31 August 2012

Development Down Under: On the Up

I just got back from an interesting trip to Australia. There’s lots going on: Brisbane is the host for the 2014 G20 meeting; Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been appointed chair of the MDG Advocacy Group and is currently at the Pacific Island Forum with Hillary Clinton and Michelle Bachelet, promoting women’s empowerment; Australia is applying for UN Security Council membership and the speed at which the Government’s commitment to get ODA to 0.5% of GNI is the subject of much political debate in Canberra and beyond.

I made 3 presentations while I was there: on post-2015 options (at AusAID), on the role of ODA in reducing malnutrition (at the Development Policy Centre at the Crawford School at ANU), and on undernutrition in Indonesia (at AusAID). I also participated in a roundtable at the Lowy Institute on the future of development and met with representatives of the Australian equivalent of BOND, ACFID (Australian Council for International Development).

Starting with the last presentation--stunting in Indonesia is stuck. It was about 42% in 2000 and 40% in 2007. At this rate it will halve its 1990 rate by 2052, rather than by 2015. Because it is such a large country, this means about 10 million Indonesian children are stunted, or about 1 in 16 world-wide. I can’t pretend to know why stunting rates are stuck. Poverty rates have been declining steadily and at a good pace. Economic growth has not been spectacular, but solid. Inequality is relatively high and static. Social protection programmes are being implemented, but with little effect so far on stunting. Agricultural productivity growth is lower than anywhere in the region, although agriculture spending has increased of late. Direct nutrition intervention coverage is low. The potential for stunting reduction to be accelerated seems high, but where is the leadership to address it within and outside of Indonesia? The situation is even worse in East Timor, with stunting rates nearer 60%, some of the highest in the world. Here, capacity is a critical constraint, although the issue is not seen as an economic development one. See powerpoints here.

On ODA to nutrition, I summarised the case for public policy intervention in nutrition (externalities—intergenerational transmission and chronic disease later in life; information asymmetries—the invisibility of stunting; and missing markets--the inability to borrow income to buy nutrition inputs to help infants through their first 2 years of life). I ran through the case for ODA related to nutrition (moral—saving lives, innovation in programming perceived of as too risky for governments; facilitating learning from experience from around the world, and supporting participation and resource mobilisation via opportunities such as the Scaling Up Nutrition movement). We talked about the difficulty of tracking ODA in nutrition and the barriers perceived by donors to their own scaling up of activity (too complicated to work across sectors, need to recruit lots of new nutrition skills, the paradox of needing to be demand led but acknowledging that the invisibility of undernutrition leads to low demand). See powerpoints here.

Finally, on post-2015 fever. I summarised the key contrasts between the pre MDG period and now; the evidence on whether the MDGs made a difference, the various proposals (MDG+, MDG 2.0, SDGs, Hybrids, and Global Development Goals) and potential scenarios. My key points were: (a) the most fundamental question--what kind of development do we want?—is rarely addressed, (b) the competing interests and how they play out in the political contexts at the national and international levels are rarely made explicit, (c) most of the proposals are lists, with no underlying theory of change about how we get the development we want and (d) the lack of leadership for delivering the post 2015 goals--in many ways, 2015 has come too early. Instead we get list-o-mania with lots of second order questions serving as distractions (what targets and indicators, what time period, which countries, how many etc.). The questions are important, but they need to follow from answers to questions about the kind of development we want (poverty focused, global public goods focused, sustainable development focused etc.). Form needs to follow function. As usual I am completely shameless in giving my two cents worth on the opportunities for the Australian government in all these areas. See powerpoints here.

All in all a really interesting set of meetings: lots of very knowledgeable people and lots of interesting differences from the European scene (e.g. AusAID being one of two rich countries in its regional sphere of 24 countries; fascinating AusAID work on disability; the extreme poverty on its doorstep in Timor Leste; no development research associations, but a vibrant and rapidly growing development research scene).

And I saw a Brushtail Possum....

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Enjoyed this Lawrence, especially your post-2015 slides.

Have also been noticing a nirvana-seeking trend in some of the commentary lately. I did search and replace of 'post-2015 framework' with the word 'god' in a couple of policy submissions the other week... It did make me a bit concerned.

The problem is, defining the 'bounds of possibility' isn't straightforward when shocks have become the norm. The MDG method - simply extrapolating a 'realistic' goal by extending the line on a graph showing progress from previous years - looks pretty silly if we are expecting the unexpected.

The problem is, I don't see how it will be possible to agree a theory of change that all the key stakeholders will share (even though, sensibly, that is of course the fundamental bit that needs to be got right). The issues are too complicated, and the cultural and philosophical differences are too great. Even the concept of a theory of change is seen as Anglocentric and "DFID-y" by some.

I suspect we will end up having to work with the ToC that is already implicit within a goals-targets-indicators model, because that is the ground that has already been won.

There would of course be spin-off benefits to having a wider debate on what the global community should be trying to achieve. However, if the question is 'what should come after the MDGs', the answer will have to go with the grain (cf Booth) rather than reinventing the whole conceptual framework.