional work.

07 March 2011

Silence is Golden? Does the muted UK media response to the DFID aid review matter?

Before the aid review was launched, many were worried that it would launch a massive backlash against DFID and aid in general.

Nearly a week on, that has not happened. For example, there were no questions about it on Question Time, the BBC's real time barometer of what the UK public want to hear their elected representatives talk about.

In the online print media, the Independent editorial (March 1) gave the Secretarty of State Andrew Mitchell some praise, but also urged vigilance on securitisation creep and on the short-termism that the cash on delivery agenda might foster. "That shift from the long-term to the short-term carries risks. And a greater focus on security could compromise anti-poverty priorities. Campaigners will need to scrutinise the minutiae of the changes when detailed figures are published in April. But in the meantime, two cheers for Mr Mitchell seem in order."

The Guardian's editorial of March 1 said "Beyond our borders, though, the review that the development secretary announced keeps faith with the 0.7% commitment and ensures Britain's place at the forefront of the effective delivery of aid, although Harriet Harman was right to warn that the decision to freeze aid as a percentage of GNI for the next two years risks undermining that pledge." and "It is, however, an open question which agenda has come out of this review on top. Is it the need to promote the millennium development goal priorities such as health, education, sanitation and nutrition, or the need to channel money into nations deemed to be a higher security risk?"

The Daily Mail's perspective is well summed up in its headline of March 2 "Britain is to pour billions of pounds of aid into the world’s most corrupt countries in a bid to tackle poverty, terrorism and illegal immigration."

I can't find anything in the Daily Telegraph after the Feb 27 story on Aid to India and the same for the Sun (which ran an aid to India story on Feb 18).

The Spectator (March 1) linked the current changes in the Middle East and North Africa with the aid review "the government must initiate a country-by-country "freedom review", looking at how it can support reform across Africa. On the day that DfiD has launched the results of its aid review, looking for places where UK assistance is most effective, it must also look at ways to promote transparency and reform. Supplying the people of Rwanda makes little sense if President Kagame denies them basic freedoms. Working with Ethiopian government is fine, but let's not find ourselves in a Tunisia-style situation where we back a leader who does well in the fight against poverty and tells us that he is reforming as much as he can, only for a pro-democracy to break out and embarrass us."

The March 4 story in the New Statesman links the "aid to India" story with the need to clamp down on tax evasion in India (and the UK). The Economist (March 3) talks about Douglas Alexander (the last DFID Secretary of State and Now Labour's Shadow Foreign Secretary) and Labour's foreign policy (less tied to UK commercial interests and more multilateral).

So, a bit of a muted response. The trailed information on aid to India might have drawn the sting, and last week was a busy one for UK media as it dwelt on the Prime Minister's handling of the events in Libya. Does it matter?

Does this relative lack of interest matter?

Many who favour aid will be tempted to treat all this as good news. But I'm not so sure that silence is golden. Of course it's good that there has not been an all-out attack on aid (I think aid has the potential to be transformative and sometimes is).

But vigorous debate helps people understand what is at stake on all sides of the argument and would, I think, help strengthen the case for aid (and an understanding of its limits) in the longer run.

It is often said that the strongest advocates of aid are from donor countries and not from the recipient countries, so please share links from around the world on the DFID aid review.

But the strongest advocates and critics of aid are surely those whose lives are directly affected by it in the recipient countries, for better or worse. These are the people that DFID and the UK public need to hear from.

DFID and other donors need to figure out is how to get this evaluative feedback in a systematic way--that would be true accountability and transparency, a fixing of the broken feedback loop in aid.

"Cash on delivery" is a hollow achievement if we don't know whether what was delivered is what was needed or wanted.

03 March 2011

Millions, not Billions

If the DFID Aid Review was about how best to spend £11 billion to reduce global poverty, I have a different question for you this morning: how to spend £11 million to do the same?

I have been approached by someone advising a Charitable Trust on this very question. The Trust has assets of £11 million and currently allocates its investment income of £500k per annum (they must be good investors) to a variety of NGOs with no particular sectoral focus.

