Development co-operation: Some facts Hans Rosling taught us

Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Chair, OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC)

I often wonder how to best show the impact of our combined efforts to eradicate poverty. Having worked on development issues for many years, I have seen the results first-hand. I have listened to women sharing how improved maternal care has improved their family’s lives, and I have seen how access to financial services has turned unemployed youngsters into entrepreneurs who now employ others. While we all have examples of development co-operation that works, we sometimes lack the hard evidence, the facts, the data. When confronted with scepticism, our stories often become anecdotal examples of little value.

Solid data is essential in showing progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We are in the midst of a data revolution where the combination of big data, open data and the rapid proliferation of information technology will radically boost our knowledge and understanding. But what will happen in the least developed and conflict-ridden countries where there are huge data gaps, or data of very poor quality?

While many members of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) provide support for the collection and processing of statistics in developing countries, there is more work to be done. DAC donor countries are only just tapping into the potential of big data for development co-operation.

To focus this year’s report on data for development is both timely and important. We must invest more in data. The global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development requires facts and figures to show what works and what doesn’t. We all need statistics to show successes and setbacks in development.

I also like to think that we, by putting the focus on data for development, are paying tribute to Hans Rosling, a legendary professor and statistician. Sadly, Hans passed away earlier this year. No one has shown the importance of combining data sets to uncover new insights better than he did. No one has ever brought statistics to life  in the way Hans did. I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to discuss development issues with Hans. He was straight-forward. He asked questions like, “Why do you spend so much money on these human rights and democracy programmes when you have no data to show they’re working?” He argued that we should invest more in children’s and women’s health because he could show the data that proved these had the best return on investment. He was also very encouraging and constructive when Sweden embarked on its open data journey (though he thought we should have broken down costs in more detail).

One of Hans’ most poignant messages, which I believe to be both very true and very easy to forget, was, “What you think you know may be wrong because the world is constantly changing. Check the data!” We all tend to stick to what we know and seek information to confirm our beliefs. Data therefore serves as a reality check as numbers do not lie.

We are two years into the implementation of the boldest and most far-reaching development agenda ever. We will end extreme poverty and at the same time stop climate change and the degradation of bio-diversity so that humans and nature can find a new balance. To monitor this, we have agreed to follow progress on more than 200 indicators in every single country even though we still lack much of the data today.

So, we need to keep modernising and improving aid statistics and data on financing for sustainable development. We need to increase our support for statistical capacity where it is needed and make better use of results data for policy and feedback to citizens. From my experience, the hardest part will be getting more investment to boost statistical capacity in partner countries. Donors know this is important but NGOs are not pressuring governments to spend more on this; neither is this an effort ministers will get media attention for.

The challenge is great, but the opportunities and gains are even greater. With more and better data we can show the much needed progress girls, boys, women and men are making around the world. With more and better data we can make better and more informed decisions on how to support families who strive for a decent life. With more and better data we can come closer to what Hans Rosling’s son Ola calls a world of “factfulness”, where opinions, however passionately held and articulated, are supported by facts.

Hans Rosling © 2014 Hervé Cortinat/OECD

* Hans Rosling was a Swedish physician, academic, statistician, and public speaker. He was Professor of International Health at Karolinska Institutet and co-founder and chairman of the Gapminder Foundation, which promotes the use of data to understand global development. Rosling passed away on 7 February 2017 at the age of 68.

References and links

OECD (2017), Development Co-operation Report 2017: Data for Development, OECD Publishing, Paris.

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Development Co-operation Report: Investing in data can make the difference

Catherine Bremer, OECD Public Affairs and Communications Directorate

The OECD’s just-published Development Co-operation Report 2017 calls on donor countries to invest more aid in improving statistical systems in developing countries, many of which are unable to produce reliable data in even basic areas such as records of births and deaths. A lack of good data makes it hard to measure the impact of development co-operation and see where best to focus future investments.

The report says that channelling just USD 200 million a year in additional development aid into building up poor countries’ statistical systems would make a big difference–a small sum compared to the USD 15 billion of foreign aid that was spent in 2016 hosting refugees in donor countries.

Good quality statistics are vital both to steer government policy in developing countries and to measure progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Yet with developing country statistics agencies all too often underfunded and understaffed, 77 countries are found to have inadequate poverty data and there are no data yet for two-thirds of the 232 SDG indicators. Even where data is available it is often not broken down in a way that enables comparisons between different population groups.

