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Entries in international development (6)

Sunday
Sep242017

UNDP Clients | 1997 - 2014

UNDP Mongolia Communications Office 

A sample of the many publications developed by the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office between 1997 and 1999. Photographed in our London, UK HQ.

UNDP Mongolia staff photo 1997. I served for two years as the UNDP Mongolia head of communications (1997-1999). I am sitting front row centre left of the UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Gardner.

United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC)

Resulting from the influential UN e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions, Southern Innovator magazine published five issues between 2011 and 2014. Designed by Solveig Rolfsdottir in Iceland using 100% renewable energy.

Senior Partner David South at the Sydney Opera House in 2013.

© David South Consulting 2017

Saturday
Mar112017

The Sweet Smell of Failure: the World Bank and the Persistence of Poverty

 

Paper delivered to the School of Politics and Government, Birkbeck College, University of London, London, UK, 2000

“… aid is no longer charity. It has become intrinsic to the maintenance of the international capitalist economy … (Fieldhouse 1999).”

By David South

In January 1949, US President Harry Truman set forth a challenge for the remainder of the 20th Century: the wealthy nations must aid the poorer ones to become wealthier and more democratic: in short, to become like the United States (Starke 2001: 143). The means of accomplishing this was to be international development, and its tool, foreign aid. 

Decades later, this dream was being described as a nightmare. One of the most articulate proponents of the aid-is-waste thesis is Graham Hancock. His Lords of Poverty comes down unequivocally on the side of failure. Hancock argues that aid “is a waste of time and money, that its results are fundamentally bad, and that - far from being increased - it should be stopped forthwith before more damage is done (Hancock 1996: 189).”

Hancock originally wrote those words in 1989. Subsequently, a decade has past where international development organizations have attempted to prove the success of development in a wider context of the collapse of the Soviet Union, a crippling economic crisis in Asia and the former Soviet Union, and dizzying changes in information technologies. In addressing the proposition that “by the end of the 20th century, ‘development’ had failed”, it is important to clarify the underlying intentions of interntional development and whi the true actors are, and the interaction of politics and economy. 

This paper will focus on one actor, the World Bank, which has seen itself as the principal international development organization for the past 55 years. I argue that the World Bank has been very successful at building a dependence on development institutions, itself in particular, but has failed at development as it has defined it: the elimination of poverty. The four main power structures underpinning the world economy described by Susan Strange - security, production, financial, and knowledge (Strange 2000: 43-119) - are each addressed by the World Bank’s programmes to varying degrees of success. It is the World Bank’s interaction with these power structures that have been a source of both stability and instability in the past 55 years. 

I have chosen the World Bank because, as Hancock notes, it is

The pace-setter of Development Incorporated … the fact is that all official aid agencies, whether bilateral or multilateral, co-operate very closely with it, imitate its policies and its sectoral priorities and, to a large extent, share what might be called its ‘philosophy of development’. (Hancock 1996: 57)

I conclude that international development is now entering a new phase spurred on by the economic  crisis affecting many developing nations after 1997, and not facing its destruction, in spite of rowdy protests around the world. The Asian Crisis provoked an increase in development spending, while simultaneously significantly raising awareness of international development institutions. At the beginning of the 21st century, the rise of the non-governmental organization as a key actor in development is strongly pronounced. 

The fact that NGOs and private consulting companies are becoming the principal delivery mechanisms for development projects demonstrates a global lack of faith in government-run agencies and a belief in neo-liberal assertions that the private sector can do a better job. 

1. Development: pernicious or persistent? 

The word development needs to be pulled apart. Its endurance as a concept comes down to its ability to mean many things to many people. It is a loaded word, which upon closer inspection, becomes befuddingly vague and as slippery as an oil-soaked eel. 

Development as defined by President Truman at the start of the development period of the 20th century meant “nothing less than freeing a people from want, war, and tyranny, a definition it is hard to improve on even today (Starke 2000: 153).”

Dictionary definitions of development take in ideas of growth, progress and evolution. As Hancock noted in Lords of Poverty, “underdevelped” countries “must in some sense be stunted and backward; ‘developed countries’, by contrast, are fully grown and advanced (Hancock 1996: 41).” Hancock bristles at the moralistic notion that particular countries may need to develop; in this he would probably have clashed with Marx, as Fieldhouse notes: “much as he hated capitalism, Marx saw it as a necessary agency for creating what we now call development in India and, by inference, most parts of the Third World (Fieldhouse 1999: 44).”

A refinement of this definition is one offered by the World Bank’s president in the 1980s, Barber Conable. Development offers measures “to promote economic growth” and “combat poverty”; those are the “fundamental tasks of world development” with the World Bank being the “world’s principal development agency” (Hancock 1996: 41). 

More recently, in answer to heated criticism from donor nations and powerful NGO lobbies, the World Bank has adopted a more urgent tone on poverty. “Poverty reduction is the most urgent task facing our world today. The World Bank’s mission is to reduce poverty and improve living standards through sustainable growth and investment in people (World Bank 2000).”

