Latest from Duncan Green's blog
What to post before I head off for the Christmas and New Year purgatory of family rows and overeating welcome holiday? Nick Pialek comes to the rescue with this outrageous set of deeply shocking national stereotypes, doing its rounds on the interwebs recently. Enjoy (and test your knowledge of flags). Back in January.
I’ve been catching up on the backlog of books and papers that spread like an oil slick across my floor, and have come across a couple of gems (as well as some seasonal turkeys).
Top of the heap is the Global AgeWatch Index 2013, (c/o the indefatigable Sylvia Beales). It’s a smart attempt by HelpAge International to get some proper attention for one of the (many) Cinderella issues in development.
The Report is smartly produced, with good graphics and a powerful message.
The first and most obvious point is that populations are ageing fast – the maps show the proportion of over 60s – Green is <9%, dark red is >30%. By 2050, globally, there will be more people over 60 than there are under 15s. Life expectancy continues to grow. A disproportionate number of the old are women (100 for every 84 men in 2012), facing a whole set of extra stigmas around age and widowhood.
So who is ‘ageing well’ and who is not? The AgeWatch index combines income, health (including subjective wellbeing), education, employment and ‘enabling environment’ (social connection, physical safety, civil freedom, public transport) into a single index. The website allows you to create your own weighted index if you don’t like the HelpAge version.
The resulting ranking of 91 countries is not that surprising – Sweden, Norway and Germany at the top; Pakistan, Tanzania and Afghanistan at the bottom.
What is more interesting is the comparison with a country’s overall Human Development Index (see graph). Relative to their general population, some countries (Ghana, Mauritius, Nepal and Vietnam) are ensuring a better life for their older people while others (Jordan, Pakistan, Tanzania, Russia, South Korea) are the pits. Among the richer countries, South Korea is a particular outlier – so not surprising perhaps that it has a particular problem of high suicide rates among older people.
Here’s some overall conclusions from the report:
‘The Index shows that good management of ageing is within reach of all governments. The rankings illustrate that limited resources need not be a barrier to countries providing for their older citizens, that a history of progressive social welfare policies makes a difference, and that it is never too soon to prepare for population ageing. A running thread is that action in the key areas of income security and health is essential.
The Index also highlights those lower-income countries that, regardless of their level of wealth, have invested in policies with positive impacts on ageing. In Sri Lanka (36), long-term investments in education and health have had a lifetime benefit for many of today’s older population. Bolivia (46), despite being one of the poorest countries, has had a progressive policy environment for older people for some time, with a National Plan on Ageing, free healthcare for older people, and a non-contributory universal pension.
Nepal (77) ranks 62 in the income security domain, having introduced a basic pension in 1995 for all over-70s without other pension income. Though limited in value and eligibility and with uneven coverage, this is an example of how a low-income country has chosen to make a start in addressing the old-age poverty challenge.’
Ageing populations will be increasingly central to the development debate, whether in terms of their rising absolute numbers, the struggle to put in place welfare systems that can cope, or because any attempt to ‘get to zero’ on absolute poverty is going to have to tackle the hard core of impoverished elderly people for whom market solutions are unlikely to work.
Two diametrically opposed views of Africa appeared in my e-intray on the same day this week. The Financial Times reported that Bob Diamond, ex-boss of scandal-plagued Barclays Bank, had secured the preliminary support of several big institutional investors for Atlas Mara, his planned $250m cash shell, targeting the African banking sector. The FT gushed ‘Africa offers growth potential on a vast scale…. if there is one developing region of the world that still excites bankers confronted with stuttering faith in the traditional emerging markets of Asia and Latin America, it is Africa….. The demographics of the continent are breathtaking. Sub-Saharan Africa alone has a population of about 1bn, which, on many estimates, is set to double over the next three decades. The potential is obvious.’ Update: the ‘cash shell’ actually raised $325m, and starts trading on Friday.
Dani Rodrik on the other hand, had a much less optimistic piece on the Project Syndicate site (hope you’re signed up – it’s great). Rodrik accepts that Africa’s recent growth performance has been impressive.
‘Long viewed as an economic basket case, Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing its best growth performance since the immediate post-independence years. Natural-resource windfalls have helped, but the good news extends beyond resource-rich countries. Countries such as Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda, among others, have grown at East Asian rates since the mid-1990’s. And Africa’s business and political leaders are teeming with optimism about the continent’s future.’
But then he sets about systematically dampening the euphoria. Why? Because there are few signs of the structural changes needed for Africa to keep it going:
‘So far, growth has been driven by a combination of external resources (aid, debt relief, or commodity windfalls) and the removal of some of the worst policy distortions of the past. Domestic productivity has been given a boost by an increase in demand for domestic goods and services (mostly the latter) and more efficient use of resources. The trouble is that it is not clear from whence future productivity gains will come.
The underlying problem is the weakness of these economies’ structural transformation. East Asian countries grew rapidly by replicating, in a much shorter time frame, what today’s advanced countries did following the Industrial Revolution. They turned their farmers into manufacturing workers, diversified their economies, and exported a range of increasingly sophisticated goods.
Little of this process is taking place in Africa. As researchers at the African Center for Economic Transformation in Accra, Ghana, put it, the continent is “growing rapidly, transforming slowly.”
In principle, the region’s potential for labor-intensive industrialization is great. But the aggregate numbers tell a worrying story. Fewer than 10% of African workers find jobs in manufacturing, and among those only a tiny fraction – as low as one-tenth – are employed in modern, formal firms with adequate technology. Distressingly, there has been very little improvement in this regard, despite high growth rates. In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa is less industrialized today than it was in the 1980’s.
As in all developing countries, farmers in Africa are flocking to the cities. And yet, as a recent study from the Groningen Growth and Development Center shows, rural migrants do not end up in modern manufacturing industries, as they did in East Asia, but in services such as retail trade and distribution. Though such services have higher productivity than much of agriculture, they are not technologically dynamic in Africa and have been falling behind the world frontier.
Consider Rwanda, a much-heralded success story where GDP has increased by a whopping 9.6% per year, on average, since 1995 (with per capita incomes rising at an annual rate of 5.2%). Xinshen Diao of the International Food Policy Research Institute has shown that this growth was led by non-tradable services, in particular construction, transport, and hotels and restaurants. The public sector dominates investment, and the bulk of public investment is financed by foreign grants. Foreign aid has caused the real exchange rate to appreciate, compounding the difficulties faced by manufacturing and other tradables.
None of this is to dismiss Rwanda’s progress in reducing poverty, which reflects reforms in health, education, and the general policy environment. Without question, these improvements have raised the country’s potential income. But improved governance and human capital do not necessarily translate into economic dynamism. What Rwanda and other African countries lack are the modern, tradable industries that can turn the potential into reality by acting as the domestic engine of productivity growth.
The African economic landscape’s dominant feature – an informal sector comprising microenterprises, household production, and unofficial activities – is absorbing the growing urban labor force and acting as a social safety net. But the evidence suggests that it cannot provide the missing productive dynamism. Studies show that very few microenterprises grow beyond informality, just as the bulk of successful established firms do not start out as small, informal enterprises.
Optimists say that the good news about African structural transformation has not yet shown up in macroeconomic data. They may well be right. But if they are wrong, Africa may confront some serious difficulties in the decades ahead.
Two decades of economic expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa have raised a young population’s expectations of good jobs without greatly expanding
the capacity to deliver them. These are the conditions that make social protest and political instability likely. Economic planning based on simple extrapolations of recent growth will exacerbate the discrepancy. Instead, African political leaders may have to manage expectations downward, while working to increase the rate of structural transformation and social inclusion.’
The different conclusions largely follow from the different motives: Bob Diamond is aiming to get rich (along with his investor mates) from Africa and in the short term, whereas Dani Rodrik is worrying about the fate of Africans themselves (especially poor ones) in the long term. Shame the two seem to be so delinked. Needless to say, I’m with Dani, but I wish he had a more upbeat story to tell.
Oxfam aid wonk Nicola McIvor explores a highly critical report on one of DfID’s flagship programmes
The problem with being committed to independent evaluation and transparency is that you risk being beaten up in public when things go wrong. Oxfam is accustomed to having our own evaluations quoted against us, which is exactly what happened to DFID last week, when the UK’s aid watchdog, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), gave its first overall ‘red’ traffic light rating to DfID’s Trade Development Work in Southern Africa.
The programme was intended to improve Southern Africa’s trade performance and competitiveness, but was marked red because ICAI uncovered serious “deficiencies in governance, financial management, procurement, value for money and transparency of spending” in TradeMark Southern Africa (TMSA).
The findings in the report are damning:
- The programme merely assumes that it will benefit the poor, but has not linked programme activities to poor people, nor has it mitigated negative impacts, such as increasing food price volatility and unemployment in certain sectors.
- TMSA misreports its performance and DfID does not check those reports properly e.g. TMSA’s summary management report claims that 83% of targets have been met, whereas ICAI looked at detailed project reports and found it met only 21%;
- £67 million of TMSA’s budget was placed in a trust account to attract private finance for the North-South Corridor but has not been spent nor attracted additional funds;
- Excessively high salaries for TMSA staff, with senior TMSA managers receiving higher salaries than UN directors and the Head of TMSA trousering well over £200k per annum;
- A private company is managing a £30.6 million DfID programme without any formal contract with either the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) or DfID;
- TMSA will have made little impact on trade when DfID’s funding ends in 2014.
Aid sceptics will be quick to seize this as an example of ‘corruption’ or ‘waste’, but if aid is to be well-spent this type of transparency is vital and we can’t be reticent about recognising and responding to failure. The more interesting questions arising are: how did the Secretary of State for International Development and DfID respond, and what are the implications for DfID’s future aid for trade?
So how did Justine Greening and DfID deal with this?