Aid providers should help developing countries to adopt digital technologies and non-traditional data sources to collect better statistics, the report says, noting that using computer tablets has improved census and survey data in Ethiopia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Uganda and anonymised big data helped Brazil overcome the Zika crisis. To get more out of digital data, countries will need to build up digital infrastructure and enforce legal, ethical and quality standards.

A survey in the new report finds that many donor countries are uncomfortable planning development assistance around data that is old, approximate or incomplete. They often resort to conducting their own unilateral and uncoordinated data collection to assess the impact of aid programmes.

A recent report by Open Data Watch, “The State of Development Data Funding 2016” says that, ideally, USD 3 billion should be invested annually for developing countries to meet SDG data demands. According to the “Partner Report on Support to Statistics 2016” by PARIS21, an international partnership hosted by the OECD that helps developing countries improve their statistical data, the amount of official development assistance (ODA) spent on building up poor countries’ statistical capacity was around USD 250 million a year over 2013-2015, less than 0.3% of total ODA.

You can read the report online here.

References and links

OECD (2017), Development Co-operation Report 2017: Data for Development, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Open Data Watch (2016), The State of Development Data Funding 2016,

PARIS21 (2016), Partner Report on Support to Statistics,


Borders and Networks: The Forgotten Elements of Development

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Laurent Bossard, Director, OECD Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC) Secretariat

The latest SWAC/OECD publication Cross-Border Co-operation and Policy Networks in West Africa addresses the crucial but often overlooked issue of cross-border co-operation, employing an analytical approach sparsely used in the development field and in West Africa in particular – social network analysis. These two unique features of the publication make for enriching reading.

More than 46% of West Africa’s agglomerations and over half of the West African urban population are located within 100 km of a border. In fact no place in Benin, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau or Togo is more than 100 km from a border, and these border areas cover two-thirds of Guinea, Senegal and Sierra Leone, and more than half of Burkina Faso and Ghana, as well as being home to the vast majority of the Mauritanian and Niger populations. These figures show us the importance that we should place on border and cross-border dynamics, particularly in relation to the development of agro-pastoral and food security, health-related education, the management and preservation of the environment, and of course, security issues. The only things that stop at borders are national policies. The rest passes through: goods, information, people; but also crises and instabilities. People living close to borders, their networks, villages and towns are the foundations of powerful, transnational processes of de facto regional integration, whilst de jure integration continues to struggle with implementation challenges.

The idea of reconciling “bottom-up” integration with “top-down” integration through cross-border co-operation policies is slowly progressing. Cross-border co-operation, promoted at the turn of the century by former Malian President Alpha Oumar Konaré, now benefits from programmes led by the African Union Commission, ECOWAS and UEMOA, whilst a number of international initiatives are also underway. However, this approach remains marginal in the public policies of West African countries and in the portfolios of development co-operation institutions, due largely to the persistence of legal and financial constraints.

It is true that these initiatives are taking place in a context marked by an upsurge in transnational terrorism, which, as in Mali, Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin, encourages the international community and African countries to attach increasing importance to the security of borders. More than ever, border control is a crucial issue for the stability of states and the prosperity of West Africans. As underscored by the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) recent report on the management of Mali’s borders, a new balance must be found “between control and free movement so that border areas can fully facilitate integration and peace”.

But for this to happen, the co-operation potential of border regions and the functioning of public policy networks that enable the collaboration of cross-border actors must be known.

There are many publications that describe cross-border dynamics. However, few studies have attempted to systematically map the regions that are most favourable to cross-border co-operation, or to visualise the structure of co-operation networks. The analysis of cross-border policy networks presented in this publication is a welcome development for all actors involved in cross-border co-operation in West Africa.

It highlights, for the first time, how cross-border governance networks are organised, how information circulates between partners of different natures, and who are the most central actors, thus facilitating an understanding of these largely informal dynamics. Beyond the academic field, social network analysis is also an empowering tool for local communities and non-governmental organisations, as well as an operational tool for international organisations and governments.

