Development effectiveness: what lessons can we learn from programming EU aid?

If you are interested in development cooperation and development effectiveness, then you will surely want to know about how the EU has programmed €15 billion in 74 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Programming the European Development Fund (EDF) is a major political, policy and bureaucratic challenge, and a critical test on EU’s capacity to deliver on its “high-impact aid agenda”. A myriad of actors are involved in the process: 28 EU countries, the European External Action Service, the European Commission, the European Parliament and 74 governments from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states.

EU aid is highly concentrated

The EU has effectively implemented two of its key commitments for high impact aid. More funds (nearly 81%) are directed to least developed countries and low-income countries, and EU aid now concentrates on a limited number of sectors per country. The 11th EDF has a strong focus on sustainable agriculture and energy, which together account for 40% of funds. The “governance sector” receives around one third of the funds with particular attention to public financial management issues – although this also includes general budget support financing. The transport sector has fallen out of grace, with only 10% of funds allocated to it (compared to 25% under the 10th EDF). At the aggregate level the 11th EDF meets the political target of spending at least 20% in social sectors, yet only half of ACP countries include one social sector within their 3 priority choices.

In practice, country ownership is difficult to honor

We found that EDF programming is largely aligned to countries national development plans. However, we also gathered strong evidence that programming followed a very top-down approach. Sector choices were largely made at Headquarter level, even if this meant overruling country priorities and the recommendations of EU Delegations. Although civil society organisations were consulted in the programming processes, the outcomes of such consultations rarely guided sector choices. As a result, development effectiveness principles were eroded.

Knowledge was not a major driver in programming choices

A top-down approach to programming also meant that in-depth knowledge of country contexts and sector specificities was not always a key driver in decision-making. We are not saying that EU’s sector choices are not relevant in terms of addressing country development needs—they are—but this does not necessarily mean that they are the best choices in terms of delivering results, where a more informed political economy analysis may well have helped decision making.

Sector concentration may not be the best strategy for high impact aid

Focusing on a limited number of sectors, in theory, allows for a more strategic use of resources. Yet this assumption does not always materialise in practice. The quality and results delivered by an intervention don’t only depend on the financial volume but rather on the particularities of the sector and country context. Also, sector choices are still largely dependent on donor priorities rather than on a holistic division of labour that meets country needs. As a result, sector concentration can lead to many perverse effects (e.g. sector saturation, aid inefficiency and opportunity costs). A few donors are already exploring alternative programming approaches (e.g. results-oriented, thematic or multi-sectoral). The EU could engage in an evidence-based debate on whether the current sector programming approach still fits in with the results-based agenda.

Towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

There may be a need to revise the EU’s differentiation and aid allocation criteria to take into account the geography of global poverty and incorporate more nuanced indicators that take into account sub-national differences, such as inequalities. Moreover, future EU aid programming processes may need to place even further emphasis on analysing the added value of EU aid in different contexts and how aid fits in with partner country strategies for transition towards sustainable development, and mobilising the funding that is needed. Ensuring that EU aid (including that from Member States) contributes to supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals at the country level may require an integrated approach to programming that supports the three pillars of sustainable development—the economy, the ecology and equity—more consistently and holistically.

Still missing: a more realistic, political and visionary agenda to deliver global public goods

The issue of “doing more with less” needs to be looked at beyond just reducing costs, at a more strategic level. First, because success in delivering high-quality and high-impact aid will depend on whether the EU is equipped to deliver on its ambitions. But ambitions may need to be revised by looking carefully at how the EU’s international cooperation fits within the EU’s broader (and more political and interest-driven) external action agenda in partner countries. Adopting a more politically-informed approach will need the presence of multiple stakeholders in Europe and developing countries to robustly hold it to account. This is a precondition to ensure that a more realistic yet politically visionary agenda for sustainable development is pursued, but not one that is driven by the short-term political, economic and security self-interests of the EU.

ECDPM-Alisa-Herrero-Cangas-e1386943240215About the Author

Alisa Herrero is the lead author and coordinator of the study ‘Implementing the Agenda for Change: An independent analysis of the 11th EDF programming’. She works as a Policy Officer for ECDPM’s “Strengthening European External Action” programme. ECDPM’s main goal is to link policy and practice in European development and international cooperation and to act as an independent broker between Europe, Africa and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States.

Why mutual learning is essential for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals: the case of Gender Responsive Budgeting

Now that the world has agreed on 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which serve as a global ‘to-do-list’ for people, planet and prosperity, there is an enormous task ahead of us to realize this ambition. As one of the leaders of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC), the Netherlands sees a pivotal role for the Partnership in fostering effective delivery of results, and being a driver of behavioral change related to the how of achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The GPEDC wants to further develop its role as a knowledge hub that brings together relevant stakeholders, stimulating mutual learning and promoting effective implementation of the SDG agenda. The GPEDC provides an open platform for discussions on experiences at the country level and motivates a range of partners to move towards more effective action for genuine, inclusive development. One example was an event organized by the GPEDC and UNWomen—held on the sidelines of the recent UN General Assembly meetings—titled Using Inclusive Partnerships to Deliver on the SDGs: The Role of Gender-Responsive Budgeting.

