Embracing Development Cooperation in the Post-2015 Agenda

This post was first published on the First Tranche blog at AidData. You can view the original post here.

The Post-2015 Development Agenda is at the forefront of conversation in international development circles. The so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been, and continue to be, discussed, delineated and heavily debated in the lead-up to the expiration of the currently instated Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). As it stands there are 17 proposed goals, many of which resemble current MDGs (whose target development issues have not yet solved…). Once again, the development community seems to be proposing an ambitious, all-encompassing agenda, including 169 targets for specifically tracking each of the 17 goals. Proposals are streaming in from academics, NGOs, think tanks, and others from across the world, each advocating for a prominent spot on the list for the issue they hold most dear.

In the midst of this ambitious open process and framework, however, there is one topic that could be stronger on the agenda: development cooperation. A related goal aims to “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development” (proposed SDG 17). Nonetheless, the ideals of development cooperation seem to have been tacked on as an afterthought in the fine print of the proposed goals. Indeed, the eponymous name of the goal itself would lead one to believe that development cooperation is an important part of the sustainable development agenda. However, if we look more closely at the fine print of this goal, many of these ideals are missing. Where is the concept of ownership, alignment, and harmonization in financing? What about mutual accountability, transparency, and results? Perhaps working alongside our developing partners to finance this global agenda wasn’t “sexy” enough to become a strong, standalone goal – but we can all agree that idea exchange, as well as financial and technical partnership for development assistance, is a necessary and integral part of the development process. Aid is not simply the byproduct of the existence of a worldwide development agenda. Rather, it spurs progress, and when properly executed can catalyze an enormous positive impact on the lives of millions of people. The currently proposed goals are certainly admirable, but how can they be actualized when the mechanisms that aim to operationalize them are glossed over? Arguably, the move toward development cooperation as going ”beyond aid” fits well into this ambitious Post-2015 Agenda, as it focuses more on partnership and mutual progress than merely on funding disbursements.

Of course, this argument is not meant to say that we should necessarily concentrate our efforts on Official Development Assistance (ODA) from rich countries to poorer countries (an idea that is represented in goal 17.2). The development community has realized that this is an oversimplified approach to development, which simply cannot work in isolation. Simply counting how much aid is given without considering how it was spent goes against every principle of development cooperation. We have realized that the Global South has a unique and nuanced view of the development process, including both successes and challenges, and that this should be valued and brought to the fore. South-South cooperation is becoming increasingly prominent in conversations of development cooperation. The Paris Agenda has been reaffirmed and expanded upon in Busan, solidifying the commitment to ownership, results, partnership, transparency, and accountability. If we don’t take this opportunity to really strengthen our commitment to development cooperation in the SDGs, will that commitment fade into the background? Will our forward-moving progress simply halt?

Fittingly, one of the most important recent advancements in global development is the concept of working in partnership. Though we still have a long way to go until this is truly integral to development work and not just rhetoric, we have come a long way since top-down development like the Structural Adjustment Programs. Rather than shying away from the more granular side of development assistance, we should celebrate it. We should persist in constantly strengthening our cooperative partnerships, and continue to hone, refine, and reinforce our commitments to development cooperation and effective aid, beyond simply ODA and counting our total disbursements.

There are several caveats worth mentioning here: development cooperation is not necessarily the “magic bullet” to successful development. Aid in itself might not be the solution to development challenges. However, working in true partnership and giving voice to the intended beneficiaries of development assistance is fundamental for achieving any international development agenda. So this is a call to support development cooperation, to make it front and center in the sustainable development agenda. We need to give it its proper dues and remove it from the sidelines if we want ownership, accountability, and results to flourish in the advancement of our global development goals.