The presented text is an excerpt from the Director of the Czech Development Agency Mr. Michal Kaplan’s speech at a High-level Workshop for New and Emerging Donors from Central and Eastern Europe hosted by the Regional United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Office in Istanbul in December 2015. UNDP has long supported the building of capacities of donors from this area. The workshop presented a timely opportunity for sharing experience among new and emerging donors in the context of the Agenda 2030, adopted by world leaders in September this year, which presents new challenges for effective development cooperation delivery.
The new and emerging donors from Central and Eastern Europe are facing a double-challenge. They strive to become what can be labelled as “standard donor countries”. The Czech Republic has already achieved this goal by joining the OECD Development Assistance Committee in 2013. We have built robust institutional and legal system for development cooperation. We have harmonised our procedures with those of partner governments and other donors. We have introduced a result-based framework for managing our interventions. We have also improved the transparency and communication of our activities.
The definition and meaning of the label “standard donor” is however evolving rapidly. The Agenda 2030 adopted in September this year presents significant new challenges and all donors need to respond to this changing development landscape. The situation presents both challenges and opportunities for the Czech Development Agency and its sister agencies from other Central and Eastern European countries. Three sets of questions needs to be answered in our context.
1) How do we respond to a changing map of poverty and a changing role of development aid in poverty reduction?
Our partner countries have become more diversified. Most people facing severe poverty live in not-so-poor middle-income countries. The influence of official development assistance is decreasing in these countries while domestic resources and private investments are gaining importance. Foreign aid should not serve as a substitute to fill gaps in partner countries budgets. It should instead serve as a catalyst for conducing necessary policy reforms and attracting private investments.
However, economic growth will not automatically result in poverty reduction, if it is not socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable. There is still a place for foreign aid in helping partner governments to better target their policies at marginalised groups. New information technologies and “big data revolution” should help us identify pockets of poverty – either defined by ethnicity, location or other determinants.
While aid can play only a supporting role in many partner countries, it will remain indispensable in fragile states – states with weak institutions, affected by internal conflicts or natural disasters. The current flow of migrants reminds us that stability and decent living conditions in these countries are our shared interest. Donor agencies will need to pay increasing attention to such “fragile” countries and to the factors affecting their fragility. We should support resilience and more closely link our humanitarian aid with reconstruction efforts and long-term development cooperation.
2) How do we deal with the complexity of the new development agenda and where lies the added value of new and emerging donors?
The agenda of Millennium Development Goals comprised of 8 goals and 21 targets. The new Sustainable Development Goals have no less than 17 goals and 169 targets. Donor agencies have to prepare for more structured complexity. Division of labour with other donors and partners should help to narrow down our geographical and thematic focus, but at the same time we are aware that most development goals set in Agenda 2030 are cross-sectoral in their nature.
We should therefore better mainstream cross-cutting issues, such as climate change and gender equality into our programs. We should also support good governance and take into account the social and political dynamics in partner countries when designing our projects. The Central and Eastern European donors are well placed for this task and can capitalise on their experience from political and economic transitions.
At the same time, we are small donors and we provide the majority of aid as technical assistance. Bigger donors usually provide higher financial support in their programs because they can benefit from economies of scale. So a broader question arises – What is the comparative advantage of new small donors? Rather than struggling with our limited capacities, shouldn’t we provide our assistance through multilateral channels?
I believe that there is still place in the new Agenda 2030 for new small donors like the Czech Republic. Yet we need to scale up our budgets and reduce fragmentation by moving from stand-alone projects to more consolidated programs. Even though we provide mostly technical assistance, we need to consider new modalities such as soft loans and, whenever possible, channel our assistance through partner country systems.
3) How do we adjust the management of our projects and of our organisations in general to be fit for this purpose?
The new and complex development agenda requires new skills. For the Czech Development Agency, well qualified and motivated staff is the most precious resource. Therefore, we constantly improve our competencies through various trainings and sharing platforms. We are members of the Practitioners Network of European donor agencies. Training is however only a first step of many towards a true knowledge management. Once knowledge is acquired it needs to be shared and used.
We have to cultivate the culture of learning inside our organisation and beyond. Independent evaluations, audits and external assessments can provide us with valuable feedbacks. Donor agencies are supposed to innovate and introduce new approaches in order to remain relevant. But innovation can also bring failures – we have to be prepared to wisely manage risks in our donor portfolio.
That is why the Czech Development Agency has subscribed to the Doing Development Differently Manifesto. Based on DDD principles, we have pledged to provide real solutions to real problems of real people. Our solutions are driven by local needs and local people are involved into their definition and design. Moreover, the design of our projects allows for flexibility and rapid cycles of testing, adjusting and re-designing further implementation. I hope that by applying these principles the Czech Development Agency will substantially contribute to the achievements of the ambitious goals of Agenda 2030.