The ICAI team were so concerned with what they saw that they alerted DfID back in May shortly after their fieldwork. DfID not only verified a number of ICAI’s concerns but also discovered payments amounting to £80,000 made to the Government of Zimbabwe – in contravention of UK Government policy. Ahead of the publication of ICAI’s report, Secretary of State Justine Greening announced the closure of TMSA.
Greening and DfID’s Permanent Secretary Mark Lowcock were called to give an account of DfID’s actions before The International Development Select Committee. This gave Greening the opportunity to talk about something she has often joked that she does best…auditing. Greening highlighted how this Government has strengthened DfID’s programme and financial management procedures, and has placed a strong emphasis on value for money.
Greening and Lowcock were adamant that TMSA was a case of ‘mismanagement’ as opposed to ‘corruption’ or ‘fraud’, but the case raises much deeper questions about DFID’s approach to aid. Greening had little to say on one of the key points highlighted in ICAI’s report that “neither DfID nor TMSA is doing enough to understand the potential positive impacts or to mitigate against the potential negative impacts on the poor”. Yet the 2002 Development Act clearly states that development assistance must contribute to poverty reduction.
What are the implications for DfID’s aid for trade?
This Government has made trade central to the UK’s approach to development arguing that “trade is the most important driver of growth” and thatgrowth will lead to more jobs, higher incomes and a stronger tax base – essential for poverty reduction and ending aid dependency. However, it is clear that in this case, unjustified assumptions were made about how the benefits of trade integration would trickle down and negative impacts were not considered. This tells a cautionary tale about the relentless pursuit of growth and confirms that not all investment is good investment.
With trade high on DfID’s agenda how will the findings from the TMSA case influence future trade programmes and the aid for trade agenda? What steps will DfID take to more seriously consider impacts on the poor rather than merely assuming such benefits will accrue?
Greening recently visited Tanzania with a high-level business delegation and announced a new fund to improve trade competitiveness in East Africa, as part of TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) – an initiative that has received a lot of praise. The report notes that TMEA is structured differently to TMSA, enabling it to be more independent and not donor driven, but how will DfID ensure that this time really is different? What steps has it taken to analyse the impact of this initiative on the poor from the outset and throughout implementation? What analysis has DfID done on the use of trade and poverty linkages to improve learning and make sure that other programmes don’t make the same mistakes?
It is also concerning that £67 million of UK aid has been sitting in a trust fund instead of being used to deliver real results for the poor. This use of trust funds has become increasingly common in development among a range of actors including UN agencies, bilateral donors like DfID and development banks such as the European Investment Bank and the World Bank. Despite DfID’s leadership in aid transparency, it is not clear from DfID’s website how much UK taxpayers’ money is currently in trust funds.
Finally, this is not the first time that ICAI has voiced concern over DfID’s management and capacity for oversight. ICAI’s report on DfID’s use of contractors also flagged problems with DfID’s management of programmes’ lifecycles, DfID staff turnover and ability to capture learning. Whilst there are of course pros and cons for a more arms length approach, the key to a successful programme is ensuring a focus on what impact it will have on the poorest and taking action to mitigate any negative impact. ICAI recommend that as a prerequisite of any future trade development programme, DfID should undertake comprehensive analysis of the impact on poor people.
This story has, in many ways, shown the system working as it should: ICAI is proving its value; the Development Select Committee quickly supported ICAI; and the initial response from DfID has been swift, decisive and open. But DfID must now address the wider questions this report raises.
I was surprised not to see more coverage of last week’s hard-hitting report from the Global Financial Integrity watchdog. Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries: 2002-2011 has a whole bunch of killer facts about the escalating haemorrhage of wealth from poor countries. Here are some highlights. My additions in square brackets/italics:
“We estimate that illicit financial outflows from the developing world totalled a staggering US$946.7 billion in 2011, with cumulative illicit financial outflows over the decade between 2002 and 2011 of US$5.9 trillion. [By way of comparison, total global aid in 2011 was $134bn (not mn as first printed -thanks to all of you who pointed this out) – 14% of illicit flows - and has fallen since, even as illicit flows keep booming. Want that as a soundbite? ‘For every dollar of aid, the South loses $7 in illicit outflows; developing countries are losing $2.6 bn a day/$108m per hour/$2m per minute/$30,000 per second’.]
This gives further evidence to the notion that illicit financial flows are the most devastating economic issue impacting the global South. Large as these numbers are, perhaps the most distressing take-away from the study is just how fast illicit financial flows are growing. Adjusted for inflation, illicit financial flows out of developing countries increased by an average of more than 10 percent per year over the decade. Left unabated, one can only expect these numbers to continue an upward trend.
The pattern of illicit outflows, trend rate of growth, and impact in terms of GDP all vary significantly among the five regions. Asia accounts for 39.6 percent of total illicit outflows from developing countries, the largest share of illicit flows among the regions, and six of the top 15 exporters of illicit capital are Asian countries (China, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines). Developing Europe (21.5 percent) and the Western Hemisphere (19.6 percent) contribute almost equally to total illicit outflows.
While outflows from Europe are mainly driven by Russia, those from the Western Hemisphere are driven by Mexico and Brazil. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region accounts for 11.2 percent of total outflows on average. MENA’s share increased significantly from just 3 percent of total outflows in 2002, reaching a peak of 18.5 percent in 2009, before falling to 12 percent in 2011. In comparison, Africa’s share increased from just 3.9 percent in 2002, reaching a peak of 11.1 percent just before the Great Recession set in (2007), before declining to 7 percent in 2011, roughly on par with its average of 7.7 percent over the decade.
The volume of total outflows as a share of developing countries’ GDP increased from 4.0 percent in 2002 to 4.6 percent in 2005. Since then, barring a few upticks, illicit outflows have generally been on a declining trend relative to GDP, and were 3.7 percent in 2011. While Africa has the smallest nominal share of regional illicit outflows (7.7 percent) over the period studied, it has the highest average illicit outflows to GDP ratio (5.7 percent), suggesting that the loss of capital has an outsized impact on the continent. [Got that? The poorest continent has the biggest problem of illicit outflows]
The MENA region registered the fastest trend rate of growth in illicit outflows over the period studied (31.5 percent per annum) followed by Africa (20.2 percent), developing Europe (13.6 percent), Asia (7.5 percent), and Latin America (3.1 percent). The sharply faster rate of growth in illicit outflows from the MENA region is probably related to the rise in oil prices.
Trade misinvoicing comprises the major portion of illicit flows (roughly 80 percent on average). Balance of payments leakages fluctuate considerably and have generally trended upwards from just 14.2 percent of total outflows in 2002 to 19.4 percent in 2011.
[Statistical analysis shows that] An increase in corruption increases trade misinvoicing while capital account openness leads to greater export misinvoicing in both directions if openness is not accompanied by stronger governance. In fact, as the experience of developed countries shows, greater openness and liberalization in an environment of weak regulatory oversight can actually generate more illicit flows.’ [So by making it easier for people to shift $, liberalization risks making things worse not better, which fits with the rapid rise in volumes of illicit flows]
Maybe one reason for the lack of coverage is that the report is a bit, errm, boring. It fizzles out just when advocacy should have come in to follow up the number crunching, and the format is very old school, with none of the razamatazz required to get a buzz going – infographics, animations, short video presentations etc. But the content is excellent, so could someone out there give the data geeks a hand with the advocacy and comms next time?
A few of us were asked recently to unpack one of this year’s fuzzwords – leverage. A fuzzword is a buzzword, but fuzzier – all things to all people etc. So here’s what we came up with – not final, work in progress etc.
Leverage is working strategically with others in a ‘clever’ way, in order to lever a bigger change than we could ever achieve on our own. It depends on developing a rich web of mutually beneficial relationships and alliances at country, regional and global level. Leverage emerges out of that connectivity.
The starting point is strong, dynamic networks
As far as possible, we need to know people and earn their trust before trying to leverage their involvement.
This means being part of a complex, interdependent and dynamic web of relationships. In this network there are two-way flows of tangible benefits such as funding, revenue, insurance as well as two-way flows of intangible benefits such as knowledge, access to ideas, credibility, influence, real-time data, client/beneficiary perspectives, market information, ability to mobilise large numbers of people, etc.
Such networks may include government departments, specialist INGOs, local networks, local NGOs, private sector businesses, high profile figures, academic institutions and, of course, community members and leaders.
For example, in Oxfam’s work on olive oil in Palestine we have links with the Coady institute in Canada who are world leaders in market facilitation approaches; we have significantly deepened our cooperation with proficient local partners who now work as a single programme team; we have built working relations at all levels with the Palestinian Authority; we have supported the establishment of cooperatives for women and men and are creating autonomous farmers’ federations. We have developed links with the private sector in country, in the Gulf and in Europe and we have used research to deepen our knowledge of the sector and the market. This network is creating the conditions for change that go beyond benefits for a limited number of direct beneficiaries to affect whole olive oil sector.
This approach is not new. For decades Oxfam has been building trust and linkages with a wide range of actors from village to global level in order to combat injustice and poverty.
A leverage approach means we must systematically strengthen these networks at all levels. Leverage is about being far sighted as to what we want to achieve, clear sighted and strategic about who will do it and especially, astute about understanding what kind of actions will create the alliances and momentum we need in order to bring about the big changes we seek.
