Timor-Leste: Life beyond oil

Knut Ostby, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Timor-Leste

The end of the oil era may be coming, but the lights will stay on in Timor Leste. Almost two-thirds of the population are younger than 24, and they are keen for a chance at a better life. With the right mix of inclusive planning, grassroots development and support for a vital private sector, the transition to a non-oil economy may signal bright days ahead for this young nation.

Timor Leste has achieved remarkable progress since restoration of independence in 2002. In terms of stability, the country ranks above average for its cohort in the Human Development Index. As it heads into its fourth round of presidential and parliamentary elections, all signs point to a stable and peaceful process. Average life expectancy has increased by almost a decade, gross national income has nearly quadrupled, and Timorese children now remain in school for over a year longer.

Still, significant challenges remain. Food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty are widespread. Many Timorese lack adequate access to basic social services such as health, education and justice. The oil wealth has not lifted all boats.

Indeed, current oil fields, which generate 90 percent of domestic revenue for Timor Leste, are expected to be depleted in 2021, making economic diversification a matter of priority for the future government. The development of the country is largely funded by domestic public finance; foreign aid accounts for only about five percent of the gross national income. The challenge of accelerating the non-oil economy, and of moving the country towards the Sustainable Development Goals, will top the next government’s agenda.

There are some policy initiatives the new government could pursue from day one.

Investment in infrastructure must continue. But rather than focus exclusively on high-profile projects and main roads, infrastructure investment should prioritize inclusion, by ensuring that local communities throughout the country benefit as both producers and consumers of infrastructure. Work is already ongoing through local development initiatives, such as a UNDP-supported project that engages communities to build and maintain small-scale infrastructure like water supply systems and access roads. Such projects promote sustainability, ownership and awareness of relevant climate change and environmental issues.

Communities also have a greater role to play in making public administration more efficient, responsive and transparent. By decentralizing the provision and management of public services, including with appropriate funding at the municipal and village levels, communities can contribute directly to their own betterment and that of the country at large. With support from UNDP and other partners, the Government has already started its decentralisation programme, which will help focus on improving planning and administration capacity at the municipal and village levels. Expanding options for local e-governance, which can integrate several government agencies into a one-stop shop for service delivery, can further improve transparency and empower local planning and priority-setting.

The development of a healthy private sector is central to the transition to a non-oil economy. Currently, domestic public finance is already the key source of funding for all development activities – but in a post-oil Timor Leste, it is domestic private finance that will need to play a greater role. The government should therefore continue to create conditions for domestic and foreign direct investment. Here are some principles that can help:

  • Focus on human resource development. Access to qualified human capital is at least as important as tax incentives in attracting investment.
  • Stimulate investment in non-oil sectors, including agriculture, agri-processing, mining, construction, tourism and manufacturing.
  • Encourage local entrepreneurship, particularly among youth, to spur job creation at the municipal and village levels.
  • Ensure transparent public institutions, a level playing field and the rule of law.

We at UNDP are supporting these important transitions in Timor-Leste, as the country works toward its stated aim, shared with its global partners in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to ‘leave no one behind’. Fifteen years of oil revenues have demonstrated that merely accumulating wealth is no guarantee of inclusive development. Now, facing a new era beyond oil, Timor Leste must draw upon its considerable advantages to widen the path forward for all its citizens.

Useful links

Information on Timor Leste from OECD


A New Paradigm for Rural Development

Rural paradigmCarl Dahlman, Special Advisor to the Director of the OECD Development Centre

Three billion people in developing countries live in rural areas. They include the majority of the world’s poor, and their number will continue to grow for the next decade and a half  until 2030. Conditions for them are worse than for their urban counterparts when measured by almost any development indicator, from extreme poverty, to child mortality and access to electricity and sanitation. And the gulf is widening, contributing to large-scale migration to urban areas. They are constrained by a lack of productive employment opportunities, poor education and infrastructure, and limited access to markets and services. This situation exists despite half a century of rural development theories and approaches, and despite the global momentum built around the Millennium Development Goals between 2000 and 2015. Without a new framework for rural development in developing countries, it is unlikely that the new Sustainable Development Goals will be met.

Rural areas versus urban areas multidimensional poverty index (MPI) late 2000s

Fig 2
Note: MPI ranges from 0 to 1 with 1 as the highest level of multidimensional poverty. The MPI reflects poverty in three dimensions (education, health and living standards)
using 10 indicators: nutrition, child mortality, years of schooling, school attendance, cooking fuel, sanitation, water, electricity, floor and assets.
Source: Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (2015), Global MPI Data Tables for 2015, database.

