Together with the excellent Hege Hertzberg from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Norway, I kicked off the OECD DAC’s new Development Debates series, chaired by Jon Lomoy, Director of the Development Cooperation Directorate.
My presentation (with the standard over the top title) can be found here. I argued that while the 2015 expiration date of the MDGs was stimulating a lot of new thinking about what next, new donor action was harder to find.
I went through some of the new thinking needed: being more discerning about growth (not any old kind, thank you); focusing on poor people rather than poor countries (a la Sumner); some of the thinking behind new metrics of human development (the Multidimensional Poverty Index, can wellbeing really be quantified?); rethinking the location of problems and solutions (the poor countries do not have a monopoly on problems, the rich have no monopoly on solutions); framing development cooperation as solidarity as opposed to charity (see my Japan blog last week); and how the next generation of MDGs need to be people-powered, not bureaucrat-built.
My sense is that the relative lack of action is partly because the donors don’t want to be distracted from existing commitments (there is a lot of MDG related work remaining to do) and also because they don’t want to be seen to be distracted from existing commitments (politicians need all the trust they can get). (There is another alternative—that I am just out of touch.)
But is there another driver of donor hesitancy? Perhaps the donors feel that, unlike last time, they should stand back so the G77 and others can lead.
One good step in this direction is UNDP’s initiative to conduct a series of 50 consultations in dozens of countries to try to give the next set of goals a more rounded and grounded feel. But how in touch with grass roots reality can this consultation process be? Will it be held in capitals? And while a broad cross section of people will no doubt be invited, it will be difficult to get beyond the usual suspects (and beyond city limits).
How important is it to engage with people who are fighting for their survival on a daily basis about the commitment they are looking for from others and the commitment they can make to others? It is absolutely vital. If it is not done the next set of goals will lack a certain legitimacy.
What is gained from asking people who are clinging on to life and fragile livelihoods about their poverty? Don’t we know what they will say? Well, for legitimacy it is important to be able to say it was done and done genuinely (never about us without us).
But there is another reason--our knowledge and assumptions might well be challenged. One of the audience at the DAC Development Debate mentioned a study that went back to a project intervention site 35 years later to look for evidence of the project’s effect. They found a few physical remains of the project, but most importantly they heard first-hand about the transformative effect the project had on the village population and how that played out in a whole range of other dimensions.
The meaning of change is often difficult to see from the outside. That’s why there needs to be a series of grassroots consultations on what development goals should aspire to.