International Development Select Committee

Philosophy and culture of aid inquiry

Written submission made on behalf of the Bond SDG Group, March 2021

1.       About the Bond SDG Group

1.1.   Bond is the UK network for over 400 UK organisations working in international development. The Bond SDG group has over 150 of these organisations as members and is advocating for the full implementation of the SDGs with a strong focus on their global impact. We focus on the implementation of the SDGs by the UK International Development Sector and the UK Government.

 

1.2.   The current co-chairs of the SDG Group are Lilei Chow (Save the Children) and Andrew Griffiths (Sightsavers).

2.       Overview: The importance of the 2030 Agenda

2.1.   The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and within it the SDGs, is the globally recognised framework for people, planet, and prosperity, which recognise the interdependencies and complexity of sustainable development. It is important that this agenda is at the heart of a philosophy and culture of aid as it provides principles we can all use to build a more equal world, where no one is left behind, and where we do not exceed planetary boundaries. We noted with interest that the SDGs were criticised by witnesses to the committee’s first evidence session. This evidence seeks to set out how the nature of the 2030 Agenda provides us with a legitimate and globally articulated framework to tackle the many social, environmental and economic challenges the world faces. The UN has articulated clearly that the 2030 Agenda should provide the blueprint for recovery from the Covid-19 -pandemic, and they provide the development mandate for the UN.

 

2.2.   The challenges for development that we have seen exposed in the Covid-19 pandemic exemplify the importance of prioritising the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. This is not the time to step back from progressing this agenda. The strategic question for aid is how it loses its focus on short-term results and remains part of a system for delivering sustainable change. Aid should be aligned with a structured and systematic approach to the social, economic and environmental challenges, including through supporting the means of implementation of the 2030 Agenda. This approach includes building stronger partnerships with other governments; increasing the focus on long-term transformative change through initiatives that help to shift power; supporting programmes that enhance civic space and participation in decision-making; and ensuring all aid prioritises the rights and development outcome of women and the most marginalised people.

3.       The principles of sustainable development in the 2030 Agenda

3.1.   We welcome the Committees longstanding commitment to promoting the delivery of the SDGs in UK Aid, and would recommend that the inquiry should focus on how aid can best contribute towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. This is important because the 2030 Agenda emphasises principles which should be central to the philosophy and culture of aid.

 

3.2.   All aspects of sustainable development: the 2030 Agenda includes the three pillars of social, economic and environmental development, and it cannot be achieved without all these areas. All other agendas focus on more specific aspects, but the 2030 Agenda provides a comprehensive and globally accepted approach to sustainable development.

Proposed question: What philosophy and culture of aid is needed to ensure all aspects of sustainable development are covered?

 

3.3.   National ownership: the 2030 Agenda makes it clear that it is the primary responsibility of national governments to deliver sustainable development. The agenda moves beyond the approach of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), where development was delivered in the Global South by the Global North; in contrast, the 2030 Agenda is applicable in all countries. The 2030 Agenda states that, ‘each country has primary responsibility for its own economic and social development and that the role of national policies and development strategies cannot be overemphasized. We will respect each country’s policy space and leadership to implement policies for poverty eradication and sustainable development, while remaining consistent with relevant international rules and commitments.’[1] It then outlines the importance of an enabling global environment and partnership to support the national effort.

Proposed question: How can aid best strengthen national ownership, support constructive civic space, and ensure sufficient resources for sustainable development processes?

 

3.4.   The 2030 Agenda provides a legitimate and coherent framework: the 2030 Agenda, and SDGs, were agreed by 193 Member States of the UN, through a negotiated process that has been recognised as the most open, transparent and participatory process run by the UN General Assembly. It was not developed by the Global North, not imposed on any country, but unanimously accepted by all Member States as the primary sustainable development agenda. It is built on the processes begun by the UN to follow on from the MDGs and Rio +20, with the explicit recognition that it would be a collective agenda for all countries, build on and promote all previous UN agreements including human rights, and integrate the progress on poverty reduction and social development with vital work to address major environmental issues, such as environmental degradation, pollution and climate change.

 

3.5.   It is the mandate for UN: the 2030 Agenda provides a mandate for all UN agencies to focus on sustainable development and provides coherence to the approaches taken by the UN. While UN organisations are not perfect, their norm-setting and role in co-ordinating global public goods is vital – as we have seen with the WHO in the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a need to strengthen these institutions, while also ensuring that there are dynamic partnerships to deliver real change on the ground.

