Broadband: the new oxygen

Today’s post is contributed by Piotr Stryszowski of the OECD’s Science, Technology and Industry Directorate, Click on the logo to go to the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission website.

Broadband has recently been described as the oxygen of the digital age. For that reason a subject that was once the reserve of “geeks and policy wonks” has become a concern of world leaders from Presidents and the heads of international organisations to Nobel laureates, famous artists and the captains of industry. You can read about one group here.

The use of broadband communications goes far beyond the ICT sector. Broadband has become a necessary tool for countless companies across all industries. Firms have been using broadband as a way to reduce operational costs, facilitate access to communication, improve the management of information, as well as being a platform for innovation in equipment and services. Broadband has also become integral to the daily lives of people in OECD countries, which is pretty obvious for every blog reader.

On a macroeconomic level, the development of broadband has positive effects on productivity and growth. The improved availability and use of ICTs can make real differences to the prospects of firms, and peoples’ lives, in developing countries. Put differently, more broadband means more efficient economies and higher per capita income. This makes the development of improved communications a useful and efficient tool for policymakers on the way towards the Millennium Development Goals.

 Work at the OECD has highlighted the critical role that the use and application of ICTs including broadband can play in economic and social development. To share the OECD’s experience and to underline the potential role of broadband communications in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, the OECD Secretary General joined the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission.  During its last meeting in New York, the Commission agreed that the future will be built on broadband and urged all governments to move broadband to the top of their agendas.

Useful links

The OECD and the Millennium Development Goals

OECD broadband portal

OECD Communications Outlook

 Broadband Growth and Policies in OECD Countries

OECD reports on telecommunications and Internet

Beyond the Millennium Development Goals

Today’s post is contributed by Dan Smith, Secretary General of NGO  International Alert, as part of our coverage of the Millennium Development Goals Summit taking place in New York. Click on the logo to go to the Summit website.

This week’s UN summit called for a big renewed effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. But a new report from International Alert asks us to get “beyond the MDGs”.

The MDGs have been repeatedly blessed as the grail of development but two truths intrude: first, they will not be fully achieved and, second, regardless of that, there have been widespread if quiet reservations about them ever since their launch a decade ago. Why?

Let’s look at five inter-related issues:

1. They are not comprehensive. The MDGs include much that is of fundamental importance for development. But among the key factors they leave out are peace, governance, security, law and order, justice, corruption, statutory law, human rights, and education beyond primary level. Of course, setting out big development goals in a relatively concise form necessitated selection. But what have been left out are not optional items; they are some of the determinative considerations of development.

2. But much of the problem resides in how the MDGs are used. Whatever the MDGs omit, nobody could disagree with them. I will not object to universal primary education by 2015, for example. But when a donor government official says he cannot fund secondary education because his government, committed to the MDGs, wants to focus on primary education, then you see how they have gone astray. Similarly, for several years the MDGs gave licence to donor government officials to avoid thinking about peace, security and governance in ODA.

In other words, the real problem is not just that the MDGs are incomplete but that they are treated as if they were a comprehensive guide, which can only produce misleading results.

3. The MDGs creak under the burden of multi-tasking. If the MDGs were treated merely as expressions of intent, there would be much less to dispute. But they have been given the task of measuring progress and thus have become not only both ends and means but also quantitative indicators with, in consequence, a whole world of data on development progress.

In turn, these indicators have been used not only to assess global progress but also to guide strategic planning for individual countries. With that, the purpose of the MDGs seems to have become thoroughly twisted and this selective set of eight goals has seriously been over-loaded.

4. Though selective, the MDGs are generic. In other words, they manage the not inconsiderable and somewhat paradoxical feat of being too broad and too narrow at the same time. In badly governed, conflict-affected countries, boosting primary education and focusing on some basic health issues are not likely to move the country’s development agenda along. These activities will save lives and help people in quite fundamental ways. They thus express the basic humanitarian impulse that is part of the driver of ODA.

But that is not the same as development. What is needed to assist development varies from one country to another. In that sense, by being generic, the MDGs are drawn with too broad a brush while what they draw is too limited.

5. And then there’s the a-political politics of the MDGs. The MDGs focus largely on those aspects of development in which politics play little part. There are two exceptions – MDG#3 on gender and MDG#8 on partnership for development with targets that include trade, investment, world finance and debt relief. Those are highly political questions but the world community has become adept at air-brushing the politics out, removing their bite, and then making snail’s pace progress at best on what’s left of their filleted content.

