“We are using politically correct language … to evade addressing the real issues why progress on core commitments has been so weak since [the] Paris Declaration nine years ago”, remarked a delegate from a small African island nation at a workshop preceding the First High-Level Meeting on Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation, which was held in Mexico City on 15-16 April, 2014. These remarks received thunderous applause from delegates.
Jointly sponsored by UNDP and OECD, the High-Level Meeting intended to demonstrate progress towards truly global partnerships between governments, business and civil society in making development co-operation more effective and sustainable. However, opening remarks by leaders of the two sponsoring agencies and the plenary panel discussion seemed largely focused on ‘aid effectiveness’. Concepts of risk management, improving public finance management and procurement systems of recipient countries, predictability of aid flows and monitoring results to report to donor countries’ parliaments were the main discussion points. Progress, or otherwise, on these aspects seemed to be the dominant concern of sponsors and panellists.
In the subsequent breakout groups, conversations on ownership, transparency and inclusive partnerships once again seemed to veer to management of Official Development Assistance (ODA) from donors to recipients. This seemed to indicate that aid continued to be the focus around which issues of ownership, transparency and partnerships were being constructed and realised.
As a delegate from India, now a large middle-income country (MIC) with high levels of poverty despite its rapid economic growth during the past decade, these conversations seemed to me somewhat irrelevant and dated. Rather, critical issues of malnutrition, violence against women, social inclusion and sustainable livelihoods are those that need to be tackled in India through improved democratic governance, transparency and accountability. Domestic resources are adequate for addressing these issues in my country, but they are not deployed in an efficient and productive manner.
This significant gathering in Mexico of over 1,500 delegates from around the world raised important questions for the future of development co-operation. Is a new global partnership being constructed around the old issues of ODA? Are lingering concerns of aid effectiveness from Paris and Accra still unresolved 30 months after Busan? Will a new age of development co-operation be able to break free from previous ODA frameworks? Will new actors in the development arena – large emerging economies such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and other MICs – find resonance of their principles and aspirations in future debates? How will local level ground-up partnerships define contextually appropriate development effectiveness, without reference to global actors?
Beyond demanding transparency and accountability around the aid that their own countries still receive, we’ve found that civil society organisations from MICs can add significant value to other countries’ development co-operation.
Various focus sessions and plenary presentations during the two-day conference demonstrated several shifting trends. First, emphasis on effective development co-operation was reiterated as an important shift away from Busan. However, it was not clear how the effective co-operation framework and indicators would differ from the old ‘aid effectiveness’ paradigm in practice. Second, inclusive multi-stakeholder partnerships involving governments, civil society, business and think tanks were agreed to be crucial to achieveing effective development co-operation. What remains ambiguous is how unequal power relations between stakeholders can be handled for meaningful co-operation. Third, the distinctive and unique nature of South-South co-operation was acknowledged, while also aspiring for triangular North-South-South co-operation approaches. However, absence of official delegations from China and India, somewhat undermined the support from such champions of South-South co-operation. Finally, attention to development challenges faced by MICs was very welcome. As the president of Mexico put so eloquently, countries like Mexico are both recipients and providers of development assistance, and hence able to better empathise with other developing countries.
In this context, non-state actors become relevant in promoting development effectiveness. Civil society organisations from many larger MICs have long worked in solidarity with their counterparts in other developing countries. Now, businesses and think tanks are also becoming important non-state actors in promoting South-South development co-operation.
The Rising Powers in International Development Programme, hosted by the UK Institute of Development Studies (IDS), is working to build an evidence base around the role of rising powers – including the BRICS and other key countries such as Mexico, Turkey and Indonesia in international development, producing new thinking and practical guidance on engagement and mutual learning.
The global delegation of this programme attended the Mexico meeting to share our lessons and emerging evidence of contributions of non-state actors in the emerging Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation. We have agreed to continue a voluntary initiative from this conference that will further strengthen the contributions of civil society organisations and other non-state actors to development co-operation under a South-South Co-operation framework from MICs called the “Future International Co-operation Policy Network”.
Beyond demanding transparency and accountability around the aid that their own countries still receive, we’ve found that civil society organisations from MICs can add significant value to other countries’ development co-operation. From the four case studies we presented at the High-Level Meeting, we derived four important lessons for taking forward principles and mechanisms of civil society-led South South Development Co-operation (SSDC).
Firstly, solidarity and trust between co-operation partners can lead to more focused civil society-led SSDC to mobilise broader coalitions for common causes.
Secondly, civil society-led SSDC aspires to be more flexible and adaptable than traditional North-South donor modalities, avoiding intrusive conditions and creating space for innovation.
Thirdly, a multi-stakeholder approach is essential to ensure sustainability.
Finally, new methods of measuring SSDC need to be explored to capture the complex effects of civil society-led transnational initiatives.
Alongside governments and businesses, CSOs have been developing innovative practices to contribute to the global struggle against poverty. They have considerable experience and great potential of sharing these practices internationally as well as at home, and their important contributions should not get lost in the state-to-state negotiations that can often become the focus of global initiatives such as the Global Partnership.