Although building on the experience of early developers is useful, rural regions in less developed parts of the world today face new challenges and opportunities that developed countries did not face before. Challenges include a more demanding competitive international environment, rapidly growing rural populations, increased pressure on limited environmental resources and climate change. Opportunities include advances in information and communications, agricultural, energy, and health technologies that can help address some of these challenges.

A new paradigm for rural development is needed to move forward. It needs to incorporate the lessons of past experience but also needs to meet the challenges and harness the opportunities of the 21st century – including climate change, demographic shifts, international competition and fast-moving technological change.

Based on the lessons drawn from previous approaches and theories on rural development, the experience of OECD countries and lessons from case studies of developing countries adapted to the reality of developing countries, the OECD Development Centre proposes a new rural development paradigm (NRDP) for developing countries in the 21st Century

The NRDP is founded on eight components that need to be included for successful rural development strategies.

  1. Governance. A consistent and robust strategy is not enough if implementation capacity is weak. It is thus important for an effective strategy to build governance capacity and integrity at all levels.
  2. Multiple sectors. Although agriculture remains a fundamental sector in developing countries and should be targeted by rural policy, rural development strategies should also promote off-farm activities and employment generation in the industrial and service sectors.
  3. Infrastructure. Improving both soft and hard infrastructure to reduce transaction costs, strengthen rural-urban linkages, and build capability is a key part of any strategy in developing countries. It includes improvements in connectivity across rural areas and with secondary cities, as well as in access to education and health services.
  4. Urban-rural linkages. Rural livelihoods are highly dependent on the performance of urban centres for their labour markets; access to goods, services and new technologies; as well as exposure to new ideas. Successful rural development strategies do not treat rural areas as isolated entities, but rather as part of a system made up of both rural and urban areas.
  5. Inclusiveness. Rural development strategies should not only aim at tackling poverty and inequality, but also account for the importance of facilitating the demographic transition.
  6. Gender. Improving rural livelihoods should take into account the critical role of women in rural development, including their property rights and their ability to control and deploy resources.
  7. Demography. High fertility rates and rapidly ageing populations are two of the most relevant challenges faced by rural areas in developing countries today. Although the policy implications of these two issues are different, addressing these challenges will imply good co-ordination across education, health and social protection policies, as well as family planning.
  8. Sustainability. Taking into account environmental sustainability in rural development strategies should not be limited to addressing the high dependence of rural populations on natural resources for livelihoods and growth, but also their vulnerability to climate change and threats from energy, food and water scarcity.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are closely linked to addressing the new challenges for rural areas, such as demographic pressure, ecological side-effects and climate change, and poor governance, along with negative consequences imposed by lagging rural areas such as polarised regional development and rural migration into urban slums. Since the SDGs and rural development are closely interconnected, investment in both areas will have mutually beneficial impacts. Thus rural development should be put at the heart of national development strategies in all countries at all development stages to ensure equal, inclusive and sustainable development

The challenge is that urban areas in most developing economies with fast growing populations are not able to productively absorb their growing urban populations, let alone migrants from rural areas. The result is an increase in urban slums, informal employment, underemployment, falling labour force participation rates and persistent poor livelihoods in rural areas. Furthermore, with the slowdown of China’s growth and its changing economic structure toward services, the fall in commodity prices is not a cyclical but a structural change. Combined with the expected rise in global interest rates there is likely to lead to slower economic growth in developing countries which will further complicate prospects for rural development.

The challenge is particularly large for South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa because their populations are largely rural and they also have high population growth rates (Figure 3) and the lack of productive jobs to absorb the rapid increase in the labour force. There is already vast growth of urban slums and the informal labour force, underemployment in rural areas, and falling labour force participation rates. While most other developing regions have already had the demographic transition and seen their population growth rates fall starting in the 1980s, in Sub-Saharan Africa population growth rates have been around 2.8 % per year for the last 35 years. They are only now starting to decline, but are more than twice the average for the world. They are expected to remain about 1.5 percentage points higher per year than the world average for the next three decades (Figure 3). The increase in the labour force (population 15-64 year olds) by 2030 from people that have already been born is 300 million workers, which is roughly the current labour force of the EU. In addition many Sub-Saharan countries are fragile states and many are also very environmentally fragile. As a result there are likely to be large humanitarian challenges as well as increased pressure for people to migrate out of Africa to Europe and other regions.

