Aidex Voices

How should the UK and other donor nation’s change their approach moving forward? Leaders across the aid and development sector exchange food for thought at this year’s Bond conference.

There was, perhaps unsurprisingly, an atmosphere more sober than usual at the biggest London-based international development conference this year, Bond 2018. In light of the recent sex abuse revelations within the sector, a number of ad-hoc sessions dedicated to discussing the issue of safeguarding were included in the two-day programme which set out to address the sector’s immediate needs, long term goals and emerging trends.

UK Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt, opened the conference with staunch support for overseas aid, highlighting how since the Oxfam scandal broke, British public aid has helped vaccinate around 1.5 million children from polio. It has been our failure to “put the beneficiaries of aid first” which has caused us to stray far from delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, she argued.  

Armed forces vs ‘earth democracy’

Mordaunt’s speech focused on the need for the private sector, DfID and the Ministry of Defence to cooperate more closely in order to achieve global security. This was however in direct contrast to subsequent speakers, namely environmental activist Dr Vandana Shiva. Dr Shiva disagreed with Mordaunt’s military expansion proposals, instead advocating the more basic currency of love and compassion through co-empowering, co-creating and co-producing. “Violence has never delivered security. It has only ever triggered more violence”, she stated.

Dr Shiva believes every SDG can be met if we instead tackle the root of the problem, by addressing what she refers to as the “biodiversity paradigm”. Believing the current model of development is wrong - demonstrable in the displacement of so many around the world, Dr Shiva says “poverty, malnutrition and education is all achievable by respecting the earth”. She insists that building structures by ruining the foundations will cause the entire system to collapse, with 80% of our ecosystem already destroyed.

Using Bhutan as an example, Dr Shiva endorsed a development model based on respecting culture, protecting forests and measuring wellbeing as opposed to GDP; citing GDP as “the most powerful number that rules our life, but increases poverty and worsens life”. Leadership principles must be founded on taking care, by “enriching and enhancing every relationship that you are a part of”.

Social justice, not charity

During the session on the UK’s vision for international development, Kate Osamor MP discussed Labour’s pledge to introduce a social justice fund for civil society in the South in order to re-shift focus back to the UK’s commitment to human rights declared following the second world war.

Global safeguards

Speaking on tackling the “systemic” sex abuse in the sector, CEO of Save the Children Kevin Watkins spoke of globalising safeguarding systems and referred to the organisation’s recently announced independent culture review, which sets out to provide a platform for abuse to be reported.

Centralise women’s rights

Jessica Horn, Director of Programmes at the African Women’s Development Fund discussed how “our work is about transforming power relations and the distribution of power in the world”, which means women’s rights must be central to our vision for progress to happen. In line with Dr Shiva, the programmes director reiterated the need to move away from defining development with security driven by armies, stating we should spend less for the military and more for humans because, “I can tell you as an African, we don’t need any more guns.”

African women she said, are the most marginalised within the marginalised and “no woman in this world wants to be dependent” and moving beyond dependence structures is essential to poverty reduction et al. “Without women’s rights, there is no development” Horn concluded.

Prioritise peace-building

“Peace impact must run through everything we do”, urged the CEO of International Alert, Harriet Lamb, in her call for the UK government to establish a specific fund inclusive of aiding politics and economics of fragile states affected by half of global poverty – a figure projected to increase to 90% by 2035.

In the ghastly face of more people dying in wars today than they have in the past 25 years, alongside the ever-shrinking space for civil society in fragile states, Lamb argued the case for more solidarity and less armed services delivery – iterating the counter-argument to Mordaunt’s calls. Using Mali as an example of where a hard security response and exclusion of the Tuareg people prevents development, Lamb outlined the disproportionate spending of less than 1% of the budget on peace-building in comparison to the military.

The overall consensus amongst these international sector NGO leaders is a call for organisational frameworks to hold human rights, social justice and peace at their core. The outcasts here being the UK government, whose pledge to focus on strengthening security reflects a lack of communication with the very people who work on the ground. Moving forward, this may present challenges for organisations who rely on government funding streams, while more significantly, true global progress will require collaborations founded on shared principles.