 

3.6.   Focus on policy coherence: the 2030 Agenda will not be achieved without greater coherence in local, national and international decision making. This coherence needs to cover the varying roles of development actors – governments, donors, civil society, the private sector and others – in specific areas, and coherence between different areas of policy focus. Therefore, the question on the philosophy and culture of aid needs to go beyond a narrow focus on aid policy. It calls for partnerships between all actors to achieve sustainable development in a coordinated and coherent way. These are vital questions and are crucial to delivering value for money.

Proposed question: With a focus on sustainable development, what is the impact of a progressive philosophy and culture of aid on other sectors of UK policy?

 

3.7.   Coherence in aid delivery: Getting at the root cause of issues is vital, as is understanding the full range of co-benefits and impacts that need to be mitigated. Building roads, for example, may support access to markets, education and healthcare – but these need to be designed in a way that is safe, and which does not cause additional burdens through road traffic injuries – the 1.3 million of which each year cause misery, economic burden and wasted potential.[2]

Proposed question: What philosophy of aid is needed to deliver greater alignment with national and wider development policy?

 

3.8.   Leave no one behind: the 2030 Agenda provides a consistent approach to reducing inequality and improving equity. It does this through the principle of leaving no one behind and reaching the furthest behind first. Beyond this, each goal highlights aspects of inequality that need prioritisation, there is a goal on reducing gender inequality and an overarching goal on reducing inequalities between and within countries. Other agendas have focused on important issues like reducing absolute poverty, but the 2030 Agenda is the only comprehensive sustainable development agenda that recognises the importance of reducing inequality at the same time as ending poverty. In doing so, it provides a framework to ensure that when progress is made on economic and climate goals, people are not left behind. There is also a need to ensure that economic goals do not have highest priority, and that value for money is understood in a broad and holistic approach. There are long traditions around measuring and monitoring wellbeing in developing countries that can contribute to a deeper and more meaningful engagement with communities to secure sustained change that is genuinely sustainable – both for now and future generations.[3]

Proposed questions:

What does a philosophy and culture of aid that leaves no one behind look like in practice?

What needs to change in the culture of UK aid to deliver leave no one behind in practice?

 

3.9.   Integration of environmental and social dimensions: This is a vital year for the UK with the G7 and COP26 processes coinciding. We are fast running out of time to switch our lifestyles and consumption within environmental limits and prevent catastrophic climate change. There is still a chance, and it will require leadership, co-operation and ambition to build back better and choose a better future. The Dasgupta Review offers some insights about how wider issues of biodiversity need to be adequately valued, and the wider processes of environmental protection need to be given increasing importance alongside economic forum such as the World Economic Forum.

Proposed questions:

What philosophy of aid would promote better alignment between the environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development?

How can we build a culture that delivers that promise?

 

3.10.                      Acceptance of the critical role of governance: SDG 16 focuses on the need to improve governance between and within countries, if we are to achieve the other goals. Challenges of fragility, lack of access to justice, the importance of political participation, and others, are addressed within the 2030 Agenda in a way that aligns with other objectives and recognises the interplay between the social, economic and environmental sectors and good governance. This means tackling climate change as a priority, as we know that the poorest are hit hardest and often first. It means ensuring good governance of environmental public goods, such as our air, water, and land; and increasingly tackling cross-boundary issues such as sources of air pollution.

Proposed question: How can a philosophy of aid support the mainstreaming of good governance throughout aid policy?

 

3.11.                      Multi-stakeholder partnerships at the national level: the agenda notes that it cannot be achieved by one actor alone. In doing so, it does not pitch governments, civil society, international agencies, and the private sector against one another, but calls for them to work together. Witnesses to the recent Committee evidence session appeared to suggest that there was a choice between empowering civil society and government ownership – for example by suggesting all aid should be channelled through governments – but the 2030 Agenda provides a very different and more constructive vision. This can be done in practice, by using the SDGs and their targets and indicators as a key part of the framework for assessing progress, as well as a commitment to participatory approaches and listening to the voices of people who are affected by issues, and taking steps to protect universal rights and freedoms.

 

3.12.                      Multi-stakeholder partnerships at the regional and global level: There is an opportunity for greater collaboration between organisations and joint working on shared agendas. Innovative opportunities to form joint partnerships to tackle wider issues should be encouraged. These partnerships should also be built at the regional level. In the past the UK government has relied too much on individual contracts, rather than seeking to host knowledge and build communities of expertise. Often UK organisations are leaders in their fields, and there is an opportunity to bring together multi-stakeholder groups to combine the best in research and applied programmes. In the past, these pots have too often been held separately in different funding streams, and there has not been enough learning or application of technical expertise to add value.

