Unpacking the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Pledge that “No One will be Left Behind”

Unpacking the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Pledge that “No One will be Left Behind”

The newly released Sustainable Development Goals mark a turning point in the development trajectory. Here, Zoe Nutter problematises the links between changes in discourse and policy implementation.

UN Member States recently approved a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – a “universal Agenda”. These goals were initially adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at the UN Sustainable Development Summit and seek to redress the failures of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Resolution adopted by the General Assemble calls for “bold and transformative steps” in order to shift global trends and embark on a “collective journey” – one in which “no one will be left behind”. And the means required for implementation involve a “revitalized” Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, focused particularly on “the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable”. Still, it is not entirely clear what will change in practice. The grave and controversial disconnect between official policy and effective implementation is of primary concern. Any goal concerning the reduction of inequality will prove a farce if the “unwavering commitment to economic growth” is not supplemented by the resolve to redistribute “gross global and national inequalities in wealth and income”.

The SDGs aim to realise the human rights of all, achieve gender equality and promote the empowerment of all women and girls through a balanced approach, rooted in the principles of economic, social and environmental sustainability. There is a pledged commitment to “all human beings”, such that they can “fulfill their potential in dignity and equality” – “in a healthy environment”. For the purposes of this brief critique, I will focus on Goal 5: the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls, and Goal 17: the strengthening of the means of implementation, as well as the revitalisation of the global partnership for sustainable development built upon “principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the centre”. Oxfam and like-minded groups insist, it is crucial to unpack the ways in which associated groups will effectuate their like-minded strategies in a way that is unambiguously rooted in a comprehensive understanding of women’s human rights.

UN Women / Creative Commons License
UN Women / Creative Commons License

Clearly, one of the most important aspects for the implementation of this Agenda is to address “structural barriers to women’s economic participation”. This has been echoed by the World Bank Group (WBG), which released its very own gender strategy for 2016-2023 – entitled “Gender equality, poverty reduction and inclusive growth” – in December of last year. The key issue is to correct “uneven” progress among “least developed countries”, where the Millennium Development Goals failed to achieve an impact that extended to “the most vulnerable” – principally, women. The UK Gender and Development Network has been particularly critical of the Bank’s lack of strong systems of accountability to ensure that their work is transparent and the International Planned Parenthood Federation has consistently urged the Bank “to balance what can feel like an instrumentalist approach to women’s contribution to economic growth and poverty alleviation”. Admitting that not all pathways to growth promote gender equality marks a promising step in the right direction. Economic growth is a “gendered process”.

Of equal importance is the need to “mobilize, redirect and unlock”, what is described under Goal 17 as, “the transformative power of trillions of dollars of private resources”. This involves long-term investments – most notably, foreign direct investment (FDI) – in critical sectors, such as sustainable energy, infrastructure and transport, as well as information and communications technologies. Governments are required to set a clear direction: change must involve both regulations and incentive structures that simultaneously attract FDI and reinforce sustainable development. And yet, in the wake of this new Agenda, it is undetermined whether enough attention has been directed to what Oxfam describes as the “flawed system of measuring development impacts of financial intermediary lending”. Even the WBG’s Independent Evaluation Group has criticised this system based on “proxy figures” as one in which there is limited knowledge about the underlying impacts on end-beneficiaries.

World Bank Photo Collection / Creative Commons License
World Bank Photo Collection / Creative Commons License

The WBG is a longstanding partner of the UN. Given that official development assistance stood at $135.2bn in 2014 and that the International Finance Corporation alone invested $36bn in financial intermediaries in the four years leading up to June 2013, the WBG’s development strategies should be closely evaluated and adequately restructured. Development finance institutions’ overall commitment to the private sector reached $67.9bn in 2013 – roughly half of total ODA in the same year. Their involvement is “rapidly accelerating”. Investments in the financial sector significantly outstrip the WBG’s lending to essential social sectors: averaging about 50% more than direct lending to health and three times the sum lent directly to education during the same period. It is necessary to determine whether they are able to successfully implement a “comprehensive results and reporting framework” – whether they can effectively rectify the disconnect between global policy and priorities and what is happening in specific country programs. If this does not happen, the failures of the MDGs will persist: progress will be uneven and women will suffer. Furthermore, any policy recommendations that neglect the ways in which “gender inequality is not only weakened but also recreated and sustained by capitalist development” will be dubious.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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What Is Left To Discover in Development Practice and Why Do Alternative Theories Rise and Fall So Quickly?