Unless effective rural development policies can be put in place it will not be possible to meet the SDG because rural areas tend to be left behind. Addressing the challenge of rural development is going to require innovative approaches at the local, national and international level. These include developing multi-sectoral and multi-level and multi-agent strategies that further economic and social development and are also environmentally sustainable. Innovative approaches to urbanization and the development of intermediary cities that are economically and environmentally sustainable will be needed, which will require bringing to bear the best global knowledge on how to achieve this in a cost-effective way and also addressing the difficult governance and financial challenges for achieving this.

In addition the challenges are not only at the country or regional level but at the global level because in our currently very interconnected world lack of productive jobs, increasing inequality and population pressures in the developing world can lead to social unrest, political instability, conflict and increased migration flows which will impact other parts of the world as we are seeing with the spread of global terrorism and the refugee crisis.

Useful links


The 2016 OECD Global Forum on Development on 31 March in Paris will discuss how national policies and strategies for achieving the SDGs can be optimised. It will also look at approaches to scale up rural initiatives and leverage the data revolution to track progress toward achieving the SDGs and maximising resources through innovative partnerships.

  • How will global trends, including migration, affect the implementation of the SDGs?
  • Why is rural development still critical and how can rural strategies be strengthened in international and national agendas to further support the SDGs?
  • How can a smarter use of data better prioritise and facilitate SDG implementation?
  • Is it possible to secure adequate and predictable financing in support of developing and emerging countries’ development strategies?
  • How can policy dialogue and peer learning be further leveraged to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda?

The rise of the robots – friend or foe for developing countries?

High school students design a robot in Ghana
High school students design a robot in Ghana

Johannes Jütting, Manager of The Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century (PARIS21), and Christopher Garroway, Economic Affairs Officer at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

In January, the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland saw members of the global elite extolling the virtues of the so-called “4th industrial revolution”. The catch-all term, also known as “Industry 4.0,” ties together a wide range of cutting-edge digital technologies – such as 3-D printing, machine intelligence, the internet of things, cloud computing, and big data – into a vision of a future world of work. In this brave new world, smart factories will operate by automation with machines exchanging data seamlessly. The consequences for the work force in both developing and developed countries will be huge.

To start with, the hoped-for productivity gains from the 4th industrial revolution will have a global impact on the amount, type and quality of jobs available and on worker competitiveness. Most of the worries expressed so far about the rise of the robots have focused on job losses in developed economies. But there will be consequences, too, for those developing countries that depend for their competitive advantage on low-cost, low-skilled labour. For example, we could see the re-localisation of low-skill jobs (and even many medium-skill jobs) back to developed countries that possess robots. That could turn global value chains on their head, potentially spelling their demise as a development strategy, as mentioned in some of the targets and commitments of the new United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.

So how can developing countries confront this possible widening of the digital divide, and its potential threat to their development strategies? One thing they need to do is turn the possibly liberating power of open data and big data to their own advantage. If data are the lifeblood of the robot revolution, then they must also be used to defend and compensate those who might lose out from these disruptive technologies.

Open data and big data can be important tools for helping entrepreneurs in developing countries maintain a stake in global value chains. Take the example of business-2-business web marketplaces like China’s Alibaba, which connects small- and medium-sized businesses to global markets. The more these businesses in developing countries can get online and engage in e-commerce, the greater chance they will have of following the changing patterns of global value chains. Another promising example is the US data-driven trade-analysis solutions company, Panjiva, which uses machine learning and data visualization tools to mine publicly available customs data. This allows entrepreneurs to identify and source new suppliers and new importers. While today a European importer might be using such tools to find a supplier in Asia, as the 4th industrial revolution kicks in, these tools may soon be connecting entrepreneurs from the developing world to robot factories in Germany, for example. But for this to work in everyone’s interest, open data standards and big data analysis skills need to be more widely embraced and prioritized in developing countries. This also means putting in place the right institutions that can allow their use to spread – and empower – citizens.