Proposed questions:

How can aid best foster strengthened multi-stakeholder cooperation at all levels?

What needs to change in the culture of UK aid to strengthen multi-stakeholder cooperation?

 

3.13.                      Integrated with human rights: the 2030 Agenda states that it will seek ‘to protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources.’ In doing so, it integrates the need for an international legal infrastructure to protect human rights, and that the sustainable development agenda complements and aligns human rights with the social, economic, and environmental changes that are needed.

Proposed question: What would a philosophy of aid need to look like to foster greater links between sustainable development and the human rights agenda?

 

3.14.                      Importance of monitoring and mapping progress: The 2030 Agenda highlights the importance of data in decision making, includes a comprehensive global indicator set, and promotes the use of disaggregated data. The use of data to monitor aid priorities is vital to give the management information needed to target and prioritise issues, as well as for effective monitoring and evaluation. This is challenging because there are synergies and trade-offs, and it is important not to artificially inflate aid levels by double-counting. Equally, however, it is important to recognise that there are real opportunities to add significant value by co-ordinating across agendas, and ensure effective and efficient use of UK taxpayers funds.

Proposed question: How can the monitoring of aid best align with sustainable development, and ensure no one is left behind?

 

3.15.                      Ambition: above all, the 2030 Agenda provides a normative framework which articulates an ambition for a more equal world, where no one is left behind, and we do not exceed planetary boundaries. This ambition is important because it reflects the world we want. The 2030 Agenda highlights the need to build a more equitable work, within and between countries – it recognises that a more equal world benefits everyone. Aid requires a positive normative framework, and the failure in the UK to align the aid agenda with this ambitious agenda is at the heart of many of the pressing issues faced by the development sector. In particular, the 2030 Agenda can provide a coherent framework for the implementation of human rights frameworks, for example the right to an education, rights on non-discrimination, or those ensuring living in a clean environment. A rights-based approach is important for understanding universal needs and the 2030 Agenda provides a framework for ensuring these are met without exceeding planetary boundaries.

Proposed question: How can a philosophy of aid promote ambition in achieving equitable and sustainable development?

4.       Aid in the context of sustainable development

4.1.   The 2030 Agenda recognises a limited, but important, role for aid in the achievement of the SDGs. Target 17.2 calls on
 

…developed countries to implement fully their official development assistance commitments, including the commitment by many developed countries to achieve the target of 0.7 per cent of ODA/GNI to developing countries and 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of ODA/GNI to least developed countries; ODA providers are encouraged to consider setting a target to provide at least 0.20 per cent of ODA/GNI to least developed countries.[4]

 

4.2.   This is one of 5 targets on financing, which include domestic resource mobilisation and debt management – the provision of aid must be part of a wider effort to mobilise greater resourcing, in line with the Addis Ababa Agenda for Action.

 

4.3.   The focus of means of implementation in the 2030 Agenda is on partnership, and the critical question for aid is how it can best facilitate and foster partnerships for sustainable development. In line with the 2030 Agenda, this needs to recognise that national development is led by the government. There is a drift to understanding partnerships mainly in relation to the private sector, particularly in relation to financing, and the philosophy and culture of aid must continue to emphasise the primacy of public policy and public financing in delivering sustainable development. The role of business, civil society, academia, and others must be focused on the most constructive role they can play – not least in holding governments to account and ensuring that good governance and human rights underpin progress in all three pillars of sustainable development.

 

4.4.   As the UK has done with its 25-year plan for nature, it is important to have an inter-generational timeframe that sets bold ambitions and invites innovative approaches to achieve them. The 2030 Agenda provide a 15-year target (with 10 years remaining), while climate processes point us towards the need for radical decarbonisation. It is therefore vital that we collectively dedicated as many resources as possible to achieve the SDGs, as the costs of not meeting them for future generations are likely to far exceed any costs now. All aid should be screened through the lens of the 2030 Agenda, and all 17 SDGs, to identify opportunities for synergies, collaboration and expertise sharing expertise, and to meet the ambitions of a more equal world, where no one is left behind and we do not exceed planetary boundaries.

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[1] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld

[2] Global status report on road safety 2018 (who.int) ; Rights of Way - Child Health and Mobility (childhealthinitiative.org)

[3] Wellbeing in Developing Countries (WeD) ESRC Research Group (bath.ac.uk)

[4] https://sdgs.un.org/2030agenda