What Is Left To Discover in Development Practice and Why Do Alternative Theories Rise and Fall So Quickly?

Neoliberalism has been the dominant ideology in development since World War Two. Luke Humphrey analyses the ideology and critiques its influence upon more modern development theories.

Ever since development theory became a popularised academic study after World War Two, there has been specific periods of varying development practices from the beginnings of Neoliberalism in the 50’s and 60’s to human rights based approaches in the 90’s. Every decade or so brings in a new wave of development thought, changing perceptions and ideologies on how to best develop. However as development becomes more and more contested with concepts of participatory development, gender mainstreaming and environmental development to name a few, why does neoliberalism still reign as common sense in economic development?

Strategies such as post-development, participatory development and gender mainstreaming have simply not been explored and implemented properly. Neoliberalism encapsulates so much economic development rhetoric because those who believe its ideology follow it so stubbornly and with so much conviction that in institutions such as the World Bank and IMF, it is unquestionable common sense. It has dominated the development paradigm for decades and every development theory which has tried to enter the mainframe since has been hampered by neoliberalist dominance. New alternatives to development such as post-development theory which is championed by Arturo Escobar and Wolfgang Sachs posed that the Western ideals of privatisation and market-led economic growth were specifically in line with their political ideologies of what it meant to be developed – material wealth, job security and property. Therefore most neoliberal development schemes have failed to achieve any support or backing from local indigenous people in countries like Bolivia, Ecuador or Peru. So the right course of action is to focus on development which is considerate of indigenous land rights and traditions, building on the societal systems they have already created and hold dear.

Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung / Creative Commons License
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung / Creative Commons License. Photo of Wolfgang Sachs.

This new development theory could have revolutionised the practices that NGOs and INGOs conducted in developing nations in the 80s and 90s. However the most powerful development institutions continued the constant peddling of neoliberal development through Structural Adjustment Programmes and Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers which forced developing nations to completely restructure their economies in favour of market fundamentalism. The criticisms of post-development was that it was too generalized about the current development paradigm in that not all neoliberal development had been disastrous for the countries it had been implemented in, and that post-development was non-progressive and oppressive of values. But these ‘oppressed’ are the same values that have been tirelessly pushed into development theory until it is the only legitimate choice. What Escobar and Sachs tried to explain was whilst some developing nations such as India, South Africa and Brazil may embrace the materialistic value of neoliberalism (at high social and traditional costs), many South American states not only reject those values on a local level, but also at a state level.

This is one example of many. Whether it be Post-Development, Gender Mainstreaming, Participatory Development or Human-Rights based development, all have either been remoulded to fit the neoliberal development sphere (subsequently losing their objectives and meaning) or they have been rejected because they simply can’t fit into this neoliberal world. But the facts are that no other development method has been pushed further than neoliberalism, along with its materialistic Western values. So how is any other theory supposed to be implemented, when neoliberalism not only dominates development theory, but our core values and ideologies upheld in the majority of large international institutions which are actually capable of making a change on a big scale?

International Monetary Fund / Creative Commons License
International Monetary Fund / Creative Commons License

Ultimately this isn’t a case of neoliberalism vs the world, but a political and cultural battle of deregulated capitalism that is constantly sold as our only viable option in large scale development, against theories of local knowledge, protecting traditional rights and bringing gender into the forefront of development. Neoliberalism has created false hopes for many developing nations of deregulated, market-led growth which hasn’t really developed a single economy since World War 2. Any country which has developed in the past half century has followed their core economic beliefs with a mix of protectionism and deregulated capitalism (South Korea, China, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia – the list goes on). It is the countries that hold out against capitalism the longest, protecting their economies until they are strong enough to compete with the Western world, that have grown consistently and have lost the least from the seemingly consistent financial crises. To truly have a diverse and balanced field of development theory it is not neoliberalism that has to be tackled, but the whole framework and ideology of materialism and market fundamentalism that must be confronted powerfully.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Does Globalisation increase or decrease inequality, or neither? 


Does Globalisation increase or decrease inequality, or neither? 


Globalisation has changed the world dramatically. Whether this is for the good or the bad is highly contested. Mainstream sources continually remain defiant on spurring out the benefits of globalisation. Here, Anastasia Nicosia questions this status quo and asserts the possibility that globalisation is increasing inequality.

Globalisation can be best understood as a set of political-economic institutions and policies which contribute, if not generate, enhanced interdependence between countries through the creation of a free global market. This process of global integration is thought to bring benefits to all countries, as market mechanisms are advertised by some as the most efficient enablers of development and economic growth.

