In New York, aid politics and practice collide

Photo by: Damianos Chronakis / CC BY-SA

This week, world leaders, social entrepreneurs and development experts descended on New York again, as they do around this time each year.

Most politicians head straight to the U.N. General Assembly. Social entrepreneurs gravitate toward the Clinton Global Initiative. Techies hunker down at the Social Good Summit. Women leaders mingle at events organized by Women Deliver, Donna Karan and others.

There is cross-pollination. Many of these visitors crisscross Manhattan daily in limousines and yellow cabs — a speech here, a panel discussion there, followed by a reception or three.

On Tuesday, Sept. 25, a high-level panel appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met for the first time to craft a post-2015 development agenda. Panelists didn’t yet go into specifics — the goal was “just to get a feel for things,” said U.N. Special Adviser Amina Mohammad, who saw “huge energy and expectations” of a bold yet practical vision for global development.

“I think, broadly, that everybody believes we should finish the MDGs and then begin to talk about the next agenda, which should take its story from where are we today and what’s happening today,” Mohammad said the next day at an MDG countdown event hosted by the U.K. and U.S. aid agencies, which also featured brief remarks by Justine Greening, the new U.K. secretary of state for international development, among others.

The post-MDG framework panel plans to meet again in November and release its conclusions by the end of May. Those will be incorporated into a larger blueprint by September 2013.

Much politics will be played before a final set of targets is ratified; already, there’ve been heated debates about the need to go beyond straightforward anti-poverty goals and incorporate sustainability or consumption, income or happiness, governance or human rights.

Fifteen blocks away from United Nations Plaza, at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual gathering, a different scene: Young social entrepreneurs mingled with executives from nongovernmental organizations, activists and corporate leaders. (We interviewed several of them; check our New York week topic page often for video recordings we’ll be publishing daily.)

Hillary Clinton created a stir when she called on donors to “broaden and increase our network of partnerships” beyond international NGOs. U.S. presidential contender Mitt Romney told the CGI crowd: “The aim of a much larger share of our aid must be the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise.”

CGI’s theme, designing for impact, puts a spotlight on the need for innovative products, systems and supply chains to facilitate development. At the same time, the conference laid bare not just the opportunities, but also the challenges of working across sectors or even cultures.

There was much talk about “redesigning” development cooperation, yet traditional aid implementers have only been cautiously collaborating with the next generation of “design” firms, preferring occasional staff briefings to the joint planning and execution of field work. There was much talk about locally driven anti-poverty solutions, yet most CGI participants were Western.

Devex News has been covering these issues extensively, and we’ll continue to do so — including on a website dedicated entirely to PPPs that we’ll launch later this year in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development. Earlier this year, we published an article on how the aid and tech communities have had to overcome differences to collaborate on mHealth. Watch out for a story we’ll feature in the coming days on the future of iNGOs and their thawing relations with the private sector.

Is the aid community ready to adopt solutions from a new set of innovators in the private sector and beyond, or will the focus on procurement and well-established aid delivery models prevail?

In New York this week, many leaders seemed to scramble for answers.

Read our last DevBuzz.

About the author

  • Rolf Rosenkranz

    Rolf Rosenkranz oversees a talented team of in-house journalists, correspondents and guest contributors located around the globe. Since joining Devex in early 2008, Rolf has been instrumental in growing its fledgling news operation into the leading online source for global development news and analysis. Previously, Rolf was managing editor at Inside Health Policy, a subscription-based news service in Washington. He has reported from Africa for the Johannesburg-based Star and its publisher, Independent News & Media, as well as the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a German daily.

Join the Discussion