A gaggle of world leaders, diplomats, NGOs, corporate representatives and think tanks descended on a Mexico City conference center this week to continue their search for new solutions to old problems.
According to British International Development Secretary Justine Greening the first high-level meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC), represents an “incredibly important opportunity” to ensure that poor countries receive the skills and investment needed to end their dependency on aid.
While few would disagree with her assessment, little was expected of the Mexico meeting.
The partnership, created in Busan, South Korea, three years ago, aims to bring together aid donors and recipients, emerging economies, civil organizations, private sector companies and foundations in the hope of eradicating poverty through better cooperation.
It is based on five principles intended to make aid more effective: ownership, alignment, harmonization, mutual accountability and results.
Central to its philosophy is the concept of ownership: letting developing countries set their own strategies for poverty reduction, improving their institutions and tackling corruption.
So far, 161 governments — including key emerging nations such as India, China, Nigeria, Indonesia and Turkey — have declared their support for the partnership.
About 1,500 development leaders are expected to congregate in Mexico.
However, despite the cheers that greeted Busan, there are fears that the partnership may not meet its self-imposed targets for next year, which include increasing transparency, boosting country ownership and untying aid.
The GPEDC’s own progress report — released at the beginning of this month — conceded that the results were mixed.
“Longstanding efforts to change the way development cooperation is delivered are paying off, but much more needs to be done to transform cooperation practices and ensure country ownership of all development efforts, as well as transparency and accountability among development partners,” it said.
The report found that commitment to the Busan principles remained strong, despite the global economic situation and individual countries’ domestic budget problems.
However, it was blunt in its conclusions: “More needs to be done... to meet the targets that the global partnership set for 2015.”
Greening, who co-chairs the GPEDC, is calling on those involved to make sure that the momentum acquired at Busan is not squandered.
“We must agree a new partnership with emerging nations and private investors to make sure every pound, yuan, peso or dollar spent on development has the greatest possible impact,” she said. “Countries like China have made remarkable progress and they are now turning their resources to help other countries. At the same time, the finance and skills of the private sector have tremendous potential for tackling global poverty.”
Campaigners such as Publish What You Fund argue the GPEDC report shows that donors are dragging their feet on promises to act as openly as possible, which does not augur well for the partnership’s aims.
“This is a timely wake-up call that more is needed for donors to fulfill their original commitments,” said David Hall-Matthews, director of Publish What You Fund.
“All donors must accelerate their efforts to publish high-quality aid data, which the report confirms is not yet happening,” he said.
A lack of proper donor information would serve only to hinder partner countries’ efforts to plan effectively, Hall-Matthews said.
However, some discern a more basic and ideological tension at the heart of the partnership.
According to Alex Shankland of the rising powers in international development program at the Institute of Development Studies, the success of the Mexico meeting depended on the degree to which the big northern donors are prepared to listen to and engage with the new powers of the development world, the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the MINTs (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey).
“I think the real test is whether the traditional aid players have learned their lessons from the post-Busan period, when there was an initial euphoria about the BRICs signing up, and then it sort of reverted to business as usual,” he said. “The countries that are increasingly important players in development cooperation — the BRICs, MINTs, the rising powers in development — are coming from their own historical tradition of south-south cooperation, they have their own way of doing things and don’t particularly see why they should sign up to someone else’s way of doing things.”
It was vital to have a genuine dialogue about the different ways of achieving development cooperation, Shankland said.
“Once you’ve got that going, you might have something worthwhile,” he said. “But if the steering committee and the organizers are looking for a headline that everybody’s signed up to a single deal, then I think they might be heading in the wrong direction.”
Equally important, he said, was the need to ensure that the increasing rush to engage the private sector in development did not result in the exclusion of civil society organizations (CSOs).
“I’m hopeful there will be a regeneration of the CSO partnerships for development effectiveness [in Mexico] and a new energy in the discussion around civil society,” Shankland said.
“The private sector’s got a big space — there’s a whole session on the role of the private sector, which is very much UK-led — so the question is: what about other non-state actors?” he said.
Enduring concerns aside though, that so many delegates are traveling to Mexico suggests that the spirit of Busan lingers on.
“A few months ago, everybody thought it was going to be a washout and nobody was going to turn up,” Shankland said. “It’s not: people are going — sceptically — but they’re going. And that’s probably the right place to be.”
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