However, and in reality, globalisation operates in different ways amongst different countries, bringing enormous economic benefits to some and equally immense negative social and environmental consequences to others. Stigliz has stated that globalisation in itself is neither good nor bad. As long as a country enters the “free” global market at its own right and under its own terms, globalisation can bring enormous benefits.

Asia Society / Creative Commons License
Asia Society / Creative Commons License

 

Hence, in the right hands and at the right time, entering the free market can boost a country’s economic and social development. The United Kingdom opened its border in the 19th century in a time of national prosperity, a prosperity it managed to achieve thanks to its protectionist laws which shielded its own workers from foreign competition. Once it was ready to compete globally it embraced globalisation. Other European countries and the United States followed shortly after, once they felt they could catch up and compete with other market.

However, globalisation processes in the wrong hands and at the wrong time can increase inequalities both within and between countries. The current stream of rapid globalisation is led and sponsored by international financial institutions, such as the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank, thus making contemporary globalisation more similar to the latter type than to the former one undertaken by the now developed countries. Naomi Klein reports in her bestseller “The Shock Doctrine” (2007) the many times in which neoliberal policies, such as deregulation, privatisation and liberalization, have been imposed on countries borrowing from both the IMF and the World Bank. Of the many, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Poland and Russia are just a few cases in the long list of imposed-globalisation procedures. International financial institutions, led by the very same countries that are now developed because of a more cautious entrance into the free market, are now “inviting” less developed countries to reach prosperity in a completely different manner to their own development process.

Lars Plougmann / Creative Commons License
Lars Plougmann / Creative Commons License

 

List, in 1841, had already predicted this contemporary globalisation situation when he described that once a country obtains economic greatness, it kicks away the ladder which it used to reach such prosperity, in order to deprive others of the means to obtain it. Hence, developed countries, by prohibiting through their lending institutions various economic policies such as protectionism and restrictions on imports to developing countries, they are effectively kicking away the ladder they themselves used to become developed. They preach to developing nations the benefits of free trade when they themselves did not go through that difficult path in the first place. By introducing developing countries into the free market ahead of time, international financial institutions are increasing global inequality, since developing countries are stuck in an inferior position to their developed counterparts to which they are dependent for both technology and investments. By imposing as conditionalities deregulation and free trade, weak borrowing economies to the IMF and the World Bank will have to enter the global market, and since they are not fully developed they will not pose a threat to the developed countries.

Once inside such a dispersing global market they will not have the chance to develop in the same way the current rich countries had, therefore they will probably never pose a threat to the latter. Economically weaker countries cannot compete with the world. Indeed opening up to the free market has been followed by the disruption of hundreds of local businesses everywhere in the developing world, as for example in Jamaica. Since developed countries, through the Bretton Woods institutions, have repeatedly been kicking away the protectionist ladder they themselves used to develop, globalisation can be seen as increasing inequality, as they have turned the process into an economic, political and social domination rather than interdependence.

 

 

 


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Are the SDGs compatible with a world full of debts?

Are the SDGs compatible with a world full of debts?

The IMF and World Bank are known to many as inhibiting the development of developing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America due to the implementation of Structural Adjustment Policies. Will the same fate hold for them when the Sustainable Development Goals are launched? Anastasia Nicosia analyses the SDGs in this respect, with a particular focus on SDG 17.4. 

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be launched at the end of the year. By replacing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) they will set the humanitarian and development agenda for the next 15 years. What will the launch of the SDGs mean for projects and processes of social change in the global south? To determine whether the launch of the SDGs will have a positive or negative impact on the Global south, I will highlight the importance of SDG 17.4, which stresses the importance to “Assist developing countries in attaining long-term debt sustainability through coordinated policies aimed at fostering debt financing, debt relief and debt restructuring, as appropriate, and address the external debt of highly indebted poor countries (HIPC) to reduce debt distress”.

Debt, as a form of both assistance and coercion, has a long history. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been offering loans for more than 40 years, loans that did not come free of charge. Indeed, not only were they trailed by high interest rates, but they also came attached to the so-called “Structural Adjustment Programmes” (SAPs), which consisted of various conditionalities shaped by the Washington Consensus, a neoliberal framework that promoted privatisation, deregulation and the entrance into the free market as ways to achieve economic growth. The premature introduction of these borrowing nations into the “free” market has not favoured their economic growth. As a consequence, they cannot pay back their debts. They then have to ask for more loans, which come attached to more conditionalities, and ultimately continue on promoting the interests of the market and not of the particular nation, therefore leading to more poverty and less ability to repay debts. In order to achieve real economic growth in developing and less developed countries, with its subsequent political and social development, this vicious cycle has to end. Debt relief is the first step towards this brighter future for the Global South.

