The UN's long-term vision and the US Congress's shortsighted aid budget: This week in development news

By Michael Igoe 14 April 2016

A wide view of the Trusteeship Council Chamber as Igor Lukšić, deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs and European Integration of Montenegro, delivers his presentation to member states regarding his candidacy. The U.N. General Assembly held a series of informal dialogues earlier this week with the secretary-general candidates. Photo by: Rick Bajornas / United Nations

Good news and mediocre news on the transparency front, a call to innovators to help combat the spread of Zika, and a rockstar sounds the alarm about an underwhelming foreign aid budget proposal in the United States. This week in development news:

The United Nations is in the midst of a campaign season many see as an unprecedented step toward transparency in the process to appoint the organization’s next secretary-general. Candidates released their vision statements and fielded questions this week, broadcast live online. Their visions ranged from a stronger preventative role for the U.N. in stemming crises to more attention on climate change and human rights protections, to zero tolerance provisions for mismanagement and abuse within the U.N. system. Many expect this election will see the first woman appointed to the U.N.’s top spot in its 70-year history.

The World Bank faces questions about its own succession process, but those are unlikely to be answered at the financial institution’s spring meetings this week in Washington, D.C. Development professionals, policymakers, economists and a slew of other influential leaders have descended on the bank’s headquarters to help shape its role in important issues, including pandemic preparedness, climate change, and partnerships with emerging institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. On Wednesday, Michelle Obama paid a visit and joined World Bank President Jim Kim in announcing the availability of $2.5 billion for girls’ education. Kim was feeling the love.

Most aid donors are failing to meet their pledges on transparency, according to Publish What You Fund’s annual transparency rankings, released this week. More than five years after top donors pledged to make all aid transparent by 2015, only 10 donors, responsible for only one-quarter of all aid, are hitting the mark. The report found that the United Nations Development Program, the Millennium Challenge Corp. and UNICEF were the most transparent, while many well-heeled donors — notably the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Australia and the European Commission’s directorate — have “stalled” in their progress, in large part due to irregular reporting and a failure to provide comprehensive data.

The world’s largest social media network convened developers and industry leaders in San Francisco this week, in large part to talk about how to deliver Internet access to the 4 billion people who currently lack it. Satellites, Internet-beaming solar planes, and Facebook-lite — a stripped down version of the social media platform capable of working in low-bandwidth settings — were all on the table. The networking behemoth is also showcasing its outreach to emerging market developers, with whom Facebook is partnering to create products that can extend its reach to the Internet-underserved.

Rockstar advocate and ONE Campaign Founder Bono sounded the alarm on Capitol Hill this week about the harm the U.S. Congress would inflict by underfunding foreign assistance. Bono, speaking before the Senate Appropriations Committee in anticipation of its Thursday budget release, decried the “wrongheaded idea” that the “refugee problem is temporary.” Senator Lindsey Graham also championed a forward thinking view: “I’m the guy who wants to kill off the terrorists, but I also realize that is a limited way to win this war long term. In some cases, educating a young girl will do more to win this war than dropping any amount of bombs,” he said in a statement released to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

The U.S. Agency for International Development issued a $30 million “grand challenge” to crowdsource “groundbreaking” innovations that can enhance the global Zika virus response effort, as it did during the Ebola outbreak. Wednesday’s grand challenge announcement coincided with definitive confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control that the virus causes microcephaly, a birth defect that can impair brain development. Restrictive sexual and reproductive health policies in many Zika-affected countries have complicated the response.

“While we hadn't specifically targeted contraception or reproductive health innovations in this Grand Challenge, we are open to all possible innovations,” a USAID official told Devex, adding that USAID “is committed to ensuring that women and couples in developing countries have access to voluntary family planning information, services, and methods.”

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About the author

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Michael Igoe@AlterIgoe

Michael Igoe is a senior correspondent for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers U.S. foreign aid and emerging trends in international development and humanitarian policy. Michael draws on his experience as both a journalist and international development practitioner in Central Asia to develop stories from an insider's perspective.

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