27 December, 2013

“Inverting the Pyramid” for effective development co-operation

By Amitabh Behar

The global leadership – that is the UN, Member states, G20, G77 and many others  – has a historic opportunity to create a new global developmental framework for the post-2015 world that builds on the aspirations and ethos of the Millennium Declaration including the Millennium Development Goals and newly coined Sustainable Development Goals. This must also break radical new ground to ensure that the aspiration of wiping extreme poverty from the face of earth becomes a reality and does not remain a part of the ‘declaratory activism’ of the United Nations.

The global leadership has to revisit its own aspirations and dream bigger. In a world where the multidimensionality of poverty and its roots in political economic factors are established facts, a focus only on eradicating ‘extreme poverty’ is designing for failure. The vision for a new world post-2015 has to be rooted in a just, peaceful, humane and sustainable society. To achieve this ‘new deal’ dream, the focus must be on fighting a comprehensive battle against injustice, inequality and unsustainable development models, not limited to only looking at the manifestations of these structural and systemic issues. This is going to be the real test for our leadership.

Even partial success in creating a just and sustainable society depends on radically altering the path that the United Nations and Member States design for making these dreams a reality. It is ironic that a very tiny population of global economic and political elites, and in some cases national elites, design international development frameworks and the paths for implementation entirely on their own. There is no or mere token participation from the poor and ordinary people of this world, who constitute an overwhelming majority of the world’s population. The biggest reason for failure of all these development frameworks is the alienation of the voices and aspirations of the people themselves for whom the targets and goals are being set. These poor, ordinary and excluded people continue to be on the fringes of implementation pathways created by international and national governments.

A new and bold narrative of citizen’s anger is being spontaneously crafted across the world as already witnessed in the form of Arab resistance, occupy movement or protests demanding end to violence against women in Delhi. People’s anger and disenchantment with unjust national and global economic and political structures, and with their own governments, are spilling over to the streets; ready to explode. Surprisingly, the ivory towers of the global developmental architecture, including the UN, remain defiantly oblivious to this brewing anger.

The time has come to invert the pyramid; to acknowledge the marginality of think tanks, development experts and developmental bureaucracies in comparison to the energy of peoples’ anger and aspirations and make way for peoples’ leadership is designing the future course of human history.

Mongolian Herders Practice Sustainable Resource ManagementA new architecture of global goal setting has to be defined where the voice of the people defines the agenda. Importantly, after the agenda is set, the roadmap for achieving the targets has to be built around common and ordinary people.

It cannot continue to be State centric, centralised and top down implementation planning.

The implementation plan would need to focus first and foremost on empowering people and making them equal stakeholders and drivers of the development process. Inverting the pyramid needs to happen from multiple perspectives including social exclusion, gender and Southern sensibilities. Traditional development actors and models of development co-operation will have to make way for new actors and models like South-South solidarity – going beyond South-South co-operation, which still is rooted in a national interest framework – and, most critically, a commitment to complete transparency and accountability to the ideals of justice and democracy.

Development co-operation needs to listen to the voices of the people, the most marginalised. The narrative of peoples’ anger and aspirations can engulf the world and lead to chaos or can be channeled to change the world by sincerely listening and responding to it. Hopefully, the global leadership recognises this transformative moment and is ready to act.

Amitabh Behar


Amitabh Behar is Executive Director of the National Foundation for India and Co-chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty.

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