A menu of approaches: 10 ways to exert leverage
The following approaches fall along a spectrum from innovative to ‘business as usual’. In practice, approaches are likely to combine more than one of these categories. The list is not exhaustive – there are bound to be other variants
1. Leverage through convening/brokering
Bringing a wide range of actors together to work collaboratively within their shared interest
2. Leverage through new modality
Introducing a new business model, new technology or new delivery mechanism to reach greater numbers for lower cost
3. Leverage through exploiting global capability
Maximising the knowledge, networks, know how, systems and reach across Oxfam GB and the confederation to bring significantly more value to key stakeholders
4. Leverage through advocacy
Pressing for duty bearers to take up their responsibility to act, e.g. to provide services, enforce laws, (Covers spectrum from insider (research -> advocacy) to outsider (public campaign))
5. Leverage through peer-to-peer adoption
Supporting the spread of new community or household level models and techniques to neighbouring villages and districts. One method is social franchising (making it clear to others how to copy what you’ve done. Another is frugal innovation (making it purposefully cheap for others to copy or scale what you’ve done)
6. Leverage through replication
Developing an effective model that is then adopted and adapted by other organisations or government institutions
7. Leverage through pyramid selling approaches, for example to change public attitudes
- We Can End Violence Against Women campaign
8. Leverage through building capacity
Building capacity of key organisations/departments and their staff in government, private sector or NGOs via training, study tours, internships and exchanges
9. Leverage through releasing community potential
Catalysing the effective organisation and use of the physical, natural, cultural, financial, political, institutional and creative assets that are present in communities
10. Leverage through ‘grow and go’
Growing independent organisations that go and take on their own life either by creating incubation space for emerging organisations or by spinning off projects into new organisations
- Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) begun by Oxfam and then hosted within Oxfam has taken on its own life and is now a separate Southern network
- New Internationalist magazine, Fairtrade Foundation etc
Feel free to critique, suggest new categories, add examples (plus links) etc
How can campaigners tap corporate largesse without undermining their credibility? Unlocking millions for advocacy
It’s great to be accidentally topical. In the week that Save the Children had to fend off allegations of letting corporate funding influence its campaigns, here’s Oxfam America’s Chris Jochnick (@cjochnick) suggesting a way to accept money (in this case from extractive industries) while staying demonstrably independent
Oxfam was recently approached by a major mining company to help it implement “free prior and informed consent” (FPIC). The company (rightly) anticipated that it would face future conflict if it didn’t earn community support for its project. It needed an organization with the expertise, credibility and relationships to help it manage this process.
For Oxfam, this was a great opportunity – our local partners would have likely supported it, we’ve been championing FPIC for many years, and here was a chance to help implement it in a credible, robust manner with an influential actor. We turned it down – in no small part because of the expense. The company would have been happy to cover our costs, but we couldn’t accept payment. Our campaigning around extractive industries makes it impossible to take money from oil or mining companies.
It’s a common story. As a general rule, donors won’t pay for corporate advocacy or engagement (see interesting breakdown on human rights funding here); and credible advocates won’t take money from company targets. Community groups lack funds to engage with companies meaningfully, and better-resourced NGOs are loath to deploy scarce funds to advise or mediate around conflicts. Those companies out to make good faith efforts to address complex challenges will lack for credible partners and intermediaries (a common lament). The result: watchdogs stick to “naming and shaming”; companies hire consultants; problems fester.
This situation is only getting worse. Companies seeking resources, markets and cheap labor are moving aggressively into poorly-governed countries, exacerbating conflicts and raising a host of new challenges. Efforts to address this “governance gap” have led to a dizzying array of voluntary and global standards, capped by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (with 1700 people attending the most recent UN Business and Human Rights Forum), but oversight is lacking and funding for these initiatives is woeful.
Multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSIs) bring companies and advocates together (e.g. the Fair Labor Association, the Roundtable on Responsible Palm Oil, the Global Network Initiative), but these initiatives are not aimed at funding watchdogs, and, not surprisingly, they struggle to attract and engage advocates. Oxfam recently dropped out of a large MSI targeting oil and mining companies (the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights) in good part because we couldn’t justify the use of staff resources in a process that lacked adequate accountability measures. Other large NGOs — Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First – have similar dilemmas; smaller watchdogs – local NGOs, community groups, social movements face even more significant hurdles and are rarely present.
Companies recognize that their bottom line and reputations rely on getting out front of conflicts and have increasingly recognized and adopted human rights commitments. Implementation is now high on everyone’s agenda and watchdogs and stakeholders need to be in that mix. Companies are willing to pay for it. So how do we tap ready and willing corporate largesse for a field that is starving for resources?
A genuine solution to this problem – a “Watchdog Fund” – would have to meet four conditions:
- Garner corporate funds. In theory, the Fund could be subsidized by a small tax on companies in high risk industries. For governments truly intent on addressing conflict and corruption, underwriting civil society engagement makes eminent sense (though may raise additional issues for watchdogs). Recent legislation in India requiring companies to devote 2% of net profits to corporate social responsibility offers a possible model (interesting blog analyzing it); but in reality, we are still a ways off. In lieu of that, companies will have to be sufficiently incentivized to fund watchdogs. Many companies will have an interest in stronger civil society groups to address complex problems, help level the playing field and advise on novel issues. Companies commonly pay for the right to participate in MSIs that aim to raise standards and bolster transparency/accountability (however weakly) and companies are willing to partner with (and pay for) credible stakeholders. The challenge would be to attract investments in an independent fund, over which companies might have some loose call on services. That’s probably easiest with a handful of companies working on a particular challenge like FPIC or human rights grievance mechanisms (there are many such platforms already bringing companies together).
- Designate funding for credible watchdogs. There is no shortage of good environmental, development and even human rights-minded NGOs ready to take funds from any company; but by definition, these groups are too beholden to the companies to serve as credible watchdogs or intermediaries. The Fund would need to target a more “radical”/independent mix of organizations, prepared to work on some particular challenge involving contributing companies.
- Define a set of “transformative” activities. The Fund would need to focus on activities that currently go unfunded and that get to the root of complex problems. In particular, the Fund should empower marginalized stakeholders (capacity-building, rights awareness, logistical support for engagement) and foster accountability (transparency initiatives, implementation of rights, oversight processes). It might also fund ‘learning by doing’ experimentation – in complex systems, we often don’t know the answers in advance.
- Attract willing watchdogs. This constitutes the main challenge. Credible watchdogs will tend to be suspicious of anything that benefits (or is paid for by) a corporate adversary. For good reason, watchdogs would assume the Fund is aimed at coopting stakeholders and quelling legitimate protests. Green-washing, dividing and conquering, bribing adversaries are familiar approaches of companies operating in conflict environments. Watchdogs will assume similar shenanigans from the Fund and will be reluctant to risk their reputation and credibility by taking part. However, even the most radical organizations take money from foundations with ties to Wall Street and watchdog organizations have willingly joined initiatives funded and driven by company interests (e.g. the various MSIs above).
The key is credible independence – in fact and perception. The Fund would need to be managed in such a way as to convince watchdogs that the financial backers – the company targets – were not influencing the designation of funding. To that end, the Fund would need some kind of a third party institution to control the funds, with credible leadership (e.g. watchdogs on the board), decision-making independent of company donors, no single company representing more than X% of funds, etc.
For a Fund to attract both companies and advocates remains a stretch; but both the demand and opportunity for it grows. The global funding universe for corporate watchdogs could be easily doubled by tapping corporate funds; and forward-leaning companies would be well-served by the investment. A foundation looking to leverage its own funding in this area could do worse than designate some modest funds to exploring the possibilities.
Erinch Sahan (right), a private sector policy advisor at Oxfam GB, brings us up to date with the Behind the Brands campaign, and one particularly recalcitrant company.
This is a story of a campaign on Big Food. A campaign successful in moving a bunch of companies, but struggling with one in particular. It is a story of corporate responsibility, of philanthropy vs transparency, rights and voice. It’s a story of Associated British Foods (ABF).
Here’s the campaign
One of our largest corporate-focused campaigns ever, Behind the Brands, is gathering momentum. It focuses on the world’s 10 largest food and drinks companies (the Big 10), challenging them to improve policies on gender, workers, smallholders, land, water, climate change and transparency. These giants of the food trade not only shape what happens in their own operations and supply chains, but set standards that many others follow. With great power (collectively the Big 10 generate $1.1 bn a day), comes great responsibility (was Spiderman really the source for that?). Hence the campaign.
Since we launched in February, we’ve seen the three chocolate giants (Nestle, Mars and Mondelez) take steps to remove the barriers women cocoa farmers face. We’ve seen Coca-Cola release new guiding principles for suppliers on water, General Mills release new sustainable sourcing commitments, Nestle strengthen its commitment to community land rights and Unilever commit to providing training and implement grievance mechanisms for women in their supply chain.
Most impressively, last month Coca Cola made a commitment to land rights for communities affected by land acquisitions. Coke’s move is already starting to resonate through the industry, as suppliers and peers begin to take the issue of community land rights more seriously. Our approach of highlighting the strengths and shortcomings of these global companies seems to be working and we’re sticking with it.
At the heart of the campaign is a scorecard (see below), assessing the policies and commitments of each company, through 276 indicators spanning 7 themes. It was nerdish heaven leading the team of Oxfam super-wonks in putting this together.
ABF languishes at the bottom of the scorecard. Industry insiders and the Guardian tell us that ABF is a different beast. While it owns and runs household food and beverage brands like Twinings, Ovaltine, Kingsmill and Jordan’s, its flagship brand is Primark, a clothing retailer. Unlike the other 9 companies, it also runs sugar farms around the world (it’s the parent of British Sugar and Illovo). It’s a diverse company with seemingly decentralised decision-making.
Sure, ABF is different, but the other nine aren’t identical either. Mars is a private company and Unilever has a major non-food business (shampoos, deodorants etc). While the companies Behind the Brands compares aren’t quite apples and oranges, they are different varieties of apples. ABF is the most different of these ‘apples’, both structurally and culturally. It also says the least about how it does business, which suggests it’s also the ‘bad apple’ among the big 10.
