The involvement of two coalition parties in the debate and the absence of opposition parties did not help the debate either. No discussion was allowed about funding, as if finance is not a means to an end. Only van Ham showed his anger with the unprecedented reductions in ODA. As he remained the only one grumbling the IOB director Ruerd Ruben, who sat next to me, concluded that the sector indeed still was over-funded.
Except for Cordaid (who co-organized) none of the bigger NGOs sent their director to participate in the debate. And even René Grotenhuis apparently had nothing to add except for stating that the world is changing and therefore NGOs should reinvent themselves. It really felt that many staff members of NGOs present had no energy left to express their discontent with the current policy flow that values self-interest above sacrifice for the common good.
Crossroads or shrinking space
Academicians had clearly nothing to gain from this sesion. Despite the large number of knowledge institutions on international development reiterated by Ingrid de Caluwé, none of them made their voice heard or even were present. However, that may be credited to them as they may have opted for listening to global voices at the PSO civil society at crossroads debate at ISS that was organized the same afternoon. A compelling similarity between shrinking civil society space in Ireland and Zimbabwe reminded me of the dynamics in the Netherlands. The Vice Versa meeting only confirmed this.
Voices from outside
Tabitha Gerrets of Aqua for All made a sensible remark reminding the audience to differentiate between the different instruments that the Dutch development aid is using. What aid are we actually talking about? As one of the few participants she knew her numbers and urged the speakers and the audience to look at each of the channels of aid separately and identify what works and what does not and then make decisions on budget cuts or increments. Neither VVD nor PvdA had the guts to face up to this challenge, showing the shallowness of their involvement in the sector.
It was striking that the most innovative idea came from outside the ‘sector’ from Frank van Berkum, a project manager of Oranjewoud, a consulting firm in infrastructure development and landuse. He had written a nice suggestion that time may soon come that we may need some aid ourselves in how to deal with some of our development challenges (for instance our rising health expenditures). During the break it turned out that his formal employment is not the only way in which he contributes to small changes in the world.
In the end we may conclude that Dambisa Moyo was right. Official development AID is DEAD. Will we see the revival of voluntarism as a way to 'deconstruct' professionalism?