Authors: Debapriya Bhattacharya, Distinguished Fellow; Towfiqul Islam Khan, Senior Research Fellow; and Najeeba Mohammed Altaf, Research Associate at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Dhaka.
Without ‘ownership’, the intricate task of coordinating interactions among diverse stakeholders from both recipient and lending countries may become next to near impossible. This further threatens building transparent and mutually beneficial partnerships for effective development cooperation. Originally introduced in the mid-1980s, the concept represented a borrowing country's commitment to fulfilling the objectives of a development programme funded by a providing country. By 2011, it evolved to become the first Principle of Effective Development Cooperation under the primary multi-stakeholder platform created to drive development effectiveness, i.e., the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC). The rearticulation of ‘ownership’ captured the notion of a recipient country taking ownership and assuming responsibility for the successful execution of foreign-aided programs or projects.
Curiously, discussions at milestone forums and meetings during the 1996-2016 period have revealed how interchangeably we use ‘country’ and ‘recipient government’ ownership. “Country” ownership reflects a narrative shift towards inclusivity in development cooperation processes. While “recipient” ownership reveals a fixation on the recipient government as the sole driver of these processes. The assumption possibly is that in an ideal democratic context, the citizens’ perspectives are reflected through the elected public representatives. Consequently, operationalising ‘country ownership’ within the GPEDC framework has proved to be a rather closed-off model, often disconnected from the realities on the ground in Southern countries.
What does ‘ownership’ truly entail in recipient countries? Our study based on research programme led by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), in partnership with the Group for the Analysis of Development/Southern Voice and supported by the European Commission provides fresh perspectives on the issue. The research examined the practice and effectiveness of development cooperation principles in delivering improved development outcomes in three sectors, i.e., agriculture, education, and social protection, across six Southern countries. Our study drew on the sectoral experiences of operationalising the ‘country ownership’ in Bangladesh, El Salvador, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda. It argues for a “collective” ownership approach, which assures internalisation of development initiatives by key stakeholders from both the recipient and provider sides. It explored the importance of the modality and composition of project/programme financing as well as level of stakeholder engagement across the subsequent stages of a development cooperation-led project or programme.
Beyond the government, across the process.
The six-country experiences provide some insights into the limitations of the previous GPEDC monitoring frameworks. The framework is undoubtedly essential, but its past methodologies have been overly focused on the recipient government, often operating without adequate democratic accountability, and process-oriented approaches. Though, it is welcoming to find that the revised GPEDC monitoring framework, unveiled in 2022, signifies a notable shift towards prioritising ‘collective’ action over the singular focus on recipient governments. It recognises the centrality of ‘collective accountability’ in driving development effectiveness by emphasising the concept as a central thread cutting across the entire monitoring framework.
Our study reveals the necessity of the ‘participation' of key stakeholder groups across all stages of the process chain. Yet, what about the ownership of providers? A rather under-explored area, it has significant implications for the predictability of financing in recipient countries, which was undeniably one of the weakest performing indicators as depicted in the 2019 GPEDC Progress Report. This profoundly impacts the recipient’s ability to efficiently plan and budget for their development activities.
Shifting focus to ‘collective ownership’ from ‘country ownership’, encourages the active involvement of the three key groups across the development cooperation process chain. This more holistic approach entails recognising the transversal nature and pivotal role of ‘participation’ in steering the course towards attaining all four Effectiveness Principles. And in the era of scarce resources, ensuring participation of key actors has become an increasingly pertinent issue that the GPEDC should take up vehemently with member states.
The content of this blog article is based on the findings of the working paper Unpacking ‘ownership’ in development co-operation effectiveness: Perspectives of Southern recipients.