In 2000, what was for the most part possible to agree was a set of actions that are a-political, non-contentious and humanitarian. Neither then nor today could many countries’ leaders agree anything more challenging or requiring more change – yet when countries are mired in under-development, poverty, poor governance and violent conflict, challenging change is exactly what they need.

Moving ahead

The UN summit’s 13,700 word outcome document while largely structured around the eight MDGs, includes quite long passages on economic interdependence and trade, recovery from the recession, peacebuilding and conflict issues, universal access to basic social services, anti-corruption measures, and human rights. With this, the summit reflects the way in which the real problems of development are increasingly being included in the frame of reference of the major international development institutions. It is an implicit recognition of the partial nature of the MDGs.

This is welcome movement. It is reflected in OECD-DAC’s work in INCAF on peacebuilding and statebuilding, in the World Development Report 2011 with its focus on fragile and conflict-affected states, and in the evolving policies of some donor governments including the UK.

It won’t get much news coverage – but inching towards a future beyond the MDGs is actually the big story this week.

Useful links

OECD work on the Millennium Development Goals

The International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding

OECD’s Asbjorn Wee talks about fragile states in this Guardian article 

MDGs: Business plays essential role in fight against poverty

Today’s post is contributed by Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen  and the Dutch business leaders listed below, as part of our coverage of the Millennium Development Goals Summit taking place in New York. Click on the logo to go to the Summit website.

Today in New York the World Business and Development Awards are being presented. Whoever is honoured, the very existence of these awards highlights the crucial role of the business community in poverty reduction. That message still needs to be heard. Only too often, poverty reduction is viewed as the exclusive responsibility of international organisations, NGOs and governments. However, in order to improve the lives of the poorest people in developing countries, innovative contributions by business are indispensable.

Celebrated economist William Easterly once wrote, “The rich have markets, the poor have bureaucrats.” This is a tragedy, especially when we bear in mind that 80% of poverty reduction worldwide is the result of economic growth. Research shows that when per capita income goes up, the poorest 20% of the population benefit – if the poor can participate in growth. The engine of sustainable economic growth are businesses. Businesses are the source of goods, jobs and tax revenues.

Investing in developing countries is not easy. In striking a balance between profits and development, between risk management and result assessment, NGOs, governments and international organisations play a pivotal role. This is why the Netherlands chooses to work through partnerships. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which brings different players together, has already helped to form 75 partnerships.  For example, the 70 companies and 24 civil society organisations taking part in the Sustainable Trade Initiative are working with partners in developing countries to make the production and sale of products such as timber and cacao more humane, eco-friendly and profitable. Other examples are the Health Insurance Fund and the Investment Fund for Health in Africa, through which insurance companies and NGOs are cooperating to provide basic health coverage for African farmers.

Government, NGOs, trade unions and companies are spending over two billion euros on such partnerships between 2003 and 2012. The business community’s poverty reduction efforts are a response to public sentiment. According to a recent survey, no less than 85% of the Dutch public thinks it is important or very important that companies work in a way that is good for people, the environment and society. In other words, the traditional division of roles between government and business is an anachronism.

Awards are being presented in New York today; even more important, high-level talks are being held on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Achieving the MDGs would mean among other things the elimination of hunger and the reduction of maternal mortality. But success by 2015 is far from assured. Progress is being made, but in many cases not enough progress. In sub-Saharan Africa, one of the world’s poorest regions, there is even a risk that not a single MDG will be attained. These disturbing facts make it more urgent than ever that all forces be joined in the fight against poverty. Especially when we remember that there are still a billion people living on less than $1.25 a day.   

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende will convey the message you can see in this webcast in New York. In addition, the Dutch government has drafted a joint declaration with countries like Germany, the UK and the US, stressing the business community’s role in achieving the MDGs. In addition, the CEOs of 16 Dutch multinationals have co-signed a letter from the Minister of Foreign Affairs to the UN, which is responsible for the MDGs, highlighting the importance of partnerships. Co-operation, they write, is a win-win-win proposition: good for business, good for the public sector, and good for society in both developed and developing countries. This Dutch message needs to come through loud and clear in New York.