Social network analysis is also pertinent for understanding the functioning of cross-border co-operation networks as it illustrates the complexity of both the relationships that exist between actors and their geographical locations, particularly when networks operate across borders. Furthermore, by providing information at a more detailed and geographically local level, the analysis is more relevant for local actors and the conditions they operate within, enabling local characteristics to be accounted for within national and international strategies. Future African public policies must utilise this approach to better match local realities. At the same time, public policies need to better integrate border areas where there is significant potential for development and regional integration.

Useful links

African Union Border Programme (AUBP)

African Borderlands Research Network (ABORNE)

Association of European Border Regions (AEBR)

Borderless West Africa – removing trade barriers in West Africa

Cross-border Co-operation Gateway (MOT)


Local Cross-border Initiative (LOBI/UNCDF)

Department of Border Region Studies at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU)

African Governance and Space (AFRIGOS) programme at the Centre for African Studies, University of Edinburgh



Aid only for the neediest? Official development assistance after 2015

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Click to read the book

Today’s post is from Jon Lomøy, Director of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD-DAC)

According to the most recent OECD aid statistics, in 2013 official development assistance (ODA) reached a record high of USD 134.8 billion, representing a rise of 6.1% compared to 2012. While this is good news, more detailed analysis shows worrying trends. The growth was largely (about 33%) in non-grant ODA – mostly loans – which tends to go to middle-income countries. On the other hand, grants, which typically flow to less developed countries, lagged behind, increasing by only 3.5% (excluding debt forgiveness). What’s more, bilateral aid to sub-Saharan Africa fell by 4% in real terms. So while ODA is on the rise in overall terms, the countries with the greatest need are being left behind.

It is important to put these figures in context when we consider the future of ODA. Traditionally seen as the mainstay of development, in recent times ODA’s volumes and growth rates have been outstripped by foreign direct investment, market-based instruments such as non-concessional loans, and remittances. In addition, many developing countries now have solid domestic resource mobilisation capabilities that are helping them to finance their own development.

Nonetheless, a recent OECD study of external financing options available to developing countries shows that ODA is still a vital resource for the least developed countries, where it represents 75% of financial flows from external sources and the equivalent of 59% of domestic tax revenues. In the upper middle income countries, on the other hand, it accounts for only 6% of external financial flows and is the equivalent of just 0.8% of domestic tax revenues.

Another study takes a look at economic growth forecasts to 2030, estimating which developing countries will no longer qualify for ODA because their average per capita income, measured as average share of Gross National Income (GNI), is too high. At present, the threshold is just over USD 12,000. The projections show that 28 of the 148 countries currently on the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) List of ODA Recipients could move above the threshold – but that still leaves many others for whom ODA will continue to be critical.

Does this mean that post-2015, ODA should be targeted only to the least developed countries? While in many ways this is – and should be – the future of ODA, the issue is not so simple.

It is, of course, important to continue to provide support to the neediest countries to ensure that they are not left behind. The OECD Development Assistance Committee is considering building on the current United Nations target, which calls on providers of development assistance to give 0.15-0.2% of their country’s gross national income (GNI) to the least developed countries, to create an even more ambitious target.

Yet it is not only a question of where we use development co-operation, but how.

Providers of development co-operation can help upper-middle income countries overcome stubborn development challenges, for instance, by sharing knowledge and providing technical assistance. Colombia used official development assistance to the tune of just USD 15,000 (two technical missions to Colombia in 2012) to fund a capacity development programme for tax administrators. Tax revenues collected by local authorities jumped from USD 3.3million to USD 5.83million in just one year.

We also need to get smarter about using ODA to leverage private flows for development. Mechanisms like government guarantees can take some of the risk out of investment, encouraging private investors to become active in places they would not usually go. This can help to bridge large funding gaps and bring down some countries’ dependency on ODA. At the same time, it can be particularly useful in many of the least developed countries and fragile states, where large amounts of money are essential to put in place the infrastructure they need to power economic growth, create jobs and reduce poverty.

Finally, the targets that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015 will encompass environmental, economic and social sustainability challenges for all countries that are much broader than today’s MDGs. Funding these new goals will require inputs from across the board – from public and private sources and from all communities and countries. Development co-operation will have a major role to play in helping to bridge the development–environment divide.

Making ODA fit-for-purpose in the post-2015 world is a major challenge – and a major focus of the OECD in 2014. If we make it work, all countries will benefit.

You can read more about this work programme here.