ABF as a company is not as famous as Coca Cola or PepsiCo. So we, and our supporters, have begun focusing on their brands, asking them, via Facebook and Twitter, to tell their parent company to adopt a zero tolerance policy on land grabs. We’ve also been turning up at a few of their brand offices (see picture from Melbourne Australia below, you can tell from the t-shirts and sun), reminding them that more is expected from their parent company.
Here’s ABF’s reaction
ABF has either ignored or dismissed Behind the Brands. When we launched in February, the scorecard showed that ABF discloses less about their supply chains than any of the Big 10. We characterised this as a “veil of secrecy”. Their reaction was to call this “ridiculous”.
ABF’s fresh-off-the-press Corporate Responsibility report (their first since 2010) does, however, include some encouraging steps, including an adoption of a supplier code and some information on the ingredients they buy for their brands. But there remains a gaping hole on the rights agenda, particularly on land rights.
In October, we highlighted the critical role they play (along with Coca Cola and PepsiCo) in the sugar trade, in our report Sugar Rush. We asked each company to commit to a zero tolerance policy for land grabs. ABF’s response, through their subsidiary Illovo (the largest sugar producer in Africa):
“Oxfam criticises ABF and Illovo for refusing to sign a pledge on land ownership. Pledges are cheap and plentiful. The history of Africa is full of them. The true test of any organisation is what it actually does. ABF and Illovo prefer to act on their beliefs and standards rather than pontificate about them.”
So we turned up at their AGM last Friday, handing out leaflets highlighting to shareholders that ABF should implement a zero tolerance policy for land grabs because: (a) this would help some of the poorest people in the world who are losing their land due to land grabbing; and (b) it’s good for business to prevent land disputes and show leadership on this increasingly important issue. Most shareholders were receptive but when Oxfam supporters asked questions inside the event, ABF senior management formally dismissed the idea.
What we’ve learned
ABF says, and genuinely believes, that it is a good company that does not need civil society to drive its sustainability agenda. From what we can tell, its preferred approach is to find a problem and fix it. This explains why ABF, via Primark, took a leadership role in reaction to the Rana Plaza disaster, where it was the first company to publicly commit to paying compensation and signed up (with more than 80 other brands) to a legally binding building safety agreement backed by trade unions and the Bangladeshi government.
But Oxfam isn’t presenting ABF with a disaster to address, only a complex growing global problem which ABF has a part to play in preventing.We do know of reports of ABF being involved in land disputes (including one in Mali portrayed in this documentary) but the thrust of our campaign isn’t “here’s where you’ve done something wrong, now please fix it”; it is to ask for policies that prevent land grabs and for major players like ABF to help make free, prior and informed consent an accepted principle when dealing with community land rights.
Critically for us, the whole ‘race to the top’ strategy, which has worked so well with other companies, has been met, so far, with a stubborn refusal by ABF to move. But we aren’t giving up on them quite yet. We and our supporters will keep telling ABF that when it comes to land rights, its refusal to explicitly accept that communities should have the right to free, prior and informed consent is not good enough. We stand ready to highlight any positive steps the company takes.
From philanthropy to transparency, rights and voice
We don’t judge the morality of ABF or its management. It does many good things, including through some incredibly generous philanthropy. It sources sugar from smallholder cane growers in Africa and generates jobs in some of the poorest parts of the world. But corporate responsibility is moving on from philanthropy to transparency, rights and voice, and ABF risks being left on the wrong side of history. Progressive companies now increasingly disclose key elements of their business (including details of supply chains and policies) to demonstrate accountability. They stand behind human rights publicly, a systemic commitment that goes beyond charitable efforts to benefit workers, smallholders and communities.
Of course, there’s always the issue of policy vs practice when it comes to CSR. But there doesn’t have to be a trade off. A good company can both stand behind core rights through policies and adopt systems to ensure they are implemented. Though this requires transparency and a confidence in being open about how you do business.
With Coca Cola’s bold step, the land rights of communities are increasingly becoming a mainstream CSR issue. But while rights may be the new black (and the foundation of all corporate responsibility), voice is the next black. Leader companies give workers, smallholders and communities a voice, a real say over the impacts business decisions have over their lives. Laggards don’t. ABF needs to catch up. And when it does, we will be the first to trumpet its decision.
It’s private sector week here on FP2P. First up, NGOs have been pushing the living wage in their engagement with international companies for at least 15 years, but Rachel Wilshaw, Oxfam’s Ethical Trade Manager reckons we might be on the verge of some kind of victory.
The issue of a living wage is going up the corporate responsibility agenda. Last month, I blogged during Living Wage week about its importance to address in-work poverty. Here I want to discuss the drivers and blockers for a living wage in global supply chains and describe some promising new initiatives that could get things moving.
A commitment to a living wage has been incorporated into the better codes of labour practice – ETI Base Code, SA8000 – since the late 1990s. 27,000 members of one member organisation alone – Sedex – use the ETI code in addition to the direct members of ETI. Yet for a decade, the element stating that ‘Living wages are paid’ has merely been debated, not implemented (with a few exceptions such as Marks & Spencer in garments and Finlays in fresh produce), with companies citing a daunting set of ‘blockers’ that outweigh the ‘drivers’.
Five years ago two innovations came along to help remove some of the blockers: the Asia Floor Wage campaign, and wage ladder tools.
Asia Floor Wage – a credible methodology for calculating a living wage: This was an initiative of the Asia Floor Wage Alliance in 2009 – a coalition of workers’ organisations in the continent where 80% of global garment production occurs. With support from allies in Europe and the USA, the coalition developed a credible methodology for calculating a wage level based on a ‘family basket’ derived from calorie needs and Consumer Price Indices, assuming that a living wage needs to support two adults and two children. The method enables comparison across countries and figures are updated annually.
Wage ladders – illustrate both the problem and ‘what good looks like’: The innovation of wage ladders – graphics that show wage levels in relation to wage and poverty benchmarks – came from multi-stakeholder dialogue in the garment sector around 2006. Oxfam and Ethical Tea Partnership then borrowed the idea for our study, Understanding wages in the tea industry. The wage ladders developed for us by Ergon clearly illustrate that the wages of tea pluckers in Malawi and Assam fall well below the poverty line, despite meeting the legal minimum.
Oxfam used the ladder tool in another study undertaken with Unilever (see simplified version below). This backed up testimony from workers we interviewed, that wages were well short of a Living Wage, despite easily exceeding the minimum (p.70).
And in our recent Poverty Footprint study of fresh produce with IPL, we used the AFW methodology to calculate that wages of flower workers around Nairobi could be doubled for an additional 5p on a £4 bunch of roses.
The World Banana Forum also used wage ladders to promote understanding of sustainability challenges in the banana industry and develop a plan with social dialogue at its heart.
The Asia Floor Wage provides concrete figures from a grassroots workers’ movement, while wage ladders communicate the issue to a business audience. Oxfam’s experience is that taken together, these have helped companies better understand our concerns about poverty wages and to make commitments to address them.For instance, a new collaboration is bringing together the tea industry, NGOs and trade unions with support from European companies, certifiers and development agencies. We presented this last week with Ethical Tea Partnership at an international European Conference on Living Wages in Berlin, at which other initiatives were announced, including one by the world’s second-largest clothing retailer, H&M. Starting with two factories in Bangladesh and one in Cambodia, to which it will pay higher wholesale prices. The Swedish company has committed to achieve a ‘fair living wage’ for 850,000 workers in 750 factories by 2018.
Other relevant initiatives and resources include the new Fairwear report, ETI’s Living Wage round-up, the FLA’s Fair Wage Dimensions, Impactt’s Benefits for Business and Workers report, campaigns by Clean Clothes Campaign, Labour behind the Label and War on Want, and more widely the Play Fair protocol and the Bangladesh Accord.
2013 has been a year for cautious optimism that the poverty wages highlighted by campaign reports for more than a decade are finally moving up corporate agendas and starting to result in meaningful action. We hope the innovations and initiatives highlighted here help more companies to embrace this agenda.
This guest rant of mine appeared in the OECD’s Development Cooperation Report 2013, published last week. The report, subtitled ‘Ending Poverty‘, is worth a skim – it’s a good survey of current debates on poverty and aid, with contributions from piles of wonks, followed by a donor-by-donor aid overview.
A necessary starting point in any discussion of ending poverty is “What do we mean by poverty?” The answer to that question has proved surprisingly fluid in recent years, as crude income definitions of poverty have come under intellectual challenge from a number of quarters (a recurring theme in this Development Co-operation Report).
As long ago as the 1990s, the World Bank’s ground-breaking Voices of the Poor study uncovered a narrative of anxiety, fear and shame – being poor is worrying about what happens if the rickshaw-driving breadwinner has an accident, if a child gets sick and the hospital charges exorbitant fees, if a daughter gets married, or if someone dies and requires an expensive funeral.
Over the past five years, multiple shocks – financial, food prices, climatic and others – have added to this narrative, driving home the importance of volatility as a source of vulnerability in the lives of poor people. More recently, national governments around the world – supported by the OECD and others – have invested seriously in devising new ways to measure well-being and the multiple aspects of poverty beyond income.
This more sophisticated understanding of the nature of poverty means, alas, that “getting to zero” is a chimera because multidimensional poverty is much broader and more entrenched than mere income poverty. Nevertheless, it takes the development debate in important and positive directions in terms of policy (witness the increased emphasis on smoothing mechanisms such as social protection to combat volatility and vulnerability).
Perhaps more importantly, it encourages us to engage with the essentially political nature of poverty, i.e. seeing poverty in terms of power. The Oxfam book From Poverty to Power explains the underlying process of development as the renegotiation and redistribution of power. Power resembles an invisible force field that both links and influences individuals and social groups. The task of those wishing to promote development is first to make such power visible – by understanding how it operates in each situation – and then to understand how power shifts and can be influenced by aid agencies, political movements or civil society organisations.
