Our Perspective

poverty reduction

Questioning the ‘feminisation of development’ and the business logic

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A PARTICIPANT in A WOMEN ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT PROGRAMME IN UPPER EGYPT. Photo: HEEWOONG KIM/undp.

‘Feminisation of development’ is a fancy phrase referring to the recent trend of seeing women as both beneficiaries and agents of change in development. This has become a popular approach and many of our programmes such as micro-loans, or skills trainings for women fit into this category. This new role is bolstered by a so-called ‘smart business’ logic. Based on this view, women’s empowerment is not only a rights or equity issue, but is also a good investment. UNDP and other UN agencies have, to a degree, subscribed to this logic saying that empowering women leads to better health, education and development overall; and many  of our programmes proved to be quite effective in producing results. For instance, the Conditional Cash Transfers programme provided to mothers in Latin America reduced inequality by 21 percent in Brazil/Mexico and 15 percent in Chile. An initiative targeting ultra-poor female-headed households in Bangladesh raised income by 36 percent and food security by 42 percent. But despite such success, there is mounting opposition against this trend, surprisingly, from the feminist schools. Sylvia Chant, a prominent gender and development scholar, strongly argues against this approach stating: “Women are enlisted as foot soldiers to serve in battles whose aims... Read more

Financing Post-2015: A quick run-down of the expert committee’s report

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Drip irrigation system introduced in the farmlands of Akmola region in Kazakhstan. Photo: UNDP in Kazakhstan

The UN’s inter-governmental committee of experts on sustainable development financing met for the last time this month to put the final touches to their much anticipated report on how the world should finance the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals – or SDGs. I’ve had the opportunity to attend many of the committee’s sessions, and they’ve had a mammoth task. So what have they come up with? You can read the full report here, but below is a quick heads-up. The range of issues they’ve had to cover is massive: from assessing how much cash is needed to finance sustainable development to thinking about where the cash could come from and where these funds should be directed. The report draws up a ‘menu of options’ for the financing of sustainable development. This allows policymakers in different countries to make choices as to what policies and financial instruments are most suited to them. That makes perfect sense of course; the strategy that will be best for a climate-vulnerable small island state such as the Maldives won’t necessarily be the same for a larger resource-rich country such as Kazakhstan. On the other hand, it could also lead governments to ‘cherry-pick’ among the ideas presented, and... Read more

Africa is transforming itself: How do we turn intentions into reality?

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Better investment in infrastructure could help Africa's transformation. Photo: Benoit Almeras Martino/UNDP DRC

Recently I attended an event from the Global Compact, a UN initiative to encourage businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies. Entitled "Advancing Partnerships and Responsible Business Leadership", it was held for the first time in Africa, bringing over 300 participants together from businesses, Global Compact networks, UN agencies and governments. Africa's economic transformation with various partners from China, Europe and the US was among the key topics discussed. But, while multinational companies do play a role, it is increasingly clear that African policy makers and business people are setting the continent’s agenda. Participants largely agreed that Africa’s transformation requires investment in better infrastructure, education, skills, jobs, policies and more. The WHAT was better articulated than the HOW. Africa is expected to be one of the world's fastest growing regions, with 4.8 percent growth in 2014 and over 5 percent in 2015, according to the recent African Economic Outlook 2014. However, this transformation goes well beyond economic growth. Development practitioners talk more and more about ‘inclusive growth’, agreeing that businesses should go beyond philanthropy and corporate social responsibility towards making their core activities better suited for societies and the environment.  As UNDP's Resident Coordinator in Ethiopia, Eugene Owusu stated: "Inclusive... Read more

Beijing+20: Time to fulfil the promise

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UN Women launches the year-long campaign, "Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!," to spark global dialogue and actions on women's right and gender equality. Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown

I was recently among a few thousand people at the public launch of a year-long UN Women campaign marking 20 years since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. Women leaders, celebrities, officials and activists of all ages came together with musicians and performers in New York’s iconic Apollo Theater on 26 June to celebrate the landmark summit which made the slogan “women’s rights are human rights” universal. In 1995, as a graduate student volunteering with the New York-based Women’s Environment and Development Organization, I went to Beijing, one of more than 30,000 women’s advocates in the NGO Forum in Huairou. ‘Beijing’ symbolized the moment when, as feminist leader Charlotte Bunch put it, “all issues came together. Crossing borders and boundaries, race, culture, class, sexual orientation, age, diversity was key to women’s success in Beijing.” Women’s work and tireless advocacy were in large part behind the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action with its 12 critical areas of concern. To date, it is the most comprehensive bill of women’s rights that women have won by consensus. Much has since changed for the world’s women and girls – in health, education, work, rights and opportunities. But celebrations of Beijing are tempered... Read more

Turning subsistence farmers into market suppliers in Africa

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Despite agriculture being a major source of income in Africa, smallholder farmers face many challenges. Photo: Benoit Almeras-Martino/UNDP DRC

As I sat down for my first dinner in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), after a bit more than one year since my last visit, I suddenly remembered that something is very wrong with food prices here. How can a simple margarita pizza with only cheese, tomato, oil and flour, be USD 20? How can local fish be USD 30? Admittedly I did not eat in the cheapest local restaurant, yet the prices are 4 to 5 times more expensive in comparison to similar dishes in Addis Ababa, where I live. Indeed, food in the DRC is at least twice as expensive as the average world food price for basic commodities. Why is that? A combination of poor farmer productivity, lack of infrastructure and a difficult business environment, mean that the cost of producing goods and taking them to markets is high, and imports are often more readily available or cheaper than local products. In 2008, Bralima, one of DRC’s leading brewers, sourced 16% of its rice from outside the country, due to its inability to source it from the local market. With 80 million ha of arable land and 90 percent of it not cultivated, DRC offers huge untapped... Read more

Consumption and well-being: What are we missing?

