In September 2008, the Third High Level Forum (HLF) on Aid Effectiveness in Accra, Ghana, drew together some 1,700 people: developing country ministers of finance and planning, heads of multilateral and bilateral development agencies, parliamentarians, representatives of global funds and the private sector, representatives of a broad cross-section of civil society organizations, operations-level staff, journalists. These were people with vastly different backgrounds and points of view, representing institutions with distinct mandates, histories, and agendas.
But they were united by a single concern: How to improve the delivery and use of development assistance so that it can make the greatest difference in the lives of poor people around the world.
The event itself was part of a continuum. The first HLF in Rome, in 2003, drew the development community’s attention to the issues of aid effectiveness and engaged high-level commitment to addressing them. At the second HLF in Paris, in 2005, both partner countries and donors1 endorsed the Paris Declaration, committing to specific actions—some with targets and indicators—and agreeing to monitor implementation of those commitments. This third HLF marked a further step forward: although countries’ ownership of their own development process had been a core principle from the beginning, with this event we saw that developing countries are increasingly taking ownership of the aid effectiveness agenda. Developing countries’ concerns determined the agenda; developing countries’ representatives were part of all decisions relating to the HLF, and served as discussion chairs and event speakers; and developing countries were full partners in the negotiations leading to the final communiqué, the Accra Agenda for Action. Thus the outcome of the HLF, more than ever before, reflects the real and increasingly confident voice of developing countries.
Many participants came to the HLF with stories about how implementation of the Paris principles had made a difference in their countries or institutions. The Marketplace of Ideas showcased some 150 examples: those of the Kyrgyz Republic, where “results in the health sector…demonstrate successful application of the 12 indicators of the Paris Declaration;” of Madagascar, which, “determined to take charge of its own destiny,” developed “a road map to help it overcome poverty and put in place the foundations of rapid and sustainable development;” of Sri Lanka, where managing for development results guides the “ambitious Ten Year Development Programme designed to improve the quality of life of its people;” and many others. In plenary sessions, roundtable discussions, and side events, participants readily shared their experiences and made recommendations for the road ahead.
Accra Agenda for Action
With such diversity among the participants at the HLF, it was truly remarkable that everybody came together to endorse the Accra Agenda for Action (AAA). Everybody had hoped—and worked—for a document that would strengthen implementation of the Paris Declaration commitments, and the AAA does that, listing a range of concrete actions that developing countries and donors commit to take to accelerate implementation of the Paris Declaration and improve the effectiveness of aid.
But the AAA does even more: it adds new dimensions to the aid effectiveness discourse. For example, it specifically recognizes the role in development of parliaments, local governments, civil society institutions, research institutes, media, and the private sector. It “enlarges the tent” by recognizing middle-income countries and global funds as partners in development efforts. It acknowledges the value of local and regional resources, and of triangular and South-South cooperation, in capacity building. It sets out specific ways of working in fragile situations. It acknowledges the importance of gender equality, environmental sustainability, governance, and issues of inequality of income and opportunity. It signals the development of a new kind of relationship between developing countries and donors—much less one of recipients responding to guidance from donors, and much more one of a true partnership in which donors support countries on their own path to development.
Implementation: who needs to do what?
At the HLF closing session all the speakers focused on the “action” aspect of the Accra Agenda. It is not enough to make fine declarations of intentions, they said; rather, all participants needed to take the messages of Accra back to their countries and institutions, and put them into practice. As one speaker put it, “When we meet again in 2011, we want to be able to point to considerably more progress.”
There is much to do. Developing countries need to deepen their ownership of the development process by engaging local governments, civil society, and parliaments—what one participant called “the basic body of democratic responsibility.” They need to identify areas where their capacity is weak, and develop plans to address those areas. They need to lead in managing the development process, working out a sensible division of labor among the donors that are active in their countries. They need to improve their ability to gather and use statistical information, so that they know—and can report to their citizens—what results they are achieving. And they need to remain active—or even become more active—at the international level, to ensure that the broader international community hears their voice and addresses their concerns.
