What is the Future of the ‘Development Effectiveness’ Agenda in Today’s Shaky World?

This week, the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation finished a two-day event in Paris to “Reinvigorate Effectiveness for the 2030 Agenda“. After much discussion and deliberation, here are my top four takeaways from the event:

(1) “Stronger together”

The presence of 80+ countries and a diversity of development agencies and constituencies confirms the good health of the Global Partnership. It was also a call to strengthen its role as an open platform that facilitates cross-regional learning and (soft but multi-stakeholder & action-oriented) accountability.

(2) “Ownership, ownership, ownership”

If there was one key message that seemed to transpire from each session, it was the need to bring back to the spotlight the principle of country ownership. In today’s world, with development agencies and partner countries both hard-pressed to show short-term tangible results at home as they deal with instability and external shocks, the ownership principle has somehow weakened. The level of trust needed for effective development and co-operation has become a rare commodity.

Rebuilding trust will require changing practices (even if through trial-and-error) that allow transferring leadership back from development agencies to partner governments, while those governments continue strengthening country institutions and opening them up to the whole of society, including civil society, the private sector, trade unions, and others. The cost of inaction is greater instability.

(3) “Evolving is a need”

As growing instability shakes up economies and political systems around the world, we need to continue reinterpreting and sharpening our tools to monitor effectiveness, which in turn would provide useful evidence to guide our countries’ and organizational strategies and practices.

Paris monitoring (2005) was very focused on a few concrete areas and some still miss it, but it was pretty much centered around efficiency issues affecting donor-government relationships. Busan monitoring (2011) expanded the scope to address in full the issues of politics, inclusive power-sharing and accountability. The Busan monitoring, now firmly anchored in measuring the quality of the means of implementation of the SDGs, needs to continue evolving to be as useful as it can be, for all types of countries, and for all other development partners.

(3) “Show me the results”

2019 is going to be flooded with evidence and results to share throughout the Global Partnership and during the Partnership’s Senior-Level Meeting in July. This will come from a number of ongoing activities, including the results of the 2018 monitoring round, currently testing the health of “effectiveness” on the ground; from the learnings on how to improve effectiveness in fragile and conflict-afflicted contexts and in working with the private sector; and from nine country pilots experimenting ways to implement the effectiveness principles in practice, including one working on South-South co-operation effectiveness. All these learnings and other mapping exercises will be reflected in the Global Partnership’s Compendium of Good Practices and a knowledge-sharing platform, all to be discussed with senior policy-makers in New York in July.

(4) “Not ‘if’ but ‘how’”

On the point of ‘working with the private sector’, the conversation showed that our “development feet” have been inside the water for a while already, but we still need a better compass to swim into the open sea – maybe by listening to all the relevant constituencies that are necessary for good, pro-developmental public-private engagement.

As participants left the French capital, many talked in the corridors about how the passionate discussions brought them hope and a sense of direction. If reinvigorating the effectiveness agenda required this small, collective shake-up of the like-minded, it is pretty much welcomed.

Building Trust: How the Development Community Can Engage the Private Sector

Blog originally posted in OECD Development Matters.

Fundamental to my organisation’s success in delivering local impact against several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been developing an ecosystem of global and local in-country partners. And critical to this ecosystem is private sector participation: Corporate partners bring a different lens on what we do, a welcome push for innovation, creative approaches and efficiencies, and a business-like approach and priority to sustainability. Through mutual trust, we are now co-designing new initiatives that lead to positive impact for development and businesses.

I am a strong advocate for engaging the private sector in effective development. The private sector is often a strong and effective contributor to local development in the countries, cities and towns in which its offices are located and where its employees live, generously supporting local services. The challenge now is to extend local purpose and responsibility from “down the street” to a global perspective within the SDG framework. I advocate for this on the Business Leaders’ Caucus of the Global Partnership.

The conditions are aligning for greater peer-to-peer engagement between the private sector and the local and international development community, encompassing government agencies, multilateral agencies, NGOs, social enterprises, foundations, executing agencies and donors. And I observe this growing alignment in several ways:

  • Development partners are reaching out to the private sector because they know that the SDGs cannot be achieved without multi-stakeholder collaboration and an important, perhaps dominant, role for the private sector.

The private sector focuses on skills, techniques, innovation, sustainability, efficiency, flexibility and speed of decision-making and execution – and yes, if the business case is right, financing. Virtually every gathering of development partners has a session on the private sector (yet limited private sector participation), and enlightened development partners are busy recruiting experts in creative finance and who know how to leverage corporate experience. Development partners are taking seriously the need to structure policies and programs that consider the interests of and pressures on business.