Outside factories and boardrooms, the technologies of the 4th industrial revolution can be used to enable a wide range of new services to help guarantee and protect citizen rights. The impact of these technologies is also already being felt through the expansion of public “smart” services: Smart cards and RFID technology, for example, are being used to create unique identification numbers for citizens in many developing countries, not only to improve civil registration, but also to enable financial inclusion and payment of government benefits as countries expand social protection. Agricultural productivity can also be improved: In East Africa, for example, cell-phone services are offering real-time price data to farmers.

One of the biggest challenges to embracing these new technologies in developing countries may be that the relevant policies and legal frameworks are in their infancy or non-existent, as UNCTAD’s Global Cyberlaw Tracker reveals. Data literacy, official statistical capacity and investment in 4th industrial revolution technologies are particularly low in these countries. Legal standards and frameworks are outdated or non-existent, and individual rights with respect to data collection and privacy almost unheard of.

To realize a “digital dividend” from Industry 4.0, the World Bank’s recent 2016 World Development Report says countries need to put in place “analogue components”. This means providing a level playing field for healthy competition between tech companies; raising the tech skills of all workers; and holding brick-and-mortar government accountable to citizen’s online rights. These “analogue components” are at play in the ongoing dispute in India over Facebook’s Free Basics service, which rolls out limited online services on mobile phones to underserved markets. Some see it as a promising idea for expanding the digital citizenry, helping improve poor people’s skills and use of new technology. However the telecoms regulator in India has just come out against the service because it provides free access only to some websites, rather than to the internet as a whole.

By its very nature, technology can be both liberating and disruptive. Attempting to resist it can also be futile or counterproductive. But the promise of the 4th industrial revolution suggests that disruptiveness does not have to mean divisiveness. Open data, big data and smart services, working hand in hand with the right policies, can go a long way to counterbalancing the disruption caused by robots, machine intelligence and the internet of things.

Useful links

Public-Private Partnerships for Statistics: Lessons Learned, Future Steps

Continue the conversation on twitter with Johannes (@Jo_Jutting), Chris (@chelnikov) and PARIS21 (@ContactPARIS21)

The Sustainable Development Goals and Development Co-operation

NAECErik Solheim, Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee

The Sustainable Development Goals which world leaders agreed on in 2015 are focussed on people, peace and planet. Achieving goals requires a transformational, integrated, and universal agenda that is based on effective policies, sufficient pecunia and true partnerships.

Achieving economic growth is not a miracle according to the Commission on Growth and Development (2008). Impressive progress towards the Millennium Development Goals in countries like Botswana, Brazil, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Oman, Singapore and Thailand highlights that sustainable economic growth was an essential ingredient to raise the income of all, the poor in particular. The growth models of these countries carried some common flavors: the strategic integration with the world economy; the mobility of resources, particularly labor; the high savings and investment rates; and a capable government committed to growth.

The Sustainable Development Goals envision a new growth model, one that is inclusive, sustainable and resilient. In the face of mounting global challenges, a new approach to growth requires consideration of how the benefits of growth are distributed, the impact on the environment and the stability of the global financial and economic system. A growth strategy incorporating all these elements does not involve following a single recipe. This is because no single recipe exists. Timing and circumstance determine how the ingredients should be combined, in what quantities, and in what sequence (Rodrik, 2008). Limited political and financial capital for reform should focus on the most binding constraints to sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction.

More and better public and private resources are needed to promote sustainable development. Official development assistance (ODA) has, until recently, been seen as the main source of funding for development. Increasingly, ODA is only one part of the flows that are targeted to support development. At nearly USD 161 billion in 2013, ODA represented now only 18% of all official and private flows from the 29 member countries of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and the International Financial Institutions. In addition, better-off developing countries also received USD 190 billion in “Other Official Flows” provided at close to market terms. Private finance such as foreign direct investment and remittances as well as and private grants from philanthropic foundations and non-governmental organisations amounted to almost USD 650 billion in 2013 (OECD, 2014).

While the relative importance of ODA compared to private investments is decreasing in the middle income countries, ODA can continue contributing to their development by mobilising private flows, leveraging private investment and facilitating trade. Southern providers of development co-operation are also increasingly important. China is now a major source of development assistance, particularly in Africa. In addition, it accounts for 20% of all foreign direct investment in developing countries. Based on their own experience, Brazil and Mexico assist Latin American neighbours. Foundations have also become important actors. For instance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation now donate more to development than many OECD countries.