Oxfam’s experience suggests that power is renegotiated through a combination of both steady and occasionally abrupt change. Steady change grows out of the daily grind of governance and politics and the wonderfully intense public conversation between citizens’ organisations, faith groups, the private sector, the media, academics and policy makers. It propels evolutionary change: the slow but inexorable transformation of attitudes, such as towards the role of women.
There are also moments of rapid shifts in power, driven by wars, economic crises, failures and scandals. Such shocks often provide crucial windows of opportunity in which decision makers suddenly become open to new ideas and answers. For example, it may well take major climate shocks in high greenhouse gas-emitting countries and a consequent political (and perhaps literal) meltdown to open doors and minds to the kinds of drastic solutions needed to avert catastrophic climate change.
Seeing development in terms of a shift from poverty to power induces a welcome sense of optimism. Despite periodic crackdowns by frightened elites, power has indeed been redistributed broadly over the course of the past century: in 1914, only New Zealand, Australia, Finland and Norway allowed women equal voting rights to men; by 1979, a woman’s right to vote had become a universal right under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
The assertion of power by people living in poverty is both an end in itself – a crucial kind of freedom – and a means for building social institutions (the state, the market, the community, and the family) that respect people’s rights and meet their needs through laws, rules, policies and day-to-day practices. When individuals join together to challenge discrimination against specific groups – for example, against women, indigenous communities or disabled people – they can transform the institutions that oppress them into ones that serve them.
In contrast to portraying poor people as passive “victims” (of disasters, or poverty, or famine) or as “beneficiaries” (of aid, or social services), this development vision places poor people’s own actions centre stage. In the words of Bangladeshi academic Naila Kabeer, “From a state of powerlessness that manifests itself in a feeling of ‘I cannot’, activism contains an element of collective self-confidence that results in a feeling of ‘We can’.”
The shift from poverty to power is often an extremely local process (even within households, in the case of violence against women), and this raises important challenges for us as outsiders seeking to promote development in poor countries. It means learning to negotiate the fine line between effectiveness and interference. It also means accepting a more humble role in the drama of development: the primary actors are national and the impacts of outside interventions, for good or ill, are probably less extensive than many of us thought.
Getting anywhere near to ending poverty is an inherently political process. The sooner we do-gooders embrace such an understanding, the more likely we are to provide the sort of support that will make a lasting difference.
And here (h/t Ben Phillips) is Mandela’s first ever TV interview, in 1961, while he was in hiding in South Africa.
India dominates many debates on development – home to a third of the world’s absolute (<$1.25 a day) poor, the world’s biggest democracy, an emerging power with a space programme, a buzzing beehive of political and social activism and experimentation. With their new book, An Uncertain Glory, Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen have given us a brilliant introduction to India’s political and economic ferment, setting out a powerful manifesto on what is wrong with the country, and what needs to change.
The model of change set out in the book combines active citizenship (Dreze’s speciality – he has been centrally involved in some of India’s most renowned social victories, such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, NREGA – with a commitment to democracy as an act of public reasoning (Sen’s stock in trade).
If I have one criticism of the book, it is with this model of change. It reads a bit like a traditional NGO treatise (OK, rather better researched): here’s the problem, here’s the solution. Now get on with it. Lots of policies, but not much on the politics of how such ideas might come to fruition.
The book sees the drivers of change as expanding education (albeit slower than elsewhere), progressive legislation such as the Right to Information Act, corruption-curbing technology, decentralization and long term shifts in social norms. But the dualism between (good) citizens and (bad/lazy/venal) politicians remains pretty stark: beyond citizen action and public debate, not much sense of how such social and political earthquakes might occur – who are the allies in positions of power? Why so little on religion as both a driver and blocker of change? What coalitions are feasible? What critical junctures may be needed to disrupt the political stasis? What, in short are the politics of successful reform?
The commitment to an activist form of democracy is picked up in one of the book’s intellectual threads – the comparison between China and India, not on who’s going to be the big superpower (left), but on social progress.
India’s commitment to democracy was a unique experiment in such a poor country and has both been an achievement in itself, and a means of avoiding the famines that have characterized autocracies, including China (one of Sen’s most famous contributions has been to show that democracy leads to the avoidance of famine). But beyond that, when it comes to ending poverty and ensuring the right to everything from decent education to flush toilets, China has been far more successful.
Dreze and Sen focus on inequality, delving into India’s ‘unique cocktail of lethal divisions and disparities’– class, gender, caste, religion (see yesterday’s post for their brilliant overview on caste).
The over-riding feature of this inequality, both as symptom and cause, is the ‘Indian folly’ of an abysmal education system. There is a fantastic quote from Tagore: ‘the imposing tower of misery that today rests on the heart of India has its sole foundation in the absence of education’. The origins of the education crisis go all the way back to independence – India’s first five year plan in 1951 favoured self-financing handicraft as the best way for poor children to learn.
An Uncertain Glory explores India’s miserable underperformance on health and education relative to neighbours such as Bangladesh and Nepal, even while its economy has grown much faster. Over 40% of India’s kids are underweight, compared to 25% in Sub-Saharan Africa, yet children’s weights did not improve during a growth surge from 1998-2005 and anaemia even increased. It takes a particular brand of incompetence and neglect for decades of stellar growth to have no apparent impact on India’s sky-high levels of under-nutrition.
The disparity with Bangladesh is in large part down to the position of women, combined with a focus on basic health care and elementary education. Some stats: Proportion of households practicing open defecation – India 55%; Bangladesh 8%. Proportion of fully immunized 1-2 year olds: India 44%; Bangladesh 82%. I would love to read the equivalent book on how Bangladesh has so comprehensively outperformed its giant neighbour. Any suggestions?
Regional variations within India provide just as much ammunition to social reformers. Kerala’s track record is well established, but Tamil Nadu is if anything even more impressive. On issues such as missing women (the result of the increasing use of sex-selective abortion), there is a diagonal fault line dividing India between progressive, effective states to the East and South, and the opposite in the West and North.
An Uncertain Glory covers all the standard issues – social protection, targeting v universalism, cash transfers v food, private v public, but also a few non-usual suspects, (energy, the role of the media) and is a goldmine of killer facts for activists. The writing is more punchy and accessible than Sen’s normally pretty unfathomable prose – presumably down to Dreze’s influence as an activist and ‘organic intellectual’.
The book ends with a wonderful quote from Ambrose Bierce: ‘Patience is a minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue’. To those impatient with India’s failure to turn democracy and growth into a new life for hundreds of millions of its citizens, this book will be a godsend.
This excerpt comes from An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions, a wonderful new book from Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen. Review tomorrow.
‘It is often argued that caste discrimination has subsided a great deal in the 20th Century. Given the intensity of caste discrimination in India’s past, this is true enough, without making the present situation particularly close to equality. In large parts of India, in the old days, Dalits were not allowed to wear sandals, ride bicycles, enter temples or sit on a chair in the presence of higher castes – to give just a few examples of the vicious system of humiliation and subjugation that had developed around the caste system.
Many of these discriminatory practices have indeed declined or disappeared, thanks to the spread of education, movements of social reform, constitutional safeguards, as well as economic development, and also, of course, growing political resistance from the victims of discrimination.
This trend is far from uniform. Some caste prejudices, such as the disapproval of inter-caste marriages, remain rather strong today among many social groups. And while caste divisions are subsiding in large parts of the country and society, they have also been making inroads where they did not exist earlier, for instance among various Adivasi, Muslim, Sikh and Christian communities. More importantly, however, caste continues to be an important instrument of power in Indian society, even where the caste system has lost some of its earlier barbarity and brutality…..
The dominance of the upper castes seems to be, if anything, even stronger in institutions of ‘civil society’ than in state institutions. For instance, in Allahabad the share of the upper castes is around 80% among NGO representatives and trade union leaders, close to 90% in the executive committee of the Bar Association, and a full 100% among office bearers in the Press Club. Even trade unions of workers who belong mainly to disadvantaged castes are often under the control of upper-caste leaders. There is some food for thought here about the tendency even of anti-establishment movements in India to reproduce, within their own political activities, images of the old divisions……
One of the barriers to rectifying caste-based discrimination is that caste has become virtually unmentionable in polite society in India, not just because any caste-based practice has to face legal challenge but also because any kind of caste consciousness is taken to be socially retrograde and reactionary. This can be superficially justified as a contribution to the obliteration of caste consciousness, but it does not help to understand the world for what it is, let alone change it.’
How do you measure the difficult stuff (empowerment, resilience) and whether any change is attributable to your role?
In one of his grumpier moments, Owen Barder recently branded me as ‘anti-data’, which (if you think about it for a minute) would be a bit weird foranyone working in the development sector. The real issue is of course, what kind of data tell you useful things about different kinds of programme, and how you collect them. If people equate ‘data’ solely with ‘numbers’, then I think we have a problem.
To try and make sense of this, I’ve been talking to a few of our measurement wallahs, expecially the ones who are working on a bright, shiny new acronym – take a bow HTMB: Hard to Measure Benefits. That’s women’s empowerment, policy influence or resilience rather than bed nets or vaccinations. It fits nicely with the discussion on complex systems (Owen’s pronouncement came after we helped launch Ben Ramalingam’s book Aid on the Edge of Chaos).
Necessary v Sufficient: there was an exchange recently during the debates around the Open Government summit. IDS researcher Duncan Edwards pointed out that it simply cannot be proven that to “provide access to data/information –> some magic occurs –> we see positive change.” To which a transparency activist replied ‘it’s necessary, even if not sufficient’.
But the aid business if full of ‘necessary-but-not-sufficient’ factors – good laws and policies (if they aren’t implemented); information and data; corporate codes of conduct; aid itself. And that changes the nature of results and measurement. If what you are doing is necessary but not sufficient, then there is no point waiting for the end result and working backwards, because nothing observable has happened yet (unless you’re happy to wait for several decades, and then try and prove attribution).