Assessing development according to the World Bank’s definition of development, with its focus on eliminating poverty, it is very hard to say this has been a success, as I show further on. 

2. Failure thesis: why the World Bank is a flawed poverty-fighter

The notion that development has failed has its critics on both the left and the right. On the right, development is seen as state welfare, bailing out countries that need to get their own houses in order. On the left, development has been seen, variously as a tool of the wealthy states to control the poorer states, a means to prop up corrupt but friendly elites, environmentally destructive, and a subsidy system for multinationals. Marxists have straddled the contradictions of criticising the effects of development while also chastising the wealthy West for not doing enough for the developing nations. 

Since 1990 World Bank cumulative lending has totalled US $162,789.3 million (World Bank Annual Report 2000). Since its inception, global aid has risen from US $1.8 billion a year in the 1950s, to US $6 billion in the 1960s, to US $60 billion in the 1980s, to where it currently stands at US $129.2 billion (World Development Indicators Database). The Bank disburses US $25 billion a year (World Bank). Vast amounts of money is flowing back to the West in the form of payments on debts nearly totalling US $3 trillion (Starke 2000: 153). 

In fact, the World Bank through its lending wings, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Agency (IDA), embodies an inherant contradiction: it has shown itself to be unable to decouple its mandate to recover funds from what might be the wiser strategy. As the Bank puts it, “while the country must “own” its vision and program, the Bank must “own” and be accountable to shareholders for its diagnosis and the program it supports (World Bank).”

Over the development epoch, loans were accepted by countries that have shown themselves to be incapable of repayment, leading to the debt crisis today. While this crippling debt has been accumulated, the world has come no closer to eradicating poverty. 

A brief look at the figures shows the scale of the challenge. Development policies have not been able to come to grips with escalating population rates in developing nations. During the period of development, the population of the regions with the lowest rates of development have risen rapidly. As Strange notes: 

World population doubled between 1950 and 1984, rising rapidly from 2.5 billion to over 4.5 billion and topping 5 billion by the end of the decade… Numbers have increased most dramatically in the three ‘developing’ regions of Latin America, South Asia and Africa … (Strange 2000: 82)

Aid on the macro scale is also unequally divided, with the 10 countries that two-thirds of the world’s poor live in receiving less than a third of overseas development aid (Raffer and Singer 1996). And when it arrives in a country very little of it gets into the hands of the poor. Some generously claim that 20 per cent of aid reaches the poor (Raffer and Singer 1996), while Hancock maintains even less wends its way to the poorest. 

According to the United Nations Development Programme, more than 1.3 billion people live on just US $1 a day; and 2.8 billion live on US $2 a day - nearly half the world’s population (UNDP). This number has remained unchanged since 1990 (Starke 2000: 4). In fact, in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the former communist countries, “the number living in poverty is substantially higher than the figures recorded a decade ago (Starke 2000: 4).” The most noted trend is the diffusion of poverty and its more pronounced ability to sit side-by-side with an economic boom in developing - and developed - countries, fuelled by increased investment, especially in the areas of information technology and telecommunications. 

The World Bank has set the target date of 2015 to cut extreme poverty by half. It remains highly dubious as to how the World Bank has any better idea of how to do this than it did in the first 55 years of development theory and practice. Theories have been misguided in the past, as Fieldhouse reminds us: 

Central to all post-1950 attitudes to Third World development was the belief that the primary need was capital investment. The defining feature of underdevelopment was thought to be lack of sufficient capital to pay the cost of overcoming the perceived ‘structural’ obstacles to development.  A short shopping list of what were then believed to be the necessary measures would include the following: first, the improvement of infrastructure - communications, power and water supplies, urban facilities and hospitals; secondly, education to raise the general level of literacy and to generate skilled workers at all levels, from the highest posts in government and industry, which was believed to be the basis of western affluence and must therefore become that of the Third World. (Fieldhouse 1999: 226)

It has been a period noted by a belief that development could be accelerated, and that the conditions necessary for development were understood and all that was necessary was capital and will. 

In fact international development, when it has intended to eliminate poverty, has been unable to detatch itself from what can only be called the whirlpool effect, or the core-periphery debate: a tendency for wealth and power to be dragged into the centre, like a whirlpool: to wealthier nations, wealthy elites, capital cities. While aid is ostensibly about countering this trend, it fails miserably at doing it. The continent that requires the most aid, Africa, receives the least - in the 1990s the World Bank lent Africa a total of US $1,872.8 million (World Bank). It lent Latin America and the Caribbean US $51,520.8 million (World Bank). If, as Truman said, development is about helping those suffering from want, war and famine, then Africa is being ill served. 

Looking at the evidence, it shows that aid follows the same pattern as private investment, seeking out success stories, rather than the poor, who by definition are society’s losers. It is an established fact that most trade flows and foreign direct investment is between the wealthy countries (Hirst and Thompson 2000: 2). The percentage of world trade captured by the developing countries has dropped from 50 per cent in the 19th century to 22 per cent (Hoogvelt 1997: 14). It is this tendency that builds into international development a peripherising effect that leaves billions on the outside of development and wealth acquisition - and draws the criticism that development has failed at its principal aim, as the World Bank puts it, to reduce poverty.  

