The UK needs to urgently set a new course in its development strategy
20 July 2021
In the coming months, the UK government will release its long-awaited International Development Strategy.
In the absence of a clear government-led consultation process, we brought together experts from the across the UK’s international development sector to think through how the UK can play its part in building a more sustainable, inclusive, equitable and resilient world for all.
Bond’s new paper, Setting a new Course: Principles and recommendations for the UK’s international development strategy, sets out expert-informed vision for international development in 2030 and a path to get there.
Getting the goals right
The Integrated Review was light on international development and did little to expand on the strategic framework for ODA announced by the Foreign Secretary in November 2020, alongside the aid cuts. The forthcoming international development strategy needs to compensate for the lack of detail and must draw on the best of what has come before, whilst demonstrating where and how the UK government will pursue a new course for development for the coming decade
A new international development strategy should set ambitious goals for the UK’s role in achieving the sustainable development goals. There are only 9 years to go to achieve the 2030 targets, yet countries, including the UK are lagging alarmingly behind. The new strategy needs to address current huge challenges like vaccine equity, civil society crackdowns and climate change, where little progress was made at the recent G7, and outline more broadly how the UK intends to reduce poverty and meet humanitarian needs, as well as support sustainable economic development, address the climate emergency, and defend human rights and open societies.
The foundations for achieving these goals are an international development strategy that is poverty focused, evidence and rights-based, and accountable to the British public and communities it is meant to serve. The new strategy must be rooted in effective development principles, including the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda as well as evidence of what works from things like ICAI reviews, IDC committee inquiries and the UK and others’ monitoring, evaluation and learning. Part of this should include bringing in local, marginalised and affected communities and groups to decision-making spaces, starting with the international development strategy consultation process. The strategy also needs to get us back to a place where ODA meets the 0.7% GNI target set out in the 2015 International Development Act and sets high standards for transparency and accountability of ODA spending to both communities and the British taxpayer.
Like so many others, the development and humanitarian sectors are getting to grips with the colonial legacy of international development and is actively working through how to decolonise development. The new development strategy should form part of that critical process here in the UK.
The UK’s changing role in the world needs to be acknowledged and the strategy should ensure that the approach to development evolves towards a fairer, more just and equitable approach. Key to this will be working with others to tackle structural inequalities, exclusion, racial injustice, gender inequality, putting the most marginalised first.
To be fit for purpose, the next international development strategy should recognise the value of locally-produced knowledge and lived experience, and articulate the UK’s support for fairer representation of previously marginalised and minoritised people, as well as plans to resource community and locally-led organisations and build better, more equitable partnerships.
Delivering on the vision
Whilst we are yet to see the benefits of the merger of DFID and FCO realised, the merger could provide the UK an opportunity to use all the levers of development, diplomacy, and trade to make a significant contribution to finding solutions to the world’s pressing challenges. With the depth and scale of the aid cuts as they are, the strategy must set out how the government intends to finance coherent, poverty-focused, rights-based development in ways that are transparent, accountable, evidenced and measurable. Questions will also need to be answered in terms of where the government intends to find new and additional sources of climate finance, one of the key criteria for a successful COP26.
Beyond development and humanitarian assistance, we are calling for an international development strategy that sees diplomacy and trade as levers for development, not vice versa. The new strategy should set out its intention to use its bilateral and multilateral influence to reform the international system and give details about how the UK will go about achieving this. This should include reshaping the rules for aid and trade so that low- and middle-income countries can flourish, defending the rule of law and humanitarian principles and calling out those who flout international law, improving humanitarian access and protection so that people get the help they need safely, working to prevent as well as end conflicts and protracted crises, contributing to ending the climate emergency and putting pressure on states that restrict civil society and violate human rights.
Likewise, the strategy should articulate a sustainable approach to trade, that is based on genuine mutual benefits alongside the objectives of reducing poverty and inequalities, and any trade agreements must be underpinned by a commitment to address climate change and biodiversity loss, in keeping with the development strategies of low- and middle-income countries. With so much at stake, other UK investments, strategies or actions should no longer undermine the goals UK development assistance and climate finance.
The challenges are big. The UK needs an international development strategy that is up to the challenges and informed by both the communities it will ultimately effect, as well as expertise of the development sector to ensure the strategy delivers for those who need it most. It’s in all our interests to have a UK international development strategy that we can collectively help deliver, but in order to achieve this, the government needs to bring its main delivery partners to the drawing table.