As a common citizen blogging about events at home and around the globe, I cannot deny that Bitcoin fever is showing epidemic features. You only need to google Bitcoin and its actual value in any currency appears. The next North-American Bitcoin Conference in Miami will probably be looking at the past month as the craziest month since the 'revolution' started.
The very connection between the Bitcoin and the rest of the monetary system to me actually exposes the Bitcoin and spoils the party of the egalitarian utopians that were already embracing the currency as the most powerful redistribution mechanism that would provide for equal chances to everyone. Ironically while the underlying block-chain technology was designed to do away with transaction costs of the current financial system benefiting very few people excessively, its connectivity to other official currencies has caused the Bitcoin to do exactly the same: making a few people extremely rich in a very short time span.
Regulators in the US have tried to bring Bitcoin out of the shady uncontrolled market where it paid for drugs and other illegal trade. They started issuing licenses for trading companies that meet criteria around transparency and due diligence. However, it is not the regulatory environment that can change the climate. You don't need to be an economist to see that the real value of Bitcoins is null (which is the case for most currencies, since the gold standard has been replaced by consumer confidence). It is scary to know that the same geeks who have invented the Bitcoin also know how to play public opinion using their algorithms.
Wealth and impact
So, what to expect from this wave that venture capitalists seem to be able to ride to the next level of wealth accumulation, undoubtedly leaving many small investors behind in tatters. If this new market only could capture the wealth of all capital investors and put it to use for the poor and marginalised, it would make the Bitcoin-rush the best Robin Hood action ever.
I remember the time I shared my office space with two colleagues who invested heavily in the internet bubble in the nineties and were spending at least an hour a day to see how their shares were doing, finally to find themselves a lot less wealthy than they had imagined when starting the adventure. I also recall Didi Taihuttu and his family, who sold everything they had earlier this year to buy Bitcoins. He has not been cashing yet, though the nominal value of the bitcoins must have tripled by now. Will he still sleep at night?
From what I gathered reading about the Bitcoin movement it seems intentions of many of the digital currencies that have been introduced was to provide an alternative to the financial system following the financial crisis in 2008. However, as we may learn from the recent Bitcoin rush, a number of unintended effects may show. Intentions are not the only thing that matters as also Prof. dr. Dirk-Jan Koch pointed to in his inaugural speech last Friday at the Radboud University. Prof. Koch is the newly appointed Professor of International Trade and Development Assistance in the Netherlands, partly funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Koch distinguishes three types of unintended effects of international cooperation: invented, ignored and invisible, which for the sake of this exercise I will try to apply to the Bitcoin industry.
As already mentioned, the paradise of egalitarianism and equal chances, that was predicted by the early days developers of the Bitcoin, seems to have imploded already. The Bitcoin became as much an object of greed as it could be a game changer. So the question is: does it really solve the problem of wealth accumulation or will it in the end be doing exactly that.
It is clear that some of the potential uses of the new currencies were ignored at the beginnning. Like the fact that Bitcoin has been instrumental to the success of Silk Route, an online drugs market that has used the Bitcoin for its transactions, sending drugs all over the world. Due to its untracability a nightmare for the law-enforcement agencies trying to control the illegal drug trade. What is also ignored but gradually comes to the surface is the power supply needed to dig Bitcoins by getting so many computers to run code which will finally supply you the Bitcoin you need, the so-called mining. Like with mining of minerals there is severe environmental impact of mining bitcoins.
What cannot be measured but what is undoubtedly there is the impact the currency had on people, seeing opportunities for quick wins and becoming greedy of others (having sold their own bitcoins way too early). Also invisible is what profit made from trade in Bitcoins will be invested in. LIkewise the impact of massive losses should the bubble burst, won't be easy to fathom.
Many proverbs already point to the fact that the possession of material wealth is rather a concern than a comfort. It is what you do with it that defines you. It seems a lot easier to accumulate wealth than spending it properly. To the ones cashing in time and benefiting of upward market trends I would say: acknowledge that wealth comes with strings attached. The efforts of big philanthropic foundations like Rockefeller and Bill and Melinda Gates should be applauded in that regard. But also in aid unintended effects are at play as Prof. Koch will confirm My advise to Didi and all other Bitcoin investors would be: Have you taken a bite? Don't let it into your system! Spit it out before it swallows you.
In this time of advent, with many people wandering in search of warmth and shelter, I came across the following creed written by José Luis Calan, which I would like to share with the readers of this blog. I am sincerely hoping that the narrative of the nativity story will provide for a new narrative around the many small and bigger refugee crises around the world :
I believe in Almighty God,
who guided the people in exile and in exodus,
the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon,
the God of foreigners and immigrants.
I believe in Jesus Christ, a displaced Galilean,
who was born away from his people and his home,
who fled his country with his parents
when his life was in danger.
When he returned to his own country
he suffered under the oppression of Pontius Pilate,
the servant of a foreign power.