3. Security/production

Strange has noted where power lies in the modern world. Those who can influence or determine the structures of power will wield enormous influence over economic and political relations. The World Bank is an institution that has had a profound effect on the power structures of the world economy, with positive and negative consequences. 

Security is the “provision of security by some human beings for others (Strange 2000: 45).” Strange focuses on the state as the primary provider of this security in the current international political system. She also broadens this definition to include “security from slow death by starvation, and security from disease, from disablement, or from all sorts of other hazards - from bankruptcy to unemployment (Strange 2000: 47).” And she attributes most conflict to disagreements over authority. 

One of the biggest challenges now facing developing states is that of authority over their affairs. It is a two-pronged challenge, from outside and from within, as much of development aid now targets NGOs and civil society. 

It is arguable that the World Bank’s greatest contribution to a state is its advice on governance, legislation and anti-corruption. While the World Bank is not tasked with a specific security mandate, it does play a significant role in supporting the viability of nation states, and offers up an off-the-shelf range of authoritative institutions that nation states are advised to take up. Through Structural Adjustment Loans (SAL) and their equivalents, countries are persuaded to adopt these measures or face losing the lifeline of funds. 

These policies also dovetail with global concerns for security and stability, in terms of the absence of conflict and also in terms of predictability. Other governments will feel more comfortable dealing with philosophies and institutions that ring of familiarity. But how susccessful has the World Bank been?

Evidence has shown that the SAL loans and their package of reforms were destabilizing and inherently contradictory. As Hoogvelt illuminates: 

they sought to denationalize the economies themselves by imposing various forms of deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation, indeed the dismantling of the public sector … At the ideological level it made the bailiffs walk a tightrope between, on the one hand re-affirming the notions of national sovereignty and national economy, while at the same time, and on the other hand, confining development economics and any hint of Keynesian notions of national economic management to the dustbins of history. They had to uphold the state and destroy it at the same time! (Hoogvelt 1997: 167)

The results have actually jeopardised security within Africa, and according to Robert Kaplan, the chaos on that continent will wreck havoc outside Africa as well (Kaplan 1994). Security is probably the World Bank’s greatest failure in the four global power structures. Hoogvelt concludes that its legacy in Africa is particularly disturbing: 

In many African countries, the imposition of the neo-liberal orthodoxy, including privatisation of the public sector, the emasculation of the state apparatus and the insistence on electoral reform, has directly contributed to the descent into anarchy and civil wars. (Hoogvelt 1997: 175)

Production as Strange states it, is “the sum of all arrangements determining what is produced, by whom and for whom, by what method and on what terms (Strange 2000: 64).” Production is a bright spot for the World Bank, in that conventional economic statistics have shown a growth in production (even after the 1997 Asian crisis), fuelled by increasing investments in telecommunications, information technologies and greater investment in public utilities (Hirst and Thompson). The World Bank has also an extensive history funding infrastructure projects critical to the functioning of a modern economy, including roads, dams, airports, and ports. There is an extensive literature on the corruption and inefficiency of many of these projects, but at a minimum infrastructure was built. 

The World Bank has been “able to profoundly affect the organisation of production and trade in the periphery to the benefit of the core world capitalist system (Hoogvelt 1997: 166).”

During the World Bank’s tenure, foreign direct investment has gradually increased for these states, but because of an intensification of trade between the wealthy nations, the global distribution of GNP has,

changed little over the 1970s and 1980s, and indeed became more unequal rather than less after the 1970s. What all this shows goes against the sentiment that benefits will ‘trickle down’ to the less well-off nations and regions as investment and trade are allowed to follow strictly market signals. (Hirst and Thompson 1999: 71)

At a minimum, links have been built and could be the basis of a re-alignment of the world economic order under fairer terms. Hoogvelt notes the links are unquestionably tight: 

Structural adjustment has helped to tie the physical economic resources of the African region more tightly into servicing the global system, while at the same time oiling the financial machinery by which wealth can be transported out of Africa and into the global system. (Hoogvelt 1997: 171) 

4. Financial/knowledge

Strange calls financial power the ability to “create credit”. It “implies the power to allow or to deny other people the possibility of spending today and paying back tomorrow, the power to let them excercise purchasing power and thus influence markets for production, and also the power to manage or mismanage the currency in which credit is denominated (Strange 2000: 90).”

The World Bank’s vast lending capabilities, as shown earlier, means the Bank literally has the power to switch the lights on or off in a country’s economy. It has also been in the forefront of creating today’s “casino” economy, as Strange calls it, the 24/7 financial markets. It has served the interests of the core economies in this arrangement, as Hoogvelt elaborates: 

In a world economy dominated by global financial markets, by money careening around the globe at a frenetic pace, the principal national economic objective of the core countries has to be, and indeed has become, one of maintaining the competitive strength of their currency vis-a-vis each other, fighting domestic inflation that threatens this competitive strength, and trying to catch as much as possible of the careening capital flows into the net of their domestic currency areas. (Hoogvelt 1997: 165)

As Fieldhouse reminds us, “In the later twentieth century, in fact, the World Bank and the IMF were the main proponents of free trade and other related principles in the less-developed world. They thus filled the same role as Britain had done a century earlier (Fieldhouse 1999: 20).”

