The world has changed rapidly in recent years. We have seen American citizens take to the streets and non-violently occupy Wall Street. Egypt’s Tahrir Square is now a household name and in Thailand, citizens are engaging publicly with the state about its governance. Vibrant citizen-state interactions are no longer exceptions but the rule in the new global political architecture as people express themselves through protest, policy advocacy and practice change. The ongoing reality is the desire to achieve the best for our societies and the world.
Building on previous processes, civil society was among the most active and organised of stakeholders in the lead-up to the Busan High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, stating key messages and areas of engagement well before many governments agreed their positions. Civil society has worked with all other actors across the globe in the Working Party of Aid Effectiveness at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and all attendant work streams, providing alternative policy positions and new thinking.
Rights-based approaches, gender, labour and decent work, as well as environmental issues were our mantras, and now important aspects of the Busan outcome document.
Official recognition of civil society organisations (CSOs) as independent development actors comes with challenges to show our own commitment to aid effectiveness. CSOs have established the Open Forum on platforms to focus on policy reforms in Aid Effectiveness and advocating for an enabling environment for civil society. Building on previous processes and following on from the Busan High-Level Forum, the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness was established in 2012. Civil society is now documenting its progress since Busan, to be presented at the Mexico High Level Meeting in April 2014.
The Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation’s themes for the meeting include progress on Busan, tax and domestic resource mobilisation, Middle Income Countries and development co-operation, South-South and Triangular Co-operation, Knowledge Sharing and the role of the private sector. While these are relevant for discussion, a more nuanced approach is needed to address these topics:
1) It is clear that bottlenecks on the post-2015 development agenda still require more concerted global effort. We should not prescribe governments’ constitutional actions, but encourage them to realise that global partnerships are fundamental to achieving development aspirations. These partnerships should be based on mutuality and accountability, not asymmetrical power structures that perpetuate suspicion, fueled by opaque rules of engagement. Partnerships should be broad-based and driven by global solidarity among civil society, governments, regional and national parliaments, foundation bodies, local authorities, as well as minorities and citizens of all shades. This is a model that we hope the Global Partnership can offer to the world.
Today, it is clear that problems in one part of the world are problems for all of us. One lesson from the climate change movement is that the world is interconnected – any conversation around the global ecosystem requires solidarity and partnership that sees each one of us as citizens of a world that we have to build together. This does not imply abandoning our different identities or political positions. The Mexico meeting should show that shaping a better world is not about slicing up a pie, but about baking a cake together.
2) While today there are loud calls for the inclusion of the private sector in development, we should seek creative strategies to ensure that the still-fresh wounds of global food, fuel and financial crises are not reopened for citizens across developed and developing countries. The Global Partnership should be the space to think critically about such issues to ensure that we do not repeat past mistakes.
3) Tax and domestic resource mobilisation are welcome additions to the global debate on financing for development. Civil society across the world has spoken loudly on the critical issue of tax justice, and on ensuring that tax havens do not bar the way to effective development. Tax is pivotal in relations between nation-states and citizens. Justice and equity in collection, use and regulation are important building blocks in delivering development. Discussion on domestic resource mobilisation should privilege global and local progressive tax regimes that benefit citizens.
4) On Middle Income Countries, while emerging economies show it is possible to overcome underdevelopment, we must not lose focus on those still experiencing tough times.
The poverty among plenty seen in many poor economies should be of concern. In many ways, increasing inequality is proving as hostile as chronic poverty, but buried under impressive economic figures fueled by faith in ‘GDPism’.
Inclusive development must be prominent in all Busan implementation, and framed by a human rights-based approach that ensures equal access, voice and participation, consultative decision-making, and empowerment.
As we head to Mexico in April 2014, we should remember that the future will be made by us as global citizens. Yes, many countries operate on difficult terrain, with obstacles on the road to transformation. Many of us working on development could choose to complain about bad governance, fragile states, aid fatigue, and many other things. But we can also focus on positive forces. We have examples of success in places like South Korea and China, and from the resilience of countries like Ireland, which fought through the global economic crisis. What the future needs is a dose of optimism and creativity coupled with a can-do attitude – remembering that the citizen is central in development co-operation.