Maxime Verhagen (Minister of Foreign Affairs, The Netherlands), Feike Sijbesma (CEO DSM), Nanno Kleiterp (CEO FMO), Jean-François van Boxmeer (CEO Heineken), Sjoerd van Keulen (voorzitter Holland Financial Centre), Gerard Kleisterlee (CEO Philips), Piet Moerland (CEO Rabobank), Peter Bakker (CEO TNT), Peter Blom (CEO Triodos Bank), Paul Polman (CEO Unilever), Rik van Terwisga (CEO Vitens)

Useful links

OECD work on the Millennium Development Goals

MDGs: Aid is only part of, not the whole solution


Today’s post is contributed by Mario Pezzini, Director of the OECD Development Centre, as part of our coverage of the Millennium Development Goals Summit taking place in New York. Click on the logo to go to the Summit website.

With only five years left until the 2015 deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, world leaders are meeting in New York on 20-22 September to agree on an accelerated action agenda. You can expect the usual calls for additional aid money commitments and no doubt new pledges will emerge. But are aid money commitments the core of the matter?

Let’s focus on poverty, probably the most talked-about goal. Rough estimates, based on available data, state that around $80 billion is needed annually to close the poverty gap in Africa alone. And that is just poverty reduction. If you wanted to bridge the infrastructure gap in sub-Saharan Africa, and improve the level and quality of public service delivery, another $80 billion per year would be necessary. To put these numbers in perspective, the total amount of aid flowing into Africa annually is only $40 billion.  Aid alone is not sufficient to sustainably eradicate poverty, let alone achieve other millennium targets such as health, education, and gender equality which indirectly have a strong effect on poverty. 

 So, if aid, necessary as it is, is not enough. What can be done? Many African countries this year celebrated 50 years of independence. And yet, too many African governments have development policies that are funded primarily using foreign aid and not mobilizing their own resources.  In some cases, there are not yet alternatives, but in many others it is possible and urgent to put in place a fairer and more efficient taxation system.

Contrary to aid money, which is likely to remain painfully limited, tax money can make an enormous difference with respect to achieving development goals. Already  the order of magnitude is simply not comparable. The combined fiscal revenue in Africa in 2008 reached over $400 billion. This is ten times the total amount of aid money flowing to the continent. Of course, the amount of tax raised in different African countries varies hugely. In the same year, tax revenue in Burundi, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia ranged from $20 to $40 per capita, compared to $4866 in Equatorial Guinea, and $11725 in Libya.

Clearly, a number of African countries still need and should receive aid to support the provision of basic services. However, many others including South Africa, Algeria, Gabon, Egypt, Botswana, Tunisia and Morocco have started tackling their developmental challenges independently.

Saying that African countries should rely more on themselves is not the same as saying they should be left to achieve this alone. On the contrary, the responsibility should continue to be shared, but the nature and quality of international engagement should shift considerably. For example, the international community could play a key role in helping African countries to strengthen their tax administrations. Development partners should also support an international tax dialogue where Africa’s concerns on issues such as tax evasion, fiscal havens and abuses by multinationals, particularly those operating in the extraction industry, can be voiced and addressed.

Of course, increasing the amount of taxes collected on the African continent will be important, but it will not in itself help us achieve the Millennium Development Goals; there is much more to it than that. If money is not spent well, it will simply make people poorer, not richer. The quality of public spending is thus equally if not more important. Difficult choices must be made according to every country’s strategic priorities, including striking the right balance between social spending and infrastructural investment.

Regulations need to be reformed so to improve the public sector capacity to invest and to involve the private sector in partnerships. Coherence between national and local actions has to be improved. Monitoring and evaluation of public expenditures should become a normal practice. The more efficient a country’s use of collected taxes, the less taxes it will need to collect to provide decent infrastructure and functioning public services.

Millennium Development Goals help put development in the spotlight. But long–term, sustainable development will always be contingent on local ownership and domestic resources. These in turn need to be supported by informed public policies with a long term perspective. This is the key way in which African countries will be able to diversify their economies and take a more central role in the global economy. Aid helps, but it is not enough.

Useful links

African Tax Administration Forum

OECD work on development issues

OECD Development Centre

OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

The Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC/OECD)

OECD Global Relations

Investing in women and girls – the breakthrough strategy for achieving the MDGs

Today’s post is contributed by Jon Lomoy, Director of the OECD’s Development Co-operation Directorate, as part of our coverage of the Millennium Development Goals Summit taking place in New York. Click on the logo to go to the Summit website.