After World War II, it became apparent the world financial system was not going to be able to function with a hands-off United States. The Marshall Plan in Europe established the precendent of significant loans to aid countries to economically “recover”. As these two influential World Bank economists wrote, it was partly about creating conditions amenable to investors’ interests: “Thus, basic fiscal and monetary discipline, including a properly managed exchange rate, helps establish the credibility of economic policy that gives entrepreneurs the confidence to invest (Stiglitz and Squire 2000: 386).” 

And they confirm the whirlpool effect: “Entrepreneurs will not invest in countries where the policy regime is unstable - investors require a degree of certainty (Stiglitz and Squire 2000: 386).”

The World Bank since 1996 has called itself the “Knowledge Bank”, because “We live in a global knowledge economy where knowledge, learning communities, and information and communications technologies are the engines for social and economic development (World Bank).”

In many respects, the World Bank has defined development as most people understand it. As Hancock reminds us, “Consciously or unconsciously we view many critical global problems through lenses provided by the aid industry (Hancock 1996: xiv).” Knowledge and intelligence-gathering is key in an age dominated by information. As Clark notes of development organizations, 

The ‘software’ of their trade - ideas, research, empowerment, and networking - are rapidly becoming more important than their ‘hardware’ - the time-bound, geographically fixed projects, such as wells and clinics. In this new age, information and influence are the dominant currencies rather than dollars and pounds. (Clark 1992: 193)

The vast volume of statistics and reporting produced by the Bank on the global economy is valuable and it is frequently used as a source even by its critics. This quite possibly is the Bank’s greatest success. The Bank’s focus on information technologies is also valuable and it is aiding developing countries around the world to gain access to the internet for example. Keohane notes that information by its very existence can generate greater cooperation between states: 

Informaton, as well as power, is a significant systemic variable in world politics. International systems containing institutions that generate a great deal of high-quality information and make it available on a reasonably even basis to the major actors are likely to experience more cooperation than systems that do not contain such institutions … (Keohane 1984: 245)

Conclusion

Like a chameleon, the political and economic actors in development change their appearance according to evolving conditions. I have argued in this paper that the fundamental needs - a desire for markets, global interconnectivity and political control - ensure the World Bank’s role in international development remains principle to the day-to-day lives of developing countries. It is also a fact that development organizations such as the World Bank have amassed a wealth of knowledge and expertise that binds donor nations to them, though this is being supplanted by NGOs as they in turn create a dependency between themselves and the World Bank. 

The World Bank’s greatest success has been the perpetuation of the development industry and its role vis-a-vis the global power structures. It is particularly remarkable that development aid has been so robust for such a lengthy time, and points to the key needs in the power structure that it fulfils. However, the World Bank has failed to significantly reduce poverty in the world, and since it defines development as principally poverty reduction, its form of development has failed. 

Development aid in and of itself is a highly successful formula, as attested by the boom currently  experienced by NGOs. The trend towards these new actors is well advanced, as The Economist noted: “NGOs have become the most important constituency for the activities of development aid agencies (The Economist 2000: January 27).”

Even more compelling, “Between 1990 and 1994, the proportion of the European Union’s relief aid channelled through NGOs rose from 47% to 67%. The Red Cross reckons that NGOs now disburse more money than the World Bank (The Economist 2000: January 27).”

Unfortunately, there seems to be little evidence that any organization working in development will be out of a job by 2015. In the meantime, the poor remain peripheral actors in a play staged for the benefit of those who are not poor. As Fieldhouse notes: 

Thus aid is no longer charity. It has become intrinsic to the maintenance of the international capitalist economy, a system by which western governments directly or through multilateral agencies, mobilize debtors so that they can continue to meet their obligations to both public and private creditors. (Fieldhouse 1999: 253)  

Friday
Mar102017

In the Interests of the Exploited?: The Role of Development Pressure Groups in the UK

 

Paper delivered to the School of Politics and Government, Birkbeck College, University of London, London, UK, 2000

“Many Northern NGOs have assumed the role of ambassadors for the world’s poor (Clark 1992: 18)."

By David South

The question “Do pressure groups increasingly advance the fancies of the middle classes at the expense of the interests of the exploited?” is particularly relevant when applied to the ever-expanding network of international development pressure groups (IDPG) in the United Kingdom. Many of these groups are based in London, making use of its political networks, diplomatic connections (the UK is signed up to more international covenants and organizations than any other country), excellent travel links and centrality to the global financial system. While these groups promote their work and policies utilising sophisticated advertising and media campaigns (Save the Children Fund, for example, spends £14 million annually), they rarely come under scrutiny for their claims that they “speak for the poor” (Edwards and Hulme 1992: 23). In fact, “Many Northern NGOs have assumed the role of ambassadors for the world’s poor” (Clark 1992: 18). This question is of particular importance because governments are turning more and more to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to administer and deliver international aid projects (Dolen 1992: 19). 

