Perspectives From the Global South
In December, the Posner Center played virtual host to a panel of talented development researchers and practitioners from across the world. Panelists included Paulo Esteves, Director of the BRICS Policy Center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Sharon Muhwezi, Government Relations Analyst at One Acre Fund, in Kampala, Uganda; and Tra Phuong Bui, United Nations Development Programme Program Officer, in Hanoi, Vietnam. Differently from many of the day-to-day conversations within the Posner community, this conversation focused on high-level development policy decisions and trends within aid and development. It was a welcome and fresh perspective to hear directly from leaders within the Global South.
The conversation centered on the ways in which the entrance of China into development has created substantial shifts within the field of international development. Paulo Esteves, a researcher focusing on South-South cooperation, recounted the West’s unsuccessful effort to coach China in how to do development. He discussed the three main modalities of the Chinese approach: aid, investments, and trade. The conditionalities long associated with Western aid, such as democracy and human rights, have been substantially deprioritized by the Chinese and this continues to be a sore spot in the field, as aid conditionality has been a cornerstone of traditional development efforts. China’s influence in broader development trends can now be seen in the increase in public-private partnerships as well as other creative development financing strategies.
When asked to discuss the impact of conditionality within aid, Sharon Muhwezi shared the ways in which Ugandan institutions have become stronger as a result of conditionality. She spoke about the use of soft power to encourage change from within countries and indicated that aid conditionality has strengthened both Ugandan institutions and the voice and power of civil society. Tra Bui discussed how new the concept of civil society is in Vietnam and shared how difficult it is for large entities like the United Nations Development Programme to learn how to work effectively with civil society.
The conversation also addressed the roles played by local versus foreign national staff in NGO work. Sharon discussed the important role that local staff play in ensuring that resources are allocated properly, which can be a challenge for foreign staff who may not necessarily understand the context well enough to design solutions. The panelists advised NGO staff in the Global North to move to more market-based approaches, particularly as donor fatigue has set in. In addition, they encouraged attendees to rely on unbiased sources of data for decision-making and planning.
December’s dialogue offered excellent food for thought and for further discussion in our community.
A big thanks to our great panelists and hope you can join us for some great dialogues in 2018!