Monday, April 18, 2016

Good development support in fragile, at-risk and crisis affected contexts, by Cyprien FABRE

Today again, as she has done every day for the last 10 years, Rose will wake up early and walk several kilometres to sell the few tomatoes and bell peppers she’s grown in the small parcel of land she shares with a group of women in the semi-urban neighbourhood she landed in several years ago. She left her village after many years of drought, no harvest, no income and a large debt to cope with. She was forced to sell her land and go, adding herself to the millions of urban poor crowding the city’s outskirts. 

This story has been told a million times, set in the suburbs of any town in developing countries across the world. Despite a long lasting history of development cooperation with OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members, transforming donor support into effective development on the ground in fragile, at-risk and crisis-affected contexts is not an easy feat. New thinking on the nature of fragility and risk shows a shift from a one-dimensional understanding of fragility towards a more holistic approach in which degrees of fragility exist on a spectrum.  This approach recognises the need for collaborative, regional and global solutions to tackle the root causes - and that acknowledges the need to broaden the use of institutional influences, policy levers and expertise “beyond aid”. In parallel, many development co-operation agencies are working to meet commitments under the newly agreed Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing sustainable development. 

In this context, the DAC commissioned a study on how to work more effectively in fragile, at-risk and crisis-affected contexts. The study is based on a review of the existing literature, principally peer reviews of DAC members, self-assessment surveys by members of the International Network on Conflict and Fragility, and interviews with representatives of 12 DAC member countries. The resulting report identifies 12 lessons grouped into 3 thematic areas: (1) building institutional fitness, (2) aspiring to deliver change (3) leaving no-one behind. The lessons are illustrated with a wealth of good practice examples from DAC members.

Policy aspirations are often not aligned with domestic political realities, institutional incentives, behaviours and standard procedures. For example, the monitoring of both the Fragile States Principles and the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States has found a significant gap in the capacity of institutions to implement them. And while donors are increasingly keen to carry out political economy analysis of the institutions they aspire to transform, they are less inclined to recognise the political economies of their own institutions, which may frustrate well-intentioned policies and reforms. In other words, donors should create the administrative and human environment to enable change. Global challenges are changing and each donor should find its own added value to the common objective. Without acknowledging and taking a realistic approach to tackling, accepting or working with these constraints and contradictions, donors will continue to struggle to accomplish real change. 

The many processes and principles that currently exist will not deliver change on their own. Environments that are complex and fluid require thorough crisis analysis to understand the drivers and dynamics of fragility. Why did Rose flee the countryside? What national structures would have prevented this? Very few donors will really know, so they seldom choose to engage with the right but risky partner. If risks associated with engaging in fragile contexts are better understood, they can be factored into genuine problem-led programming, however only if donor institutional culture and funding mechanisms are flexible enough to absorb set-backs. Moreover, since change is a difficult process to quantify, strict output measurement does not sufficiently reflect the real project value, therefore greater creativity should be allowed for gauging project impact. Have the training sessions on gardening diversification, marketing and provision of seeds had a real impact on Rose’s livelihood?  Has the support to the security sector reform to reduce harassment and extortion had an impact on her daily income?  How can these effects be measured? 

The rallying call of Agenda 2030 is to “leave no one behind”. This requires donors not only to invest more, and more effectively, in some of the most difficult contexts but also a different role for ODA as one element of a wider range of resources. OECD DAC members can play an important role in influencing principles, norms and behaviour to ensure that marginalised, excluded and vulnerable groups are included in programming, and that collective international responses invest in global public goods.  The findings of this study will surely stimulate an exchange of ideas and experience on the challenges faced by development co-operation providers as they work towards their various policy commitments. 

Read the full report
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