In 1989, Graham Hancock’s seminal book Lords of Poverty singled out government development agencies and the United Nations for being “rich and powerful bureaucracies that have hijacked our kindness” (Hancock 1989: xiii). He, however, deliberately “refrained from mounting an offensive against the voluntary agencies … by and large I believe their staff to be well motivated and their efforts worthwhile … They rarely do significant harm; sometimes they do great good” (Hancock 1989: xiii).

One of the major changes to occur since Hancock wrote those words has been the co-opting and drawing in of development NGOs even further into the priorities of the bilateral and multilateral donors. They have been placed on a pedestal as the voice of the world’s exploited, and lead high-profile pressure campaigns to alter and direct aid and foreign policies of the UK (Jubilee 2000’s drop the debt campaign is one example). This paper will explore whether international development groups “advance the fancies of the middle classes”, looking at their role in UK policy formation, and whether they accurately reflect the wishes of the “exploited” of the world, in this case, the poor (Kanbur and Squire 1999: 1). 

Development pressure groups in this paper include charitable non-governmental organizations engaged in advocacy or project implementation, or both. I have excluded the plentiful university departments that conduct extensive research into development practice and policy. The reason for this is the mandate of charitable development pressure groups: they appeal both to our heart and our head. 

Where we stand now

British development policy has taken on a higher profile under the Labour Government elected in 1997. The Department for International Development (DFID) was set up as a separate department removed from the Foreign Office and given a full-time minister, Clare Short. DFID also released the first white paper in 22 years on international development, Eliminating World Poverty: A Challenge for the 21st Century.

As Short says: 

Now the development interest comes to the top level of the British Government’s considerations. The department is no longer just an aid department. It is now charged with the responsibility of looking at all aspects of policy: trade, debt, environment, agriculture in the global system and ensuring that Britain’s policy on these takes account of the development interests. (Earth Times, 1999)

The Labour Government is seeking to play a key role in the global debate on the future of international development. As part of this approach, the government aspires to work more closely with those NGOs who support their conciliatory approach to global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO). International development pressure groups are thus presented with a tantalising but difficult decision: work closely with the government on achieving its goals - and so gain access to a steady stream of funding - or remain autonomous but risk being frozen out of the mainstream debate. 

The financial stakes are high for the NGOs. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), northern NGOs as a whole spend US $10 billion annually (Smillie 1998: 157). They have evolved into significant economic sectors in their own right, employing thousands, with their tentacles stretching out to the global media and countries around the world. 

In the UK, international development spending is currently £2,367 million annually, of which £182 million is channelled through NGOs (DFID 1999). OECD figures show that aid channelled through NGOs rose from 0.7 percent of all aid in 1975 to 5 percent in 1993 (Covey 1992: 4). As well, the number of international NGOs soared in the last century, from nine in 1909 to 28,900 by 1993 (Covey 1992: 3). 

If aid is a business, then business is good. Save the Children Fund, to take one example, saw its income increase from £6 million in 1981 to £60 million in 1991 (Dolan 1992: 205), to £97.3 million in 1999 (Save the Children Fund website). Of the current budget, £40.9 million comes from grants given by government development agencies. It also spends £14 million a year on publicity and fundraising. 

The “fancies” of the middle class

Interest or pressure groups are in the main a middle-class phenomenon, being largely staffed by the educated middle classes (even so-called ‘working class’ interest groups such as trade union associations can be found to be mainly staffed by the middle classes). They are the product of educated, aspirational citizens who believe they can and should play a role in the world. Moran suggests, “If we are no longer ‘working class’ we can define our social identity and political demands in numerous ways: so groups emerge catering for nuclear pacifists, radical feminists, etc.” (Moran 1985: 236). As Petracca points out, “The rise of citizen groups is probably best explained by a combination of factors: the growth of the middle class in the 1960s, a revolution in communications technology, and the emergence of interest group patrons” (Petracca 1992: 23). 

Since the middle class is the core audience for these IDPGs (they vote in large numbers and they have funds to donate), they also colour the priorities of what gets on the development agenda. 

Over the past 20 years, IDPGs have used a variety of appeals to raise money and exert pressure on the government. In the beginning appeals were driven by humanitarian disasters such as the famine in Biafra in the 1960s. These appeals struck a strong emotional chord, presenting images of extreme suffering at a time when the UK was enjoying a post-war economic boom. More recently appeals have focused on small-scale development projects such as water wells and classrooms. In the 1980s and 1990s they took on a more economic tone, epitomised in the “ethical shopping” encouraged by Oxfam with its line of Bridgehead products. This coincided with the expansion of a consumer culture and is probably the most graphic example of the marriage between humanitarianism and middle-class consumer lifestyles. It effectively promotes the idea that an alternative and fairer economy can be bought, one rainforest chocolate bar at a time. The environmentalist Dobson is especially critical of social change by shopping: “The Body Shop strategy is a hymn to consumption: in their contribution to the Friends of the Earth Green Consumer Week leaflet (12 and 18 September 1988) they urge people to ‘wield their purchasing power responsibly’ rather than to wield it less often” (Dobson 1995: 135). 

