As the delegates from around the world prepare to gather in Accra for the 3rd High Level Forum on AIDS effectiveness [September 2 to 4] can I suggest that they pay a lot of attention to this figure: - 1,437,187,500,000 which I believe you would write as this number "one trillion, four hundred and thirty seven billion, one hundred and eighty seven million, five hundred thousand" though I admit to having to check that text number with a maths whiz colleague!
There is going to be a lot of emphasis in Accra on how the United Kingdom, France, Germany, USA, Canada and other [so called] 'donor' countries can get more value for their money from their financial support arrangements with so called "developing" country governments. Those "developing" country governments will be both motivated and encouraged to reflect on ways in which they can more effectively spend both the tax dollars from their citizens and the international AID that they are receiving. Major "private" donors such as the USA Foundations will be both contributing in and watching these discussions and their outcomes with great interest relative to their grants and other investments. The international NGO community will make its case for how working through their 'effective staff and programmes' can improve AID effectiveness.
There will also be a lot of data presented in the course of numerous discussions and presentations. Debate will humm on the analysis of those data trends. Projections will be reconsidered. New strategic, investment and monitoring ideas will emerge for more effective development assistance, such as the vital importance of public debate as put forward by my good friend James Deane in his blog. Some existing ideas will be consigned to development history. This is all very valuable and much needed work and analysis - but perhaps it suffers from one fundamental flaw.
The problem is that the biggest investors in development action, the people with the most vested interest in more effective development action and those who have the most acute insight into the strengths of weaknesses of strategies and programmes will not be at the table and will be voiceless in that process. I am aware that there have been extensive attempts to "consult" with a broad range of organisations, including many community/poverty-based groups. But to be consulted is one thing - to have seats at the table is of a different order. These "vacant seats" could considerably weaken the Accra meeting. It is a flaw that is especially striking given how much money they invest in their own development - much much bigger than any other group.
Economically poor people, people living in conditions of poverty, those who directly experience health issues, who need to deal with environmental degradation, face acute educational issues, etc., are primarily seen as the beneficiaries of development action by others. Development Strategies talk in that language - target groups, those needing support, help, and assistance, beneficiaries. That is not the case. They are also the largest investor group in development action.
There are 6 billion people in the world [approx] and about 750 million [approx] live in the OECD [economically rich] countries. Can we assume that every day people living in the comparatively economically poor non-OECD countries spend at least 75 cents [USD] per person per day on their own development, the development of their children and elders. These costs come from their own pockets and purses in numerous ways including health care costs, school fees, improved housing, communities building better roads and paths, improved sewerage, better nutritional choices, malaria bed net costs, condom purchases, improved soil improvement techniques, local anti-violence measures, girls' and women's safety programmes, accepting migrants and displaced people into existing communities, transport costs and a myriad or other expenses that are far too numerous [perhaps infinite] to list.
If that is a reasonable assumption and you multiply 5.25 billion times 75 cents times 365 days you get 1,437,187,500,000 - one trillion, four hundred and thirty seven billion, one hundred and eighty seven million, five hundred thousand dollars per annum. I doubt very much that the combined value of all other development investment by donors in any one year comes anywhere near 1.5 trillion dollars. And this is all cash - imagine if we also quantified and valued their time!
That is a heck of a lot of money! It is not tax dollars [those are over and above the costs in the 75c per day for everyone] that are the major interest of governments. It is not grant money from foundations or budget support from bilaterals. These are direct expenditures from people in their own development and the development of their communities. The people spending this money will not be at the Accra table. They appear to be too Low Level.
The normal response to this assertion is "of course they will be there - their governments are their representatives!". This would be a compelling case if the Accra High Level Forum were only governments, but that is not the case. There will be non-Government donors and civil society and NGO/not for profit groups of all different stripes engaged in the Accra process.
A secondary response is that there is no mechanism for such a collective voice. If that is the case then that is a very severe indictment of the overall development process and might also point to a recommendation that one effective way to increase the effectiveness of development dollars is to establish and support vibrant networks and representation mechanisms that give voice to and represent the interests of those that have the equity in this 1.5 trillion dollar per annum investment programme [kind of a self-owned poor people's venture capital process].
The size of this "fund" is of course only one part of the argument. As with consumers in their homes, the people on the ground in the economically poor communities have a very acute sense of what works and does not work - and what is needed and not needed. They can not have the full picture - no one entity can have that complete view - but if their persectives are not at the table, then the painting of the development effectiveness picture will be very incomplete.
Hopefully, in Accra, in order to make forward-progress on the effectiveness of all development action, considerable thought will be given to how those who invest the 1.5 trillion dollars per annum can communicate their analysis and ideas central to the very important issues raised by the Accra High Level Forum - which perhaps should be renamed the All Levels Forum.
The Communication Initiative
August 21 2008