So what could a Global Partnership on Development Data do for us?

As my regular post-2015 update from the invaluable Rachel Quint at the Hewlett foundation reminded me today, there have been (at least) six separate proposals for a global partnership for development data over the last two years. The idea has a lot of fans out there, with supporters ranging from the Presidents of Indonesia and Liberia (in the High Level Panel’s report), the chief statisticians of South Africa, India, Canada and Hungary (in the IEAG report), data experts in the World Bank, the UN Secretary General (in his ‘synthesis report’) and academics from institutions including the Centre for Global Development, ODI, SDSN and NYU

And so. Will there actually be a global partnership for development data?  I hope so, for two reasons.

Firstly, there are the specific and practical things that a partnership could do.

These are many, but three stand out for me. The first is pretty basic. It was a source of constant frustration, while I was working on the IEAG report, to be hearing about some fantastic and inspirational initiatives to solve problems with data going on in one part of the world, while at the same time, hearing people in a different place lamenting their inability to solve the exact same problem. Something that systematically shared experiences and knowledge between countries and organisations could save time, save money, and perhaps even save lives.

A second big problem at global level is a lack of shared standards. Too much time and money is wasted reverse engineering data created in one system to make it fit another.  Too much of the data from one survey can’t be combined with the data from another to add it up into something with more statistical power. Standards and protocols are being invented again and again from scratch, and huge inefficiencies are being created every day.

A third problem is data sharing. Famously, when the Ebola epidemic broke out, valuable time was wasted negotiating how data from mobile phone records could be shared and analysed to help provide the information to track the epidemic. That shouldn’t happen, but it will happen, again and again, unless public-private partnerships are worked out to share data when the next disaster hits, wherever that is.

A global partnership on data could solve real, everyday problems like these. But it would also serve a second purpose. A partnership would create something lasting out of the current excitement around data. The activities and the focus of the partnership would change over time, but just having it would make sure that data has advocates once political attention inevitably moves on to something else.

This is what global institutions do. They all operate in different ways, but the Open Government Partnership is a constant voice arguing for greater openness; GAVI will remind the world why vaccines are important even when minds are focused elsewhere; and the Global Partnership for Education is always there to speak up for the out-of-school.  However constituted, a global partnership on data would be a constant voice on the global scene reminding people of the importance of better data, and galvanising resources and action to that end.  If you care about better data, that has to be a good thing.

And it’s this long term commitment that will be needed to support the myriad country-level data revolutions that are at the heart of the change that is needed. These won’t happen overnight – someone has to be there for the long haul, to work with the civil society groups campaigning for open data, to link up the national statistical offices in one country who are grappling with the problems that another country solved two years ago, to show how partnerships of all the key actors: government, private sector and civil society can work together to increase both the demand for and the supply of good quality data. There are many great initiatives already underway in this area, not least the Paris21 partnership, but a bigger, more high-level global effort could coordinate and support these efforts by raising political profile, building broader relationships, and generating the kind of momentum that can really deliver results.

In a few years’ time, probably no one will care about the ‘data revolution’. But a global partnership on data could be a lasting legacy of this moment, and can be part of continuous improvements in the data on which we all depend.

Five Ways the Co-Facilitators Have Made the Post-2015 Targets Worse

What was once a storm whipped up around the question of whether the world needs 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets has now degenerated into a tempest about whether it is possible to “conservatively” tweak some of those targets to make them more meaningful and deliverable.

Last week, the poor souls who are responsible for shepherding the post-2015 negotiations (the UN ambassadors of Kenya and Ireland) released a proposal that was intended to show how this could be done.

Sadly, they have made some of the targets better rather than worse, indicating that ‘technical proofing’ – an expert-driven process supposedly stripped of political overtones – is no sure fire way to a better development agenda.

(And who on earth thought it could be? Experts disagree with each other more bitterly than governments do – fortunately they lack armies with which to settle their arguments.)

So here are five ways the tweaked targets are worse than the originals. Continue reading

OECD States of Fragility Report – Meeting Post-2015 Ambitions

This afternoon, in New York, the OECD is launching its States of Fragility 2015 report which explores how new sustainable development goals and targets (SDGs) can be implemented in countries and communities that lack the political stability and institutions to support inclusive growth, or that are affected by very high levels of violence.

