Now is the moment for the sector to think about the future

We are at a crossroads for UK aid and development. With less than a decade to go, the sustainable development goals feel further away than ever.

The challenges go beyond old questions about aid effectiveness or how best to spend the aid budget to fundamental questions about how the system could and should work. It is not just anti-internationalist and/or “aid sceptics”, people within the international development sector are challenging the narrative of “development” and the role of “aid”.

As an aid and development sector we have been doing our jobs – working on programmes around the world to provide education, water and sanitation or humanitarian assistance, seeking to influence policy makers and those who hold power, using evidence to make our case, engaging the public. It’s important, but it isn’t enough anymore.

Famously, Einstein defined insanity as doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. This quote is often ringing in my ears as we help the sector to navigate these challenges. However, I want to offer another quote that offers us a different way forward. The American Architect, Buckminster Fuller said “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”.

So how do we find and build those new models for “aid and development”? Are those even the right words to describe what we aspire to do? How do we reimagine how the UK plays its part in the world and create a vision that people want to be part of, that unifies us? This is what we are aiming to do through the Future Dialogues process at Bond. To move us beyond a reactive position, defending a system that is no longer fit for purpose, and find new models for the UK rooted in equity and solidarity.

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Conversations about what an international development system for a post-2030 world looks like are happening around the world. The UK Future Dialogues series will add to this conversation, with a particular focus on the UK’s future role. We will bring together leading and innovative thinkers from within the global international development community and those working in adjacent sectors like foreign policy, environmental justice and sustainable business. We are convening a space where the UK sector and other voices in the debate can take the time to think creatively and test ideas that respond to the challenges facing us.

And finally, these discussions and debates will be solutions focused, with a view to shaping new possible futures for international action. Needless to say, we won’t find a single answer, but our hope is that through Future Dialogues we will help the UK sector to move their thinking and practice forward, and build new constituencies for internationalism here in the UK in partnership with our colleagues around the world, and the communities we work with.

We have a range of objectives, from invigorating the sector to proactively seek new narratives and models better suited to tackling global challenges, to scoping and testing new visions and models for the UK’s role, and articulating progressive, internationalist alternatives for the UK’s role in “international development”. We want to answer key questions:

  • What could the future alternatives to the current ‘aid and development’ system look like?
  • What is the UK’s role in that?
  • What new ideas and approaches should be tested? Where is innovation happening that should be supported?

This will happen through a combination of a core inquiry group and wider innovation and evidence seeking events. The core group of thinkers, sector voices, MPs, people from “adjacent” sectors, new voices and challengers, and voices from the countries where our members work, will process the information and proposed solutions and help shape new visions.

The innovation and events that will showcase the best thinking from a range of disciplines, countries and sectorsand will be open to everyone. We will also be partnering with the School of International Futures to include voices from the next generation and ask young people to also explore our questions and share their valuable insights.

This is such a critical and exciting moment for us at Bond, for our members and for the role that the UK plays in the world. We have been working on this idea for a while and now it is happening – with a kick-off event next week, where we will explore the idea of Global Public Investment as an alternative model. We really need your ideas, engagement, challenge and support to make this a success. If you want to get involved, or have an approach we should discuss, please let us know.