Official Development Assistance (ODA) has long been an important resource for development. But despite its long history and the lessons learned, its current definition, measurement and operation hinder donors from building a convincing narrative and seriously limit its effectiveness.
This very timely topic is much in need of fresh thinking.
That is why the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Development Network have partnered to launch the Next Horizons global essay competition designed to generate innovative ideas on the future of development assistance.
In the hope of inspiring reactions and innovative essays, let me provocatively claim that the aid system has remained trapped in a mostly solidarity-driven paradigm, in which spending more taxpayers’ money for development is dictated not by impact but by a sort of beauty contest among donors against a background of political pressure from beneficiaries to get more. The intrinsic tension between a duty of international solidarity and an imperative of effectiveness has of course been recognised, and the past decade has witnessed efforts to build aid and development effectiveness, notably through the Paris, Accra and Busan declarations. However, these policy prescriptions have paid insufficient regard to the framework of incentives directing donors’ and recipients’ behaviours.
Recognising this flaw, some critics have jumped to the conclusion that aid is wasted and that the system should be dismantled. We believe, to the contrary, that the aid system needs to be modernised and strengthened, and that a new narrative and a new measurement system are urgently needed, in line with the evolution of the world economy and of public policies, and with the emerging United Nations post-2015 development agenda.
A few themes may merit special attention. First, the current challenges of the world economy and post-2015 discussions make the dangers of working in silos clearer than ever. Yet we still see uncoordinated approaches from various actors (governments, private sector, NGOs, international organisations, foundations), or action targeted to individual sectors that ignores interaction between sectors. Food, health, infrastructures, water and energy are all deeply connected. More than ever, the role of aid should not be to “do” things through financing them, but to get them done by leveraging and catalysing other resources and energies in innovative ways. This resonates with the work of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation, which aims to connect the various players and build new forms of development partnership between governments, civil society, private sector, international organisations and foundations.
Second, relevant and contextualised knowledge is needed to identify and understand interactions and synergies, to act effectively and to address specific problems. However, the production and dissemination of knowledge is still concentrated in developed countries’ premier research centres and universities.
More development assistance should go towards helping local researchers, so that they can produce local knowledge with global credibility to inform the development debate and policy. This is the mission of the Global Development Network.
We must dare to leave the illusory comfort of concrete and measurable achievements and enter the murky world of people and processes – with the long term objective of empowerment. This clearly challenges the current approach to aid effectiveness, and inviting new methods of measuring results. The present essay competition is an opportunity for scholars the world over to contribute their suggestions. The debate on aid effectiveness should not be left to donors alone.
Third, notwithstanding provider countries’ repeated promises of meeting the 0.7% target for aid as a percentage of their gross national income, the years and possibly decades ahead will be those of tight budget constraints for public policies in most donor countries. This constraint should be transformed into an opportunity. New and imaginative means must found to leverage taxpayers’ money, echoing the role of aid as a catalyst already mentioned. This requires new competences for donors – understanding market failures and working out how aid can address them; and analysing and understand risk, so as to crowd-in, rather than crowd-out, the private sector, without piling-up bad risks on their balance sheets. None of this means that aid should no longer be an expression of international solidarity. But solidarity must be combined with effectiveness to make things happen that would not otherwise take place and that effectively contribute to development.
On these and other issues, we want to hear your voices and ideas to submit your 5,000 word entry in the GDN Next Horizons Essay Contest 2014 before the deadline of September 15, 2014.
Pierre Jacquet is the President of the Global Development Network (GDN). He was formerly Chief Economist (2002-2012) and Executive Director in charge of strategy (2002-2010) of the French Development Agency (AFD). From 1995 to 2012, he was also Chairman of the Department of Economics and Social Sciences of the French Graduate Engineering School Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées. Preceding AFD, he was Deputy Director of the French Institute on International Relations (IFRI), where he was responsible for the economic program and was Chief Editor of IFRI’s quarterly review Politique Etrangère.