External Finance flows, 2013

external flows 1

external flows 2

The emerging consensus in the literature is that aid has a positive, if small effect on growth. While aid has eradicated diseases, prevented famines, and done many other good things, its effects on growth is difficult to detect given the limited and noisy data available. Tarp et al (2009) in an extensive review of the aid-growth literature concluded that the bleak pessimism of much of the recent literature is unjustified and the associated policy implications drawn from this literature are often inappropriate and unhelpful. Clemens et al (2012) re-examine three of the most influential published aid-growth papers and found that increases in aid have been followed on average by increases in investment and growth. The most plausible explanation is that aid causes some degree of growth in recipient countries, although the magnitude of this relationship is modest, varies greatly across recipients and diminishes at high levels of aid

The policy environment for development has fundamentally shifted. The Third International Conference on Financing for Development and the UN Conference on Climate Change hold great promise, but they also pose a challenge to the way the international development community does business. In response to the changing nature of the world economy and its rising complexity, new analytical approaches are needed to better understand the trade-offs and complementarities between policy objectives – e.g. between growth promoting policies and equity and environmental concerns. Addressing these concerns requires integrated approaches that breakdown silos between policy communities. Three priorities will be critical in delivering this ambitious global agenda’s: Firstly: collective policy action to address global challenges, secondly; putting people’s well-being at the centre of development efforts, and thirdly; partnerships to deliver results on the ground.

Useful links

OECD work on the Sustainable Development Goals

OECD Development Cooperation Report 2014: Mobilising Resources for Sustainable Development

Arndt, Channing and Jones, Sam and Tarp, Finn, Aid and Growth: Have We Come Full Circle? (2009). Univ. of Copenhagen Dept. of Economics Discussion Paper No. 09-22. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1489392 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1489392

Clemens M., Radelet S., Bhavnani R.and Bazzi S. Counting Chickens when they Hatch: Timing and the Effects of Aid on Growth (2012) , The Economic Journal, Volume 122, Issue 561

Commission on Growth and Development (2008), The Growth Report Strategies for Sustained Growth and Inclusive Development, World Bank Washington DC

Rodrik D (2008) One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions, and Economic Growth. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

From Analysis to Action – Multidimensional Country Reviews

NAECMario Pezzini, Director of the OECD Development Centre and Director ad interim of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate, and Jan Rieländer, Head of Multidimensional Country Reviews at the OECD Development Centre

Multidimensional Country Reviews (MDCRs) support developing countries in designing development strategies that aim for high impact. These strategies address the binding constraints to development, defined as sustainable and equitable growth and well-being. A growing number of developing countries worldwide are implementing MDCRs. Many see the MDCR as a tool to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

The OECD’s 2012 Strategy on Development put forward the MDCR as a response to a twofold challenge. First, all countries face challenges that are specific to their individual circumstances and their level of social, institutional, and economic development. Only mutual learning and the adaptation of expertise and policy advice to the inner workings and outer circumstances of a country can achieve better policies for better lives. Second, policy makers, especially from developing countries, shared feedback that while the OECD’s sector-specific policy expertise was excellent, little is offered to inform a comprehensive strategy and manage the trade-offs. Yet, key policymakers, especially at the centre of government, were seeking precisely this overarching analysis and where to prioritise efforts and in what sequence.

Shortly before the 2012 Strategy on Development, the Arab Spring shook up a number of beliefs about development. Take Tunisia for example. It had very high marks on all indicators according to the Millennium Development Goals and standard macroeconomic guidance: 3% fiscal deficit, 5% average growth since 1990, 100% primary enrolment rate since 2008, 80% healthcare coverage for its population, and a good reformer in doing business. Although of little surprise in hindsight, the uprisings revealed the need for a broader understanding of what progress means for a country. Observers had completely overlooked the importance of social cohesion, the highly unequal regional distribution of opportunities, and the inability of the institutional and productive systems to adapt to changing circumstances.

MDCRs take the essential broader view. They understand development as strengthening a society’s capabilities to consistently translate monetary, human and natural resources into well-being outcomes. The definition of well-being is inspired by the OECD’s How’s Life? framework with its 11 dimensions and concepts of quality of life and material well-being. These include income and jobs as well as subjective well-being measures of social connections, civic engagement, environmental conditions, health and education, among others. To consistently create such well-being requires a large range of capabilities in the realms of innovation, production, governance, finance and social protection, to name a few.

