Here’s your (Satur)Sunday morning reading on the Gates Foundation and the SDGs, complexity and development and how to shift the debate on taking care of ourselves as aid workers…
The SDGs were reportedly repeatedly ridiculed at a recent Gates Foundation meeting. Alex Evans suggests that this could be due to the Foundation’s focus on apolitical service delivery, which fits well into the MDGs narrow remit. However, the SDGs are necessarily political and complex; if objections come in the form of #1 below rather than #2 this could set the Foundation against the inclusiveness of the process.
“SDG objection # 1 is that you may disagree with their breadth – in other words with the range of issues that are included (for example whether the framework should, unlike the MDGs, include climate change, inequality, or peaceful societies as headline Goals), and wish that they were focused on a smaller set of issues to do with absolute poverty.
SDG objection # 2, on the other hand, agrees with what’s included in the framework, but disagrees with how it’s communicated – either because of the verbosity of a 17 Goal, 169 target framework, or because so many of the targets are manifestly inconsistent with SMART criteria (i.e. being Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound).”
Do you keep hearing about complexity and development and wonder what it means? Here are a couple of blog posts that may help.
“A whole range of initiatives and approaches are emerging that could be loosely grouped under the umbrella of “complexity” i.e. the idea that development is a complex adaptive process and thus top down long-term planning doesn’t really work – instead we need to be more nimble and iterative in how we respond to circumstances and push the system in the right direction rather than developing a detailed master plan for a perfectly designed future.”
These include: Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), Doing Development Differently (DDD), human centred design, Cynefin approach for knowledge management, UNICEF innovation principles. These can also be traced back the Bill Easterly’s idea of searchers rather than planners. Having a number of approaches like this makes sense from a complexity viewpoint – diverse approaches for diverse situations.
What complexity doesn’t mean: 1) We’re not condemned to to fatalism, 2) We cannot solve problems through better analysis alone, 3) We cannot progress by simply identifying ‘missing ingredients’, 4) we should avoid creating protected incumbents that become obstacles to change, 5) the problem is not ‘lack of capacity’.
So what does it imply? Unsurprisingly, it’s a lot of what the Center for Global Development in Europe already pushes as part of the ‘beyond aid’ agenda; it’s about creating systemic change in transparency, trade, migration, media, tax, innovation and connecting ideas.
“Sustainability has been elusive in practice because the aid industry thinks too much about gaps and too little about systems. Interventions that accelerate the evolution of a successful economic and social system can be catalytic; interventions that ignore the complexity of the system and only try to fill the gaps that it leaves or imitate its consequences will work only for as long as the intervention continues.”
“It’s interesting to note the emergence of two strands of discussion in the public space around humanitarian aid and development. One is the issue of chronic and/or traumatic stress and accompanying PTSD among humanitarian workers. […] The other is the issue of fair/ethical payment for NGO staff, most specifically entry-level staff, interns, etc.”
So what is the way forward?
“We need to assertively remove every shred of overhead from how we discuss our work, whether internally or externally. Efficiency matters, for sure. But low overhead and efficient delivery of humanitarian outcomes are not only not the same things, but they’re not even related. We have to take references to “how much of your dollar goes to beneficiaries” out of our marketing, off of our websites, and out of our conversations.”
“We need to assertively remove any doubt about the legitimacy of our own needs as humanitarian aid and development workers. As Alessandra Pigni puts it, this is not a contest to see who can suffer the most. Lots of embedded issues, here: This is a job, like any other, that we do to make a living. We are professional people with specific, identifiable skills which we employ in the course of doing our humanitarian work. Aid work is work, for which we absolutely deserve to be compensated fairly. To suggest otherwise erodes the argument that we deserve anything more than treasure in Heaven in exchange for our service.”