Reframing Development Assistance

Photo: Pejman Parvandi

How NGOs, Agencies, and Governments are Reshaping Development Policy Assumptions

In the wake of the Arab Spring, and the subsequent challenges in the Middle East and Africa brought about by non-state actors bent on destabilizing governments and countries, a consensus seems to be emerging around the need to reframe development policy. Taken together with long-standing conflicts in South Asia and elsewhere, economic and human development is increasingly seen as vital to increased global stability and security. This is as true for liberalizing countries with stable political systems such as Morocco and Botswana as those racked with severe internal strife driven by local or transnational extremists.

As my colleague Jordana Merran noted in a recent blog, a body of research is increasingly showing that the West has some notable victories – such as the Marshall Plan – but has not really done development all that well, either because of the politicized nature of many foreign assistance projects, the preference of donors to deal with institutions rather than people, and the disconnect between projects and the metrics that supposedly measure outcomes to shape future programs.

The Foreign article that she referenced, which was an outgrowth of a workshop on “Doing Development Differently,” broadly assessed foreign aid programs and noted,“Too many development initiatives have limited impact. Schools are built but children do not learn. Clinics are built but sickness persists. Governments adopt reforms but too little changes for their citizens.”

“This is because genuine development progress is complex: solutions are not simple or obvious, those who would benefit most lack power, those who can make a difference are disengaged and political barriers are too often overlooked. Many development initiatives fail to address this complexity, promoting irrelevant interventions that will have little impact.”

Many of the obstacles that hinder effective development policy reflect the desire of host countries to provide leadership in how funds are allocated and projects are prioritized. While in some cases this mirrors the host government’s message that it is responsible for improving people’s lives. With others, the emphasis is on partnerships to drive development. As Jordana pointed out, King Mohammed VI of Morocco has placed human development at the core of his strategic vision for his country, and his strategies to promote economic growth, equality, and accessibility are similar to those raised by Tom Carothers’ work at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on the need to incorporate accountability, transparency, participation, and inclusion in development programs, tying together development as an economic issue with a country’s reform agenda.

Changing Perspectives from the Ground Up

The latest voice to be raised in this dialogue is the annual World Bank “World Development Report 2015: Mind, Society, and Behavior,” which argues that “Interventions need to take into account the specific psychological and social influences that guide decision making and behavior in a particular setting. That means that the process of designing and implementing effective interventions needs to become a more iterative process of discovery, learning, and adaptation.” The Economist’s review of the report noted that the World Bank’s concern that “Development experts have their biases and blind spots, like anyone else.”

Understanding how these biases affect policy planning and implementation should lead to more effective development assistance options, some of which are already underway. A recent article on the announcement that Rajiv Shah, USAID’s Administrator is stepping down, mentioned some shifts that happened at USAID. “Rather than dropping billions of taxpayer dollars into sprawling programs designed to reduce poverty, USAID pivoted to directly funding foreign development groups, offering loan guarantees to local banks and launching contests aimed at solving specific global challenges.”

Yet, as Nathanial Myers wrote in the National Interest, USAID has a programming crisis looming as it tries to pursue longer term efforts while being increasingly taxed to respond to in the crises du jour in Yemen, fighting Ebola, and countering Boko Haram, etc. Myers contends that “The agency’s move into this short-term strategic space is undercutting its long-term development impact…ongoing long-term development programs are being repurposed to target the new priority problem…funds are being pulled…Local credibility is being eroded by suspicions that USAID values Washington’s interests more than local needs.”

Taken together, these critiques point to the need to integrate stakeholders into the process of discovery and implementation, generate models that rely on mobilizing public and private sector partnerships, and more rigorous assessments of results that include social, psychological, and behavioral inputs.



Muslim voices Challenge Qualms of Islamists in Power

Representatives from Islamist parties in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia came to Washington last week to talk about the future of democracy under Islamist-led governments. They were uniformly impressive and well-prepared to challenge key concerns being voiced about Islamists in government: support for human rights, gender equality, protection of minorities, and the direction of their foreign policy priorities.

Moroccan American Center staff attended two events—a luncheon at CSIS featuring the Moroccan Minister of Communications, Mustapha Khalfi, and a day of panels at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) that included the Communications Minister and representatives from Ennadha in Tunisia, the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt, the Moslem Brotherhood in Jordan, Egypt, and Libya, and others.

It is not a stretch to say, based on the CSIS session that I attended, that they are quite aware of US concerns. Minister Khalfi has spent time previously in Washington and came ready to answer with details of how the new Moroccan government is facing an array of social, political, cultural, and economic issues that are the test of the new constitution and the new government.

The Minister was quite clear about how the new government intends to move forward. After recognizing the King’s role in framing the constitutional and reform process, Khalfi raised other factors that made Moroccoan exception to the upheavals in the other Arab uprisings. He mentioned the political culture of coalition-building that has been a constant in Morocco, particularly on the local level. This experience has been quite useful as the major players and issues are clear, making negotiations more transparent and to the point. Also, the role of civil society was strongly emphasized as a means for the public to mobilize to focus the attention of the Parliament and political parties on their issues.

To Khalfi, the core challenge is implementing the new constitution by concretizing legislation in a number of key areas: power-sharing; enshrining respect for the multi-dimensional Moroccan identity; reshaping the legal code to protect freedoms and liberties; proceeding with regionalization, which includes political, economic, cultural, and social issues and is the key to resolving the Western Sahara crisis; and ensuring good governance through enhanced transparency, accountability, and reform of the judicial system. The Minister said that at least 40 laws need to be passed as part of the initial implementation process.

Other issues addressed by Minister Khalfi included the importance of rebuilding public trust in the political process, the next test being the upcoming local elections; grappling with the specter of the country’s economic and social ills; re-orienting the economy away from dependence on a Europe that is in crisis; and building a strong basis for regional cooperation and stability.

The CEIP presenters were equally articulate, arguing that the real test of Islamists in power is just beginning. The final verdict will rest on how well democracy and Islam are integrated. The question is not which existing model works best; the answer is what meets the people’s expectations in each country.

This article was originally published on Morocco On The Move.