So, what areas should an independent, flexible and thoughtful UK-based trust focus on? and how many of its capital assets should it spend over what period?
This is a generous amount of money for any individual to give, but is also a drop in the ocean when it comes to meeting needs, so what to spend it on?
Given that it is a small amount, my chief criterion would be that the money is used to change the way people think about development.
New ideas are the most scalable things going and represent one way of leveraging the £11m. The fund could work on how do we unearth good ideas, generate them, share them and make them work?
Do you run the assets down or just use the income? Again, the question would boil down to whether you can transform ideas with the £500k or not?
So, some candidates for using the £500k (in no particular order):
  • a scholarship fund for 25 new leaders in African development per year
  • a prize fund for the 25 best African innovations in poverty reduction
  • support to 4-5 African online newspapers to create something similar to the Guardian's own Development website
  • a fund to recognise and support 25 outstanding leaders in the fight against poverty in Africa
  • setting up an accountability and transparency initiative that monitors African governments' spending, policy commitments and legislative achievements on Millennium Development Goals
  • working with a human rights organisation to track the performance of governments (in Africa and outside Africa) in respecting and protecting economic, social and cultural rights of Africans
Why not just give the £11 million to an existing African Trust so it can do some of the above things? This may well be a very good idea if the UK Trust can find an African Trust that matches its aims and if the UK Trust does not need the name recognition any longer.

Anyway, these are just some of my ideas to get the ball rolling (and don't think I did not subtly suggest they spend it at IDS!).

The adviser to the UK Trust would really like to hear from you on this.

01 March 2011

Six things we learned from DFID's Aid Review

The results of the UK Aid Review were presented to the Houses of Parliament by the Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell this afternoon. What did we learn?

1. Andrew Mitchell was as good as his word. He said aid would be spread over fewer multilateral agencies and fewer countries, and it is. Not an easy thing to tell organisations and governments which you have funded for a long time that it is over. There were no real surprises in terms of organisations dropped (UNIDO, ILO, UNISDR and UN Habitat, although ComSec got the second worst score of all and somehow managed to avoid the chop--for now. FAO is on life support unless it is responsive to the kind of changes DFID wants). It was the same story in terms of countries dropped although some of the countries excluded have hefty poverty rates: Angola (54%), Cambodia (40%), Cameroon (33%), The Gambia (34%).

2. The results agenda was a key driver. It was really important to both the multilateral review and the bilateral review. In the multilateral process (for which I was one of two external reviewers) the assessors repeatedly stated that they were looking for evidence that the organisation was making a difference on the ground. For the bilateral review the country programmes had to pitch (quality assessed) "offers" in terms of development outcomes achieved--this may have increased the spend on health and education, although any such conclusion needs further analysis.

3. The fragile and conflict-affected states agenda may have lost out to the MDG agenda. For sure, the countries with the largest % increases (Somalia, Nigeria, Pakistan, DRC, Yemen) are fragile and conflict affected, but the percent of the bilateral spend going to MDG priorities such as health, education, water and sanitation and poverty and undernutrition increased significantly and totals 65%. Is a large increase in spending on girls' schooling in Pakistan a "securitisation of aid" or simply a large increase in spending on girls' education? Spending on Afghanistan, which had a 50% increase in funding in 10/11, stays flat until the end of the Review period and Iraq drops out altogether.

4. More attention was paid to women's empowerment than some had feared. Some were worried that the otherwise welcome increased focus on women and girls would come at the expense of agency. But in several places the review says it was guided by "offers" that strengthened the importance of women's decisionmaking power in enterprises, the media, civil society and parliaments and their control over their bodies (e.g. whether and when to have children).

5. There is a real danger of donor bandwaggoning. Will other donors follow the patterns that DFID have established here? Bandwaggoning would create new donor darlings and orphans. Other donors doing their own reviews need to bring their comparative advantage into the mix. Just because DFID is not doing much on, say, infrastructure does not mean that no-one else should.

6. This is more evolution than revolution. The above changes have been accelerated, but they are not terribly surprising and many were signalled pre-Coalition. It is a thorough review and a decisive one, but not a reckless one. The BBC had access to an early leaked version of the review and ran it over the weekend under the byline "Aid Shake Up". I would say that aid has not been shaken, rather it has been stirred (hopefully into greater action).