Saturday, June 12, 2010

Relief and development ... why nothing is learned from experience?

Dear Colleagues

Someone needs to hold the international relief and development community to their commitments ... because the international community has made a lot of very good commitments over the years.

For example the international community led by WHO and UNICEF made the pledge of “Health for All by the Year 2000” at a major UN conference in AlmaAta in Kazakhstan in the former Soviet Union in 1978. Bluntly put, nothing very much came of this ... and there was very little effort towards the 20 year mark to make an issue of the failure to achieve the commitment.

Instead the UN spent its energy to put together another set of targets ... the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were another ambitious set of targets for future performance in development.

By the year 2000, I had more than 25 years of experience in the international arena, and in that time had seen some examples of great success in development ... but in the main the process of development was expensive and was not working. My work with "management information" in the development arena showed that a big part of the resource flow was producing minimal impact for reasons that included completely failed project design to serious misappropriation of the moneys. From my perspective the key "institutions" in the relief and development sector were determined to avoid seeing the reality of failed performance and what needed to be fixed ... rather they merely wanted to stay funded and essentially maintain the status quo.

As Dambisa Moyo, the author of the book "Dead Aid" has observed about development in Africa: "A trillion dollars, sixty years and not very much to show for it ... there has to be a better way". I could not agree more!

Nobody seems to have been very interested in learning from experience ... neither from the failure to achieve the AlaMata commitments of 1978 ... nor the broader failure of development in Africa over 60 years. Rather the aim seems to be to make sure that the potential lessons are hidden from view. Certainly there are problems to be addressed in development ... but as a global community, the leadership has not been very much interested in getting to grips with what is wrong and fixing the problems.

This needs to change ... and part of the process of change is going to be better metrics. These metrics need to come from a community centric perspective that has an interest in success rather than the organization perspective where the vested interest is in maintaining the organizational status quo!

Peter Burgess

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