With only a few years left to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by their 2015 target date, world leaders are looking for strategies to accelerate progress. So is there a miracle solution? How about investing in women and girls? UNDP Administrator Helen Clark has called this the “breakthrough strategy for achieving the MDGs”.

It seems fair to argue that without a great leap forward towards empowering women and girls, none of the MDGs will be achieved. On the other hand, focusing on four key areas could have tremendous catalytic and multiplier effects.

1. Keep girls in school

Studies have shown that women with even a few years of primary education have better economic prospects, fewer and healthier children, and more likelihood of ensuring that their own children go to school. Development would be tremendously accelerated, then, if girls were able to complete a quality secondary education. Adolescence is a critical turning point for girls. With a secondary education, they are better equipped to make informed choices about their lives. But all too often, girls are married young or are taken out of school to care for their brothers and sisters or to work to help support themselves and their families.

Removing school fees and providing financial incentives can help girls to attend school, as can building schools closer to remote communities, ensuring that schools have quality teachers and adequate sanitary facilities, and making them safe places for girls.

2. Urgently improve reproductive health, including access to family planning services

MDG 5 – improving maternal health – is the MDG that is most off-track, with a devastating effect on women’s lives and those of their children. Laws and practices limit women’s control over their sexual and reproductive options, severely compromising their autonomy and equality – as well as their own and their children’s health.  Meeting a woman’s need for sexual and reproductive health services, on the other hand, increases her chances of finishing her education, and thereby breaking out of poverty.

It is time to put voluntary family planning back on the development agenda. Donor funding for family planning has been declining since the mid-1990s and over the same period, progress on maternal health has stalled.

3. Ensure that productive and financial assets are in the hands of women (not just microcredit!)

Women’s economic participation, and their ownership and control over productive assets, speed up development, helping to overcome poverty, reduce inequalities, and improve children’s nutrition, health, and school attendance.

Land – a fundamental productive asset – is also important as collateral for securing finance and credit. Yet although women’s role in food production is critical in many developing countries, they continue to have less access to land, fertilisers, seeds, credit and extension services than men. More equitable access to these resources would make agriculture more efficient in promoting shared economic growth, reducing poverty and improving food security.

The success of microcredit schemes has received much international acclaim, and rightly so. Nonetheless, women need access to the full range of credit, banking and financial services to develop their land and their businesses. In many countries, serious legal, cultural and social barriers limit this access.

4. Identify and support women leaders at all levels

Too often, women are viewed as vulnerable victims rather than as agents of change in their families, communities and countries. Why is this, when women such as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other women political leaders in Liberia are setting an example by rebuilding their country? When inspirational women leaders are changing their communities at the grassroots level every day? Thelma Awori, who has researched African rural women leaders, has found that while women leaders are everywhere – bringing change to their communities and to their families, passing on to others the capacity to aspire – they are invisible.

As a number of developed countries have found over time, increasing the voice and participation of women in politics is essential for advancing issues of importance to women, with benefits for both women and men. Nonetheless, women comprise only 18.9 per cent of the world’s legislators – far from the thirty per cent target of the 1995 UN’s Women’s Conference in Beijing.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­What needs to change?

It is time to act, not just talk – to back up political promises with the investments and resources needed to do the job. The MDGs are a global compact – a collective set of political commitments – and gender equality and women’s empowerment are prerequisites for achieving them all.

  • It is time to increase targeted investments in women and girls, focusing on areas that have proven to have a catalytic impact on poverty, development and inequalities.
  • It is time to confront and overcome cultural and social norms that hold back women and girls: discrimination and prejudice on the basis of sex; social exclusion because of ethnicity, race or caste.  
  • It is time for gender-responsive public financial management systems to measure and monitor progress – whether women and girls have access to the health services, education, business advice and agricultural extension they need; whether they have clean water and decent work and pay; whether they are getting the benefits to which they are entitled – and identify gaps so that investments can be directed to the right people, in the right places, at the right time.
  • It is time to gather evidence about what works. Recording and measuring multiplier effects is an operational challenge for the future and will be under the microscope as donors and developing  countries prepare for the 4thHigh Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Korea, 2011.
  • It is time to improve countries’ capacity to collect sex-disaggregated data.  At the same time, it is important to act on the data already available – we have failed to act on what we know.
  • It is time to accurately track the proportion and coverage of aid focussed on achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, including investments by multilateral agencies. In 2010, donor countries will decide on their financial contributions to the sixteenth replenishment of the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) for 2011-2014. Mainstreaming gender equality is one of the themes for IDA16. This could help to multiply resources available for women’s empowerment and the achievement of all the MDGs in the poorest countries.

