President’s Global Development Council: Fine Work But Now What (and When)?

See below for a post from Connie Veillette, Senior Fellow for Global Food Security and Aid Effectiveness at The Lugar Center and MFAN Co-Chair.

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The President’s Global Development Council (GDC) released a much awaited report (Beyond Business as Usual) April 14 calling for a focus on the private sector, innovation, transparency and evidence, climate smart food security, and global leadership. Many of its points coincide with current thinking in development quarters, one of which is the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network’s (MFAN) new policy paper.

The wait for a GDC product has been exceedingly lengthy. The Council was born out of the President’s Policy Directive on Global Development issued way back in 2010. I should note here that many of us hailed the PPD for its emphasis on transparency, country ownership, and even more selectivity and focus in funding choices. One can see many of its principles reflected in U.S. development programs, although not to the level that many of us expected four years hence. From 2010 until GDC members were named in 2012, the development community waited. Once the members were named, a new waiting game began for what the council would do and how it would do it. But two years later, they have issued a fine report.

Now what? The GDC was created to “provide high-level input relevant to the work of United States Government agencies.” The report notes that it “will also explore other areas moving forward.” This is a good thing for a number of reasons.

First, while I agree that the GDC focus areas are important, and some are downright crucial, I would suggest that the Council left out a particularly difficult but nonetheless critical issue, that of country ownership. The vast majority of the development community believes in the value of building local capacity and in engaging governments, business, and civil society in creating and implementing development strategies. However, there is considerable disagreement on how best to do this. There is even disagreement on such an elementary question as what country ownership means. MFAN has formed a working group on this very issue. Our goal is to help inform this dialogue within the administration, Congress, aid implementers, and the public.

Second, time is running out. A GDC goal is to help institutionalize many PPD principals within government agencies. It is quite conceivable that GDC can continue into the next administration, but there are no guarantees. GDC should be operating within the premise that its work is done by the end of 2016. Given the administration’s track record in getting the panel named and up and running, and then the fits and starts of the Council over the last two years, my concerns seem merited.

Third, do we really need another conference? And who is the audience? And will the administration want to lead an effort that would require huge investments in stature, planning, funding, partnerships, etc. in order to have much of an effect on U.S. public opinion? (Are we talking about annual Farm Aid concerts that have raised public awareness of the value of American farmers?) Such an event may be fun for attendees, but better value may be found in working on identifying best practices and helping U.S. agencies implement them. As the report notes…”The Council will place particular emphasis on identifying successful approaches to inclusive and sustainable development and will be open about those approaches that don’t work.” Hallelujah.

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