The report was written with colleagues at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation and is part of a broader effort to switch the focus from what should be part of the post-2015 development agenda, towards how the new agenda can be delivered.

It argues that we have no hope of delivering the SDGs in large parts of the world, unless we get serious about tackling fragility.

Robust global growth, and more equitable patterns of distribution, have the potential to lead to rapid and continued further reductions in all forms of poverty, but this would mean that those left behind would increasingly live in fragile situations. Continue reading

If foreign policy doesn’t feature in this election a global powerhouse risks losing its voice

In a piece for Real Clear World I argue that

The chances of Britain making it through to May 7 without facing at least one unexpected international event with serious implications for our national interests are slim indeed. Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband should be planning to give over at least a day between now and polling to lay out how they intend to shape world events and not just react to them. Even if they remain unpersuaded that the electorate is hungry for answers now, it is difficult to see how they could claim a later mandate for tough decisions if they don’t hint at their direction of travel on ISIS, Russia, China, the Transatlantic relationship, Syria, reform of the European Union, and prospects for this year’s critical summits on sustainable development and climate change.

You can read the whole piece here and see all the other world election coverage they are gathering together here.

What’s mined is yours


They call it an “indaba” – a word in several African languages for a gathering where a community gets together to resolve the problems that affect them all. But it is no community meeting – it is the world’s largest meeting of the mining industry, where the rich and powerful from across the world gather in a plush Cape Town conference centre to determine where will be mined and who will get the money. It is a meeting, in its own words, “dedicated to the capitalisation and development of mining interests in Africa,” at which “a powerful group … make the vital relationships to sustain their investment interests”. In the front rooms the delegates are entertained by Goldman Sachs, Dambisa Moyo and Tony Blair. In the back rooms mining corporations meet to cut secret deals with friendly governments and pressure any governments who have started making trouble.

Through the huge glass windows the delegates can see protests. But they don’t get to hear what the protesters have to say. They dismiss them as anti-mining, anti-progress. It is easy to complain, argue the mining indaba attendees, but would you really want an end to all mining?

No, say campaigners, who gathered in much less comfortable surroundings a few miles for an “alternative indaba”. When I get to hear the stories of some of the participants of the alternative indaba I get to understand that theirs is not a case “against mining” but for accountability. The problem they highlight is not the existence of mining but a harmful imbalance of power that renders mining corporations a law unto themselves. Here’s what I heard from activists from across Africa:

“The sharing agreements on mining deals in our country are secret. So we the public don’t know what our national wealth has been sold for. After pressure, permission was given to MPs to view these long and complicated agreements in a specific room for a set period of time without taking notes, so we’re starting to get a picture but we can’t get final confirmation. From what we’re seeing it looks like a really bad deal indeed – which is why it is secret in the first place.”

“Our laws require that a set percentage of the proceeds must go to the community, yet we find places where the mining company has now finished and left, the environment has been trashed, and the community’s share was never provided.”

“Many of our officials and ministers and their family members are private shareholders or on the pay of the mining corporations, officially or unofficially, so when we challenge the corporations we are challenging the government.”

“The fines for mining companies who break the laws are so low that the mining corporations happily factor them in as a cost of business.”

“When we revealed illegal water pollution by a diamond mine, it was not the mining corporation who were arrested, but us.”

“Our government is finally standing up to mining corporations and demanding they pay their fair share of tax. But neighbouring governments have shown absolutely no solidarity. The AU has to work much more closely together. We cannot have a race to the bottom.”

“When you start to engage the mining corporations you hope to change them, but if you are not careful they can end up changing you. After we criticised a mining corporation they invited us for a tour so, they said, we could see that they were not as we had said. At the end of the tour they tried to present us with gems ‘as a souvenir gift’. We told them we were not allowed to accept hospitality. The message was clear.”

Campaigners are asking governments to hold mining corporations to account for: open, transparent, agreements so citizens know what is happening with their national wealth; paying their fair share of taxes; free, prior and informed consent, so that acquiring communities’ land requires that communities agree; paying fair wages, protecting workers’ health and safety and respecting workers’ rights to organise; and obeying environmental laws. And they are demanding that mining corporations stop their lobbying for a lowering of these basic standards.