  • Encouraging shifts are also occurring within the corporate world.

Enlightened boards and CEOs are basing long-term strategies around a triple social, environmental and financial bottom line. Profit is being balanced with purpose; performance is measured and rewarded by both profit and purpose. Purpose is no longer the purview of arms-length corporate social responsibility (CSR) foundations, but integrated into the very values and behavior of organisations. The importance of the SDGs is recognised for creating new growth markets, and actively participating in international development facilitates an understanding of these markets and cultures, informs new products and services, provides access to tomorrow’s employees, shapes management and staff as global citizens, and builds brand goodwill. See, for example, the SDG Business Forum organised by the International Chamber of Commerce, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) survey of business and the SDGs, and the growing literature on business and sustainable development. Consider too what the private sector is doing with a growing respect for purpose-led businesses. I applaud Larry Fink, Chairman of BlackRock, for his letter to CEOs calling for “A Sense of Purpose”. IBM encourages the Fortune 500 to assume a stronger role and responsibility for development, as it does through its Corporate Service Corps programme. A sea change seems to be occurring – customers will reward the companies with community purpose and abandon those without one.

However international development investments are not sidetracked to finance the private sector, but rather to incentivise and reduce risk for engaging the incremental capabilities, resources and comparative advantages of purpose-led private sector entities. We must learn to do this from the growing evidence of case studies on how to select wisely and build trust.

Global Partnership case studies in Bangladesh, Egypt, El Salvador and Uganda have shown, for example, that development partners could do more to make a better business case to attract the private sector to engage, and to better target marginalised populations, including in the informal sector. The studies revealed a range of good practices, in particular to support small business owners: Danone and Care, for example, work with small-scale breeders in Egypt to increase their knowledge and equip them with skills to increase production, as well as overall quality milk supply. The Business Initiative Leading Development (BUILD), a dialogue platform launched by some of the leading Chambers of Commerce in Bangladesh, has become a solid and inclusive voice in shaping policy in areas where growth is critical for realising the country’s development vision, from disaster risk management to social development. Another example are the Salvadorian Small Business Development Centres, one-stop shops where micro-enterprises and SMEs can find a wide range of services to support them launch or scale up their businesses. They provide easily accessible training, networking and engagement opportunities in partnership with many municipalities, and the support of universities and NGOs.

In our experience, two factors help forge trusted relationships with corporate partners. One, speaking the same language of markets, staff development and retention, and return on investment aligns values and builds a mutual case. Two, arriving with developed concepts and programme structures, an understanding of the gaps, and seeking incremental compatibility helps. In one case, a corporation had designed its programme, but needed local knowledge and “feet on the street” that we represented. In another case, we had the programme model and local knowledge, but needed technology and business advice. Our corporate partner knew that they could learn from how we adapted their technology in countries and cultures that they had not considered.

Informed by these examples and experiences, three strong and practical recommendations lay the groundwork for engagement and trust that development partners and corporate colleagues alike would welcome:

Be prepared; do the research: Building a shared understanding, and ultimately trust, for any new venture requires good research. Approaching the private sector is no different. Shift the lens from the development perspective to the private sector perspective. Learn the language of the business and its industrial sector. Websites, annual reports, speeches, and CSR reports are available to explore businesses with purpose, along with their boards and CEO leadership, strategic plans, recent performance, and shareholder expectations. If the “match” is not evident, move on.

The value proposition: Armed with a defined concept or programme design, development goals and impact, and research, develop a business proposition for engagement that integrates value not only for development against the SDGs, but also for the private sector organisation that speaks their language and aligns with their purpose. For example, this could be market knowledge in a particular country that could scale to the region, cultural insights that could influence creativity in product design or upskilling of employees. Be explicit about the assets and value that the development partner offers to reduce risk and ensure success – be it previous experience, proven expertise or funding.

Efficiency and effectiveness: If one factor can destabilise a peer-to-peer relationship with the private sector, it is the threat of bureaucracy. Be up front about decision-making and where decisions are made, by whom and at what pace. Be clear about reporting requirements, monitoring and evaluation frameworks. It is all part of the shared understanding and no surprises that build trust.

The evidence is unfolding of the incremental benefits that accrue by developing an ecosystem that includes peer-level private sector engagement. Guidelines must follow to harness the opportunities and offset any concerns, and I applaud the Global Partnership for its leadership in advancing such guidelines.

Learn more on this timely topic at the Global Partnership event ‘Reinvigorating Effectiveness for the 2030 Agenda’ in Paris on 11-12 September 2018.

