On development effectiveness: "We need a new aid architecture"

The third day of the CIVICUS World Assembly is over. Initially reluctant to get out of bed ridiculously early in order to be there on time, I left the house groggy and in desperate need of a coffee. The day’s events began as they did yesterday, with a plenary session. The topic this morning was on development effectiveness, and the moderator, David Bonbright of Keystone Accountability got us going by gauging our opinion on three scenarios of the future:

  1. Business as usual: won’t see many improvements in human welfare.
  2. Reform scenario: we do make some improvements in aid practice, but those don’t translate through to significant improvements.
  3.  Transformation scenario: bold, concerted new actions in which we begin to see important improvements in democratization and respect for human rights.
When he asked us to choose which scenario was the likeliest, the majority of the audience (myself included) chose the second option. What we were hoping for, he correctly added, was for us to believe in the third scenario. 

Listening to the first speaker, Antonio Tujan of the Asia Pacific Research Network, was more energizing than the coffee I’d bought at the Tim Horton’s downstairs. Convincing, concise, and eloquent, Mr. Tujan pointed out that to improve development effectiveness, we have to agree upon what we mean by results: what they are, and just as importantly, who defines them. Currently there is no common understanding of what development results are, which is why its a contentious agenda. Should these types of results focus on the poor, achieving economic results, or something else? Having an effective development agenda is not only about governments and donors, but also about the involvement of CSOs, which can be instrumental in ensuring citizen participation.

Development effectiveness according to Mr. Tujan is about the delivery and management of aid. He made frequent mention of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action. The former outlines five key principles for improving development effectiveness, namely reforming partnerships premised on ownership (where governments have control over their development process), alignment (donors align their work to country systems), harmonization (there are mechanisms in place to work together), mutual accountability in achieving results, and managing for development results. In making sure this happens with CSO involvement, the Accra Agenda specifically recognizes CSOs as development actors. In particular, par. 20 states:

“We will deepen our engagement with CSOs as independent development actors in their own right whose efforts complement those of governments and the private sector. We share an interest in ensuring that CSO contributions to development reach their full potential.”

He went on to say that empowerment is the main strategy for poor to claim their rights. Again, CSOs play a central role in bringing not only the voices of the poor to the development table, but to also, in the process, empower those who are poor, vulnerable and marginalized in order for them to understand and claim their rights, thereby empowering them.

Development effectiveness is based on human rights and democracy, and in mentioning this he referred us to the over-half-century old Bandung Principles for International Cooperation (on a side note, when I visited Bandung a few years ago my friend was very pleased to point out the building in which the principles were written, a small but significant testament to their importance). The principles include equality, respect for sovereignty, and solidarity. Taking a cue from these principles, he noted that we have a big problem today in development effectiveness, namely the difference of approaches between the OECD and south-south agendas.

OECD countries define their own agenda for development, which places ownership with the government. On the other hand, increasingly rich countries in the south which are in stronger positions to assert their ability to provide development assistance to other countries in the global south are pushing their own agendas based on cooperation and solidarity, not on imposing conditionalities. What was needed, he suggested, as a “new aid architecture” for development, one which goes beyond development effectiveness (which is an inherently broad term) and moves us towards effectiveness of development cooperation. 

A great deal more was discussed during the panel from two other speakers, Marta Cumbi from Foundation for Community Development in Mozambique and Tomas Brundin of the Swedish Foreign Ministry, both able speakers who complemented what Mr. Tujan said. I attended a workshop on assessing complex systems change which basically forced me to put into question all my evaluation practices (which I guess is a good thing, but my head is hurting now), and later in the afternoon we “open spaced” discussions on the Millennium Development Goals. I volunteered to write the report for the group and some of the choice things mentioned are worth noting here:

  • There is no government accountability in the MDGs, and CSOs need to push for that until 2015 and make sure the next type of goals include accountability. If governments balk, at least CSOs can hold up the MDG report card and say: “See? Last time we didn’t take human rights into consideration and look what happened.”
  • Suggestion to go beyond traditional “1 $ a day” interpretation of poverty and to explore new approach of a “rights-based poverty line.” A new publication explores this idea.
  • While ensuring human rights from UN standards are included more fully in the MDGs, think of creative ways for the reverse as well: for example, making sure that UN treaty bodies (such as the CESCR or the CEDAW Committee) make mention and create links to the MDGs in their reporting mechanisms.

It was not all hard thinking on development effectiveness, all the time, however. A participant from Scotland educated me on some of the finer points of whiskey as well as vultures in South Asia, and I got to meet in person a couple of people at the assembly who had been “tweeting” but I had not had the chance to meet until today. All together a thought-provoking day well spent.

And now I’m quite spent myself. One day to go.

2 thoughts on “On development effectiveness: "We need a new aid architecture"

  • Hi!,
    I just found your blog and think I may be in love. I know that transformation comes through education and action in equal parts. Glad to see some great thinking happening here.



  • Action and transformation go hand in hand, Desiree, and I hope all of us who attended the assembly can move towards action. Thanks for your comment and I enjoyed reading your blog! – paul


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