Leaving most people behind?

A couple of weeks ago thousands of people gathered in Nairobi for the second High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC), an international alliance aimed at improving the way aid and other forms of development co-operation can help people living in poverty in developing countries.

On the one hand, the conference resembled many UN-like meetings on international development, with solemn celebrations, formal speeches and government representatives dominating the final outcome. I will write about the outcome of this part in a more technical post after the holidays.

On the other hand, the conference was really one of its kind, reflecting the unusually inclusive nature of the Global Partnership. A large group of civil society organisations, local authorities, parliamentarians, foundations, trade unions and business representatives also participated, and it wasn’t just for show. They brought vastly different views of the world with them, often raising sensitive issues for open debate. Here are just a few that would deserve further reflection:

  • Women’s associations kept drawing attention to the lack of land ownership rights as a major barrier to development. Several representatives from Kenyan famers’ and widows’ associations explained how women farmers often cannot own or sell the land they work on, which impacts on agricultural productivity. In other cases, women, young farmers and their families are forcibly evicted, for example if minerals lie beneath their land and lucrative mining contracts get signed without their full consent. What is the specific role of international assistance in these cases?
  • There were plenty of interventions about unleashing the potential of private investments in the development sector but the discussion sounded a lot more real when a young entrepreneur from Uganda started talking about access to financial credit and how next to impossible it is for someone like him to even approach a bank. The alternative for him and many others is to resort to risky informal financial services. Can donors help put in place more sustainable credit schemes for young talents instead of prioritising partnerships with few multinational enterprises? What exactly do we mean when we talk about the ‘private sector’ in development?
  • Scores of youths participated in the conference, some of them arriving by bus all the way from South Africa. For many young participants, this was their first high-level meeting ever. Both at the Youth Forum and during the dedicated plenary session, youths made a strong case for influencing the development co-operation agenda. Active participation is only the start of the journey: when you represent almost two billion people, you should also have a say in the final decisions taken.
  • Migrants were finally invited to be part of the conversation, and they used their time wisely to shed much needed light on the linkages between migration and development. Eni Lestari, from the International Migrants Alliance, made a bold proposal: we should refer to the number of migrants out of a developing country as an indicator of that country’s development status. The fewer people leave over time, the more developed a country is becoming. The correlation between the two factors may not be as clear-cut as she puts it, but it is high time the development co-operation community paid more attention to this nexus.

Perhaps the intervention that most struck me was a question from a participant in the plenary session on ‘Leaving No-one Behind’, a mantra that has been repeated since the UN started discussing the Sustainable Development Goals a few years ago to ensure the international community would not forget the most vulnerable people in its march towards human progress. If you take the example of Madagascar – the participant argued – 92% of the population there lives under the poverty line (it is actually 78% of the population, who lives on less than $1.90 a day). So, what do we do when most people are left behind? Or do we just assume that those left behind are always the minority? I must admit I hadn’t considered that possibility yet, but the question was left unanswered so I suspect the panelists had a similar reaction to mine.

Diversity and inclusiveness remain the strongest contribution of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation to the international community. The Nairobi conference confirmed it. Now the proof will be in the pudding – turning the commitments agreed in the final outcome document into action.

More on that after the holidays. Enjoy the break.


Photo credit: buildingbridges.nu

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About Farida Tchaitchian Bena

Farida T. Bena is an aid and development effectiveness expert, humanitarian and campaigner with 20 years' experience with non-governmental organisations (Oxfam, International Rescue Committee, CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness) and international organisations (UNICEF, OECD, European Commission). Farida's interests include citizen participation, social accountability and innovation in the global South. After having worked in about twenty countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, Farida is now based in Geneva, Switzerland.

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