In Nairobi, Kenya, last week the second high level meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, a broad-sweeping agenda that has struggled to gain traction in recent years, generated a renewed sense of energy for delivering on commitments, despite continued challenges in gaining political attention in the U.K.
The meeting saw stakeholders from across the development sector — governments, civil society, trade unions, parliamentarians, foundations, business and many more — come together to take stock of progress in implementing the commitments and promises made on aid and development effectiveness in the last 15 years.
These cover everything from improving aid transparency to improving the ownership of development by people and governments in developing countries. All things about how to do aid and development better, smarter and more efficiently — how to ensure aid and other forms of development cooperation are more effective and better value for money.
It is an ambitious agenda, but one that is key to achieving the equally ambitious global development goals. And the sense of optimism about making these principles a reality is certainly higher than it was after the previous high-level meeting in Mexico in 2014 where there was perhaps more focus on making things look good than on the actual doing.
Beyond the top-line takeaways, detailed in the Nairobi outcome document, three key things came out of the meeting.
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1. Clearer links and understanding of how development effectiveness and these processes link to and can help deliver on Agenda 2030 — most notably by genuinely mainstreaming leave no one behind throughout the agenda.
Drawing that clear political and practical link is important to achieving the goals but also to strengthening the political relevance of the GPEDC.
2. Some commitments to action — including on the unfinished business of aid effectiveness from the pre-Busan aid effectiveness agenda. The focus of the effectiveness debate has rightly moved away from just aid to beyond aid issues but there is still much to do to improve the latter and the Nairobi outcomes reflected this as well as recommitment to this work from “traditional donors”.
3. And some practical ways forward — including country-level, multistakeholder platforms that could make inclusive, country-owned development a reality. But also, importantly from our perspective as civil society in the U.K., a recommitment to take action to do what they said they would do.
And one important lesson learned. Having the monitoring report out early really helped to drive engagement and action. Donor countries for example had a chance to look at what the report said about their performance, interrogate the results and start to think about how to move forward.
The same was true for others and made for a different tone to the meeting. It shifted the conversation from just focusing on the high-level, broad brushstrokes of the agenda — obviously important — to looking at the more technical or practical side. For example, discussion about what practical steps could be taken to strengthen things like public financial management and how to overcome the political sense of risk — real or perceived — of using national systems in fragile states could lead to some useful and practical action. And it is that more practical side, with the right political will and interest, that will be important to ensuring that we meet the ambition of the development effectiveness agenda.
These commitments are not just principles, they are the concrete and practical means of ensuring that U.K. aid is genuinely effective, real value for money and delivers sustainable results for people.
So we need to capitalize on the renewed interest and energy from Nairobi and turn this progress into renewed action. To do that, provider countries such as the U.K. need to think about and show how they are going to deliver on their commitments. That means realistic and time-bound action plans, working together with other provider countries to learn and share experiences. It needs to be continually pushed up the political agenda as progress will be lackluster at best without political buy in.
That progress or lack thereof, will be the real proof of whether Nairobi was a success. While the next monitoring report will not be out for two years, in the meantime, there should be progress on developing country-level platforms, DAC donors working to address the thorny issues of the unfinished business, governments strengthening protections for civic space … and the many other commitments large and small made in Nairobi and before.
Most important will be to see those changes in how things work in country. Perhaps the most frequent refrain from developing country partners — governments, civil society or other — is to respect their democratic ownership of their own development, their right to define for themselves how they will progress. Further progress on that principle would mark a real step change in global development.
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