Highlights and lingering thoughts from EDD12

October 18, 2012

Nick Ishmael Perkins
Director, SciDev.Net

Eight things I saw that impressed me at the European Development Days gathering:

1. Every High Level Panel I attended had some representation from the global South. While the represention tended to the public sector, civil society were sufficiently in evidence not to raise alarm. And there were enough of these Southern voices speaking truth to power to keep the punting for funding palatable. I have been to enough international meetings without real international participation not to take this for granted.

2. The majority of High Level Panels had a respectable gender balance. And where they did not it was publicly acknowledged from what I saw.

3. Ugandan Member of Parliament Alaso Alice Asianut offering this contribution to an enthusiastic discussion about Sustainable Development Goals: ‘Uganda won’t meet most of the MDGs because it’s been mostly reversals and slow progress, so we need to learn from that.’

4. Kalilou Sylla from ROPPA ( a West African farmers association) challenging African governments and EC donors equally with his blunt irrefutable logic. One gem – if there is all this political will why are the statistics around the disenfranchisement of farmers so appalling?

5. Journalist Monika Hoegen moderating the panel ‘Free Humanity From Hunger’ delivering a masterclass in how to deploy the follow-up question. Whether challenging Caritas Rwanda to substantiate their claims of citizen participation or exploring the notion that the EC Development unit is an apologist for EU agribusiness she was constantly stimulating but never rude.

6. The French ministers challenging the financial world order. Whether making suggestions about how to regulate speculation in agriculture or describing how tax reform could leverage more funds for development, they were often the panellists making the point that the structural relations underpinning development determine the type of development we have. This kind of reform may be some way off but it was inspiring to hear.

7. There were some interesting examples of ‘joined up development’ in practice. The integrated planning of development and humanitarian teams in agencies like the EC, USAID and DFID along with the new deal on fragility which draws together peace building goals and state building goals are two examples.

8. The recurring attempts to define sustainable growth and inclusive growth. It wasn’t pretty or new but it was engaging. And mapping the common denominators and outliers matters.

Three things I didn’t see nearly enough of:

Scientists. Talk of technological transfer, practicable knowledge and evidence of adaptation surfaced in several discussions in a range of sectors. Strange then there was no one actually talking about their research.

The media. There was widespread – and unchallenged – enthusiasm for the possibilities of new (and older) information and communication technologies. But apart from the folks interviewing some of delegates in the public spaces, we did not see many communication professionals, certainly not sitting on panels as equal stakeholders (perhaps with the exception of World Bank’s Managing Director Caroline Anstey who regularly acknowledges her journalistic training.)

The BRICS. Middle-income countries and ’emerging’ economies were conspicuously under-represented. This is curious given that they, more than have a particularly current take on managing inequality and forging new development paradigms. Tellingly one session featured a question from the Colombian Ambassador in the audience (intriguing I know) which stumped most panelists as it seemed to refer to issues beyond the remit of those in the room.

This post is part of our blog on European Development Days (EDD12), which takes place 16 and 17 October 2012, in Brussels, Belgium.

Self help for the ambitious development professional

October 17, 2012

Nick Ishmael Perkins
Director, SciDev.Net

You can’t fault the European Commission for ambition.

From the grandly titled ‘opening ceremony’ to the parade of heads of state – 7 on the first day it was clear this was a gathering that intends to make an impact. But then the business of poverty reduction should be approached with a certain boldness.

EC President Barroso in his opening remarks reminded us that the EU is the largest contributor to overseas development aid – committing over half of the global total annually – and it plans to get bigger. By 2014 they are hoping for a budget of 100 billion euro over 6 years. I suppose if they can’t think big then who can?

And big thinking was what we expected. The conference set itself a tantalising and timely central question – how do we make economic growth sustainable and inclusive? This goes well beyond aid and gets to the heart of public policy in rich and poor countries alike. The latest edition of The Economist features a similar question on it’s cover.

However there were three things which keep occurring to me on the first day which will need to be resolved if we are to achieve a sustainable answer to this central question:

  • the question is not new. As a number of panelists in the high level panel on resilience and partnerships acknowledged, this is part of a set of questions 30 years in the asking. There was no consensus on why it has taken so long to resolve. And, more importantly, a straw poll suggests that half those in that session remain unconvinced things are about to change.
  • there is no evident concentration of effort. The full EDD programme packs over 40 sessions in its 2 days, many of them featuring fascinating work. However, it is not at all clear they are equally concerned with the central question. Often it feels they are, understandably, flying the flag of their programmes and partnerships. Not perhaps the best example of joined up development thinking.
  • resilience is a proxy. One theme that constantly resurfaced in the sessions I attended was resilience and it’s role in the face of climate and financial crises. But as most self-help gurus would tell you, it’s your view of life, as much as any capital social or otherwise, which determines your resilience. In this regard, questions of what interventions build resilience obscures to some extent the question of what is our vision of development. Admittedly this latter question is where the conference agenda wants to get to but not where the actual discussion is at.

But then the self-help gurus will also say that when a question is too big or complex we tend to focus on easier to manage queries and solutions.

I thought of this particular observation as I asked myself another potentially complex question  where are the scientists?

This post is part of our blog on European Development Days (EDD12), which takes place 16 and 17 October 2012, in Brussels, Belgium.

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