How to create an international movement for gender equality

8 March is International Women’s Day. This year, we mark the occasion with a series of blog posts about initiatives to strengthen gender equality worldwide. In this post, Jenny Hedman from the OECD DAC Network on Gender Equality talks to colleagues from the Netherlands about their fund for women’s organisations.

A few years ago, when the Dutch learned that funding for organisations supporting women’s rights was declining internationally, they decided to do something about it. “We felt more action was needed to achieve equality between men and women” explains Robert Dijksterhuis, who leads work on gender equality at the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs. An additional reason to make an extra effort was that gender equality and women’s empowerment is one of the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that world leaders have set out to achieve by 2015. (more…)

Women’s economic empowerment – it’s about money and more…

8 March is International Women’s Day. This year, we mark the occasion with a series of blog posts about initiatives to strengthen gender equality worldwide. In this post, Patti O’Neill, co-ordinator of the OECD DAC Network on Gender Equality, writes about gender-equality focussed aid in the economic and productive sectors.

“We stress that investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect on productivity, efficiency and sustained economic growth.” (para. 54 of Keeping the promise:  United to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

At last year’s Millennium Summit, investing in women’s and girls’ rights was front and centre – the breakthrough strategy for achieving all the Millennium Development Goals.  Even though it is often said that investing in gender equality yields some of the highest returns of all development efforts, are women central to the aid provided by OECD member countries to the economic and productive sectors? (more…)

Africa: Towards Sustainable Growth and Economic Diversification

Today’s post is contributed by Karim Dahou, Executive Manager of the NEPAD-OECD Africa Investment Initiative. Click on the logo to go to the Initiative’s website.

 There is a new mantra in this post-crisis world: the road to global growth and development is now officially a two-way street. In this changing world order, the so-called “advanced” economies are more dependent than ever on developing countries’ growth for global economic stability. For Africa, analysts are now predicting that even the poorest countries have a role to play in global recovery. But to make the most of these new prospects, Africa will need to diversify its economies, reduce reliance on natural resource revenues and encourage sustainable growth in key strategic sectors for sustainable growth and development, such as telecommunications, agriculture and tourism.

These issues will be at the heart of discussions on Africa at the UN headquarters in New York on October 11, when three key partners for Africa’s development will launch new analysis on how African governments can make the most of their growth and development potential. Led by the NEPAD-OECD Africa Investment Initiative and the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, the work aims to improve recognition of the increasingly important contribution of Africa to global economic growth while providing advice on how to reduce vulnerability to external shocks and food price instability.

In addition to releasing a joint report on economic diversification in Africa, the UN, NEPAD and the OECD will present policy briefs on issues including foreign direct investment, infrastructure, debt, and aid in the continent. Economic diversification requires physical infrastructure, technical skills, knowledge of outlet markets and access to finance. But Africa suffers from inadequate infrastructure, weak regulatory frameworks, expensive credit and a lack of risk-mitigation instruments. While more foreign direct investment could bring much of the missing finance, knowledge and skills, regional co-operation may help provide economies of scale, reduced costs and improved market access.

There is unlikely to be much room for dissent on the study’s findings on the benefits of economic diversification for Africa. The continent’s dependency on the exportation of natural resources and primary commodities has been bluntly exposed by the global financial and economic crisis. The decline in demand and prices of oil and minerals was largely responsible for reducing Africa’s growth rate from 5.7% in 2008 to 1.9% in 2009. As a result, many of the continent’s economies have suffered a severe setback in their efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Economic diversification could reduce Africa’s vulnerability to external shocks and contribute to achieving and sustaining long term economic growth and development in the continent. Only broad-based economies, active in a wide range of sectors, and firmly integrated into their regions, can develop robust growth that is less dependent on the vagaries of the global markets.

Useful links

The OECD Factblog gives more details of investment flows to Africa 

African Economic Outlook

OECD work on development issues

OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

OECD Development Centre

The Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC/OECD)


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