Donors, too, have some serious tasks to undertake. Above all, they need to learn how to use their resources—financial and nonfinancial—to truly support the development path each country lays out for itself. This means: working in partnership with global funds, nontraditional donors, and civil society organizations—whose efforts in development complement those of governments and the private sector.
Following the country’s lead in division of labor.
Recognizing that the essence of development is strengthening countries’ own institutions and systems for their own governance purposes, not substituting donors’ systems.
Providing assistance in forms that are most useful to countries, not tied to specific providers.
Working with countries to agree on the results expected from aid financing, instead of imposing donor conditions in ways that weaken ownership.
Being transparent in reporting their projected aid commitments and disbursements to enable countries’ fiscal planning, and it means being accountable for their programs.
Although the AAA is a compact between countries and donor organizations, the fact that foundations, civil society organizations, and private sector representatives participated in Accra shows that they, too, recognize their responsibility to promote countries’ development according to the principles of ownership, alignment, harmonization, managing for development results, and mutual accountability.
World Bank action
The World Bank takes very seriously its responsibility to implement the AAA. We have long been active in this agenda, and we will continue our collaboration at the international level to support improved aid effectiveness.
Within the institution, much of what we need to do is at the country level: it involves how country teams work with donor partners under the country’s leadership to support the country in reaching its development goals. The approaches are—and should be—as varied as the countries we serve. We are meeting with Regional and country teams to engage on the operational challenges and opportunities of meeting the Bank’s aid effectiveness commitments, and to provide the support and encouragement they may need. For example, we will work with teams to ensure that our three-year planned commitments and disbursements are systematically shared with countries, and that our good practice principles on conditionality continue to be implemented. As this work goes forward, we will disseminate experiences and good practices, so other teams can learn from them.
In addition, we need to work at the institutional level, providing the enabling environment for progress at the country level. In this area we have a number of efforts under way or planned:
We already use country systems in many of our operations. We are conducting pilot programs to learn how best to expand that use, and as these pilots proceed, we will disseminate the lessons of experience to all operations staff. We are also providing targeted assistance to help countries build and strengthen their systems.
We are actively fostering South-South cooperation: for example, the World Bank Institute recently sponsored a visit by African officials to China agrifood installations, and we have just unveiled a new South-South Trust Fund.
We have joined with other donors in creating a trust fund to invest in statistical capacity building linked to national poverty strategies.
We have signed partnership agreements with the UN and the European Community that will allow better cooperation on the ground in fragile and crisis situations, and we have developed a package of incentives to make such work more attractive to staff.
We are undertaking reform of our investment lending instrument to better respond to the needs of our borrowers.
And we will consult with our Executive Directors on how they can best support continuing implementation of our AAA commitments.
Will aid become effective?
This issue of Development Outreach asks the question, “Will aid become effective now?” Certainly, the stage is set for important progress. These are challenging tasks, for the partner countries or donors. They require changing long-standing mindsets and practices—things that may now be second nature to people, or that may even benefit certain groups. Implementing the AAA will require dedicated leadership, perseverance, tact, flexibility, and, above all, commitment.
The environment is right. Donors and developing countries have made their intentions public. The world is watching, and there is support from all sides. Most importantly, hundreds of millions of poor people around the world need our best efforts. We can—we must—succeed.
Jeffrey Gutman is Vice President, Operations Policy and Country Services, The World Bank.
1 For some years the international community has used the term partner countries to denote the recipients of development assistance, and the term donors to denote the institutions and agencies that provide that assistance, whether through grants or loans. Countries have expressed a concern that donors implies a vertical relationship rather than a partnership; however, no new term has been generally agreed. Thus the Accra Agenda for Action uses the old terms, and, for convenience, I use them in this article.