This indicates that if target 17.4 is met, then the launch of the SDGs will have a positive impact for the projects and processes of social change in the Global South. If it is not met, the SDGs will further destroy the already precarious budgets of these countries, as they will have to shift their spending away from their citizens, and towards not only repaying debts but now also towards achieving the Goals.

In July 2015, in Addis Ababa, developing countries tried to obtain new debt resolution rules within the SDGs. The result of these negotiations was SDG 17.4.

Two things should be noted regarding this target. First, even though the vote was successful, “it was opposed by six creditor governments, including the US and UK, which are legally responsible for more than 80% of international debt” (Jones, 2015). Second, the G77 countries, some of which include developing indebted countries, would have wanted to frame the last part of the SDG as cancel external debt of Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) to reduce debt distress.” However, the term ‘cancel’ was substituted for ‘address’ demonstrating the creditor countries’ reluctance to tackle this problem.

By maneuvering target 17.4 in their favour, developed countries are turning the launch of the SDGs into a negative phenomenon for projects and processes of social change in the global south.

A similar target to SDG 17.4 was set out in the MDGs. As a consequence, debt was written off for several countries, but many others were rejected from the debt dissolution plan as they “were deemed ‘too rich’, others not indebted enough, and some…were simply unwilling to follow free-market policies prescribed by the IMF and World Bank” (Jones, 2015). To be more effective than their predecessors, the SDGs should aim to forgive more debts.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2003 had already highlighted that “if poor country governments are to have sufficient resources to meet the MDGs, as well as to meet other essential expenditure needs and pro-poor investments, the 42 HIPC countries as a whole cannot afford to make any debt service payments”. Hence, if debt in some parts of the global South is not extinguished, there is a risk that most SDGs will end up being unachievable.

Moreover, empirical evidence shows that with debt cancellation come many benefits, as states are freer to use their budgets for welfare purposes. Jones (2015) reports that in Mozambique, “following debt cancellation… primary school completion increased from 15% of children in 1998 to 60% in 2009”. Not only does this show the correlation between debt cancellation and positive social change, but it also demonstrates that debt relief would actually enable more SDGs to be met, as for example SDG 3 focuses on achieving universal education.

To conclude, debt relief should be on the top of the SDG agenda; only by firstly achieving this can all the other goals be met. This, in turn, will ensure that SDGs will have a positive effect for projects and processes of social change in the global south, and not be another economic issue to focus on, as we have seen with the Mozambique example.

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The Future of Public-Private Partnerships in Nigeria

The Future of Public-Private Partnerships in Nigeria

Many questions loom around the  impact  of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) on the poor. Here, Zoe Nutter provides an analysis of  the future of PPPs in Nigeria.

 
PPP projects require more substantive evaluation. In Nigeria, investment in the transport and housing sectors should demonstrate a direct impact on the poorest communities – not only the middle- and high-income portions of society. The World Bank Group’s financial support needs to align with its foremost goal of fighting poverty. And data collection and project evaluation measures necessitate improvement. Avenues for growth in Nigeria must involve the entire population, regardless of income.

The PPP label lacks a universally accepted definition. Generally, it involves a wide scope of “intersectoral initiatives”. In line with the purposes of the World Bank Group, which has yet to adapt an explicit definition of the term, PPPs are referred to as either formal or informal – either long-term or short-term – depending on the type of arrangement and the extent of engagement. Informal, short-term projects may join nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and/or government agencies in a shared objective, while formal projects may involve either short-term or long-term private sector engagements for the provisions of specific services or even full privatizations.

Despite inconsistencies in defining the term, the most crucial explanations specify a clear alignment of the government’s service delivery objectives with private investor’s profit objectives – in relation to long-term commercial contracts between municipalities and private businesses. For instance, the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) insists tha PPPs require the private party to bear significant risk and management responsibility in the provision of public services or assets. Making sense of how PPPs operate helps to explain the principle reasons for their application. In Nigeria, understanding what they are and determining their significance is crucial. PPPs play a significant role in the overall development framework.