Useful links

OECD work on development issues

OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

OECD Development Centre

The Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC/OECD)

OECD Global Relations

Millennium Development Goals: A job well done?

As world leaders gather in New York to take stock of our collective commitment to the world’s poorest, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría asks: can they congratulate themselves for a job well-done?

In 2000, leaders of 189 countries made a historic commitment to end poverty by 2015.  Since then, the gains have been uneven. Not surprisingly, war-torn and politically unstable countries are furthest away from reaching the MDGs: on average 40 – 60% behind. And the economic and food crises of the past few years, combined with the threat of climate change, bring further challenges that may set us back even further.

Although we have seen remarkable progress in some areas, women still have little say in many countries, with too many mothers and their children ill and dying. In sub-Saharan Africa people are poorer than ever. We must build a future of expanded opportunity for all.  It is morally unacceptable and economically irrational that in sub-Saharan Africa 15 % of children die under the age of 5 or that only 1 out of every 3 children goes to secondary school. One solution – investment in women and girls’ education yields the highest returns of all development investments. It improves their economic, legal and political empowerment, reducing maternal mortality, and ensuring higher household incomes with better educated and healthier children.  

Absent a major push in the next five years, we will fail to meet our commitment to the world’s poorest. We at the OECD feel a special responsibility towards the MDGs. Their genesis was our 1996 International Development Goals, which were meant to crystallize international aid commitments into a concrete set of development objectives that could be measured and monitored.

To accelerate progress and reach the goals, everyone must do their part – developing countries, their partners and the international community as a whole. Many developing countries are working to reform political and economic governance and make a collective commitment to greater peace and security. And more must make the effort. Given the particular challenges in fragile states, I am encouraged by the new g7+, a group of 13 countries in various stages of fragility who are sharing experience and good practices in resolving conflict.

Their leaders know they must increase domestic revenue – that tax receipts provide a predictable fiscal environment to promote growth and ward off aid dependence. In Malawi, tax compliant businesses are awarded with certificates which allow them access to assistance from revenue officers and are seen by banks as indicators of credit worthiness. The move has pushed tax revenues from 9% in 1998 to almost 15% in 2005. Effective tax systems also discourage the leakage of scarce domestic resources through corruption, illicit financial flows, and tax evasion.  The agreement by 13 countries in 2009 to establish the African Tax Administration Forum is a particularly promising development.

Wealthy countries are trying to complement these efforts by taking stronger action in key areas such as tax and illicit capital flows, and resisting protectionism by moving forward on multilateral trade liberalisation. 

While aid is not a panacea, it is an important catalyst for development. Since 2000, aid from OECD donors has risen by 55%. Though there has been some slippage of late. New players – emerging donors, philanthropic organisations, special purpose funding initiatives, innovative financing instruments and sovereign wealth funds, have created new sources of development finance. Nevertheless, OECD countries need to meet their aid targets if we are serious about reducing poverty.  And we must ensure that aid improves the lives of those who need it most. That will be the focus of the Fourth OECD High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, to take place in Korea next year. The Forum is a key element in delivering on MDG-8 by building ‘a global partnership for development’.

Last but not least, one should also not forget climate change, with possible extreme weather which can ruin crops, damage infrastructure and degrade natural resources. The effects of climate change are felt the most by the poorest, which may see their livelihoods under threat. The entire international community – developed and developing countries – must agree to reduce carbon emissions. Wealthy countries, in particular, must allocate substantial and predictable funding to enable poor countries to cope with the impact of climate change. Developing International Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) is a solution for biodiversity and for the establishment of environmentally sound practices in developing countries.

The OECD is working with the full range of partners to catalyse political will and promote international best practice.  Together we can meet our commitment to the world’s poorest, and achieve the MDGs by 2015.  

Useful links

OECD work on development issues

OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

OECD Development Centre

The Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC/OECD)

OECD Global Relations