25 October 2013

Every vision needs a plan - and every plan needs a budget. Guest Blog from Judith Randel

Following up on my blog earlier this week about data and accountability, here is more on the data revolution from Judith Randel from Development Initiatives and a new IDS Board Member. Enjoy.

By Judith Randel

After many years in the world of financing for development, I have just spent the last few weeks feeling for the first time in some years that the conversation has shifted. Things are changing. High-level discussions about both the feasibility and the resources to end poverty are now not just about targets and aspirations, but timetables and plans. My sense is that we are maybe, now, crossing some thresholds: leaving behind 50 years of doing development in a north/south, donor/recipient model - one which even ten years ago felt like it was making less and less sense.

I write as (probably, like many of you) I reflect on recent conversations I’ve had in the wake of UNGA, and of the High Level Panel’s Report on Post 2015. With its focus on ending extreme poverty by 2030, emphasis on multidimensional poverty, and call for targeted interventions to ensure that no one is left behind in the context of global progress, the HLP report is both compelling and inspiring. But every vision needs a plan, and every plan needs a budget. That is what our recent report Investments to End Poverty and our meetings at UNGA- have been about. We've tried to map out all the resources available domestically and internationally, to unbundle aid and to examine the state of the data on people in extreme poverty to support the vision to end extreme poverty by 2030 - really end it. We don’t just mean ‘get the numbers down a bit’- the time has come to agree that we can reach zero.

We need better data- on all resources, not just aid

This isn’t being idealistic. The available evidence shows that ending extreme poverty by 2030 is affordable, and achievable. However, we do need to be smarter about managing and allocating the resources that are available. Aid is a precious, finite resource, but it is the only one explicitly directed at reducing poverty- so let’s target it where it can have most impact. This means either focusing aid on places and people where other resources are most scarce, or leveraging in additional finance. However to do that, we need to see the full picture of all resources; in Investments to End Poverty we’ve made a start at mapping what data there is on international resources flowing to developing countries.

But more important than international flows are domestic resources. This was a strong theme of the Global Partnership meeting in UNGA week (pdf), where a (stellar) panel emphasised the importance of getting better data on taxation, illicit flows, private finance and natural resource revenues. One of the things that I found most striking in the data we've presented in Investments to End Poverty is the extremely low levels of government spending - over 370 million people are living on less than $1.25 a day are in countries where total government spending amounts to less than $500 per person per year. (Our team of analysts intend to do more work on this theme in coming months.)

A real data revolution will have poverty eradication at its heart

The need for a data revolution highlighted by the HLP was underlined at every meeting I attended in New York- but to be a real revolution for post-2015, and not just an incremental shift in funding for statistics, it must have poverty eradication right at the heart. The HLP's call to “leave no-one behind” cannot be delivered without going beyond national averages and bringing disaggregated information to decision makers. Key to getting this right will be strong leadership from developing countries, well articulated demand from citizens - and a willingness to listen, and learn. Writing this from Nairobi - where the work my colleagues are doing shows the data revolution has been underway for quite a while - I feel it’s crucial that efforts aren’t diverted in a direction that saps the revolution’s vitality!

So let's do two things.  

  1. Recognise that the data revolution is about power - because, as everyone reading this knows from every hour of their lives, information is power. Access to information will empower different people and allow them to engage with their governments and other power holders in ways that should shape the agenda - not just respond to it. So access to information should be a goal in its own right.
  2. Get better data on who and where the poorest are- in order to make progress on ending extreme poverty. Some areas of real significance have very little data (security, employment, gender to name a few). But equally importantly, there is not enough information on exactly who is living in poverty- and where they live. It is clear that poverty persists in the face of national progress. Turning the vision for the end of poverty into a costed, timetabled plan will not be achieved without access to disaggregated, subnational data on poverty and resources.


Ken Caldwell said...

Thanks, Judith, for a thought provoking article. I agree with your sense that things are moving on from the traditional development model.

However, your chart suggests that we are still at risk of feeling we can usefully aggregate together all of the countries who have traditionally been thought of as developing, and get some useful insights on how to tackle global poverty.

I wonder if it is time for us to stop using "developing countries" as a generic term (I know this will be very hard for those of us who have been working with these parameters for a long time!), and start to find new ways to group together countries which are facing common challenges in tackling poverty in their country.

The different sources of international finance for different types of country are likely to be an important dimension in developing a new typology - and hopefully domestic financing too, once we have better data....so please keep up your great work on this.

Kulwant said...

Another issue of major concern is health in global standards. Well, it is being tackled with the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Global poverty is also a pertinent issue and your analysis points out insightful information.