Example: funding progressive movements that are taking on a repressive government. Can you only assess impact after/if the revolution happens? No, you have to find ways of measuring progress, which are likely to revolve around systematically gathering other people’s opinions of what you have been doing.
Even if the revolution does come, you need to establish whether any of it can be attributed to your contributions – how much of the Arab Spring was down to your little grant or workshop?! Process tracing is interesting here – you not only investigate whether the evidence supports your hypothesis that your intervention contributed, but also consider alternative narratives about other possible causes. You then make a judgement call about the relative plausibility of different versions of events.
Counterfactuals when N=1: Counterfactuals are wonderful things – find a comparable sample where the intervention has not happened, and if your selection is sufficiently rigorous, any difference between the two samples should be down to your intervention. But what about when N=1? We recently had a campaign on Coca Cola which was rapidly followed by the company shifting its policy on land grabs. What’s the counterfactual there – Pepsi?! Far more convincing to talk to Coke management, or industry watchers, and get their opinion on the reasons for the policy change, and our role within it.
All of these often-derided ‘qual’ methods can of course be used rigorously, or sloppily (just like quantitative ones).
Accountability v Learning: What are we doing all this measurement for? In practice M&E (monitoring and evaluation) often take precedence over L (Learning), because the main driver of the whole exercise is accountability to donors and/or political paymasters. That means ‘proving’ that aid works takes precedence over learning how to get better at it. Nowhere is this clearer than in attitudes to failure – a goldmine in terms of learning, but a nightmare in terms of accountability. Or in timelines – if you want to learn, then do your monitoring from the start, so that you can adapt and improve. If you want to convince donors, just wait til the end.
People also feel that M&E frameworks are rigid and unchangeable once they’ve been agreed with donors, and they are often being reported against by people who were not involved in the original design conversations. That can mean that the measures don’t mean that much to them – they are simply reporting requirements, rather than potentially useful pieces of information. But when you actually talk to flesh and blood donors, they are increasingly willing to adjust indicators in light of the progress of a piece of work – sorry, no excuse for inaction there.
Horses for Courses: Claire has been playing around with the different categories of ‘hard to measure’ benefits that Oxfam is grappling with, and reckons most fall into one (or more) of the following three categories
- The issue is complex and therefore hard to understand, define and/or quantify (e.g. women’s empowerment – see diagram, resilience). Here we’re developing ‘complex theoretical constructs’ – mash up indices of several different components that try and capture the concept
- The intervention is trying to influence a complex system (and is often itself complex) eg advocacy, or governance reform. For both, we’re investing in real time information to inform short- and medium term analysis and decisions on ‘course corrections’. In terms of final asessments on effectiveness or impact, policy advcocay is where we think process tracing can be most useful. The units are too small to estimate the counterfactual and so it’s about playing detective to try and identify the catalysts and enablers of change, and see if your intervention is among them. We’re still learning how best to approach evaluation of governance programming. Some will lend themselves to more traditional statistical approaches (eg the We Can campaign on Violence Against Women), but others have too few units to be classified as ‘large n’ and too many to be considered truly ‘small n’. We trialled outcome harvesting + process tracing last year in Tanzania.
- The intervention is taking place in a complex, shifting system. This might be more traditional WASH programming, or attempting to influence the complex systems of governance work in fragile states. The evaluation designs may be similar to categories one and two above, but the sustainability of any positive changes will be much less certain, and like 2, we are most interested in realtime learning informing adaptation, which requires a less cumbersome, more agile approach.
Got all that? My head hurts. Time for a cup of tea.
This is a joint post with Avinash Kumar (right), Oxfam India’s Policy, Research & Campaigns Director
Corporate responsibility in India is getting interesting – an unheralded aspect of the growth of its business sector. Recent legislation requires public sector enterprises to make social responsibility and stakeholder engagement part of their core business practices, while in July, 2011, the Ministry of Corporate Affairs came out with ‘National Voluntary Guidelines (NVGs) on Social, Environmental and Economic Responsibilities of Business’.
This has moved up another gear with the approval in August of a new Companies Act. The detailed rules are still being formulated, but the new law looks like becoming an important milestone.
The new Act replaces the old and increasingly outdated Companies Act of 1956. Momentum for reform came from a series of spectacular corporate scams and scandals, including the telecom sector, Satyam, Saradha Chit Fund and the Sahara group.
The Act requires companies to:
- Have at least one woman on every board
- Set up a Corporate Social Responsibility Committee within the board of directors, including at least one independent director. The Committee must formulate and recommend to the Board a Corporate Social Responsibility Policy, recommend how much to spend on CSR, and specify the sector along with specific activities/projects to be undertaken
- Appoint a CSR ‘Nodal Officer’ and implementing teams
- Draw up a Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting Framework (CSRRF) to be submitted annually
- Monitoring must be undertaken by a different agency to those implementing and report to a board level committee
But what has grabbed the attention of civil society organizations is Clause135, which obliges large companies (net worth of US$80m, turnover of US$160m, or net profit of US$8m) to devote 2% of the average net profit (after tax) to corporate social responsibility. Conservative estimates put the total at roughly US$2.5 billion.
There is a pretty important get-out here – spending the money is on a ‘comply or explain’ basis, but companies that choose to explain why they haven’t spent the money are likely to face some serious criticism from the media and civil society.
How will companies react? They have plenty of leeway: the Act’s definition of CSR includes eradicating extreme hunger and poverty; promoting education; women’s empowerment; reducing child mortality and improving maternal health; combating HIV, AIDS, malaria and other diseases; environmental sustainability; vocational skills; social business projects and contributing to the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund or any other state fund socioeconomic development.
A nice analysis by Kordant Philanthropy Advisers suggests:
‘There are several behaviors that we expect companies to exhibit following the law’s passage. Some companies will make the structural changes to their board to avoid fines, only to explain in their board report why they are unable to spend on CSR. Others will allocate an additional portion of their budget to meeting the reporting requirements and/or use the board report as an opportunity to showcase their CSR activities. Many companies are likely to re-categorize current quasi-CSR activities so as to fall within the scope of the new law. Whether the CSR Clause actually encourages more CSR spending or not, it will certainly force companies to seriously contemplate social responsibility or risk becoming a conspicuous non-spender amongpeers who already invest heavily in it. ‘
Some of the top Management Schools, including the elite Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have already responded by initiating CSR management courses on a par with their other management programmes. Clearly, the direction is towards making social responsibility an additional arm of the Corporate brand.
How is civil society reacting? Will this be the answer to the funding shortfall as aid donors leave India, and civil society and NGOs look for new sources or revenue? While there is a predictable buzz around the Act, the detail of its implementation is still unclear. But there are already indications of what to expect:
The Act lists a wide range of players who could be eligible for grants, including community-based organizations (formal or informal), NGOs, civil society organizations, institutes/ academic organizations, civil works contractors and professional Consultants. This means much sharper competition for resources.
Many corporates are setting up their own Trusts and Foundations which can then determine the extent and nature of their respective CSR portfolio. Many of the smaller Foundations are beginning to do the work themselves instead of giving sub-grants to NGOs or other partners.
However, some big companies do not want to hand over their cash in small fragments to a range of organizations and may prefer to give money in large chunks to organised, professional NGOs or other agencies who can provide ‘the value of their money’, (that will also mean a greater ‘professionalisation’ in terms of showing results, indicators of success etc).
Will corporates divert the cash or bypass the rules? Will they attach unacceptable strings and/or compromise the independence of Indian civil society? Will a new generation of NGOs spring up to spend their cash without any commitment to social change, so dragging Indian civil society to the right and away from the rights agenda and structural change (as aid for service delivery arguably does with INGOs)?
Another danger is that the definition of corporate responsibility becomes so broad as to lose all meaning. Already there is a talk of using the CSR 2% for infrastructure development or even funding the government’s existing social sector commitments such as the Food Security Act.
There are fears of greenwash. After all, companies like Satyam (the most celebrated self-confessed Scamster in recent years in India), as well as international corporate like Shell and BP, which stand accused of gross environmental misconduct, have still managed to win top notch CSR awards. CSR must not be seen as a separate dangling arm of Corporate Affairs, but as an integrated part of the entire business cycle.
This all poses real dilemmas for NGOs like Oxfam India. The fast depleting resources of external donor-financed, rights-based work mean that they are at a cross-roads today. The question for them is whether to compete with the new Foundations being set up under CSR to fill the vacuum of service-delivery in the wake of the government withdrawal and its replacement by PPP models, or face extinction as clearly rights-based social movements. In the end CSR in its present format is likely to re-affirm the present model of growth led development and those trying to question it may find themselves relegated to the sidelines.
But on the other hand, the new Act may provide a real opportunity to open up formal spaces for dialogue with the corporates, which have been non-existent so far. Earlier, corporates only talked to the government and with their huge money muscle they had a great advantage over CSOs who could only shout from outside the board rooms. This may be, (just maybe) an entry point where the NGO sector can find an equitable place for dialogue.
An earlier version of this piece appeared in the October issue of the Government Gazette
Today we fear EU ambassadors will agree a really bad deal on EU biofuel reform. In 2009 EU governments agreed that by 2020 10% of the energy used in transport would have to come from renewable sources. This target will almost exclusively be met by using food-based biofuels and has prompted a surge in investment, much of it via land grabs: data from ActionAid show that in sub-Saharan Africa six million hectares of land are now under the control of European companies planning to cash in on the policy windfall.
But as evidence piles up, it is becoming increasingly clear that what may have started as a well-intentioned policy to try to make our transport fuels greener has turned out to be disastrous for global hunger. By 2020, EU biofuel targets could push up the price of vegetable oils by up to 36%, maize by 22%, wheat by 13% and oilseeds by up to 20%. It also turns out that many biofuels are harmful to the environment – leading to deforestation and greenhouse gas release.