In the last couple of years the focus has moved towards the phenomenon of globalisation and a perception that existing internaitonal institutions have failed the poorer countries; that they should be revolutionised or drop-kicked straight out of the global arena. How much are these cries to do with heartfelt concern for the poor of the developing world, and how much to do with middle-class angst over a rapidly changing global order with new economic powers such as China and new uncertainties? Certainly, many of the IDPGs are working both sides of the street, protesting the global institutions and national development agencies while also taking more and more of their grants to fund their activities. 

It was once easy to criticise the international development bureaucracy for leading a life of aloof leisure, jetting from conference to conference, inhabiting a world so far removed from the poor that they might as well be living on another planet. More and more this can be said of the parallel world of international NGOs, whose bureaucrats also hop around the world attending conferences and government meetings. Steve Hellinger, co-founder and president of the Development Group for Alternative Policies, notes that NGOs’ dependence on public monies “has affected the way they deal with policy issues. Instead of representing the interests of the people in the South, they are increasingly supporting the interests of the aid institutions” (New Internationalist, 285, 1996). 

The relationship between the articulated goals of development pressure groups and the effect they have in the countries of the exploited was the subject of a documentary on Channel 4 Television aired in November 2000. The Hunger Business documents the frustrations felt by Africans who found development NGOs put their own preconceptions ahead of asking Africans what they needed or wanted. This led to aid exacerbating many of the conflicts in the region. As Kenneth Hackett of Catholic Relief Services said, “if food keeps them alive to fight a war, then so be it” (The Hunger Business). Aid donations may have been harder to come by if people knew the messy regional politics. 

Pressure and policy

The distinctive nature of the British political and social scene has also contributed greatly to the rise in influence and power of development pressure groups. As far back as the Victorian period, there has been a strong tradition of like-minded individuals banding together to do good works, especially among the poor. Many of today’s British NGOs have their roots in the extensive network of missionary organizations established in this period. 

Britain also has a tradition of seeking help when it decides to alter or expand its role in a particular sphere of influence, which was the case at the turn of the 20th century: 

The British government decided to increase its involvement in the social and economic well-being of its citizens, the friendly society movement was a factor to be reckoned with. The medical profession also claimed to speak for the general public as well as its members. (Van Der Valk 1998: 112)

There are strong parellels between this time and the current political climate. Unlike the Conservative government before it, the Labour government under Tony Blair has made it explicit policy to increase funding of, and involvement in, international aid and development. It has broadened its areas of interest (thus needing expertise from NGOs) and is also seeking lobbying power in order to exercise greater influence in the global negotiating game to reform and alter major international institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Its new priorities include poverty elimination by 2015, empowerment of women, human rights for all, making government work for poor people, including better health care, tackling the water crisis and expanding primary education (DFID). 

These priorities dovetail well with those of NGOs such as WaterAid, Oxfam and Save the Children Fund, which also have a storehouse of experience and contacts in these areas. 

To have any influence on policy-making in the British parliamentary system like-minded individuals must form interest groups. 

Of all the Western democracies, Britain has perhaps the longest-established interest group system. Thus, despite the lack of a written consitution, British policy-making has certain well-established procedures - standard operating procedures - which generally accord interest groups a key role in the policy process. (Richardson 1993: 86)

Nowhere has this become more strongly felt than in international development. NGOs have altered what development means and broadened it to include a wide range of community activities. The symbiotic relationship is mirrored in the policy goals of the Department for International Development. 

As Weir and Beetham note: “The relationship between organised interests and departmental officials varies across policy domains, but many interest groups perform an intimate role in the way policies are formulated and are often vital to policies being carried through in practice” (Weir and Beetham 1999: 271). 

This is also a game in which presentation and professionalism wield influence. IDPGs invest heavily in a range of publications to communicate their views and use the latest in information technology to influence public opinion.  As their funds have grown, they have been in the forefront of adopting the sophisticated marketing techniques developed by major corporations. This becomes a virtuous circle, in which more sophisticated communications and marketing creates a more professional public image and in turn draws in more funds. The more funds available to plough into modern communications and research, the greater the pontential impact on the government. Wealthy organizations “naturally achieve their objectives more readily than poorer pressure groups which do not represent powerful sectional interests whose cooperation government departments require” (Beetham and Weir 1999: 275). 

Development pressure groups have in many ways been the beneficiaries of the same neo-liberal propensity to private execution as the UK’s business lobby. Contracting out and privatisation are a reflection of dwindling faith in the public sector’s ability to meet people’s needs. 

There is also another factor influencing the IDPGs’ rise in power. Mulgan calls this a period in which “weak” organizations have the advantage over traditionally “strong” orgnisations such as the civil service or political parties (Mulgan 1990: 347). He sees both the marketplace and interest groups of like-minded individuals as offering more choice and opportunity than the traditional institutions of democracy. In this environment the opinionated pressure groups will be able to exert greater influence. They are fleet-footed, able to push the agenda ahead, while civil servants are hampered by protocol and hierarchies: “The most significant factors are the general ascendance of free market economics (Toye 1987) and its corollary, a belief that government agencies are ineffective” (Dolan 1992: 203). 

