Focus on effective development cooperation

19.03.2023, International cooperation

Switzerland co-chaired the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) from 2019 to 2022. The international summit held in Geneva from 12 to 14 December 2022 was a high point. Alliance Sud attended the summit.

Kristina Lanz
Kristina Lanz

Expert on international cooperation

Focus on effective development cooperation

The Global Partnership was established in 2011 in Busan (Korea) in order to "maximize the effectiveness of all forms of cooperation for development for the shared benefit of people, planet, prosperity and peace". Its structure is unique: whereas in most international fora it is mainly country representatives who meet for discussions, the GPEDC also brings together ministers, parliamentarians, local government representatives, civil society, business, foundations and trade unions, as well as bilateral and multilateral development organisations from 161 countries. Together, they keep up the dialogue on effective development cooperation and also draft guidelines and recommendations. The GPEDC regularly monitors whether all parties are observing the principles of effective development cooperation.

But what is really happening?

While everyone at the Geneva Summit seemed to concur that the agreed principles of effective development cooperation are still of central importance today, regrettably, implementation is poor, as underscored by several of the speakers. Raj Kumar, CEO of the information portal Devex, recalled the first GPEDC meeting in Busan, which was aiming for a complete transformation of the development sector – from top-down project-based development cooperation to bottom-up systemic development cooperation – and was hence critical of the scant progress made.

According to the latest GPEDC Monitoring Round a declining trend can be observed in the key area of country ownership – while more recipient countries have set their own development strategies and improved their administrative systems in pursuit of their development goals, the use of national systems by donor countries is declining. In addition, an analysis of official OECD Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) data shows that in 2020, only about a third of all development funding was managed by governments, private enterprises or NGOs from partner countries. The remaining funds were managed by governments, NGOs and private enterprises from donor countries, as well as by multilateral institutions.

A further challenge is the increasing fragmentation of the development landscape, as identified in a recent World Bank study, which was also presented at the GPEDC Summit. The study concludes that between 2000 and 2020, the number of official development players (bilateral and multilateral development agencies, development banks, etc.) rose from 212 to 544, while the size of individual financial transactions contracted by a third. What this means for recipient countries, is that on average they are now dealing with 150 different agencies (in Ethiopia, for example, that number even surpasses 200). Not only does this place a substantial administrative burden on recipient countries (especially as most donors do not process their transactions through the national systems, instead imposing their own individual administrative requirements), but also constitutes a major problem of coordination among the donors themselves.

While the development landscape continues to fragment, one player that is much hyped rhetorically – the private sector – seems to be largely absent. Raj Kumar pointed out, for example, that in 2019, only about 2% of all development funds went into "new and innovative financing instruments" to cooperate with the private sector. In Geneva, too, private sector representatives were few and far between.

New momentum or empty rhetoric?

The Geneva conference ended with the adoption of a wide-ranging, 15-page declaration. Not only does the document pinpoint the many and varied global crises currently confronting the world – from the climate crisis to the rise of autocracies and the concomitant "shrinking space", to the looming debt crisis – but also addresses today’s changing and ever more fragmented development system. Several international promises are also renewed – including that of allocating at least 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) to international cooperation – and new promises are added, such as the will to jointly combat corruption, illicit financial flows and shrinking space, or to focus international cooperation as a whole more on the poorest and most vulnerable target groups (in keeping with the ‘leave no-one behind’ principle).

All this sounds wonderful, but the world is not short of fine words and declarations – as aptly stated by Susanna Moorehead, Chair of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD, who recently acknowledged: "If we are serious about effective development cooperation, we should start by implementing our recommendations." The new monitoring framework also adopted by the GPEDC summit is at least an initial step in the right direction, being designed to help recipient countries better gauge implementation of the effectiveness principles. Donor country profiles will now also be drawn up, showing how donors incorporate the principles into their international cooperation. Pursuant to the Kampala Principles, the effectiveness of private sector instruments is also to be more closely assessed. It remains to be seen what momentum these new departures will generate and whether they can help render existing international cooperation more effective.

An opportunity for Switzerland?

Despite chairing the GPEDC and hosting the conference in Geneva, the principles of effectiveness so far seem to be leading a rather shadowy existence in Switzerland. The current International Cooperation Strategy 2021-2024 mentions neither the Global Partnership nor the principles of effective development cooperation and, for the most part, they are also conspicuously absent from general SDC and SECO communication. The forthcoming adoption of the new International Cooperation Strategy 2025-2028 would be a good opportunity to follow the fine words from Geneva with real action and to align international cooperation as a whole (including the new private sector instruments) with the principles of effectiveness and to resolutely place the poorest and most vulnerable people at the centre of the debate.

The four principles of effective development cooperation

a) Country ownership of development priorities: Each country should set its own development priorities, and all development organisations should be guided by them. Whenever possible, development agencies should use country-specific systems for awarding contracts and managing finances. Development funds should not be tied to conditions that favour companies, goods or services from donor countries ('tied aid').

b) Focus on results: All development activities should help alleviate poverty, contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to capacity building in recipient countries. In so doing, they should be guided by scientific evidence and encourage regular impact measurement, whereby access to high-quality data also plays a key role.

c) Inclusive development partnerships: Development cooperation should follow a "whole of society approach" and wherever possible include and bring together a variety of players (governments, parliaments, civil society, private sector, academia, etc.).

d) Transparency and mutual accountability: Both donor and recipient countries commit to transparent communication regarding financial flows and development outcomes, with a special role being assigned to national parliaments and civil society participation.