Development in the 21st century: co-operation not donors and recipients

Click to find out more about 50 years of DAC work

Writing in The Guardian last Friday (29 April) Jonathan Glennie of the UK Overseas Development Institute argued that the OECD should give up control of the aid agenda. Brian Atwood, chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee replies. Jonathan Glennie will be continuing the debate on the Insights blog next week, but you can already see other contributions on the Guardian site, which is also publishing this article.

Jonathan Glennie’s article is timely in provoking debate around one of the biggest challenges of our decade: how to ensure that we are doing our best to meet the commitments embodied in the Millennium Development Goals, and even more important, to take development beyond them in a new framework – one that is fit for the 21st century.

Jonathan is correct: the Paris Declaration – and its follow-up Accra Agenda for Action – have proven to be of seminal importance in transforming aid relationships into true vehicles for development co-operation. The principles they embody build on  50 years of field experience and research to promote what we know works: aligning development programs around each country’s own strategies, reducing  transaction costs, avoiding fragmented efforts, making all partners accountable to each other and to their constituencies and  measuring success by results.

These principles have changed the reality of development co-operation, promoting the much needed transformation of aid into development co-operation – a relationship based on trust, in which all sides accept responsibility for producing results.

But as Jonathan rightly says, this progress is not sufficient to overcome the growing global challenges. In the face of the recent financial, security, food, health, climate and energy crises, I also have to conclude that the development paradigm has not shifted enough.  

 This is not just a matter of language, although as Jonathan notes, words are important in reflecting mindsets. But the language we use to describe development co-operation reflects not only a mindset, but also long-standing and complex ways of working that often respond to many other prompts – including public opinion – than those that strictly derive from development policy.

This brings me to where I must disagree, however, with Jonathan: the OECD DAC does not control the aid agenda, no more than it controls these ways of working. If this were the case –if there were one centralized aid mechanism – then it would be easier to change. But ODA – which accounts for the vast majority of what we refer to as ‘aid’ today – is not centrally managed. It is, rather, the sum of numerous countries’ and organizations’ total – yet individual and independent – efforts to promote the development process. 

These mechanisms have not always worked to the best advantage – and this is where the OECD DAC comes in. the DAC was created to make them work better – not for the donors but for the countries trying to work their way out of poverty and all it entails. And while much has been achieved – in particular since the Paris Declaration was put in place – there is still much unfinished business.

The 91 countries Jonathan refers to are the first to testify to this and to insist – despite the fact that we are reaching the ‘due date’ for the Paris commitments – that we do not let go. Developing countries and donors alike – and yes, we still need these words – still have a job to do to reach their targets.

This is why the meeting in Busan – the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness – must be a true turning point. If Busan is successful, it will show us exactly where we need to focus to make good on those commitments. But more than that, it will signal a renewed global commitment to attack poverty as a central source of the world’s problems. More precisely, Busan can be considered successful if it achieves the following:

  1. A broad partnership among nations at all levels of income and development, as well as private and non-governmental organizations, based on a clear division of labor and transparent communication.
  2. A set of principles, founded on solid evidence, to guide the new consensus on development co-operation, together with a commitment to eliminate policies that present obstacles to achieving development results.
  3. A revitalized global effort to achieve the MDGs and focus on the need for global public goods.
  4. A recognition that the world’s poorest and most fragile states need security and capacity, and that working with them means being willing to adapt modalities and to take risks.
  5. An acceptance that people, no matter how impoverished, must be empowered to participate directly in the development process.
  6. An acceptance that all participants in development efforts must produce measurable results, and that these results must be duly reported to citizens of all nations.

Achieving these objectives will mean overcoming deep-seated prejudices and misperceptions. It will require respect for non-traditional approaches and a willingness to create a common ground among diverse partners. But it would also permit the elimination of labels such as ‘donors’ and ‘recipients’, which tend to divide the world into camps.

As my colleague Jon Lomoy, head of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate, has already noted, “The new order we foresee is not a matter of relinquishing… Why relinquish, for example, the insights that are offered by decades of experience in tracking aid, improving its quality and fostering better, more inclusive policies that Southern and Northern countries alike look to the OECD to share? Hopefully in the future, there will be no more central cogs – rather, I see the OECD as part of very efficient machinery in which each of the pieces contributes to a truly balanced, equitable and prosperous whole.”

Underdevelopment is undermining the quality of life everywhere. Busan represents an opportunity to forge the broader and deeper partnership Jonathan and many others are calling for.

Useful links

OECD work on aid effectiveness including the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda

Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE conference) 30 May 1 June at the OECD

New Paradigms for development: OECD Forum 2011

Guest author

4 comments to “Development in the 21st century: co-operation not donors and recipients”

You can leave a reply or Trackback this post.
  1. Sandra Alzate - 09/05/2011 Reply

    In relation to the issue raised by the author in The Gardian article (April 29th), from the Colombian side, it is important to recognize the progress achieved in terms of greater openness for the active participation of partner countries. In this sense, Colombia as a co-chair of the Task Team of South-South Cooperation (TT-SSC), has been involved, through the effectiveness agenda, to generate evidence of the contribution of Middle Income Countries, South-South and Triangular Cooperation, to achieve development goals.

    Since its launch in September 2009, the TT-SSC has been collecting evidence on the synergies between the aid effectiveness principles and the practice of South-South Cooperation (SSC), in particular South-South knowledge exchange. The TT-SSC has engaged in a broad process of generating evidence based on: (1) 110 country-led case stories on South-South Cooperation and capacity development; (2) the 2010 Bogota Statement; and (3) preliminary findings of 19+ in-depth case studies produced by Southern academic institutions. All available products are available on the TT-SSC web platform

    As part of the PD implementation plan, and taking into account that Colombia is a High Middle Income Country, the country has achieve within 8 years:


    • Tripartite consultation process of the Colombian International Cooperation Strategy 2007 – 2010 (international community, government and civil society)
    • Re-orientation of South – South Cooperation
    • Consolidation of the National System of International Cooperation that enables better demand coordination, management decentralization, greater and better flow of information for decision-making and capacity development (24 International Cooperation Regional Committees, 28 local demand portfolios and the International Cooperation Map -AIMS)


    • The Colombian International Cooperation Strategy 2007 – 2010 as a framework for the negotiation of 10 donor country strategies.
    • 2002 – 2010 Colombia trebled aid disbursements
    • 2002 – 2009 USD 2.556 million new projects were approved
    98% of new agreements were aligned with government priorities.


    • Thematic coordination exercises around priority areas of the Colombian International Cooperation Strategy (MDG, Childhood, Justice and Victims, Mining, Land, Consolidation, Humanitarian Aid, Ethnic Affairs)
    • 8 Multi-Donor meetings between donors and local authorities.
    • 8 meetings of the International Cooperation National System


    • Accessible and quality information (International Cooperation Map that feeds from the Official Development Aid Information System)
    • Joint analysis between government and donors, concerning the Impact of the cooperation received by the country.
    • Multi-stakeholder meetings that allowed to guide the cooperation that Colombia receives
    • Monitoring scheme and 6 exercises agreed with donors.

    The world is facing an important momentum of the international cooperation effectiveness agenda. All the exercises done within this agenda must contribute to the joint analysis of the structure and vision of an inclusive DAC, which reflects the role of an increasing number of development actors and modalities that have a decisive bearing on the international cooperation agenda. Thus, moving from traditional aid to horizontal partnerships, where the importance of actors, roles and their assessment, have to be more evident in the international arena.

Leave a Reply