These groups also benefit from the decline of rigid class-based politics in the UK. “As support for the two big class-based parties has diminished, so cause-based pressure group activity has won popular support” (Jones and Kavanagh 1994: 236). 

They are quintessentially modern organizations, placing more value in intelligence-gathering and opinion-forming than in traditional project managment. As Clark notes, “The ‘software’ of their trade - ideas, research, empowerment, and networking - are rapidly becoming more important than their ‘hardware’ - the time-bound, geographically fixed projects, such as wells and clinics. In this age, information and influence are the dominant currencies rather than dollars and pounds” (Clark 1992: 193). 

Ear to the ground: do the exploited have a voice?

According to the United Nations Development Programme, more than 1.3 billion people live on just US $1 a day (UNDP). Concern for the world’s most exploited is on the official development agenda of all Western governments. Most governments in the developed world explicitly acknowledge that extreme poverty is the most vicious form of exploitation that can be experienced by a human being. Awareness of the plight of people in developing countries is widespread, in that most people generally believe life must be, as Hobbes put it, “poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

One of the key claims of NGOs is that they have an extra ear to the ground when it comes to understanding the needs of the world’s poor. Certainly, the world has become a more vocal place with the rise in freedom of expression and electronic communications in many countries. As Covey remarks, “Democratisation, in its messy evolution in societies around the globe, tugs NGOs toward a more active policy-influencing role as more political space opens for people’s voices in public affairs” (Covey 1992: 167). 

But there is now a growing body of evidence that development pressure groups are not as tuned in to the needs of the exploited as they claim. The advocacy role of these NGOs in Northern countries such as the UK has been criticised by NGOs in developing countries, who say they are making policy suggestions without consulting fully the people who would be most affected by them. 

Covey adds: “Recent doubts expressed by Southern NGOs about the advocacy role of NGOs in the North (speaking ‘on behalf the poor’) provide one illustration of this difficult issue” (Covey 1992: 14). 

Covey calls the devolution of power and funds to NGOs a phenomenon equivalent to the rise of the nation state in the 19th century (Covey 1992: 4). This is called “New Policy Agenda”, and is characterised by neo-liberal economics and liberal democratic theory. 

IDPGs may express a concern for the exploited, but in practical terms they are often more accountable to their funders. Smillie notes: 

Despite the growing consensus that people’s participation is a hallmark of good development projects, NGOs are seldom formally structured to ensure their accountability to grassroots organizations. In fact, NGO accountability procedures are most often designed to meet donor needs rather than grassroots objectives. (Smillie 1998: 170)

Research into social movements and advocacy organizations working with the poor has shown an overarching tendency to seek stability and co-optation over confrontation with elites. A study conducted after the turbulent and socially active late 1960s and 1970s found that: 

In the largest part organisers tended to work against disruption because, in their search for resources to mainstream their organizations, they were driven inexorably to elites, and to the tangible and symbolic supports that elites could provide. (Cloward and Piven: xxii)

The effect development NGOs have on the communities they seek to serve also is not wholly helpful. Many “NGOs are seen as eroding the power of progressive political formations by preaching change without a clear analysis of how that change is to be achieved; by encouraging income-generating projects that favour the advancement of a few poor individuals but not ‘the poor’ as a class; and by competing with political groups for personal and popular action” (Edwards and Hulme 1992: 20).

Hellinger criticises these organizations for often ignoring local views and destroying local initiatives: 

The policies of aid are being made from afar and creating an environment that makes local-level development more difficult than ever. People are being forced to look continually outward for answers - for money, markets, advice, technology. The solutions are being found less and less often within these societies. It’s debilitating. (New Internationalist, 285, 1996)

Conclusion

There is ample evidence that internaitonal development pressure groups are in need of even greater scrutiny. Their power grew during the 1990s, and they have been targeted by international institutions and national governments to be the primary delivery mechanism for international aid projects. Much of this process has passed quietly by, with little open debate as to the suitability of these organizations to speak for the poor. The most vocal criticisms have come from NGOs based in developing countries, but they have proven to be a weak match for the generously funded publicity operations of Northern NGOs. 

If NGOs represent the next major social and political transformation in the UK and around the world, then an open and vigorous debate is even more urgent. NGO leaders are not elected by universal franchise and are only answerable directly to the boards of their respective organizations. As Hancock informs us, international development is neither benign nor wholly beneficial. It is a major actor in the power dynamics of the world. “At a more general level, foreign aid - now worth almost (US) $60 billion a year - has changed the shape of the world in which live and had a profound impact on all our thinking. Consciously or unconsciously we view many critical global problems through lenses provided by the aid industry” (Hancock 1989: xiv). 

Less than 20 percent of aid actually reaches the poor (Raffer and Singer 1996), and two-thirds of the world’s poor live in 10 countries that together receive less than a third of overseas development aid (Raffer and Singer 1996). Surely this is testament alone to a failure to help the most exploited in their lobbying efforts. It is certainly an unimpressive trickle when taken as whole. 

