Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Looking at varying perspectives on the global development agenda: southern voices in Istanbul

One of the most productive outcomes of my visit to Istanbul was the time spent in reading and reviewing four papers that were presented at the  session on ‘Varying perspectives on the global development agenda’ at the Southern Voice Global Conference that preceded the TTI 2015 Exchange.

The papers were:
Ibrahima  Hathie’s  (IPAR, Senegal) The post-2015 Development Agenda – favourable for Africans?
Mireya Villacis’ (CEDA, Ecuador) Alternatives for or to Development
Ajaya Dixit’s (ISET-N, Nepal) The Changing intersection of society and development goals: an examination aimed at improving policy
Bitrina Diyamett’s (STIPRO, Tanzania)   Is the current booming growth in Africa worth celebrating?  Some evidence from Tanzania

The papers produced some clear messages that cut across the geographical divide of three continents.  They emphasised the need for inclusive growth, recognising that economic growth in itself is not enough, that it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for sustainable development and poverty eradication.  They confirmed  that what we need is growth that creates/expands employment opportunities for the poor, growth that creates decent work for men and for women, and growth that enhances the incomes of poor households.   They stressed the importance of environmental sustainability, natural resource management and disaster risk reduction. They celebrated the diversity within countries, within regions and globally and rejected any formulaic one-size-fits-all solutions.

The prescriptions for achieving (or not) inclusive growth were varied.  One paper argued for a focus on labour intensive manufacturing, citing the case of Malaysia where there was a highly state interventionist, social engineering project that integrated poverty eradication into development plans through labour intensive manufacturing in textiles, garments and electronic products.  The paper  suggested that countries like Tanzania could do the same with agro-processing.  There was a call for more emphasis on science, technology and innovation, that can help labour intensive industries improve their innovative capability.  Some studies pointed out the danger of relying on remittance income which can lower the incentive for governments to create productive employment opportunities for poor people. 

I would have said also that there was insufficient  attention paid to the question of gender and women.  The Nepal paper talks about migration resulting in the feminisation of agriculture, but falls short of discussing the implications of that for creating a dynamic decent job agenda in the agricultural sector.  The same paper also talks of “creating of new jobs that enhance the income of households’ without taking into account intrahousehold  income dispairities.  The Malaysian case, cited in the Tanzanian paper, admits that while Malaysia juggled class interests and horizontal inequalities (e.g. ethnic inequalities) in its attempt to develop a growth with distribution strategy, it was less successful with strengthening gender equality.  And the Latin American paper highlights the difficulties of dealing with the macho culture of Ecuadorian society, bolstered by religion, and limiting the conversation on gender.

In discussing the environment, the papers recognise that despite the existence of a large natural resource and bio-diversity base, Africa has not been able to garner its potential for employment or for economic return.  In both Africa and Asia, the environment is being threatened by climate change.

With this backdrop it seemed to me that we were bringing some fundamental points to the SDG debate.  Hathies paper refers to an ODI  Rough Guide to emerging consensus and divergence in post-2015 goal areas by Gina Bergh and Jonathan Couturier (2013) that suggests that while the MDG type goals  (education, health, energy,  gender, poverty)feature strongly on the agenda of all the global institutions, the issues that the papers in this session have raised are not so strongly on the global agenda.  So for instance, according to ODI,  inclusive growth and employment is on the radar, but not very strongly, and the same with environmental sustainability.  Science, technology and innovation is not prioritised at all, and neither is social inclusion, even though gender (in terms of empowering women and girls) is.

The ODI analysis is scary, and hopefully things have moved on a bit since 2013, but if we really haven’t deviated from that path it could be that without really realising it, we may move away from the five principles articulated by the SDGs

           Leave no one behind
·         Put sustainable development at the core
·         Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth
·         Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all
·         Forge a new global partnership

What WE are bringing to the debate is a different set of priorities, and I guess, if we want to make a difference  there are at least two things we must do:

One, we need to recognize the political economy of global decision making, and the resilience of the global paradigm.   What we need to stress is that the issues of poverty, vulnerability, ecosystems etc are systemic issues, embedded in what the authors of the papers have acknowledged as the ‘traditional’ forms of development and we need to advocate that this system is overhauled. 

Two, we need to communicate more widely the alternatives – where they have been implemented.   The difficulty is that even those who see the value of the alternatives and don’t  have a vested interest in the system, feel that a country cannot have its own unique system that works outside the global system, and so are willing only  to tinker at the edges.  Partly it’s because there is so little communication about nations (or groups within nations) that have implemented alternatives – so examples like Ecuador’s National Plan for Good Living need to be celebrated more widely.

The concept note for the session asked the question asked whether the new development agenda should allow spaces for a new vision of development.  MY answer is an unequivocal YES.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Transport, sustainability, equity and other difficult questions...

Here are what some would call 'irrational’  and possibly heretical  initial thoughts, after listening to President Sirisena’s interview on Rupavahini last night, and considering aspects of  the 100 day mini budget. 
 President Sirisena has called for a change in the ‘political culture’ of Sri Lanka. But unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an equally strident call for a change in attitude about what constitutes well being for Sri Lankans, and what we need to do to ensure a more sustainable Sri Lanka.  For those of us working on sustainable development it is obvious that the current levels of consumption and the mantra of unbridled economic growth cannot continue in Sri Lanka (or in the world).   Ravi Karunanayaka’s ‘Robin Hood’  mini budget speech,  laudable because it is catering for the lower income citizens  of Sri Lanka, has a disturbing statement  “in order to encourage low income families to purchase a motor car to improve their living standards, I propose to reduce taxes applicable on the motor cars with engine capacity less than 1,000 cc by around 15%” (my emphasis) Is this what we want?   We already have the highest number of vehicles per 1000 population in South Asia: 76 vehicles per 1000 people when Pakistan  and Bhutan have 57, India 41, Afghanistan and the Maldives 28, and Nepal and Bangladesh only 5 and 3 respectively.  In our little island of 65,000 sq kilometres, how many more do we require?

President Sirisena talked about how we should emulate the way in which developed countries like the UK  conduct their elections – maybe we should also emulate the way that those countries are encouraging more sustainable transport and energy use.  The previous regime conveniently  ignored the fact that the even their ideal state, Singapore, promoted public transport over private. It is worrying if this regime continues with the same blind spot - there is no mention in the budget of enhancing  public transport options. 

It is obvious that the UNP (renamed by some wags the Socialist National Party) is  trying to make sure that they do not make the mistakes of the past, and introduce belt tightening measures before a general election.  I can also sympathise with the view often thrown at me by my elitist friends, that having been born sucking on the proverbial silver spoon (since tarnished, unfortunately) I have no right to deny my less fortunate compatriots their ambitions of, for example, purchasing a motor car.  (Of course my counter to that, if I were to counter it, would be to say that if every family is to have a motor car, then some of us cannot have our SUVs!) And if these same friends are correct that the human race will adapt itself to a depleted natural environment – I guess I am wasting my breath trying to promote a more ecologically sustainable lifestyle so we can preserve some of our natural resources for their children’s children.   Even if they are not, why would I worry about Professor Christy Weeramantry’s gloomy prediction that if the 21st century continued in its destructive and bungling ways there would be no 22nd century? After all, its hardly likely that I am going to see another millennium myself, and not being a parent or grandparent, I really should have no interest in the future of the human race!

 But I can’t help thinking that President Sirisena could be losing an opportunity to use his popularity as a ‘people’s President’  to make an even greater change.   He is definitely promoting a simpler lifestyle for his colleagues in government – why not a more sustainable lifestyle for all of us?