Secretary of State for International Development speaking on working together to make a difference to the poorest in the world at Bond’s Annual General Meeting, London.
Thank you Dominic [White, Chair of the BOND Board]. I am delighted to be here at Bond’s annual conference.
I know that many of the organisations represented in this room today are doing amazing work that helps many of the poorest people in the world. I want to start by thanking you for your work in providing humanitarian assistance - particularly in the Sahel over the past year - but also in providing longer term support to more than a billion people who live on less than $1.25 per day in the poorest countries of the world.
Working together to make a difference
I am honoured that the Prime Minister asked me to take on the role of Secretary of State for International Development. I recently returned from a visit to Kenya and Somalia, where I witnessed first-hand some of the work you do, and I could see how much of a difference we can make to the lives of the poorest if we work together.
Today, I want to talk to you about three things:
- First, about why development is important.
- Second, about the emerging challenges in development, both in the run up to 2015 and also for the post 2015 world.
- And third, about how the government through DFID, and equally important, how you as civil society have a crucial role to play in meeting these challenges.
1. Why development is important
So first, why is development important?
Two weeks ago, I addressed the Conservative Party Conference. I explained why international development is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do.
It’s the right thing because we have a duty to help the poorest in the world.
As a nation we are generous people and want to be a real force for good in the world. As civil society organisations, you know this. In 2010, people in the UK gave approximately £2.6 billion to charitable causes overseas.
But protecting our aid budget is not just the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do.
It is in all our interests for countries around the world to be stable and secure, to have educated and healthy populations and to have growing economies. It’s good for us in the UK because it will ultimately mean more countries that we can trade with, more jobs that we can create and a better, safer world.
And that’s why I and the Coalition government remain committed to meeting the 0.7% target.
2. The challenges ahead
Let me now turn to some of the challenges that we face over the next few years.
A world where the world’s poorest still face huge difficulties. But also a world of growing opportunities.
There’s no doubt the world has changed significantly since 2000 when the current set of Millennium Development Goals were formulated. We now operate in a more complex environment and the world is evolving at an even more rapid pace.
The good news is that countries are developing. The largest numbers of poor people now live in Middle Income Countries, and countries like China, India, and Brazil now play an ever more vital role in world affairs.
The more challenging news is that as countries graduate from low income status and we refocus our aid to the poorest countries, we increasingly need to deliver help in complex, fragile and violent places. This means places like Afghanistan and Somalia where the needs are acute, but so too are the delivery challenges.
It’s not just the role of governments that has changed since 2000. Another thing that has changed for us all is the emergence of new technologies. The internet and communications revolutions have created new opportunities for citizens across the world including in the developing world. Opportunities for commerce, but also new opportunities to give a voice to people.
Finally, we have also seen a shift in the macroeconomic environment. Advanced economies are still suffering the after-effects of the largest global downturn since the great depression, and the high growth rates of China and India are beginning to moderate.
Challenges such as increased volatility of commodity prices and financial flows pose real issues for our development agenda, as well as a more difficult climate for public support for aid budgets in developed countries.
But however much the world has changed in recent years, some things remain a constant. And that brings me on to the next big development challenge I want to talk about, which is the role of girls and women.
The world over, it is still the case that girls and women die in childbirth because they don’t have the medical care they need. It is girls and women who bear the brunt of stagnant economies, losing out on work and educational opportunities first. And in too many societies it is girls and women who struggle for an equal voice and participation.
The UK Government is putting girls and women at the heart of international development. As the UK Prime Minister said in his address to the United Nations General Assembly last month, we must ensure that girls and women have a full role in society, in the economy and in politics, because you cannot build strong economies, open societies and inclusive political systems if you lock women out. Our role is critical to progress.
I am personally very concerned about the increasing challenges internationally to protect women’s rights. Progress has been hard won and we must ensure that women’s empowerment and rights are protected and strengthened. Civil society organisations, including faith and diaspora groups, have a critical role to play in working alongside government to push forward. (We are disappointed that the Commission on the Status of Women ended with no agreed conclusions earlier this year).
The final challenge I wanted to raise today is also an opportunity.
Which is that in the coming year we have unprecedented opportunities to help shape the international consensus on development. The post 2015 development framework will be fundamental in addressing the challenges I’ve already mentioned and eradicating poverty. We are strongly committed to working with others to develop a framework that is useful and relevant for poor people throughout the world.
The Prime Minister will say more on this when he hosts the High Level Panel in London next week, but I would like to briefly set out some thoughts on how we will approach the post Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework.
We must speed up progress on the current MDGs, and ensure that whatever comes next is set up to finish the job on poverty and human wellbeing issues.