Countries must transition to higher levels of functioning as internal and external circumstances change if they are to successfully pursue broad-based development. A stumbling block to further development occurs whenever a given combination of capabilities, resources, and the external environment impedes a country from optimising opportunities and addressing its most imminent social and economic challenges. In this context, traditional analysis has often concentrated on investment or productivity constraints. This correctly describes a need in most cases. However, social, environmental and governance challenges are equally important and often underlie the productivity trends. High inequality, for example, translates into highly unequal school systems that weaken human capital, which implies reduced economic capabilities and lower productivity. A high concentration of economic power reduces opportunities for new activities to surface and drive change by challenging less efficient incumbents. A misuse of natural resources may be a bottleneck to further development. Low levels of trust combined with non-transparent judicial and executive government systems often lead to a social contract of the smallest common denominator that cannot underpin a transition to new engines of progress.

MDCRs have been created as a continuously evolving tool to help countries identify the core constraints among their capabilities. The MDCR then provides national policymakers and their partners with the inputs needed for a country-owned and implemented development strategy.

Aided by the toolkits of strategic foresight and governmental learning, a multidisciplinary team works together across OECD directorates to identify a country’s most important shortcomings in terms of well-being outcomes and the capabilities to produce them. Some of the capabilities that have been identified as holding back development in the MDCRs currently underway in Cote d’Ivoire, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Philippines, Peru, and Uruguay include:

  • The capability to sustain inclusive economic growth by continuously diversifying the economy to meet the changing demands of the global marketplace (this shows up in various forms at most levels of development).
  • The capability to channel sufficient financial resources to where they can be used most productively.
  • The capability to turn the country’s human resources into human capital by equipping citizens with the skills necessary to further develop the economic, social and institutional potential of the country, given the most likely set of opportunities.
  • The capability to adapt the institutional environment to the higher level of functioning required to transition, including more reliable judicial systems, less corruption, and stronger incentives for performance in the civil service.
  • The capability to manage environmental resources to maximise natural capital while at the same time providing incentives for increased productivity.
  • The capability to sustain a social contract that overcomes the divisions between the formal and informal economies and delivers well-being and revenue by including as many citizens as possible.

In a follow-on, OECD expertise is applied by the partner country to address these shortcomings and create a more sustainable system for delivering growth and well-being. In Cote d’Ivoire, sector experts from across the OECD worked together with a strong local team in the Prime Minister’s office to design a full government action plan which addresses the needs for economic modernisation, infrastructure, a more efficient and equitable tax system, developing skills that can sustain production transformation, and a financial sector that can deliver resources to where they can be most productive.

Analysis is only the very first step. Progress requires action. With this in mind, the OECD team works closely with a core group of national policymakers and analysts throughout the MDCR. This ensures that the recommendations are well adapted to a country’s circumstances and priorities and that the policymakers are in a position to make full use of the MDCR output. The preparation of the MDCR involves a spectrum of policymakers and researchers as well as public, private, and NGO actors. They reach beyond capital cities to encompass expertise across a country. Once the analysis and recommendations are done, MDCRs go beyond just delivering a report to engaging in a true dialogue around the recommendations that build on shared prioritisation. The result is a programme that, when implemented well and in supportive circumstances, can rapidly and positively transform national welfare.

Useful links

OECD work on development

Engaging people: 12 lessons for communicating about development

12-lessonsToday’s post is from Erik Solheim, Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, and Hans-Jürgen Heimsoeth, Chair of the Governing Board of the OECD Development Centre.

The financial commitment to development co-operation has never been higher. In 2013, the global total reached USD 135 billion. For the first time ever, the United Kingdom reached the target of 0.7% of national income, and this happened in times of great economic austerity. Turkey – a middle-income country – increased its official development assistance more than any other European country and is now above the OECD average. And Ireland continued its commitment to fighting global hunger — even with a severe economic crisis at home — founded on a strong public and political consensus regarding the importance of helping the world’s poorest people.

These extraordinary achievements would not have been possible without leadership and strong public support. People support development co-operation out of solidarity with people who have less. Development co-operation must therefore inspire – and be able to withstand – critical assessment from the public.

This means we must be better at telling people what an enormous success story global development has been. Extreme poverty has been halved in a few decades, bringing more than 600 million people out of poverty in China alone. The mortality rate for children under the age of five has been almost halved, saving 17,000 children every day. Life expectancy will soon pass 70 years.

