Brian Atwood (OECD-DAC Chair) Reflects on Busan Progress

December 08, 2011
Brian Atwood, the chair of the Development Assistance Committee at the OECD (and administrator of USAID from 1992 to 1998), was one of the key figures at last week’s Busan High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. He had to help find a balance between broadening the alliance to include new and emerging donors with pushing for further and faster reforms among the main existing donors and multilateral institutions. He has shared with us his reflections on the progress made in Busan, and I encourage you to read them below. He argues that the agreement reached there has set a new direction in the effort to rationalize the global architecture for development.
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Busan HLF4: The will and the way By J. Brian Atwood, Chair, Development Assistance Committee, OECD The Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Korea last week has been hailed as a turning point. Mercifully, even the word “aid” will bite the dust as Busan created development partnerships in the widest sense. In the aftermath, however, constructive critics are questioning whether a single meeting—even one that attracts prominent leaders such as the UN Secretary General and the US Secretary of State—can change behavior, fix the fragmented—and costly—global development enterprise, or ensure greater progress on the Millennium Development Goals. Only time will tell. But the fact remains that Busan has traced a very clear path to broader understanding of potentially complementary roles for improved performance by everyone involved. Commentaries on forums such as this often overlook the process that leads to agreement—although herein lies, to a large extent, the recipe for what we later deem “success”. For example, many were surprised that Brazil, China and India endorsed the outcome document. These nations still receive assistance, still suffer from poverty, and yet they are providing help to poorer countries under the rubric of South-South co-operation. And although they do not wish to be called donors, they all found the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation acceptable. Why? To begin with, the text of this agreement recognizes that while North-South co-operation is distinct from South-South, the two forms are complementary. How complementary? Again, beyond the triangular cooperation that already exists, that remains to be seen, as  the details of this new global partnership are yet to be hammered out. Still, the outcome document has been accepted as “the reference for South-South partners on a voluntary basis.” And while the “voluntary” element may sound like a hedge, voluntary is not the same as meaningless. The endorsement of the outcome document demonstrates a willingness to engage. While DAC member states sponsored the 2005 Paris meeting and promoted its principles,the guardians of the principles agreed to in Busan will be the developing country partners who drove the process. They came to Busan armed with evidence—based on an independent evaluation of the Paris Declaration—showing that ownership, alignment, transparency and mutual accountability do, indeed, generate development results. They came armed with a DAC survey of some 78 countries demonstrating that, while a full one-third of surveyed developing countries had improved their capacity to own their development strategies, only eight percent more of official development assistance (ODA) had been redirected through these country systems, as donors had pledged to do. While this evidence is sobering, it does not negate progress. As Chair of the DAC, I have had a privileged view of how this new global partnership took root in the run-up to Busan. In April, the DAC invited new providers of development co-opertion to its table for a senior-level meeting and issued a statement welcoming non-DAC partners to engage in a mutual learning dialogue, without preconditions. The declaration made it clear that North-South and South-South traditions have a common purpose: poverty reduction. A China-DAC Study group, created in 2008, helped draw lessons from poverty reduction in China for programming in Africa. Annual DAC meetings with Arab donors—who were well represented in Busan—also had a very positive influence. The DAC sponsored the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding—a body comprised of 40 low-income and donor countries from which the g7+ emerged; this group of 19 “fragile” nations has struck a “New Deal” with their donor partners to demand respect for their very special needs. Of course, we cannot speak of Busan without mentioning the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness, co-chaired by Bert Koenders of the Netherlands and Egyptian Talaat Abdel-Malek. This group—made up of developing nations, international organizations, civil society and DAC member states—formed teams that studied everything from South-South Cooperation to transparency to civil society and effective state institutions. These studies forged the substance of Busan—the building blocks for the implementation of the new development partnership. And finally, the fundamental role of the DAC’s co-host for the HLF-4—the Republic of Korea—was vital to much, much more than the organization of a major international meeting. Korea helped to secure and cement commitment to the outcome document, even when negotiations were toughest. To paraphrase Norwegian Development Minister Eric Solheim, the process was as important as the outcome document. As a highly representative group of “sherpas” engaged in the final negotiations for an agreement, the DAC pushed its members to revisit positions on issues like transparency, tied aid, predictability and use of country systems. We urged members to go beyond development ministries and agencies to get whole-of-government buy-in, and to remove constraints to increased effectiveness. And while consensus on how and by when to correct these problems was not possible, once more the process and the evidence moved the ball much closer to the goal line. The Busan outcome document is a negotiated agreement. It represents hours of push and pull, with developing countries and civil society doing much of the pushing. A careful analysis will show where the compromises were made. But even with the give and take, it is quite a remarkable document. It does not turn night into day, as some might have hoped, but it does place all parties on equal footing—and on the same path. Heavily influenced by a recognition that the world has changed, it represents an effort to rationalize a global development architecture that badly needed fixing. It also embodies a well known axiom: that a “way” is indeed possible when there is a will. And while it is not perfect, I hope and believe that it will serve as an important milestone on the journey toward effective development cooperation.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.