Exclusive: Meet the new OECD-DAC chair

Susanna Moorehead, new chair of OECD-DAC. Photo by: U.S. Air National Guard

LONDON — The newly appointed chair of the Development Assistance Committee has said she will strive to “build consensus from the bottom up” as the group of donor countries struggles to modernize and to reach agreement on key issues.

“We know there is a very wide variety of views among DAC donors about what the real development challenges are ... The job is all about crafting compromise.”

— Susanna Moorehead, chair, Development Assistance Committee

Susanna Moorehead is leaving her current role as British ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti in order to head up DAC, it is due to be announced Wednesday. The body within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is tasked with setting the rules around official development assistance for its members, including 30 of the world’s richest countries who collectively account for about 80 percent of global aid spending.

Moorehead comes to the role at a tricky time for the committee, which is part way through a major reform process started in 2012 and championed by its outgoing chair, Sweden’s Charlotte Petri Gornitzka.

The committee has also been dogged by division between its most powerful members, most recently over proposals around how donor countries should report aid that is invested in the private sector. The United Kingdom has threatened to break with DAC rules over several issues during the past year, while opposition from Japan recently delayed a decision on tied aid.

Such disputes have done little to assuage critics of DAC, who see it as a “rich countries’ club” that puts the interests of donors ahead of recipients.

Moorehead, who beat one other candidate from Denmark for the job, said she wants DAC’s voice to be “loud and clear, innovative, and respected.” While there has been recent progress, there is more reform work to be done, she said.

“DAC needs to be more forward-looking and not be perceived simply as a donor club. I know a huge amount has been done by predecessors to try and tackle that but its very much a work in process,” she told Devex.

Finishing off the reform agenda will require building consensus and compromise within the committee, something Moorehead said she plans to start right away by finding and prioritizing “a few areas where there was broad agreement and build consensus from the bottom up.”

However, it won’t be easy given DAC’s varied membership and recent disagreements.

“I do think the DAC needs to agree what its key lobbying messages for the international community are [and] my role as chair is to craft an agreed position. We know there is a very wide variety of views among DAC donors about what the real development challenges are ... The job is all about crafting compromise,” she said.

The new chair said she will draw on experience garnered through a varied career, including roles within the U.K. Department for International Development; U.K. Foreign Office, as the U.K. executive director to the World Bank; jobs in academia; and at Save the Children UK.

She also wants to modernize the committee’s engagement style by publishing fewer long reports and making better use of social media and digital tools to “refresh our image.”

To shed its “donor club” image, Moorehead will work to make the committee more inclusive and work more with partners across the development sector.

“There’s certainly work to be done on being more inclusive, and so more dialogue with recipients, with emerging market donors, with the private sector, [and] with civil society organizations,” she said.

But agreeing DAC guidelines on private sector instruments is likely to be the biggest sticking point. Moorehead described it as “one of the most contested issues in the board,” and one that is “not going away.” She hopes, as chair, to move the debate on.

“The key thing is to try and reframe the debate ... It’s very easy … to overfocus on one part of the financing package, and what is or isn’t ODA eligible, but there’s a wider debate about how do we use ODA eligibility, as agreed by the DAC, as a catalyst for different sources of finance,” she said.

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About the author

  • Edwards sopie

    Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.