This event focused on the rising issue of how to effectively incorporate gender-responsive budgeting into national policies, thus tackling issues related to persistent gender-inequality. A diverse range of stakeholders attended the event, including actors from the private sector, UN-institutions, and government representatives. There were three important takeaways directly deriving from the dynamic discussion among the participants. First of all, it is important to note that gender-responsive budgeting be fully integrated and operationalized within national policies. Thus, as the process of Financing for Development uncovered, there still exists a misunderstanding about the concept and implementation of gender-responsive budgeting among responsible government bodies (most notably Ministries of Finance). Shared understanding and acknowledgement of certain thresholds is needed to create effective cooperation and ultimately synergy between all involved.

Secondly, a firm political commitment is needed to effectively implement policies on gender-responsive budgeting. National governments play a critical role in setting up and facilitating this process. However, all stakeholders, including women themselves, need to be involved in creating the structural foundation for commitments. New partnerships need to be established: between traditional and new donors, and between donors and non-state actors including the private sector, civil society, philanthropy, and others. If we want to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth, we need to combine public and private flows, as well as public and private thinking power and implementation capacity. The GPEDC promotes such new partnerships and it is our ambition to be a leading knowledge hub for exchanging ideas and policies to strengthen the quality of development cooperation and partnerships in support of achieving the SDGs.

The Global Partnership, with its open and inclusive character, is well positioned to discuss ‘sticky issues’, such as the implementation of policies on gender responsive budgeting, as well as issues of fragility, middle income countries, youth (such as unemployment), trade and tax. The number of low-income countries is falling, but the level of inequality within many countries is rising. New donors, both countries and non-state actors, have entered the scene. Although aid remains essential for the poorest countries, the 2030 agenda needs new approaches to achieve its targets.

It is in this spirit that the GPEDC organized this side-event on gender responsive budgeting: to facilitate discussion and enable all parties to share lessons learned in a multi-stakeholder setting to improve results. We are eager to continue our endeavor in promoting effective and inclusive development through cross-sector dialogue.

JeroenAbout the Author
Mr. Jeroen Verheul is Special Envoy to the Co-chair of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation for the Netherlands.


Want more information about aid from China? Just ask

Today, virtually every online shopping store or app in China – whether it’s Amazon or ASOS or the very popular TAOBAO – offers the option of making a ‘wish list’. It’s an incredibly helpful way to give some helpful hints to friends and family for occasions such as birthdays or anniversaries. That said, there is always a bit of me that feels a bit awkward to share these lists. I often feel that I’m imposing my own preferences on everyone else and limiting their creativity. On the other hand, I realize that I have a higher probability of valuing the present if I just ask directly for what I want. And the reality is that it’s beneficial for the rest of my family and friends as their search time for the right present is drastically reduced.  It is a better outcome for all of us if I just ask directly.

New Report that UNDP China issued earlier this year in June said that just asking directly is also the best strategy for countries wanting to get better data and information about aid from China.

In the academic community, there is a lot of discussion and conjecture about China’s foreign aid. The most authoritative report about China’s aid is from the government. Its 2014 White Paper put the scale of China’s aid at $14.4bn over 3 years. That paper also said that 51% of this is allocated to African countries, but it did not break down the data any further than that. So it is currently very difficult – if not impossible – to really understand accurately which specific countries China prioritizes in terms of giving foreign aid.

At UNDP China, our assessment is that this lack of data is not because such information is secret or sensitive, but because it is simply very difficult to collect.  Like getting the right present, the search time is simply too long and complex.

But, as our new study reveals, there is another way of collecting the data. And it involves African and other country governments just being proactive and asking directly for the data.  Over the past few years, 11 different governments – from Congo to Cambodia – have already done so. Officials have literally just asked the Economic Counsellor in their country to help them include Chinese data in their aid data records (which are often known as AIMS in the development world). In some cases, the government officials also asked UNDP country offices to help make these connections to Chinese counterparts in the country and help actively with the data—kind of like using amazon as the platform to compile the birthday list. But the basic point is the same: they just asked.

The great news is that in our 11 cases, the Economic Counsellor, when asked, said, “Yes we can”. In some cases, gathering the data into the records has taken several iterations, and in others the data requires even more work to ensure accuracy (it is often smaller than media reports, for example). But the fact that the “just asking” strategy has worked for these 11 countries is significant. More countries could follow suit, which would help them better plan for their budgeting priorities in particular because they fully understand the flows from China and many other countries.

Indeed, there is potential for the Chinese government itself to use this “just ask” strategy to, in time, build a complete picture of its foreign aid, from the bottom up, in country, where there is the best information about what is really happening.  This could be a better outcome for the countries receiving China’s foreign aid, and also a better outcome for China. Government officials in Beijing could compile this sort of information into a more comprehensive report on China’s foreign aid – perhaps a white paper or a regular annual report.  Of course, UNDP China would always be ready to help the government do so.

In addition, for countries that are interested in engaging China as a provider could use the 2nd monitoring round of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) as an opportunity to request for more data on their development co-operation efforts. The monitoring guide detailing mode of participation, indicator methodology, and data collection and reporting will be made available in the 3rd week of October on its on-line community space. The data collection period at the country level is from October 2015 to March 2016. The results of the survey will feed into a meeting of the GPEDC in Kenya in November 2016.

Now is the time for countries to work with the Chinese government on this important issue.

Hannah RyderAbout the Author
Hannah Wanjie Ryder is the Head of Policy and Partnership  for UNDP China. You can reach her own blog by clicking here.



The content of this blog does not reflect the official opinion of UNDP. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the blog lies entirely with the author(s).