 

8666655054_5d7b43327e_m
IMF/Creative Commons License

 

Nigeria has experienced some of the highest rates of urbanization in Africa. By 2020, the urban population is set to reach 68% of the total population. And this rapid level of growth has put added pressure on the provision of services and infrastructure. For the most part, available statistics support the argument that it is low-income earners who suffer the most. While public funds favor the allocation of housing units for middle- and high-income earners, low-income people in Nigeria “are left to fend for their housing need”. The process of urbanization in conjunction with “poor funding, bureaucracy, and politicisation of public housing programmes” – as well as a variety of additional contributing factors, like that of economic crisis – has resulted in the “proliferation of slums, shanty developments and deteriorating living conditions”[1].

In recent years, PPPs have been put on the agenda to address the housing crisis in Nigeria. This marks a general trend across many African countries. It represents a new approach to the housing provision: a response that does not depend exclusively on the public or private sector – a collaboration among stakeholders in the housing sector. And international institutions, like the World Bank, promote this innovative approach in newly liberalized, developing economies. But there is a caveat: it is still unclear whether PPPs serve the interests of the urban poor. Although this is not necessarily the main objective of private enterprise, it is of critical importance to determine whether PPPs produce a “proven poverty impact” – especially when the Bank Group continues to support them. If PPPs are not contributing to the Bank’s foremost goals – most notably combating poverty and promoting shared prosperity – their approach needs to be revisited.

One of the key issues is scant data. The PPP literature and research as well as the majority of project evaluations are inadequate. Simply, the effect on the poor is negligible. And the IEG’s July 2014 report confirms this worrying conclusion. The assessment revealed that the World Bank’s upstream support is delivered through “broad based and complex” sector reform efforts with low success in achieving their objectives. In this case, how are developing countries like Nigeria supposed to invigorate essential sectors like transport and housing if the indicators of success are highly questionable? Moreover – if the support for PPPs rests on a “highly questionable trickle-down effect assumption”, insisting that economic growth will eventually impact the poor, then more needs to be done in order to spur a substantive managerial response. Among other things, there needs to be more transparency and accountability: for instance, better surveillance of the fiscal management of PPPs, such that public sector liabilities are minimized and the chances for hidden debt runs are avoided. Moving forward, the PPP tradition must evolve.

The potential for PPPs is great. Dual federal and state regimes in Nigeria strive to increase the number of PPP projects in order to stimulate growth. The government aims to consolidate an attractive and encouraging investment environment by reducing the extent of government regulation, promoting strict adherence to the rule of law and preserving the sanctity of contracts. If PPPs are to succeed in not only supporting growth but also improving the conditions of the poorest and most vulnerable portions of society – ensuring that they are not left behind in the pursuit of wealth, both private and public bodies should be bound by this provision.

[1] See Ibem 2011; see Mustapha 2002; see UN-HABITAT 2006d; see Coker et al. 2007; see Daramola & Ibem 2010.

 

Zoe Nutter has a degree in International Studies with a focus on Political Economy from the University of London: Goldsmiths College. She is currently pursuing a masters of law and international development at the University of Sydney. She has worked at Full Fact and the Bretton Woods Project.


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The young and the restless: a critique of security threat analysis

The young and the restless: a critique of security threat analysis

In our second article exploring the ramifications of youthful populations for society, MSC Security Studies student Rosemary Schwitzer explains the damaging effects of the ‘youth bulge’ theory, used to predict social unrest around the world.

 

Newsweek
A cover from Newsweek in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Photograph of original © Hector Sanchez/Creative Commons license

In October 2001, Newsweek magazine published a report entitled ‘The Politics of Rage: Why Do They Hate Us?’, calling for analysis of the reasons behind 9/11. Accompanying this article was the image of a young Arab boy grasping a rifle, in addition to others showing Arab youth involved in anti-American protest and violence. Within the article, it was stated that ‘disoriented young [Arab] men’, searching for simplicity within the mix of tradition and modernity of their daily lives, are naturally drawn to fundamentalism.

Whilst this may appear a perfectly innocent article suggesting motives for the terror attacks, it is in reality a dangerous contribution to an already thriving collection of discourses defining youth in certain regions of the world, especially young men, as security threats. Its usage of dichotomising terms such as ‘them’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ works to divide the world into two parts – one considered threatening and the other stable – ignoring the complex reality of our ever more interconnected world. Its alarmist nature serves to incite concern amongst populations in the ‘developed’ world that the ‘dangerous’, ‘undeveloped’ portion will spill over and create widespread insecurity. Keep reading →


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