That’s not a charter for the end of mining. It’s a proposal that would ensure that mining really did benefit the people from under whose feet the wealth is taken.

Extreme inequality of wealth has fostered an extreme inequality of power. The widening gap and imbalance of power between the richest and the rest is warping the rules and policies that affect all of us in society, creating a vicious circle of ever growing and harmful undue influence. The mining industry’s new Scramble for Africa is making this worse.

The current imbalance of power means that governments, who should be overseeing corporations and protecting citizens, are instead protecting corporations and overseeing citizens. What should bring prosperity is bring instead bringing misery, and legitimate challenge to the mining industry is being met not with answers but with brute force, the violence of the entitled 1%.

The proposal put forward by the mining industry’s critics is not an end to mining but an insistence on real democracy. They are saying that what’s mined is yours. Which is exactly why the mining industry is so determined to keep them down.


Who’s going to pay for the SDGs?

In July, Addis Ababa will host a crucial summit on financing for development. If September’s summit on sustainable development goals (SDGs) in New York is when governments will decide what they want to achieve on poverty and sustainability by 2030, Addis is where they must set out how they will do so.

There’s much to do, with a bewildering array of potential issues on the table – aid, trade, tax, the private sector, climate, sustainability and technology transfer are all possible focus areas – and too little clarity on what success would look like on each. Politicians are not yet feeling pressure to make serious offers.

Yet, if Addis disappoints, the fallout could be extensive. Prospects for achieving the SDGs – such as ending poverty by 2030 – would dim significantly. Frustration among developing countries could feed in to the September summit and the December climate summit, threatening a cascading failure that could damage prospects for international cooperation on defining global issues for a decade.

How can we avoid this scenario and ensure that Addis is a landmark?

First, there needs to be a clearer narrative on what the summit is for, that focuses on three or four core areas. At least one of these needs to be about politicalimpact, with a big story that leads the next day’s news agenda. In practice, this probably has to be about aid – even though it now accounts for only around a 10th of development finance.

Timetables for countries to give 0.7% of national income to aid are unlikely to work, given past promises: in 2005, 16 countries pledged to meet 0.7% by 2015, but only five have delivered. A pledge to give at least half of all aid to least developed countries, on the other hand, may cut more ice – but the politics look tough.

Other contenders could include a major push on addressing the “financing gap” faced by many middle-income countries, through scaling up official financing other than aid. And a strong focus on financing highly effective cash transfer schemes in lower income countries would go a long way towards ending poverty.

The Addis outcome could also help key “work in progress” agendas with longer term development impact.

One area where there’s plenty of buzz is the contribution the private sector can make – for instance, through scaling up foreign direct investment (the single biggest source of development finance), new public-private partnerships, or in key sectors like infrastructure. Less clear, though, is exactly how Addis may contribute.

Instead, a better candidate may be international tax cooperation – the most important thing that rich countries can do to help developing countries mobilise their own resources.

One step would be to spend more aid on developing countries’ tax administration efforts – an area with breathtaking rates of return. Faster progress on recovery of stolen assets from abroad is another priority for many developing countries, as is access to the automatic exchange of tax information that G8 and G20 countries have already agreed among themselves.

Above all, Addis could help close tax loopholes that allow multinational companies to report profits in tax havens – rather than where their workforces, assets or sales are. Country by country reporting requirements would be one important step; a unitary tax system would be even better.

Addis could put emerging issues on the development map by including these in the outcome document – even if the time is not yet ripe for agreeing concrete actions. It could put down a marker on the need to do more to tackle inequality, echoing the SDGs’ emphasis on the issue. Or, it could flag up the potential wins that would result from fair shares for developing countries in any future global emissions budget.

Most of all, Addis needs more agenda-setters to help its Norwegian and Guyananco-facilitators, and Ethiopian hosts, to champion its potential. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim could both do more. Germany and Turkey, hosts of this year’s G7 and G20 summits, could be key players too.

Addis needs more voices to make the moral case for why countries need to raise their game. Civil society has a crucial role here. And it may be that Pope Francis emerges as a leader, given his commitment to justice – and the fact that a papal encyclical on climate and development is expected soon.

Perhaps most of all, the summit will depend on commitments from finance ministers to attend (as IMF head Christine Lagarde has already done). They, far more than development ministers, have the power to unlock real progress.

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