Useful links

OECD Week Paris, May 22-24: From Indignation and Inequality to Inclusion and Integrity

Recovering from the crisis is about returning to economic growth that can sustainably deliver better lives in all senses of the word – jobs for today and the education and skills for the jobs of tomorrow, healthy environment, and equal opportunities.

Economic growth is the foundation stone, but the crisis taught us that it has to be the right kind of growth. In many countries, people are rising up – indignant about inequalities and what they see as a lack of transparency and accountability from their governments and institutions. They are calling for new approaches that focus on growth, fairness and inclusion and address corruption, the rising cost of living and social spending cuts.

Expectations are high for international organizations such as the OECD to help governments in their efforts to find sustainable solutions. It’s a daunting task, but one we can attain if governments and citizens work together. OECD Week 2012 in Paris is a key moment for achieving this and comes on the heels of the success of the OECD’s 50th Anniversary last year.

What happens during OECD Week?

OECD Week combines the annual OECD Ministerial Meeting and Forum. The Forum, a public event, brings together ministers, business, labour, civil society and academia to share policies and ideas. It feeds into the Ministerial Meeting, where government leaders and ministers discuss issues on the global agenda. Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Ali Babacan, will chair this year’s Ministerial, supported by vice-chairs Chile and Poland.

Highlights of the week include the semi-annual OECD Economic Outlook, as well as three major new reports – the Skills Strategy to ensure that today’s children and young adults are well equipped for tomorrow, the final report of the Gender Initiative and the Development Strategy.

The Forum – 22-23 May
Politicians, business leaders, academics and civil society will discuss and debate ways to shift from indignation and inequality to inclusion and integrity. With record numbers of young people looking for jobs, the middle class squeezed out of the system, financial regulation failures, and faith in governments and other institutions waning, how best to restore trust and integrity in the system and find innovative paths for more sustainable, equitable and greener growth?

Which policies are delivering better lives? The OECD’s Better Life Index, launched in 2011, offers people a chance to say what matters most to them – education, jobs, a nice home, clean air, money – and see how their country measures up. An updated version of the Index, to be released at Forum 2012, includes new dimensions for gender and inequality as well as two new countries, Brazil and Russia.

The Ministerial – 23-24 May
Ministers will focus on policies for a sustainable – jobs-rich, green and equitable – economic recovery. In this context, they will discuss ways to encourage people to learn and maintain skills – the global currency of the 21st century – and encourage gender equality so women can fulfil their potential. As the economy of one country depends on the economy of all, ministers will also discuss the benefits of a more open trading system and look to strengthen partnerships with developing countries and their relationship with the Middle East and North African region.

Bringing Stability to Southern Sudan

Rachel Flynn is a PhD student inLSE’s Department of International Development. Her thesis is Southern Sudan’s periphery: state-building in fragile border regions. The world is currently focussed on the unrest at Southern Sudan’s border with its northern cousin, but Flynn argues that it is just one of several border issues the new state will have to tackle.

The killing of nine Kenyans by a group of Southern Sudanese in a remote region of the Southern Sudan-Kenya border on 15 June serves as a potent reminder of the extremely volatile and potentially explosive nature of the nascent country’s international borders.

Given the history of Southern Sudan and the often nomadic nature of many of the groups living on its periphery, its international borders have tended to be weakly defined. It is this lack of clear demarcation, coupled with the neglect regularly experienced by border-dwellers, that has the potential to destabilise Southern Sudan.

The conflict that resulted in the recent deaths of nine Kenyans has been playing out over a long period of time between the Toposa of Southern Sudan and the Turkana of Kenya.

The crux of the issue is that because nomadic pastoralism is their main livelihood and they live in regions increasingly prone to drought, these groups need to share dry season pasture and water points.

Historically, conflict over this resource-sharing was managed and resolved locally, but state intervention has led to an escalation of the conflict, creating a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario for the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS).

This is not the only border region that is proving recalcitrant. Recently in Nimule, a vibrant town bordering northern Uganda, the government’s attempts to stop locals using Ugandan Shillings instead of Sudanese Pounds led to such ferocious opposition, including the complete closure of the town’s market for a fortnight, that ultimately the government had to acquiesce.

The use of Ugandan Shillings is only one symptom of this peripheral region being more integrated into the Ugandan economic society than the Southern Sudanese one.

This failure of GoSS to exert control over its currency is symptomatic of the state’s weak presence and authority at its international borders.

