When considering the future of the GPEDC, we should start by realising and appreciating the road it has travelled to get here. The GPEDC represents the continuation of a long process of international dialogue to promote aid effectiveness, which started as a reaction to the inefficiencies caused by established patterns of development cooperation. The content of what became known as an ‘aid effectiveness agenda’ was in effect largely an ‘anti inefficiency agenda’ and sought to reduce fragmentation and imposition of aid.
From a breakthrough in Paris to a footnote in Addis
This agenda gained traction at the UN’s Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey in 2002, giving rise to agreements in Rome (2003), Paris (2005), and Accra (2008). The consecutive agreements were endorsed by an increasing number of participants and gradually expanded donor commitments to better coordinate activities, improve their focus on nationally-determined priorities, and enhance efforts to assess results, while developing countries committed to taking leadership to guide donor efforts and enable innovative cooperation approaches.
The Busan High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in 2011 sought to fundamentally enlarge this global ‘effectiveness movement’. It acknowledged the diversifying field of actors (South-South cooperation providers, private foundations, civil society organizations, and other private sector entities) and emphasized that respect for common principles such as country ownership and transparency could guide cooperation efforts regardless of the labels attached to various actors. These efforts launched preparations that cumulated in the GPEDC.
Whereas previous DAC-based structures featured a co-chair from an OECD member and developing country, the new structure added a third co-chair that informally represented a South-South Cooperation provider while ensuring all three were represented at a ministerial level. In spite of these innovations, the GPEDC encountered difficulties in generating adequate momentum and the development effectiveness agenda managed to claim but a single paragraph in the detailed outcome document of the 2015 UN Conference on Financing for Development in Addis.
What relevance for the development effectiveness agenda in 2016?
The Nairobi High-Level Forum provides a key opportunity for renewing commitment to the agenda and giving it the prominence it deserves. But it also needs to adjust itself to the multi-polar world in which it finds itself: there is no longer one central forum to discuss aid effectiveness, such as the OECD’s Working Party on Aid Effectiveness once provided. Instead, the GPEDC shares the stage with relevant UN-level fora where discussions on effectiveness are taken further, as well as with various ‘mini-literal’ initiatives. Examples of the latter include the recent South-South Cooperation Expo event at the Sustainable Innovation Expo 2016, as well as efforts of the EU and its 28 member state to advance coordinated action under its Joint Programming initiative.
This brief overview of initiatives presents an image in which everyone is doing something useful, yet by and large this multiplicity of international structures to discuss development effectiveness commitments carries a risk of diluting accountability to the same agenda. Therefore, a key mission for the GPEDC is to distinguish itself from the UN-level fora by using its – by comparison – more informal setup and act as a political driver for the international discussion. In contrast to the 2005 Paris Agenda, the new agenda is mainly comprised of ideas that few people would disagree with. What is needed is for the agenda to be a source of constructive peer pressure among key actors, a source of debate on effective support for sustainable development – and perhaps a source of healthy controversy.
The essence of the essence
Whatever will come out of Nairobi, it is clear that two key elements of the original agenda will remain central: ownership is a precondition for effective cooperation, and fragmentation as perhaps the largest cause of inefficiency in international support. Recent research by the German Development Institute confirms the centrality of these two core components of today’s development effectiveness agenda.
To start, those people in the international development community who followed the GPEDC less closely over the past few years are without a doubt expected to still acknowledge ownership as the pinnacle of the agenda. Development cooperation supports stakeholders’ own resolve and initiative, and only stands a chance of being successful when it follows the so-called beneficiaries’ own vision, priorities and timing for change. While this is uncontested, it is also a well-established fact that development cooperation providers tend to be driven by a mix of motivations, some of which may overshadow or otherwise take precedence over the wish to ensure effective support. One example from our research concerns the European Union’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. Launched in November 2015, the Trust Fund makes available additional resources for seeking to reduce ‘root causes’ that lead to irregular migration from Africa to Europe. While targeting a genuine challenge, the Trust Fund is largely designed, planned and implemented by Europeans and ignores many of the development effectiveness principles that should be adhered to so as to ensure an effective response to an area where Europe and Africa share interests, but where these interests also diverge.
Next, we are witnessing an increasingly fragmented aid system with an ever increasing number of donors and other actors, as well as goals and instruments – not at least against the background of 17 SDGs, 169 targets and 230 indicators. Critics describe today’s aid architecture as ‘fragmented’: inefficient, overly complex and rigid in adapting to the dynamic landscape of international cooperation. Others argue that a diverse and pluralistic aid system also brings benefits, such as greater choice over funding channels and instruments for developing countries. New research presents a nuanced picture of aid fragmentation that exists between these two extreme positions, provides insights why the aid architecture has moved in this direction what potential forwards could be. For instance, the European Union adopted a ‘Code of Conduct on Complementarity’ to advance division of labour among European donors, while the United Nations launched its ‘Delivering as One’ approach. The GPEDC is needed more than ever to bring together technical solutions with political impetus.
The future: creativity and discipline
The Nairobi meeting would however fail to convince if it would merely provide another occasion to recommit to goals which – in view of the political economy of development cooperation – will always remain challenging to achieve. Effective accountability and transparency are means to promote uptake and compliance to international effectiveness standards, yet what is also needed is creativity to find new solutions to address the political obstacles to more effective development cooperation. Our work on result-based approaches in development cooperation explores one of these ways, as do other trends in international cooperation such as the increased use of blended finance and guarantees to use development finance in a catalytic manner to attract other types of investment. Creativity requires space and discretion, yet now that these new approaches have been around for a few years we need to engage in further discussion about how cooperation providers can use these in a manner that ensures broad-based ownership and avoids duplication and incoherence.
In a nutshell, we call for the Nairobi meeting to be a starting point for less ceremonial, more accountable and more pragmatic approaches to promoting development effectiveness which promotes both creativity and discipline. Doing so will require a more ‘decentralised’ approach to working: actors may subscribe to similar principles, but they may best translate these into practice by acting in smaller groups and promote both supply-driven reforms (e.g. the EU’s Joint Programming initiative) and demand-driven ones led by stakeholders in developing countries. By engaging on such a path, all actors should enable this to work by duly mandating the GPEDC to keep an overview role and be a means to learning and accountability, including through exposure and controversy.