Success is inspiring. It leads to support. But development partners must also be better at explaining their failures. Why did the international community fail to react at an early stage to the political crisis in South Sudan, which eventually led to ethnic warfare and a humanitarian crisis? Why did we fail to contain Ebola in its early phases in the three most affected West African countries? Public debate should be informed by facts. Criticism is a good thing when it brings the world forward.

Countries also provide official development assistance out of enlightened national interest. It is in everyone’s interest to have a planet that is not wrecked by climate change, deforestation and the pollution of our rivers and oceans. Peace and prosperity in one part of the world increase trade and reduce the risk of drug trafficking, conflict and terrorism in others. The effects are felt by developed and developing countries alike. Development co-operation is an opportunity to exert leadership in the world. It should be an integral part of foreign affairs and national strategy.

Leadership is essential. It inspires others and encourages people to take control of the future they want. President Obama’s Power Africa initiative brings US companies together to provide clean energy to Sub-Saharan Africa, where 70% of the population is without electricity. Norway is working with Brazil, Indonesia and other rainforest countries to reduce deforestation under the UN-REDD initiative. President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo broke ground by announcing a tax-per-barrel on oil to fight childhood malnutrition across the world as part of French-initiated Unitaid financing scheme!

Development co-operation can also be risky. Most people understand this. It is obviously safer to provide loans for hydropower development in China or Brazil than it is to support the government of the Central African Republic in providing basic services. Yet donors have committed to supporting fragile states, following the priorities of recipient governments and using country systems. Providers of development co-operation should not be afraid of explaining risk and helping people understand why it is important to work in difficult places. Working together also reduces risk. It is easier for a minister or an aid agency to explain why development co-operation is supporting the judicial system in Somalia when people know that this is what the Somali government has requested and that the European Union, the United States and Turkey support the same thing.

We welcome and endorse these 12 Lessons for Engaging with the Public, published today:

  1. Public engagement builds support and makes development policies more effective.
  2. Improving communication increases transparency.
  3. Understand your audience.
  4. Have a clear, strategic vision.
  5. Develop and deliver a coherent narrative.
  6. Communicate results – good and bad.
  7. Leverage partnerships to achieve objectives.
  8. Make room for creativity and innovation.
  9. Ensure branding is appropriate.
  10. Promote communication and co-ordination institutionally.
  11. Match resources and expertise with ambition.
  12. Evaluate and learn from experience.

The lessons are based on evidence and experience from Development Assistance Committee (DAC) peer reviews and from the Network of DAC Development Communicators, which the OECD Development Centre hosts and co-ordinates. The 12 Lessons offer policy makers a timely and important reminder that public support for development co-operation can never be taken for granted. They tell us that we need to be more humble when we engage with citizens and taxpayers to ensure that our efforts speak to what people think and know.

As accountable policy makers, we need to share information in a meaningful, timely and accessible way. We need to ensure that development co-operation ministries and agencies enable success by acknowledging the strategic importance of communication, awareness-raising and development education, and that they invest time, money and capacity in these activities.

Public debate around development co-operation needs to be broader and more open to better reflect the new world we live in. At the same time, we must learn to be more positive and engaging. No one has heard of a successful company advertising that the world is going under, their customers are worse off than ever, and that their products often fail!

Let’s take a cue from these 12 Lessons and use them to communicate about the positive, life-saving results of development co-operation.

Useful links

OECD work on development

OECD Development Centre work on communication and development

From aid to development (OECD Insights)

A Complex Thing! Are measures of complexity an end in themselves to address extreme poverty?

CARE MOZToday’s post is from Emmanuel Asomba, a consultant working on poverty reduction, human development and systematic reviews of development polices and programs.

The most prominent goal of development has been to eradicate extreme poverty. Both literally and figuratively this goal has been part of a prescriptive stroll over the past two decades, moving in a linear fashion. However, along the way, it has become clear that poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon changing across context, thus requiring multiple correspondence analysis and interventions. This is far more amenable to adaptive solutions in social change. It underlies a different vision to address, among others, the interactions between inequality and poverty, primarily to share approaches in different domains, and ultimately to enhance the interconnectedness between institutions to balance social outcomes.

With a number of components, such as behaviors and organizational parameters, needed for development to work, it is important to capture the variability of desired outcomes to adapt social and economic interventions. Proclaiming that social protection programs and job promotion have to “accommodate specificities” is not enough. The transition is to consider how aggregation happens, widening the scope of change by reviewing the relationships between cause and effect to discern how emergent practices can blend to improve rights-based/social justice platforms. This view stresses how change can unfold across converging organizational contexts.