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“The consumption boom” is concentrated in the upper echelons of society. Photo: Mauricio Martínez/ UNDP in El Salvador

Slavoj Zizek tells a joke that was popular in Eastern Europe in the sixties. A man enters a grocery store and yells, “Surely you don’t have any soap, right?” The shopkeeper replied halfheartedly: “No, sir, we’re the shop with no toilet paper; the shop with no soap is further ahead.” In Latin America, something similar is happening in discussions on progress and development, and we usually think we are the society that is “missing something”, or is “incomplete”. We are interested in exploring the particularities of what’s desperately needed, the necessary data that will enable us to better visualize our unsustainable pattern of consumption. In other words, to examine the aspects of multidimensional poverty that we still have not been able to define. A couple of weeks ago, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean published new data on consumption, spending and borrowing. The initial findings are as follows: “The consumption boom” is concentrated in the upper echelons of society. The richest 20 percent of Latin Americans accounted for roughly 50 percent of all household spending. The poorest 20 percent accounted for about 7 percent of total household spending. Furthermore, the findings show a transition in the nature of spending.... Read more

Development at the crossroads: reflections from the Arab Region

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Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp in the village of Zaatari, Jordan. photo: UNDP

Recent years have seen dramatic changes in the Arab region and two aspects in particular are important for the region’s relationship with issues of development finance.  First, the expanding role of the region itself as a provider of official development assistance (ODA), with the Arab Gulf countries providing more than $3 billion to countries around the world each year - Saudi Arabia alone provided over $100 billion to almost 90 countries since the 1970s. While the volume of Arab ODA has attracted attention, important issues for the future will be a growing focus by Arab partners on development effectiveness, alignment with post-2015 priorities like sustainable access to energy and water, and applying social and environmental quality standards to manage risks in recipient countries.  Furthermore, while most Arab ODA has operated through bilateral cooperation channels and Arab multilateral platforms in the past, there are benefits to connectivity with other Southern donors. The centre of gravity in the global economy is shifting East at speed, and this means shifting lines of development cooperation as well.  Strategic alliances between Asian and Arab donors could be a powerful force for the common goal of supporting new development solutions in Africa, with both Arab and Asian... Read more

Increasing indigenous political representation: an urgent debt for our democracies

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Indigenous communities can be adversely affected by local and global development processes, since their distinct visions, concerns and ways of life can be ignored by policy makers. Photo: UNDP in Peru

In recent times, indigenous peoples have questioned current development models and democracies in Latin America and beyond. The main tool for measuring progress remains Gross Domestic Product, which distorts the true meaning of progress and wellbeing. The damage to ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, not to mention the erosion of cultural and linguistic diversity, have all been excluded from this general assessment. What’s more, the low representation of indigenous peoples in politics and as part of our human development -- below national averages -- is a clear indication that Latin American democracies and the development model have not fully served their purpose. However, many indigenous peoples have taken steps to become more involved in current political affairs and question our societies, accusing the latter of being exclusive, racist, and unaware of their history (for example, they often deny the existence of indigenous genocide) while stifling the diversity and existence of social issues based on a different culture and world view. Paying close attention to such issues and implementing initiatives to enact real change is the challenge faced by democracies. I would like to urge the adoption of a new and rejuvenating approach to issues related to indigenous peoples and their values.... Read more

Development aid: where to next?

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The first High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation launched 38 new initiatives by government, business, private foundations and civil society in Mexico last month. Photo: AGCED Mexico

Last month some 1500 people from over 130 countries gathered in Mexico City for the latest international jamboree on development aid. The ‘Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation’, an OECD/UNDP-led effort  to improve aid effectiveness by encouraging better partnerships between aid donors and aid recipients, had to confront some really tough questions. Do some countries still need development aid? Does aid really work that well? And what is ‘aid’ anyway? Over the last decade, the developing world has dominated global economic growth. There are now 103 middle-income countries and the number (happily) continues to rise. Although much of the attention has been focused on the rapid economic advances made by the ‘big beasts’ of the developing world —Brazil, China and India— others are also doing well; Sub-Saharan Africa has grown at, on average, 5-6% annually over the last decade. Some developing countries have become major donors themselves, such as Mexico, Turkey, Kazakhstan and South Africa. Arab donors have also become more prominent and last month the UAE posted the highest aid levels of all donor countries as a percentage of gross national income (at 1.25%). All well and good, then?  Perhaps, but it’s left many ‘old’ donors confused – will taxpayers... Read more

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