Aid’s unfinished business

24 November 2016
Author: Amy Dodd

Aid effectiveness is back on the agenda with the Second High Level Meeting (HLM) of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) taking place in Nairobi next week. It comes at a time when several OECD donors are reducing their aid budgets, but when we also have an ambitious set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to achieve by 2030 and a significant funding gap to bridge.

Despite the growth in other financial flows, ensuring that aid is spent effectively remains a key means of achieving the world's sustainable development ambitions. Next week’s Nairobi conference will be an important moment to take stock of progress against the development effectiveness principles - of ownership, a focus on results, inclusive development partnerships, and transparency and accountability - agreed in Busan in 2011.

This series of blogs presents perspectives on what the HLM needs to achieve, if we are to see needed progress on ensuring aid is more effective, transparent and accountable over the years to come. 

Aid's unfinished business 

Aid is a limited and valuable resource for sustainable development. While other ‘beyond aid’ resources and flows are rightly increasingly emphasised in the new post-2015 era, aid will remain a vital source of financing for many countries  who would struggle to fund crucial social services, for example, purely from internal resources.

Aid will also be a necessary – but again not sufficient – part of efforts to tackle the complex and interconnected global and national challenges laid out in the SDGs from fragility and conflict to climate change. Ensuring that aid is used effectively – that we get the biggest and best possible bang for every pound spent – is thus both vitally important and quite challenging to ensure.

So what next?

Aid effectiveness is fundamentally about impact, efficiency and value for money; an agenda born out of the recognition in the Monterrey Financing for Development agenda that achieving development goals would require much more than just more resources. It also recognised a fundamental power imbalance in global development – that those who had the most at stake and a right to drive and direct their own development, were too often not the ones in the driving seat. So a crucial part of this process was about redressing that power imbalance between donors and recipients by providing a productive, safe and outcome-oriented space to address the challenges partner countries were facing in terms of aid delivery. The debate has moved on from just aid providers and recipients, but this fundamental principle – supporting developing countries to more effectively own and manage their own development – remains a critical part of the development effectiveness agenda. Not least as there is much of that original agenda, the so-called unfinished business, that is still pretty much unfinished. Nor have we really managed to mainstream effectiveness across government and beyond aid – another necessary stage in efficiently marshalling other flows and other types of interventions.  

And, while it may be politically challenging at times, this is in the UK’s best interests too. It is not just about our own credibility – keeping promises – but also about building better partnerships for the future whether for trade or anything else, something the new Secretary of State Priti Patel has been keen to focus on. Good partnerships, now and in the future, will be built on respect for the ownership, priorities and ‘asks’ like aid effectiveness from partner countries. The multi-stakeholder nature of the GPEDC is unique and creates a space for countries like the UK to work with a wide range of stakeholders beyond governments, from foundations and civil society to the private sector – again something that is a priority for the UK government. It is fundamentally about value for money; a core concern for any government and certainly one this government has been at pains to emphasise.

So what can we do?

The development effectiveness agenda has struggled to make progress and gain the traction needed in recent years.  But the Nairobi HLM can be a chance to address that. Three things the UK could do to help ensure that outcome:

  • Support and help to develop the missing global, ‘technical’ level of the partnership – a space to learn, share experience or knowledge and explore the challenges in delivering on the unfinished business with workplans, targets and accountability.
  • Outline how and when it will meet outstanding aid effectiveness commitments – including, in particular, meeting its promise to greatly improve the transparency of all aid-spending departments – ideally through publishing a timebound implementation plan.  
  • Outline how it will mainstream development across government and across different flows – from ‘traditional’ aid to blended finance.

These three small steps could help to give new energy to the aid and development effectiveness agenda – as well as modelling best behaviour for others. This is an area where the UK has historically been a global leader, it can reclaim that leadership in Nairobi but only if it takes action.  

Read our full paper on where next for development effectiveness here.

About the author

Amy Dodd, Director, UK Aid Network
UK Aid Network

Amy has been director of the UK Aid Network - a network of UK NGOs that advocate for more and better aid through joint policy, research and lobbying - since 2012.