To alter the balance more effectively, interconnections among intervention designs can boost the possibility of generating multidimensional development systems. The idea is to bring about empowerment and cooperation across several sectors and stakeholders, all of them identifying and differentiating the causes of change to come up with more than mere technical fixes. For instance, the ultimate objective of the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) has been to promote sustainable development across the board. The broad effort of the development community consistent with the post-2015 agenda is to avoid fragmentation. This can be most apparent if human development, food security, access to education, health care, etc, can scale up, increasing relationships, operationalization, transparency and compliance across life-cycle development approaches. These elements are states of matter stemming from observations and applications of qualitative differences in social systems.

Extreme poverty and inequality are complex issues; we have good reasons to think that integrating a mix of alternatives in programming is a constructive route to support the expansion of “ecosystems” or networks of change. This outlook is a way to set the focus on context and variation (see Tony Pike). As a step forward we can test the viability of diverse approaches through the tweaking and sequencing of activities to achieve robust feedback systems.

In the world of complexity as outlined by the DAC Network on Gender Equality, the pragmatic case of Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) shows how we can reconcile opinions to combat the isolation caused by extreme poverty, and consequently the deprivation feeding women’s unequal control of assets and income. By emphasizing the improvement of standards of living, especially for low-income women, this concept can approach social-economic programs from a systems-perspective, i.e., adapting and iterating solutions to build local expertise and knowledge to reduce their vulnerability. In tandem with consistent policies, principles of equal rights and equity can help map new conceptions of relationships and interactions between various actors, thus shifting measures of initiatives and ownership in gender relations.

The transition moves away from simplifications, adapting organizational levels and flexibility in interventions. This approach contrasts with conventional approaches to programming by capitalizing among other things on the existence of different feedback loops to recalibrate for instance, women’s bargaining power, or their mobility. So, the idea of cause and effect is brought under new light with pathway models telling the stories of key outcomes and relationships that can generate change or be measured.

An illustration of this complexity paradigm is the way CARE shifted its corporate processes and strategy to grapple with gender equality for its agricultural portfolio targeting high-poverty households in Latin America and Africa. A critical juncture was the need to streamline operational links through gender-sensitive policies as part of the Women Empowerment in Agriculture (WEA) framework. Primarily set to encourage the role of women and girls in leadership by using adaptive paths, the emphasis was on an organization-wide change process to build a collective approach on individual rights. CARE called for the understanding of ecosystems of equal rights to adjust their poverty profiles and policy interventions.

A case in point is the implementation in 2008 of their Income Smoothing through Agricultural Marketing Interventions (ISAMI) in Uganda, involving male decision-makers in supporting women across agricultural networks. Seen through a multidimensional lens, this initiative threw a strong light on the pertinence of joint distribution of disadvantages to address women’s participation in household and community-level decision-making. By engaging local groups to address the nature of the gender division of labor, time poverty, or the gender control of labor and products of labor, this project triggered the emergence of implicit causal pathways that led to robust strategic programmatic shifts.

It evolved around three dimensions and sub-dimensions of women’s empowerment in collective marketing, namely, agency, relations and structure. Out of them came forth, a responsive logic model. It broadened feedback loops on connections and practices (cause-effect chains), thus completing CARE’s multidimensional approach with poverty income measures. The true explanation is that these parameters mapped-out a resilience ecology (Circle of Learning) changing old patterns out of emerging practices (gendered allocation of resources) regulating women’s decision influence in household, market accessibility, or the pursuit and acceptance of accountability.

Global development has to move away from linear restrictions treating complex problems in separation. Fulfilling this objective is likely to create significant advances to meet the challenges of extreme poverty. The extension of multiple perspectives can target inherent complexities, making experimentation and learning mainstream adaptive policy tools.

Useful links

The Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) from the OECD Development Centre is an innovative measure of underlying discrimination against women for over 100 countries. While other indices measure gender inequalities in outcomes such as education and employment, SIGI helps policymakers and researchers understand what drives these outcomes. SIGI captures and quantifies discriminatory social institutions, including early marriage, discriminatory inheritance practices, violence against women, son bias, restrictions on access to public space and restricted access to productive resources.

Applications of complexity science for public policy OECD Global Science Forum

OECD work on gender equality and development