There are countless other examples of state weakness – the continued presence of the Ugandan militia group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, on the Central African Republic border; ongoing child abductions in Jonglei State bordering Ethiopia; and increasingly violent and fatal cross-border cattle-raiding on the Kenyan and Ugandan borders, to name just a few.

At the moment, all eyes are on the north/south border as tensions mount ahead of Southern Sudanese independence on the 9 July. However, it is not the only border that poses major challenges to the Government of Southern Sudan as the country embarks on its nation-building project. Furthermore, it is not the only border region that deserves attention, a point that GoSS, the international community and the aid industry would do well to remember.

Useful links:

OECD Development Centre work on Africa

Africa at LSE

ABCDE: Combine our knowledge and best practices

Click to go to the conference website

This week, we’ll be reporting on the Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE) taking place here at the OECD, in co-operation with the World Bank and France. Our first post is from OECD Secretary-general Angel Gurría.

These are momentous days for the OECD and its work on development. Last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chaired our 50th Anniversary Ministerial Council Meeting, at which Ministers urged the OECD to adopt a comprehensive new approach to development. They gave us a strong mandate to launch a development strategy in line with our member countries’ aim of promoting development worldwide, and of achieving higher, more inclusive, sustainable growth for the widest number of countries. This effort will entail greater collaboration and knowledge sharing, mutual learning, and deeper partnerships with developing countries and other international organisations.

This week, we are co-hosting the ABCDE, joining forces with the World Bank and France in bringing together some of the best and brightest thinkers on development economics. We’re putting into practice our desire to deepen our understanding of the diverse realities and challenges that developing countries are facing in today´s rapidly changing economic landscape.

It is only natural that we sharpen our focus on development. The epicenter of economic activity is shifting from industrialised countries to the large developing countries and, more than ever, their future growth prospects are closely intertwined. Over the past decade, a group of emerging and developing countries has achieved remarkable advances in terms of growth and development. They have lifted millions of people out of extreme poverty, becoming a vital development source of trade, investment and aid. If current trends continue, we anticipate that developing countries will account for nearly 60% of global GDP by 2030.

These dynamic new poles of growth have useful experiences and knowledge to share. Working closely with them, we can combine our knowledge and best practices in the service of all countries, and particularly the poorest. We will develop new perspectives on how to achieve inclusive growth, identify new ways to address inequality and poverty, and find new pathways towards social and economic well-being.

Here at the OECD, we have begun broadening our sources of knowledge, building on 50 years of gathering evidence, sharing experience and promoting good practice. Four new member countries are enriching our work: Chile, Estonia, Israel and Slovenia. Russia is moving closer to accession, and we are engaging closely with Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and South Africa on a wide range of policies. We are also working hard to support G20 discussions, which represent a major step towards more inclusive and innovative global decision-making.

Looking at the ABCDE conference theme of Broadening Opportunities for Development, I note that emerging economies are both highly familiar with the challenges and highly innovative in finding solutions.

Broadening opportunities is about tackling inequality, about not leaving people behind in our ever-changing world economy. Across OECD countries, the richest 10% of people earn 9 times more than the poorest 10 per cent. In Mexico and Chile, the rich have incomes more than 25 times higher than the poorest. Beyond the OECD, our figures for Brazil suggest a ratio of 50 to 1, and our figures for South Africa suggest a ratio of 147 to 1! This reminds us that despite formidable progress in emerging economies, the battle against poverty is not yet won.

The good news is that many emerging economy governments now have the resources to make smart social investments. Mexico and Brazil, with their successful cash transfer programmes and other innovations, have shown the way.

What can we learn from them? How can we understand better the diverse realities of developing countries and the particular challenges they face?

What is clear is that, in OECD countries and elsewhere, high levels of inequality are economically, politically and ethically untenable. Inequality prevents the most vulnerable from breaking through the vicious cycle of poverty. We need to identify policies that can boost access to education, skills, jobs and social services, promoting upward mobility for talented and hard-working women, men and youths. We need to ensure that growth is participative and inclusive, fostering social cohesion. We need to close gender gaps in education and employment, empowering women to gain entrepreneurial skills and use them to their fullest. And, finally, I think we need to understand that development is not all about income, but about a more general notion of societal progress.

I am looking forward to reading your views and following ABCDE discussions!

Useful links:

Live conference webcast from the World Bank