Aidex Voices

As the year draws to a close, we explore some of the highlights from our AidEx 2017 programme which brought together over 3,000 aid and development professionals in three cities across the world.  

This year we launched a new satellite conference in Bangladesh’s capital, AidEx Dhaka and we returned to AidEx Nairobi in Kenya and held our sixth flagship exhibition and conference in Brussels.

The satellite events in Nairobi and Dhaka enable professionals in these regions to come together to network and learn from each other. Many of the discussions led by the thought-leaders on the conference programme shaped much of the dialogue in Brussels, and offered a more accurate view of what is truly happening.

AidEx is an integral forum that bridges the gap between civil society and the commercial sector, by bringing together experts in the field under one roof; from local organisations to international NGOs, government officials and world-leading private-sector executives. Providing opportunities to engage the international aid and development community at every level, results in high-level consultations on solutions to global problems. Here are just a few of the key talking points heard at AidEx 2017 events:

AidEx Brussels

Humanitarian innovation, profitable sustainable development and blockchain technology

AidEx in Brussels took place under the conference programme theme Aid and Development Effectiveness: Results Through Transparency and Accountability.

Spearheading the debate on the first day of AidEx in Brussels, Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander De Croo brought timely ideas to the conference in his keynote speech. De Croo stated that in order to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, development must shift from giving, to investing.

De Croo presented the argument of bringing a business mindset to the development debate and explained how Belgium would double its investment in humanitarian innovation next year. Whether you can actually make a profit on humanitarian aid has been a huge political debate in recent times, but De Croo is convinced it is the way forward, highlighting that investment is all about long-term engagement and consequently the key to developing sustainable solutions. Importantly, he raised the issue that government funding will not enable us to achieve the SDGs which is why we must turn to private finance.

Representing the World Food Programme (WFP), Director of Performance Management and Monitoring Jane Pearce pointed out that in just 5 years’ time, everyone will have smart phones and connectivity – which is why WFP’s mission is to improve aid and development effectiveness by using blockchain technology. Pearce argued that this will save costs and give people ownership of their own data.

Pearce also addressed the misperception around the urgent need to bridge the aid and development gap, remarking that while the UN is working to put development at the start of an emergency as much as humanitarian aid, the funds for long-term development are much harder to raise. These comments in turn gave rise to Alexander De Croo’s suggestion that the solution to this issue could be in finding funding primarily through the commercial sector.

The hashtag #AidEx2017 trended on Twitter over both days of the event and received high engagement both offline during the sessions and online – thank you to all of you who contributed to the discussions both online and at the event.

AidEx 2017 Aid Innovation Challenge winner

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Taking home the prize for most innovative invention was Julie Dautel, co-founder of Zéphyr Solar who presented the Zéphyr Solar Balloon at the Aid Innovation Challenge. The design was awarded for its ability to bring renewable energy services quickly to isolated, disaster-stricken areas without any need for infrastructure, powered by solar energy alone.

Co-founder of Zéphyr Solar Julie Dautel was delighted to win the Award, describing it as “a unique opportunity” to gain credibility and validation for an innovative humanitarian solution from NGOs in the sector.

AidEx 2017 Humanitarian Hero Award winner

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Recognised for his outstanding dedication to the field involving 18 years of volunteering for the Austrian Red Cross is Michael Kühnel, otherwise known as ‘Dr Mike’, who was announced as this year’s Humanitarian Hero.

On receiving the award, Dr. Kühnel humbly remarked, “I am still shocked, I can’t believe it”.

AidEx Nairobi

Local capacity building, partnerships and quality data

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AidEx held its fourth satellite conference in Kenya’s capital in September this year. Since its launch in 2014, AidEx Nairobi has become the most important event in the region and this year brought together over 525 aid and development professionals to the biggest aid hub in Africa, in order to discuss the most important issues in the sector.

Delegates were particularly impressed by the all-women panel who discussed the future of how technology and big data will influence aid and development and #AidExNairobi trended on Twitter over both days.

Macroeconomist for the African Development Bank, Walter Odero, stressed that quality data is key to ensuring the effectiveness of aid programmes and there is a need for better coordination in data gathering and dissemination among institutions.

A number of Kenyan-based aid groups expressed concern about the lack of implementation of high-level pledges to prioritise local capacity building into aid programmes over the past decade. The discussion concluded that partnerships between local actors and larger international NGOs and donors are imperative to achieving a common goal and increasing the sustainable impact of projects for the beneficiaries.

AidEx was praised for offering a ‘unique window into the level of discontentment local organisations see in international NGO and aid agency policies.’

Karin Fueg, regional deputy director at UN Women commented that “the networking opportunities at AidEx enable essential dialogue across all sectors relevant to the aid and development field”.  

AidEx Dhaka

Successes and challenges ahead

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AidEx was excited to launch a brand new event in Bangladesh’s capital earlier in the year. Taking place under the theme, Bangladesh: A Champion in Development, AidEx Dhaka celebrated how far the country had advanced, and most importantly what needs to be done if it is to continue progressing.

Executive director of BRAC - the world’s largest NGO – Dr Muhammad Musa delivered a fascinating keynote speech in which he described Bangladesh’s great strides in achievements since the seventies, but also the crucial lessons learnt along the way.

Dr Musa identified this progress on three key fronts; poverty reduction, MDG attainment and an increasing Human Development Index (HDI). All of which have been driven by collective actions on behalf of citizens, government, private sector, NGOs and civil society, community based institutions and international aid and trade.

If Bangladesh is to continue developing however, Dr. Musa believes the country must move away from addressing outcomes of poverty and social inequality, to addressing the structures and underlying causes of poverty – like gender inequality, weak governing and institutions. Dr. Musa says: “To do this, organisations must become more local and stop thinking about poverty just in terms of the effects on things like income, health or education…we need partnerships and evidence from communities themselves”.

Further to AidEx Dhaka, we explored the current Rohingya crises and how Bangladesh alongside other aid agencies have responded.

These are just a small handful of selected notes from the high-level discussions that took place at AidEx 2017. To find out more about AidEx and the upcoming AidEx 2018 programme on our website.