Is there anything new on the aid effectiveness horizon?

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After two intense days full of sessions and meetings, the first High Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC) drew to a close in April 2014.

Expectations around concrete results were not very high at the outset of this meeting and the agreed final communique didn't contain many new commitments beyond a set of voluntary initiatives. Also missing was a clear action plan for speeding up implementation of the commitments made in Busan in 2011.

Yet for many, the event felt surprisingly energetic, full of speeches galvanising the different partners to future action and making strong links to the post 2015 development framework currently being discussed.

Impressive turnout

In terms of numbers, this meeting was certainly impressive, with over 1,500 delegates from 130 countries. This included representatives from regional and national governments, businesses, philanthropic organisations, Civil Society Organisations and parliamentarians.

The main issues covered by the plenary sessions included:

  • progress since the last meeting in Busan in 2011
  • tax and domestic resource mobilisation
  • south-south and triangular cooperation
  • engaging with middle income countries
  • the role of the private sector

International aid is changing

The whole event was grounded in the critical changes taking place around the international aid system. Besides these, 36 additional focus sessions considered other relevant and related issues, some in a quite engaging and results-oriented way.

Topics included the singularities of fragile states, how to fight tax evasion and illicit financial flows and, again, the issue of how to appropriately engage the private sector in development cooperation.

The presence of some big bosses of the main international development bodies (especially the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon) and other well-known “celebrities” of the development world helped give the event a certain glittery feel.

Missed opportunity to measure progress

Despite this stardom, the outcome of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (GPEDC) was less effective than one would expect after so many years of efforts. One of the main reasons for this meeting was to take stock of progress against the commitments made in Busan three years ago.

However, the progress report produced for this meeting was based on less than 50% of total aid as fewer countries reported their figures for 2014 compared to a similar exercise undertaken three years ago. Most of the indicators set at Busan in 2011 have not been monitored against.

How can we hold the different partners accountable without a working monitoring mechanism?

Middle income countries remain sceptical

The other main challenge was getting ‘new’ actors to fully engage with the development effectiveness agenda. (Re)emerging donors, like Brazil, China and India remain sceptical about this process (China and India failed to attend) and their involvement in this meeting appears to have been minor.

Engaging the private sector was undoubtedly one of the main themes of the whole event, culminating in a plenary panel discussion chaired by the UK Secretary of State Justine Greening. Here and in numerous side events, there was much talk about the need to enhance the role of the private sector in development and development cooperation, as well as to bridge the gap between CSOs and private sector actors.

The private sector needs to do more

Of the big corporations present, clothing manufacturer H&M in particular talked about how they are moving beyond traditional Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices. They are looking for new business and production models that take account of local priorities, whilst creating decent jobs and balancing short and long term investment decisions.

Questions were raised by ActionAid and others about the suitability of aid being used to support, for example, big corporations operating in developing countries. ActionAid also queried whether aid to and through the private sector was sufficiently in line with agreed aid effectiveness principles.

In the end, the final communiqué refers to the accountability of the private sector in a move towards inclusive and sustainable development. This wording was secured at the last hour and should increase pressure on the private sector to endorse the Busan development cooperation principles as CSOs did in 2011.

Missed opportunity to commit?

This meeting may be remembered as a key step towards a better and stronger global partnership for effective development cooperation. However it could equally be viewed as a missed opportunity to commit to further progress on the core development co operation effectiveness agenda.

Ahead of the next Global Partnership meeting (in two years’ time), ActionAid will keep on working with other interested stakeholders and the new co-chairs of the GPEDC.

We seek to strengthen the partnership and improve aid effectiveness, enabling developing countries to investigate and define their own paths towards development.