A better future for aid? A resolution for 2013


Muna Wehbe


Muna Wehbe

With the ringing in of each new year, a litany of resolutions quickly follows: to be healthier, more thoughtful, more efficient. In 2013, this is especially crucial in the development community, for this is the year in which the future of aid will largely be decided.

The expiry date of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which themselves read as a list of global resolutions when they were established in September 2000 – is fast approaching, and this year the UN will determine what the post-MDG framework will look like.

The MDGs have shaped policy, guided political agendas and channelled hundreds of billions of dollars in aid money around the globe. But more than a decade on, progress has been mixed and major challenges still remain. In the months ahead, a UN High Level Panel, of which David Cameron is co-chair, will have the opportunity to assess the MDGs and create the ‘development vision’ that will ultimately replace them.

I am optimistic about this process, because we have learned a great deal since 2000; our language around development has changed, and our understanding of the complexities and interconnectedness of the goals has grown. Just as development philosophy has changed, so too must our approach to the post-2015 agenda.

One way to do this is to ensure the process is more ‘bottom-up’ than it was 13 years ago. At the end of 2011 in Busan, Korea, a significant shift in the power dynamics of the aid debate took place when civil society organizations (CSOs) became equal development actors alongside governments and donors at an international conference on aid effectiveness. This recent move to include civil society as a genuine voice at the table is welcome and is as important as the private sector agenda that is now so prevalent in the current development discourse.

Credit Kristian Buus/STARS

A further encouraging example occurred just a few weeks ago in London. On 2 November 2012, the Department for International Development (DFID) invited Restless Development to run a youth-led session as part of the UN High Level Panel’s outreach day on the Post-2015 Development agenda. (Restless Development, an impressive youth-led development agency that places young people at the forefront of charitable development in Africa and Asia, has won two STARS Impact Awards from the STARS Foundation in recent years for its work in Tanzania and Nepal. The women in the photo above are members of the Chepang community, living high in the mountains, who now benefit from direct access to water as a result of Restless Development Nepal’s hygiene and sanitation projects implemented in collaboration with the local community.) In that session, a group of 23 young people from around the world came together to communicate one fundamental message to the decision-makers: that young people, as the largest demographic in the world without exception, will be the difference between the success and failure of any global development commitments made.

Among some of the other insights shared by the group of young people included the need for more youth-led and diverse representation at high-level meetings; a focus on the post-conflict context and vulnerable groups, in particular women and girls; and the importance of youth as leaders and experts in their communities in developing strategies to achieve the existing MDGs and in creating the post-2015 agenda.

As funders, we have a crucial role to play not only in supporting and raising the profile of our NGO partners, but also in ensuring they have the opportunity to bring their voices to bear on the very debates that will affect them. I often speak about ‘getting out of the way’ so our partners can do the talking, but often wonder how many donors genuinely stand aside to let their partners lead the way? How many of us give them our trust and funding that is flexible enough to respond to opportunities such as the one offered to Restless Development by DFID?

To help inform the post-MDG debate and build on the findings from the Bellagio Initiative’s six-month exploration into philanthropy and international development, the STARS Foundation recently commissioned independent research among more than 500 NGOs to understand their attitudes and feelings.

Overwhelmingly, the results indicate that there is a need for donors to be more flexible in their support, to be more collaborative and to take more risks. Many funders would say that they try to build close and trusted working relationships with the organizations they fund, but it clearly isn’t enough. More than 80 per cent of respondents say there is a need for change in the way they are funded, 91 per cent believing that funders should collaborate more to develop projects and solutions together.

We should take these findings to heart and let them inform our own work in this important year. Our NGO partners are the ones that are embedded in their communities, and have a vested interest in the long-term success of their work. They are the true development experts, and as such decision-making should rest firmly in their hands.

Regardless of the commitments and priorities listed in the final report that Mr Cameron and the High Level Panel are expected to produce in the coming weeks, I remain hopeful that the funding community will waste no time in projecting the post-2015 development framework we want to see: one that is bolder, more robust, more responsive and more inclusive.

Not a bad start to our 2013 resolutions.

Muna Wehbe is Chief Executive of the STARS Foundation.

Tagged in: Bellagio Initiative Collaboration Development MDGs

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