We need to heed the lessons from the original MDGs, building on what worked and what didn’t. For example we need to address: full participation of girls and women in social, economic and political life; and ensuring not just that children attend school but that what they learn when they get there is valuable.
Finally we must try to tackle the root causes of poverty - not just the symptoms. This means putting in place the building blocks of prosperity - what the Prime Minister has referred to as the ‘Golden Thread’ of development.
The Golden Thread at its most fundamental is about what people want. They want the ability to register the land they own in their own name; have a police force that will protect their families and property; the right to get a business license quickly and enforce any agreements made; to be able to get on with their lives. (The basic enabling conditions - property rights, security, the rule of law and justice). The importance of transparency and getting the conditions to secure growth and jobs are critical elements of long term development.
3. Meeting the challenges
So I have set out some of the challenges that we all face.
And I’ll be the first to admit that there aren’t easy answers to many of them.
But finally this afternoon, I want to talk about what I have done to start to deal with some of these challenges at DFID; and how the NGO community can do its part.
They reflect those I’ve just mentioned such as the role of women and girls in development. Later this year I will be hosting a meeting with parliamentarians interested in women’s rights, particularly looking at Afghanistan.
The London Summit on Family Planning that the Prime Minister and the Gates Foundation hosted earlier this year was of course another major step this government has already taken.
There is also a major role for NGOs and civil society to play, particularly in setting the international agenda. I would ask you to work with us in the run-up to Commission on the Status of Women 2013 and to connect with your southern partners to ensure a much stronger outcome than was achieved this year.
Another challenge and opportunity is the post-2015 MDG [Millennium Development Goal] process, and again you have a crucial role. Among other things we need you to help ensure that those we seek to help in developing countries genuinely have their voices heard as the post 2015 development consensus is reshaped, by making sure that their views are represented. BOND’s Beyond 2015 group’s work is incredibly valuable in this regard and something I warmly welcome.
But underpinning all that work is the importance of having robust systems in place on transparency, accountability and value for money. All of us need to always ensure that whether the public gives a pound to be spent on development as part of their taxes spent on development to one of your organisations, that they truly get value for money. There has to be a clear line of transparency from the taxpayer to those we seek to help for us to sustain their support.
I want the UK to demonstrate strong leadership worldwide on transparency, accountability and most importantly results for poor people. All organisations involved in international development will need to play their part - to ensure that we have the best people, processes and systems at our disposal to make the biggest impact to transform the lives of the poor.
I am very encouraged, and indeed proud, that DFID and UK NGOs are at the forefront of transparency worldwide. DFID grantees represent 89% of all NGOs worldwide who have published data to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) registry. Let’s ensure that we get 100% compliance in the next few months.
I know that the Bond Effectiveness programme, with support from DFID, is seeking to lead and challenge the sector to keep doing what it’s doing but to do it better, more transparently, more effectively and by providing greater value for money.
So I challenge you today to continue to drive through the changes in transparency that I know Bond has been working on.
For my part, I have already started to look at DFID’s financial systems and how these can be further improved. One of my first acts in office was to lower the threshold at which projects came to me for approval from £40 million to £5 million.
And today I can announce that we are going further. Ministerial approval will now be needed for all contracts worth over £1 million, and for key areas of administrative spend.
I am also reviewing DFID’s use of consultants to see how we can improve value for money.
I hope suppliers can show that they’re not just in it for the money, and so in the next few weeks I will see all our top suppliers so they understand that in future the department will be looking for better value for money in its decisions to award new contracts.
I am adamant that we strive to maximize impact in every possible way and I am acutely aware of how important this is to those whose lives we seek to improve as well as UK tax payers.
Finally, another way of progressing the way we work is by using new technology and research. We must make sure that we are learning as much as we can, so that our work has the greatest impact on the ground. In Kenya a quarter of national GDP flows through mobile banking.
I want DFID to be at the heart of this type of innovation and to be pioneers of new technology that can accelerate the pace to eliminate poverty. Next month I will co-host an event with leading global players in mobile and web technology and civil society which will focus on how Governments can help millions of poor people hold their decision-makers to account and improve their lives.
So, I want to make an invitation to you. We will come at our shared endeavour from many different angles but we are all in pursuit of the same goal. As campaigners and membership organisations, I know you have a big role to play in holding the government to account, and so you should. But I want to hear your answers to shared problems and though we will no doubt disagree at times, I will listen actively to your good ideas.
I especially want us to be leaders together on aid transparency and effectiveness. And of course in our G8 year next year we will need to keep debating and listening on a range of issues, including food and agriculture, on which I know you are already extremely active.
We all want to improve people’s lives and live in a safer and more prosperous world. So I hope that we can keep exchanging views and I look forward to continuing to work with Bond and its members to bring about transformational change for the world’s poor working with you.