There has been some recognition that biofuel policies are having negative impacts and need to be reformed. In October last year, the European Commission proposed amending the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive by introducing a 5% limit for counting food crop-based biofuels towards the 10% target, improving sustainability criteria and promoting the use of advanced biofuels (which don’t harm food production). But since then the biofuel lobby has swung into action, and in the proposal for discussion today, the 5% cap has been watered up to 7%, complete with loopholes such as allowing statistical transfers (biofuel laundering) between states.
The EU decision really matters: for the moment the biofuel market in Europe is driven by mandates not markets – no biofuels can compete with oil without support. The EU should at the very least remove all mandates, subsidies and tax incentives, but it’s created a vested interest intent on preventing that happening. If the ambassadors sign today as expected, EU energy ministers meeting on 12 December will still have the option to make changes rather than rubber stamping the deal.
This is all the more depressing because in recent years, there has been much to celebrate in terms of the role of agriculture in development. An intellectual turning of the tide has recognised that improving small farmer production is often the most effective way to turn growth into poverty reduction, and more research brainpower has been invested in how to ensure that farming lifts people out of poverty (rather than traps them in it). For a useful synthesis of a recent Oxfam-hosted online debate, see here.
That intellectual shift has been mirrored in public policy, with initiatives such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), and aid from traditional donors rising from $2.3 in 2002 to $5.3bn in 2011 (and that does not include a rising amount of agricultural aid from new donors like China and Brazil).
Land grabs, more neutrally known as ‘large scale land acquisitions’, are big business. ‘Buy land. They’re not making it any more,’ joked Mark Twain, and around the world, a lot of investors are taking his advice to heart. In the past decade an area of land eight times the size of the UK has been sold off. More than 30 per cent of Liberia’s land has been handed out.
That might be a good thing if the investment went to small farmers, and boosted food production. Oxfam estimates this land could feed a billion people, equivalent to the number of people who go to bed hungry each night. But that is not happening. From around the world come stories of small farmers being expelled, often at dead of night, to make way for foreign investors in what are often decidedly dodgy deals: land grabs and bad governance go hand in hand.
Instead of food, land is either left idle as a speculative access (a particularly criminal waste), or, in two thirds of cases, turned over to export crops.
The growing evidence and some effective campaigning have overcome initial denials of the problem. In April, World Bank president Dr Jim Yong Kim acknowledged that ‘The World Bank Group shares concerns about the risks associated with large-scale land acquisitions’. In June, the G8 followed suit with the Lough Erne declaration, saying ‘land transactions should be transparent, respecting the property rights of local communities”.
Such good intentions face significant obstacles – a new era of high food prices has pushed up land values. That means big returns for speculators, and money talks, in politics as well as in economics. But so do public protest, champions inside the corridors of power and clear research evidence of the negative impacts of the land grab tsunami. With so much at stake, the struggle for land is likely to be a core element in development for the foreseeable future.
As for the biofuels decision, Oxfam’s campaigners and lobbyists are hard at work to prevent a bad agreement on 12 December – I’ll keep you posted.
Update: my spies tell me the EU meeting didn’t reach a decision and booted the can down the road to the 12 December meeting. I know, hard to credit, isn’t it?
Transform or be Haunted by Ghosts: How can the Philippines ‘build back better’ after Typhoon Haiyan?
From the middle of the response to Typhoon Haiyan, Lan Mercado, our Deputy Regional Director in Asia (and passionate campaigner and Filipina) reflects on what lies ahead. She was the one who asked me to pick your brains on disasters as opportunities – thanks for the responses.
The massive impact of Typhoon Haiyan claimed thousands of lives and destroyed physical assets, but it also felled institutions and tore the community fabric apart. The lawlessness that erupted days after Haiyan was an unfolding secondary disaster that abated after relief trickled through.
The shell-shocked national government was initially in denial about the extent and complexity of the destruction, until officials individually started to admit there was something wrong with the system. A top Cabinet secretary whom our assessment team met on the ground on Day 3 told them that if they wanted to take over, they should take over everything. This, in the Philippines, a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) poster country.
Two weeks have passed since Haiyan struck. International humanitarian assistance has picked up pace; yet, many remain unreached. As it was on Day 1, what’s needed for survivors to access relief materials and essential services is the combination and coordination of solutions that include logistics, technical interventions, the protection of civilians and humanitarians, the restoration of local governance institutions and the decisions and action of leaders that people trust.
For those who survived, life changed right after the storm’s unprecedented fury. Women are now widows, and the shift in status means their burdens are heavier. Households are reassigning roles amongst members. Fifty-one urban centres no longer resemble the places that they were. Production and consumption patterns are altered, at least temporarily. People have fled from the disaster zones to seek refuge with relatives. Many will contribute to the swelling population of informal settlers in the cities that took them in.
Obviously, this has implications for those cities’ resources, which were not very well planned to begin with. But a number of those who fled on C130s have no options other than to stay in the makeshift evacuation centre in the airbase where they landed or in temporary shelters that the government hastily put together.
‘Building back better’ is a phrase that’s being thrown around. President Aquino formed a task force to coordinate rehabilitation efforts, and gave it five days to come up with a comprehensive program. Recovery and rebuilding will be gargantuan and complex tasks, not made easier by the multitude of experts on ecology, land use planning, architecture, infrastructure, building codes, better preparedness, the science of early warning and risk mitigation—they are as many as the opinions published in editorial pages. Like Haiyan’s murderous winds, ideas are swirling, and at their centre are the Philippine government and the Filipino people, who must find their bearings.
The creation of this task force answers questions raised about the lack of a central planning authority needed to ‘traverse jurisdictional boundaries’ that are features of the Philippine’s decentralised political landscape. The task force includes key Cabinet officials to tackle shelter and reconstruction, resettlement, power, livelihood and employment, resource generation and allocation, local government coordination and, crucially, the engagement of the citizenry at the grassroots level. Aquino said that it is important to ‘enable people to attain greater self-reliance while participating in the rebuilding of their communities.’
The private-sector led Disaster Recovery Foundation has convened and will get its direction from this task force. But it has also met with the UNDP and Oxfam to get ideas and learn how Aceh, Haiti and other places picked up the broken pieces of their disaster-hit societies and recovered.
The ‘contributions to change’ of international actors like Oxfam begin at the point of the disaster’s impact. But Oxfam does more than just respond to disasters in the Philippines. Over the 25 years that it has worked in the country, it has pushed reforms in the humanitarian, risk reduction and development spheres, sometimes operating on its own, most of the time working with partners, and always guided by its own analysis and engaged with others.
A significant part of our contribution was political. Writing about Oxfam in the Philippines, Edicio dela Torre said ‘Oxfam’s international character and connections have… supported the political choices made by partners… and these include the politics of resistance.’
Oxfam speaks and works on behalf of the marginalised, excluded and vulnerable. Oxfam does this because ‘we believe in their strategic potential for achieving equity and sustainability,’ says dela Torre. He cautions that ‘it is not easy to link our work from the edges with our advocacy work toward those in power, especially if we do not want to be permanent substitutes for the relatively voiceless and powerless. And as we succeed in our advocacy work, we must be wary of the temptation to become simply new inside players in existing circles of power. The ability to work simultaneously outside and inside the dominant system is what we need to hone and handle well, if we are to be effective in pursuing our common purposes.’
Opportunities for Transformation
In Haiyan’s wake is a swathe of destruction and a window for disruptive change. Opportunities for transformation abound. They include transformations in gender relations and women’s increased political participation. Gender roles may, in fact, already be shifting as a consequence of Haiyan. Men have lost their usual livelihoods and are desperate to restart them. Meanwhile, wives still have to feed the children and will be breadwinners one way or another. Children, too, will have to help find food or money. Relief distributions must attend to their impact on household dynamics. One woman came to a distribution line with visible bruises, beaten by an angry husband because she failed to get hold of relief packs the day before.
The Philippines’ location and geography make future disasters a given, and countermeasures should be both for possible mega disasters and for smaller, repetitive and certain disasters, whose occurrence erodes whatever physical and financial assets poor people are able to accumulate. Influencing the country’s development paradigm so that it front-loads risk reduction, promotes sustainable livelihoods that raise resilience, and rides on government-civil society-private sector multi-stakeholder partnerships is not just logical, it is moral.
The near obliteration of buildings and other infrastructure in Haiyan’s hardest hit cities clears the way for urban development and land use planning to be set aright, which could tip the balance for the rest of the country. The proposed National Land Use and Management Act (NALUMA), advocated by civil society but languishing in Congress for years, may now become law and defy it’s acronym’s unfortunate Tagalog meaning—’to become old’ and forgotten.
It’s possible to think about a DRR body that has more political clout and credibility. Grassroots people’s empowered participation in governance can be facilitated if they can use scientific risk data. Having understood how bad development underpins risks, a few municipalities and provinces that suffered the wrath of Typhoon Ketsana in 2009 have learned to say no to risk-producing corporate investments.
Haiyan broke existing storm records, and established a new benchmark. For NGOs that respond to disasters, Haiyan has profound implications for how to manage a sudden, massive and complex emergency: rapid assessment methodologies, preparedness and actual capacity to respond, the role of advocacy and influencing alongside emergency response, working with governments and regional inter-governmental bodies. We need a thorough review, if not a total re-imagination.
As an international NGO, Oxfam may look like an outsider in national transformations. But in the Philippines, Oxfam has a mostly Filipino staff and we do not consider ourselves external actors. Some of these staff have family that went missing. We wrung our hands even as we continued working. Even the loss of someone unknown to us sent us weeping. We bore each other’s sadness, propped each other’s hope. Perhaps this is what it means to be a people. Tenuous and transient these bonds might be, we cling to them as we would to lifelines.
