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Aid Effectiveness

Rekindling interest in effectiveness

by Peter Lanzet

In depth

Effective aid is delivered where it is really needed: a school in Cameroon.

Effective aid is delivered where it is really needed: a school in Cameroon.

Efforts have been made for many years to improve development policy by making cooperation more effective. A multilateral forum – the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) – was established specifically for this purpose in 2012. However, it lacks resonance in the UN. Civil-society agencies, however, have successfully demanded more say within the GPEDC.

The aid effectiveness project was initiated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to support the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But from the very beginning it suffered from a congenital defect: it lacked the support of major emerging economies like China and India, which felt it did not take proper account of their views. Accordingly, a special cooperation framework was defined for south-south cooperation and, in its  context, the  general principles of aid effectiveness do not apply in the same way as they do for  OECD donors.

As G77 nations and China continued to express their scepticism, the UN was reluctant to assign the GPEDC a clear and specific role in managing the implementation of its 2030 Agenda with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This lack of recognition weakens the GPEDC, even though its design strengthens the position of developing countries.

At the end of November 2016, representatives of around 130 national governments and a large number of development actors assembled in Nairobi for the GPEDC’s second High-Level Meeting. The conference endorsed the Nairobi Outcome Document which defines greater roles for the private sector, south-south cooperation and civil society. It also extends the scope for its main instrument, its biannual global monitoring process. Thomas Silberhorn, a parliamentary state secretary at Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), was made one of three co-chairs who head the GPEDC. The role of civil society was explicitly appreciated, which matters in view of a long running international trend to limit the scope for independent activism.

Search for new relevance

A key challenge, in Silberhorn’s eyes, is that the relevance of the GPEDC is accepted but not generally supported. Even before the UN snubbed it, member states and actors did little to implement the GPEDC four central principles which were agreed in Busan in 2011 (see box). Such neglect negatively affects  credibility.

The Nairobi Outcome Document praises the results of the second Global Monitoring Report for the progress made in terms of boosting developing country ownership of policymaking and more donor funding flowing through recipient countries’ national budgets.

Civil-society organisations find the report far too diplomatic and optimistic, however. If it is to serve its purpose, it must publish its facts and figures more matter-of-factly and with less positive spin. The truth is that little or no progress has been made, for instance, on pledges concerning national procurement, on untying aid, on transparency of conditionality or on making the policy priorities of developing countries prevail over those of donors. Private sector companies remain hesitant, waiting to see what effectiveness principles will mean for investments. The report’s comments on more civil-society involvement in multi-stakeholder platforms, moreover, does not conceal that the space civil-society activism needs has been shrinking in many countries for years.

Strategies for strengthening ­effectiveness

The High-Level Meeting in Nairobi focused particularly on strategies to give the GPEDC new momentum. Options include:

  • fully aligning GPEDC action to SDG achievement, by directly subordinating it to the UN High-Level Political Forum, which monitors and promotes progress in regard to the SDGs,   
  • emphasising potential improvements in effectiveness and reducing risks for private-sector investment by applying aid effectiveness principles, and
  • making the Global Monitoring Framework more relevant by using more indicators.

In Nairobi, some forces wanted to water down core principles of effectiveness, hoping to boost the reach of the GPEDC by accommodating certain countries and the private sector. They wanted to roll back the focus on human rights, relax requirements of inclusiveness for private sector investments and reduce the role of civil society. On a number of fronts – such as democracy, human rights and use of official development assistance for hedging private investment risks – they have left their mark on the Outcome Document.

The contribution of civil society

In the last 11 years, civil-society organisations have steadily strengthened and augmented their role in the effectiveness debate. When the Paris Declaration was adopted in 2005, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) took part as mere observers. In 2008, at the High-Level Meeting on Aid Effectiveness in Accra, they were recognised as development actors in their own right. In 2011, the Busan Outcome Document demanded that a legally and politically enabling environment must be created for civil-society initiatives.

In 2012, diverse civil-society groups joined forces in the global umbrella organisation CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE). The aim was to assume duty in the GPEDC steering committee. CPDE members took part in all preparatory steps before the High Level Meeting in Nairobi and hosted a number of events during the conference.

In the past five years, civil society’s scope of action has been significantly reduced in 109 countries. The CPDE therefore demanded a commitment from the Nairobi conference to reverse this trend. And it received that commitment. Paragraph 18 of the Outcome Document contains the pledge: “We are determined to reverse the trend of shrinking of civic space.” In the preamble, shrinking civic space is mentioned on a par with climate change risks and global economic shocks. The Nairobi Outcome Document calls upon donors and developing country governments alike to ensure that NGOs are involved in policymaking, strategising and monitoring of development progress.

Kenya’s government had planned to roll out the red carpet for the private sector and south-south cooperation. Civil society took the opportunity to walk on it. State Secretary Silberhorn, however, warned that more civil-society influence would mean less interest of governments and the private sector. He hopes that tangible initiatives will help to get China and India more actively involved in the GPEDC, even if they are unlikely to become members.

Peter Lanzet is an international development consultant. He worked for Bread for the World, Germany, for 35 years.
[email protected]


2. Global Monitoring Report 2016 of the GPEDC:

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