International development pressure groups are a large and wealthy lobbyist of the UK government. They are a vast economic sector with many vested interests, including paid staff, government contracts and the political agendas of their private donors. Their reach is global and they have a significant impact on the economies and societies of countries around the world. 

There is ample evidence to suggest international development pressure groups are accountable to many masters; the world’s poor, unfortunately, are not always among them. 

Monday
Jul272015

You Heard It Here First: Influencing Perspectives on the Global South | 24 June 2014

 

 

In 2013, UNDP launched its yearly global human development report (http://hdr.undp.org/en/2013-report). The theme was the “Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World”. For those who have been following our e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions, or, been reading our magazine Southern Innovator, this will not come as a surprise. Both the e-newsletter and the magazine have consistently championed a new perspective on the global South and have shown through solid evidence that a fundamental shift is underway in the world. Both publications have been influential in shifting perspectives and priorities, and most importantly, in drawing attention to the plentiful abundance of innovators: all part of a global innovation culture. As can be seen below, the seeds of the HDR can be found in the first issue of Southern Innovator, launched in 2011.

The cover for the 2013 Global Human Development Report and its theme “The Rise of the South”.

SI Prototypes

In 1997, I was the Managing Editor for Mongolia’s first national human development report. The challenge was to deliver a report that reflected the new thinking on poverty expressed in the 1997 global human development report – that it was possible to apply human know-how to eradicate poverty within a generation – and to communicate the story of Mongolia’s turbulent transition years in a way that placed the people at the centre of the narrative, and to do it during a major economic crisis. The team decided to take a sharply different approach to the design of the report, placing the photograph of a child on the cover and using children’s illustrations throughout the report. It showed that human development is not just a series of charts and statistics, but is about making life better for the country’s large youth population. The cover also had a minor adjustment to how the title is presented, discarding the staccato breaking up of the words human and development, to run them side by side as “Human Development”. A subtle change but one that was picked up by the global human development report in its future editions. The report also chose to use its design and printing as a spur to improve the publishing industry in Mongolia. Devastated by the economic crisis, the domestic printing companies lacked the resources and skills to publish to modern standards. Working with a Mongolian publishing company, the large print run of the report (20,000 copies) was able to transform the company’s fortunes, enabling them to purchase new computers and equipment.

Human Development Report Mongolia 1997.
Human Development Report 1997 The 1997 global human development report and the 2013 human development report.

 

 

 

© David South Consulting 2017

Sunday
Jul262015

Transforming How the UN Communicates in a Crisis | 11 November 2010

 

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=IaI7N9z8OnsC&printsec=frontcover&dq=undp+mongolia+the+guide&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwib9OPKmvXfAhWOTRUIHTcwBsQQ6AEICTAA#v=onepage&q=undp%20mongolia%20the%20guide&f=false

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=cHuPcXI3R8wC&pg=PA26&dq=mongolian+green+book&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj0sfzsmvXfAhVXUBUIHeXoB_QQ6AEICTAA#v=onepage&q=mongolian%20green%20book&f=false

https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Mongolian_Rock_and_Pop_Book.html?id=6TODQUZj--UC&redir_esc=y

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=QE2qSOkI2joC&pg=PA67&dq=epap+handbook&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiGu8S2m_XfAhULUBUIHQ_vDN8Q6AEIIDAE#v=onepage&q=epap%20handbook&f=false

From 1997 to 1999, I led the communications office for the United Nations in the Northeast Asian country of Mongolia. The country was buffeted by two major crises: the economic and social chaos wrought by the transition from the command economy of the previous Communist system, to free markets and democracy – called at the time the largest peacetime economic collapse since WWII – and the Asian Crisis of the late 1990s.

I established the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office (have a look at some of the publications in Google Books), and began to transform how the UN communicated within Mongolia, as well as outside the country. The Office pioneered a structure and strategy that has since been modeled by the UN around the world. The Office was one of the first UN missions to go online and was praised in a global UN survey for having the fourth-best UN website in the world. When the UN won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001, it was communications initiatives like the UNDP Mongolia Communications Office which were cited as a major factor in the awarding of the Prize. The Office pioneered online and offline communications, and broke new ground. The country’s first human development report was one such case.

As can be seen, the MHDR eschewed obscure graphics for its cover and instead focused on the story of the Mongolian people during the transition years. It featured case studies telling of the hardships of that time and took a radically new approach to how human development reports were launched in a country. The MHDR was free and was distributed across the country, backed up with an intensive media campaign and road show. The popularity of the MHDR was such that a second run of 10,000 copies was published. Unlike many other reports and publications by international organisations, the MHDR was designed, laid out and published in Mongolia. This was a critical initiative in kick-starting the Mongolian publishing industry, badly hurt by the economic crises. The process of producing the MHDR introduced a modern approach to publishing and media publicity and was the catalyst for a new design movement in Mongolian publishing. Some examples are below:

© David South Consulting 2017