Southern Voices Project
In recognition of the failure of official development assistance (ODA) to produce better and more sustainable developmental outcomes over the past few decades, donors have come to reconsider the nature of their engagement with poor countries. A new paradigm of ‘effective aid’ has emerged that, at least in principle, is based on the concepts of country ownership, a compact between donors and recipient countries to work in partnership to promote development, and mutual accountability.
Calls for ‘scaling up’ aid have also increased substantially over the past few years, mainly out of the belief that adequate, predictable and more effective aid flows are critical to achieving the MDGs. At the G8 Summit in Gleneagles in July 2005 as well as elsewhere, donors have pledged to increase ODA volumes by as much as US$50 billion between now and 2010. At the same time organisations like ActionAid (2005) have argued that much of this increasing flow of aid remains ‘phantom’ in the sense that it does not represent a real resource transfer to recipient countries. While the debate between ‘real’ vs. ‘phantom’ aid has not been settled, it underlines the need for improving aid quality – that is, ensuring that maximum benefit is extracted from existing aid flows.
In a context of increasing flows of aid, questions about ‘aid architecture’ – or the way the international aid system works – have become more pressing. There is a growing perception among donors and recipient governments alike, as well as many NGOs in the North, that a multiplicity of agencies (the aid system today consists of more than 90 official bilateral and multilateral international development agencies) is compounded by a multiplicity of agendas and purposes which lead to a number of different inefficiencies. Hence the launch of a variety of initiatives, beginning with the Monterrey Consensus, attempting to rationalise the aid system and make aid more ‘effective’ – more harmonised, aligned, and based on country ownership.
This debate, however, has mainly been undertaken among (Northern) donors themselves. Voices of Southern constituents in shaping such trends have been muted, especially among Southern-based CSOs. Very little seems to be available or to have been written on the subject, for a number of reasons. These include a lack of appropriate fora to promote dialogue and information sharing among Southern CSOs (the main international discussion fora are heavily biased towards donor views and Northern shareholder representation, and they offer a predominantly governmental perspective), weak capacity, language barriers, inadequate funding, and high transaction costs, among others. ODI launched and currently facilitates the ‘Southern Voices for Change in the International Aid System’ project to encourage Southern CSO engagement in the debate about the desirable future structure, instruments and major processes of international aid. Such engagement seems essential against the backdrop of the future scaling-up of aid and the consequent need for a more responsive and appropriate way to address the needs of the poor.
Part I: Identifying Southern views and perspectives on the international aid system and bringing them together to enable the exchange of ideas and proposals
Stage 1 Issues reviews for each of the regions involved in the project (Africa, Asia, and Latin America)
Four Southern-based independent researchers or practitioners (two from Africa, one from Asia, and one from Latin America) were commissioned to capture published/known views of Southern CSOs, especially think tanks and research centres, on the international aid system and compare/contrast them with Northern perspectives, reflected in recent ODI research as well as other documents produced by Northern CSOs . Topics covered in these literature reviews include the pros and cons of greater donor alignment as seen by recipients; the impact of rising "governmentalisation" of aid through budget support; new approaches to conditionality; grants versus loans; and developing country representation in major national and international aid allocation decisions.
Stage 2 'Review' process
To facilitate further dialogue on international aid system issues among Southern CSOs/researchers/scholars/experts, the four issues reviews generated in Stage 1 were circulated among invited outside readers, also from the South, for their comments and suggestions. An important aspect of this exercise was to ensure that the reviews are as complete and thorough as possible, and to identify and address any obvious gaps.
Part 1 of the project was also important in identifying key regional CSO partners for further involvement in the project, especially in terms of helping carry out Parts 2 and 3 below.
Part II: Launching and maintaining the virtual Forum for the Future of Aid (FFA)
The FFA website was created as an interactive discussion network with expert research, briefing and consulting support to facilitate the exchange of ideas among Southern CSOs engaged in thinking about aid architecture issues. In this, Southern CSOs are first canvassed for interest in specific policy topics, which are then examined with their help, plus voluntary inputs from other experts, and summaries are relayed to the wider network.
In order to provide incentives to encourage Southern CSO engagement with the FFA,ODI will work promoting a series of activities:
- Encourage Southern CSOs to further their engagement with the international aid system and aid architecture issues by hosting and organising their own events/meetings/workshops on the future of aid and using the website to share their ideas and outcomes from such events. The Southern Voices project will fund selective ODI staff inputs to such seminars, and make a modest contribution to in-region travel by other CSO participants as appropriate/possible.
- Invite Southern CSOs to write small opinion pieces on some of the issues being discussed in the FFA, published on the FFA site and disseminated to Northern media.
Provide small funds/seed money for Southern CSOs who submit proposals, refereed by ODI, to carry out creative projects related to international aid architecture
Part III: Workshop at ODI and Working Paper
ODI organised and hosted a three-day workshop in London on 14-16 November 2006 with most of the Southern CSO representatives that have collaborated with us on the Southern Voices project, as well as a select group of donors, government representatives, and Northern NGO representatives. ODI prepared a Scoping Paper as a background document for the workshop. Comments on the Scoping Paper were then commissioned from our Southern Partners, and ODI produced a Working Paper drawing on those comments.