Balancing Scope with Accountability – A Challenge for Development Effectiveness

Back in the early years of this century, a phrase started circulating which has since become one of those constant pieces of development jargon. Rather than just calling for more aid, campaigners and recipient governments started insisting that it be better aid as well.

‘More and better aid’ became one of the central planks of the Make Poverty History campaign in 2005. It was a recognition, in an era of criticism and reflection on the impact of aid spending, that not all aid works, and that some aid can do harm if spent unwisely.

In the same year, government representatives met in Paris. While campaigners banged drums, researchers, practitioners and bureaucrats got down to the complementary work of spelling out what ‘better aid’ would look like. What emerged was the ground-breaking Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. Ground-breaking not only for its substance but, remarkably in hindsight, for the fact that donor governments actually submitted themselves to exacting standards on which they would be publicly held to account. This seldom happens. The drumming helped.

The next six years, were, perhaps, the heyday of the ‘aid effectiveness’ movement. There were, of course, many problems with Paris’ attempts to corral the complex reality of aid into a set of targets and indicators – everyone had their own bone to pick with them, from an over-focus on process to a lack of focus on politics and a failure to properly respond to changing contexts both nationally and internationally.

Nevertheless, the principles encapsulated in Paris became common currency and, crucially, the mechanisms set up to monitor them actually did their job reasonably well for a time, with donor governments altering policy based on feedback, facilitated by an impressive bureaucracy at the OECD. The setting up of multi-stakeholder mutual accountability committees in many recipient countries, and of aid effectiveness units within donor agencies, were among a number of important signs of progress.

That was then. Fast forward to 2018 (via major meetings in Accra, Busan, Mexico City and Nairobi, and hundreds of smaller meetings besides) and two main things have happened. First, the focus on better aid has become hardwired into the international development community. Perhaps the most telling demonstration of this is the number of impact evaluations now being carried out, many of a detailed, often randomised, nature. Before Paris these were few and far between – today they are par for the course.

And second, the language of aid effectiveness has evolved into a focus on ‘effective development co-operation’ or ‘development effectiveness’. This reflects the broadening out from an obsession with aid to an understanding that with all forms of finance, resources need to be harnessed to further global progress, whether public, private or philanthropic, both domestic and international.

I wrote a book (still available!) about the need to assess with more nuance the complex impacts of aid, and much of my writing since has been on the importance of transforming the development sector to better reflect a new twenty-first century global reality – so in many ways I am pleased with these two evolutions.

But there are some aspects of the ‘old-fashioned’ aid effectiveness work that appear to have been lost. As I walked out of the Busan conference centre in 2011, I asked an old-hand, someone who had helped draft the Paris Declaration, for his assessment of the meeting. His response was blunt and disappointed: ‘Paris is dead’. I thought at the time he was being a bit melodramatic, but I soon began to see his point. By expanding the scope of the effectiveness agenda, to cover more sectors, more themes, more geographies, it soon became impossible to maintain that process of holding the powerful (donors et al) to account for their spending decisions.

Sure, the Paris indicators were limited and flawed, but they were slowly pushing aid spending in the right direction. Advocate and recipients were able to use them to balance out the political and media pressures that so often determine aid spending. In modern bureaucracies, clear targets, backed up by data and evidence, have power.

And it is not only the process of Paris that has been diluted over time. The main substantial centre of the Paris analysis, in my view, was ownership – that annoying word that isn’t quite right but we know what it approximates to. It turns out that after all the research, we know less about what makes aid effective than we would like to – and debates continue. But one thing we do know, because the research and practice are as one on this issue, is that when recipients are involved in aid (from planning to implementation to evaluation), development interventions are far more likely to work.

But while ‘impact’, ‘effectiveness’ and ‘results’ are now at the heart of every keynote speech on aid and development, ‘ownership’ and ‘participation’ are no longer the buzzwords they once were when everyone was still reading Robert Chambers.

So, when we look at the development effectiveness landscape in 2018, we see some steps forward, some steps back. And these are the issues on which I will be grilling my panel at the Global Partnership on Effective Development Co-operation’s meeting in Paris in this coming week. Is the effectiveness agenda making real progress? Is the development community empowering the less powerful to hold the more powerful to account? How can we balance the need for evolution, to reflect a changing context with a steadfastness to evidence-based principles?

Jonathan Glennie is the Director of the Ipsos Sustainable Development Centre. He is also a writer and researcher on international development and co-operation. He is a visiting fellow at the International Development Institute at King’s College London, and has worked at the Overseas Development Institute, Save the Children UK and Christian Aid, among others.