Five thousand lives lost but most likely many, many more. We must make each one count. If Haiyan does not transform us as individuals and the Philippines as a country, we are cursed to be haunted by ghosts.
If you would like to donate to Oxfam’s Philippines response, please go here. And just because I love the photo, here’s Lan back in the day, stirring up trouble.
Gosh I love my job. Last week I attended a workshop in Delhi to discuss ‘thinking and working politically’. A bunch of donors, academics, NGOs and others (Chatham House rules, alas, so no names or institutions) taking stock on how they can move from talk to walk in applying more politically informed thinking to their work.
That means both trying to do the normal stuff better (eg understanding the politics that determines whether your water or education programme gets anywhere) and in more transformational work trying to shift power from haves to have nots.
The meeting was convened by some very practical (‘what do I do on Monday Morning’) aid people keen to move on from what they see as the overly academic (‘needs more research’) character of discussions on governance, institutions, state-building and all its obfuscatory language (‘What we don’t need is lots of people talking about isomorphic mimicry, rules of the game and political settlements’).
The purpose of this discussion was to take the growing body of research from the Development Leadership Programme, Tom Carothers, ODI, Matt Andrews, ESID etc and turn it into programme ideas that can be tested on the ground. A giant ‘do tank’ exercise, in fact. Alarmingly, I can’t think of other examples of such an explicit research →hypothesis→test process on governance (unlike drugs research, say).
The political economy of donors: lots of discussion on the institutional barriers to progress – ‘projectization’, logframes, value for money, results agenda, short time frames, staff rotation. One of the few potentially positive side effects of the dismemberment restructuring of aid ministries in Australia and Canada and their takeover by foreign ministries is that diplomats don’t do logframes – they understand the importance of relationships and seizing opportunity. (Trouble is they do so to pursue national self-interest, rather than development.)
People not products: This is about having the right people, working in the right way: ‘searchers’ and mavericks able to spot opportunities as they open up, thinking on their feet, building relationships. Big question is whether this is teachable – are people who work politically born not made? Local staff are more likely than expats to be embedded in the political realities, but are also more likely to be junior and cowed by the institutional machine. Supporting them needs mentoring rather than (yet more) workshops, but also accepting that we need a percentage of mavericks who don’t do what they’re told (or what they’ve said they’ll do). Tough for any bureaucracy to accept.
Labour intensive not capital intensive: Good politically-informed work is about relationships, trust and a subtle understanding of power and politics. Very hard to achieve that while waving a chequebook (‘if you come in with $ and say ‘we’re here to set up a coalition’, you will get one! You’re a good-looking guy’). The pressure to spend can be a serious obstacle to this longer term, more painstaking work.
What are the risks of ‘working politically’? A certain amount of self-deception here. Everyone else (southern governments, civil societyorganizations etc) already sees aid as heavily political, so who are we trying to kid? But being explicit about engaging with political players, elections, supporting change coalitions etc works better in more permissive contexts, whereas elsewhere it will lead to accusations of infringement of sovereignty, especially if it’s bilateral agencies doing it.
Dangers of Openness: Some of this is about the dark arts of influencing – how you persuaded a politician to do something, but then enabled them to take the credit. How you twisted arms, or appealed to self interest. Disclosure can damage the project. One old hand from a multilateral complained ‘no wonder everything I say sounds bland and generic – I can’t tell all the interesting stuff!’
Should it stay below the radar? Ros Eyben among others has documented the double discourse of aid workers – they are adept at saying one thing and doing another, eg presenting a project as purely technical/apolitical, then using all the tricks of advocacy to get them implemented. If we try and drag such practices into the light, do we risk destroying them? In some countries, the technocratic veneer is important camouflage, but elsewhere the general view was that acknowledging the realities can ‘unleash a lot of energy’ among staff who can then ‘fess up about what aid work is really like, and learn from each other out in the open.
Overall, I was struck by the contrast between the intellectual self confidence – a bunch of highly experienced senior aid types saying there is simply no other way to go in order to improve the impact of aid – and the fragmenting institutional context – Ausaid and CIDA being subsumed into foreign ministries, the demands of a dumbed down version of the results agenda and value for money, a general aversion to taking risks of any kind for fear of imperilling aid budgets. Really hope the good guys are right.
Next steps? This looks like an incipient ‘community of practice’, with the focus on the practice. Lots of appetite for building a good evidence base, with the healthy caveat from one senior aid boss ‘I want anecdotes, I don’t want evidence – I’m serious. I’m fed up with research – it’s not going to persuade the minister.’ A further meeting is planned in January – watch this space.
Dear FP2P readers
Our IT guys tell me it’s time for a makeover, (sadly, only for the blog, not for me). So I’m asking for suggestions. What aspects of this blog’s format (not content – that’s a separate discussion) do you find useful and want to keep unchanged, and what do you find really annoying/ want to add/change?
So far, we are planning to:
- add a print button for oldies like me who prefer to print stuff out
- make the site more mobile friendly
- have posts on separate pages rather then running down the page
Plus any thoughts about displaying the archive. Would you use a Greatest Hits option – most viewed or most commented? Do you want to see the most recent videos?
And more generally, if you have some blog that strikes you as a good model for us to copy, send us the link.
Over to you. Some sort of dodgy prize for the most useful response…….How often do people search for older posts – why =do they search for them? – give us some ideas about how to display older posts
The evolving HIV & AIDS pandemic: overall progress; more varied between countries; southern governments stepping up to fill aid gaps
Today the ONE campaign is issuing The Beginning of the End?, a report (+ exec sum) on the HIV/AIDS pandemic, with some important findings. They include hitting the global tipping point on AIDS, probably next year; the increasing divergence in performance between African countries, and the fact that over half of global HIV/AIDS spending now comes from developing countries.
Excerpts from the Exec Sum, with a few additions from ONE’s press release, plus a final comment from Oxfam’s top HIV policy wonk:
“The world has achieved a marked acceleration in its progress towards the achievement of the beginning of the end of AIDS (defined as when the total number of people newly infected with HIV in a given year falls below the number of HIV-positive people newly receiving antiretroviral (ARV) treatment). Updated data shows that if current rates of acceleration in both adding individuals to treatment and in reducing new HIV infections continue, we will achieve the beginning of the end of AIDS by 2015 (see chart – click to enlarge).
Programmes to reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV continued to scale up in 2012, particularly among the 22 high-burden countries. Seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa – Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia – are driving much of this progress, having each reduced new HIV infections among children by 50% or more since 2009. But collectively the world is not on track to meet the virtual elimination goal by 2015, and a few countries, such as Nigeria and Angola, are holding back regional and global progress.
Real reductions have been made in new adolescent and adult HIV infections for the first time in years, which is encouraging, but progress to cut that figure by half is still dramatically off track, and marginalised populations are falling further behind. HIV prevention remains the area of least progress and least attention.
Unfortunately, the price of partial success is that HIV/AIDS is no longer perceived as a global health emergency, but rather a chronic and manageable disease, and the fight has lost some of its political momentum. UNAIDS estimates that global financing efforts for AIDS still fall $3–5 billion short of the $22–24 billion needed annually. In 2012, the US remained the clear global leader on total AIDS financing, and the UK, Australia, Japan, Italy and Sweden increased their contributions.
However, other countries including Denmark, Canada, France, Ireland, Norway and the Netherlands, along with the European Commission, decreased their overall contributions in 2012.
And developing countries are stepping up. More than two-thirds of low- and middle-income countries increased domestic spending on HIV last year, accounting for 53% of all HIV/AIDS resources globally – the second year in a row that these countries have supported more than half of the global response.
It is time to retire the phrase ‘AIDS in Africa’. Political will and financial investments have varied dramatically between countries; so too have countries’ relative successes in making headway towards the beginning of the end of AIDS. 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have already reached the beginning of the end of AIDS, but others lag far behind.
The nine countries profiled in the report broadly exemplify three levels of progress:
Leading the Way: Ghana, Malawi and Zambia are great examples of how international donors, national governments and key civil society leaders can work together to achieve accelerated progress in the fight against AIDS.
Ones to Watch: South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda have shown real dynamism but erratic progress as they face massive disease burdens, shifting political landscapes and unique, country-specific challenges.
Urgent Progress needed: Cameroon, Nigeria and Togo have not made enough progress. Togo, in particular, reached the AIDS tipping point in 2010 but has slipped back since.
In all countries, a wealth of CSOs and individuals are actively engaged in their communities and countries in the fight against the disease. Some of these groups are supporting and bolstering broader country-level efforts, while some are actively driving progress in spite of challenging circumstances or government intransigence. Their commitment and advocacy have been critical to the progress achieved on the continent over the past two decades.”
And here’s a brief comment from Dr Mohga Kamal-Yanni, our health & HIV policy advisor (who asked me not to call her a guru, so I haven’t):
“The report clearly shows that good aid can save lives. National and international financial commitment, combined with reduced prices of medicines due to generic competition, have made it possible for countries to combat the plight of HIV.
While the report rightly focuses on financing the response to HIV, it misses emphasising the role of generic competition in reducing the prices of medicines and thus making it possible for donors and governments to finance treatment. This is important in the current and future situation, where new, effective medicines are under patent and thus difficult to produce in India (the main manufacturer of generic anti-HIV medicines) or in other countries. How would the world pay for expensive medicines?
It is also important for HIV reports to discuss how to ensure that HIV progress in treatment can strengthen and benefit from national systems e.g. drug procurement and supply chains, so that short-term achievements can be sustained in the long term. How to maintain and improve measures taken to provide HIV treatment despite the current health workers crisis? For example how to sustain and expand to other health issues measures like: task shifting from highly trained doctors to nurses, community health workers’ involvement, proper remuneration of health workers etc.’
And here’s the inevitable infographic: