Top 10 Devex op-eds of 2012

Newspaper’s opinion page. Photo by: quil

It was a year of debate and departure in development cooperation: 2012 saw industry leaders apply lessons from last year’s aid effectiveness summit in Busan and shape a new sustainable development agenda at a United Nations meeting in Rio.

There were eloquent calls for more aid transparency, better disaster preparedness and increased coordination with the private sector; passionate pleas on behalf of AIDS patients, women and the disadvantaged from Syria to the border regions of Burma and beyond.

Many leading thinkers and doers shared their thoughts with the Devex community, producing some of our most popular articles this year. All in all, we published at least one guest opinion per week, and we look forward to engaging the aid community — you! — even more in 2013, making Devex not just the news but also the opinion leader in international development. If you have an opinion that’s gutsy or practical and relevant to your peers, share it with us via

In the meantime, rediscover some of our most memorable op-eds of the year. From a donor agency chief to an aid worker returning home and a teenager ready to change the world, they showed the ingenuity, passion and promise the global development community brings to the table on the world stage. In alphabetical order:

The leaders of tomorrow, today

By Priyanka Jain, founder and president of iCAREweCARE

The writer became engaged in global development at the tender age of 14, and this year served as a teen advisor to the United Nations Foundation’s “Girl Up” campaign. Her Devex guest opinion illustrates the power of youth and the vision our next generation of leaders brings to discussions on foreign affairs.

“On Aug. 12, the world celebrates International Youth Day. I’d like it to be the day when the youth generation stands up, takes action, and proves that we aren’t just the leaders of tomorrow — we’re the leaders of today.”

Davos is looking for new models; the development community has them

By Arthur Keys, president and CEO of International Relief and Development

This NGO leader didn’t just share his thoughts on this year’s annual gathering of the World Economic Forum, he also eloquently made the case for engaging the aid community in ongoing global fiscal crisis talks, a cause that several aid leaders pushed this year, including Brian Atwood, Devex advisory board chief and outgoing chairman of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee.

“As the Davos agenda indicates, a gathering consensus indicates that some economic models must be adapted or give way to newer ones if we are to maintain the momentum of the past 60 years in lifting people out of poverty. Perhaps at least one of these “new” models is not so new. It is a holistic approach that begins with communities, recognizes that real development has multiple dimensions, and integrates best practices from diverse organizations, public and private. While the development sector’s approaches and perspectives are not exhaustive, they are unique.”

What’s the impact of one pink dress?

By Jacob Lief, co-founder and president of Ubuntu Education Fund

This year, many donors were all abuzz about impact investing. But not all is well: Using an example from his work in South Africa, Lief illustrates why a misguided focus on metrics may well discourage development.

“I would argue that the cost-effectiveness metric is harmful and misleading. It is narrow and self-serving, existing just to make people feel good and in charge. It is also a classic case of cognitive dissonance.”

The passion (of a community development worker)

By Perla Manapol, president of the Sustainable Rural Enterprise

Manapol returned to her native Philippines after years abroad working as an aid worker, only to rediscover home. Her op-ed explores the challenges and rewards that come with doing good, and illustrates Devex’s focus on the aid worker and our mission to speak with the aid community’s voice and help it achieve change.

“I do not profess to have found the answers to poverty alleviation, and I don’t think I ever will. Of one thing I am certain, however: Mother Teresa was right in saying, ‘Helping the poor does not eliminate poverty, but the act of giving, of helping, forever changes the life of the giver.’”

Transparency and accountability: A Busan high point

By Jan Mattsson, director of the U.N. Office for Project Services

The UNOPS chief not only commits his agency to collect input and outcome data, but he also calls on a standardized way to do so across the board.

“It would be good to see more standardized reporting on results … UNOPS is ready to contribute our transparency expertise in our core areas of physical infrastructure and public procurement, and would like to engage with partners to get this done.”

From relief to resilience

By Rajiv Shah, administrator, and Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator of democracy, conflict and humanitarian affairs, at the U.S. Agency for International Development

The term resilience was inescapable in the second half of 2012 as donors rolled out new policies meant to increase the ability of communities to prepare and deal with crisis. But Shah’s op-ed served as the starting bell to this discussion, which eventually led to a focus at the European Development Days and USAID’s own resilience policy.

“Ultimately, when we talk about resilience, we are talking about dignity. We are talking about helping people stay in their communities instead of being forced to leave in search of help. We are talking about helping farmers and pastoralists improve their livelihoods and grow their incomes, instead of losing their crops or herds. We are talking about local efforts that allow neglected communities the chance to endure during crisis, instead of depending on handouts from foreign donors.”

When bigger isn’t always better

By Steve Tibbett, former member of the Make Poverty History campaign coordination team

The debate about the future of nongovernmental organizations rages on, as we chronicled in our story ”Reinventing the international NGO.” Encapsulating part of that debate, this op-ed argues that the drive to expand can do harm to organizations themselves.

“The ‘bigger is always better’ response is locked into a ‘service delivery’ mindset where, the more good-quality interventions you deliver, the more good you can do. It applies best (but not always) if you are a profit-seeking business and need to expand to take market share or increase production to match demand. However, if you are a nonprofit interested in social change and transforming structures and systems, it doesn’t always make sense.”

Small gadgets, big impact: Fighting poverty through innovation

By Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen

Traditional foreign aid donors and corporations increasingly partner to help solve pressing global development challenges. In this op-ed, Vestergaard Frandsen shares how a good idea that starts small in the private sector can leverage government funds to truly make it big.

“We must all seek comprehensive approaches to complex problems through technology, improved service delivery and novel forms of finance to achieve sustainability and significant scale. If this happens, strapped European governments will be able to optimize their foreign aid and carbon-offsets expenditures.”

From Manila, a shoutout from Devex

By Eliza Villarino, senior news producer at Devex

Villarino wrote this op-ed in the midst of monsoon rains that brought what is deemed the worst flooding her country, the Philippines, has ever endured. It showcases our mission here at Devex: to cover the entire story of development cooperation, from the grass roots to the boardrooms and back, focusing on the challenges facing aid workers and organizations and the solutions they need to succeed.

“While my fear has yet to turn into reality, some of my colleagues in the Devex newsroom weren’t as fortunate. They were trapped in their homes, with chest-deep water on the first floor, and had to carry furniture and appliances to higher ground. They also had to do without electricity. This is just a flavor of what aid workers face every day in challenging environments: They are not just responders but oftentimes victims themselves.”

Sustainable development is not possible without sustainable energy

By Kandeh Yumkella, director-general of the U.N. Industrial Development Organization

Kicking off our Rio+Solutions campaign a partnership with the U.N. Foundation Yumkella’s opinion article perfectly summed up the United Nations’ rallying cry in the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. Nobel Peace Prize laureate RK Pachauri also tackled the issue in an exclusive guest op-ed for Devex.

“This is a unique moment. Energy is a top-drawer item for both business and government, and the secretary-general has identified the right agenda. Achieving sustainable energy for all will require an investment in our collective future — an investment that will pay off by improving lives, growing businesses, creating new markets and generating jobs. And by using energy more efficiently and investing in renewable energy sources, we can build the clean energy economy of the future.”

Read more exclusive guest opinion pieces and development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

  • Devexlogo d 226

    Devex Editor

    Thanks a lot for your interest in Devex News. To share news and views, story ideas and press releases, please email We look forward to hearing from you.