Jesus was persecuted, beaten, tortured,
and unjustly condemned to death.
But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead,
not as a scorned foreigner
but to offer us citizenship in God’s kingdom.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the eternal immigrant
from God’s kingdom among us,
who speaks all languages,
lives in all countries,
and reunites all races.
I believe that the Church
is the secure home
for foreigners and for all believers.
I believe that the communion of saints
begins when we embrace all God’s people
in all their diversity.
I believe in forgiveness,
which makes us all equal before God,
and in reconciliation,
which heals our brokenness.
I believe that in the Resurrection
God will unite us as one people
in which all are distinct
and all are alike at the same time.
I believe in life eternal,
in which no one will be foreigner
but all will be citizens of the kingdom
where God reigns forever and ever.
If the world would be ranked along a resilience index, European countries would rank very low. The British have shown their ignorance by tackling migration full-front as a threat and are currently even sacrificing their own economic participation in Europe for the sake of "keeping them out".
Currently the British have massive budgets available to 'curb migration'. By the way, they could as well have stayed in Europe as also the European Union has framed quite a number of their 'development efforts' as ways to reduce migration.
This frame has now been copied by the Dutch in the coalition agreement that was signed of in the past week by four political parties (including my own). Investment in development cooperation to address root causes of migration. I must say, I feel ashamed that we have not been able to undo this framing in a timely manner, despite support from scientists and media who have challenged this causal link and even supported the opposite. Increase in welfare will at first be reason for more migration.
It is clear that the number of people trying to reach Europe has increased over the last couple of years. It is also clear that this partly results from poor economic opportunities at home. It is however forgotten that the majority of these masses have just escaped from brutal regimes in countries where human rights are not respected. Having trumped the human rights agenda in the eighties and nineties, European powers should have been the first to welcome people escaping these regimes (like Syrians and Eritreans). A two pronged approach should have been followed in which international pressure on those regimes would be mounting to change their behaviour, with a clear threat of military intervention to restore law and order and the potential removal of lawless regimes.
Voting with their feet
Instead, once gain the golden egg is considered to be development assistance. During the last decade of neo-liberal rule, the silent objective it served was to improve trade relations. Developed nations with stable governments would provide for better trade partners. Economic diplomacy was the buzz-word, with the state in the lead role. Although Europeans were deeply involved in democratisation processes before, in recent years European attention and investment in good governance was mainly geared to generate an enabling business environment. This lack of attention for democratization and good governance lead to big resentment with groups excluded from the political and economic system. No longer committed to a government that did not serve their interests, they voted with their feet. Can you blame young African men for trying their luck in Europe if staying at home would mean a lifelong military service, like in Eritrea? But also can we blame Senegalese youngsters for trying their luck in Paris, if at home economic opportunities are bleak?
The dead bodies washing up our shores in Europe have done two things. It brought the plight of various people groups back to the political centre in Europe. At the same time this claim making power has been contested by excluded groups in Western societies. They fear that others will eat into their social service provision or compete for jobs in the labour market. Hence the political response has been to provide for jobs and protection at home or near to home. Though this narrative may be fully understood from a political point of view, it does not sit well with a development school of thought which has learnt over many years that it requires people to fight poverty and injustice themselves, but would be greatly helped with international solidarity. We should stand with the poor rather than provide for the poor with attention to human dignity and self-worth.
For the time being it looks like security concerns are dominating the discourse and treating the ring of instability around Europe will be prioritised over and above addressing human rights concerns in countries a little bit further away. This won't help much in addressing political and social instability on the long run. A more positive frame would have greatly helped. Also migrants leave a large part of their identity at home and stay connected to situations at home. But they also bring part of their identity with them, offering us an opportunity to connect. This connection could be leveraged to build better understanding and improve relations between societies. It is up to international civil society organizations to support the voice of the voiceless when political deals are being made and facilitate the exchange between civil societies across the world. This should remain their focus, without being distracted by slightly higher budgets. Increased investment in development cooperation should be evaluated in terms of impact on poverty eradication, even if this would result in more migrants aiming for Europe. Hope we can still turn the tide, though the waves seem overwhelming.
While the Dutch have just resumed talks for the formation of a new coalition government, the crises in various parts of the world have deepened. The presence of a lunatic in the White House may turn out to be a blessing in disguise as it requires the rest of the world to show moral leadership. I would hope the various parties realise the stakes are way too high for ignoring global trends of increasing immorality in leadership. The Netherlands is just a very tiny country in this 'rest of the world'. But political momentum builds to forge new global alliances against unethical behaviour in politics and economics.
Four political parties have taken up the challenge to form a new coalition government with the least majority possible (76 out of 150 seats). Unfortunately the green left (GroenLinks) opted out just before the summer, as there were insufficient guarantees on protection for refugees and their safe passage to Europe. A missed opportunity in my view. My own political party the ChristenUnie has joined the three others that previously tried to close the deal with the Green Left. I hope they will do a better job by being both principled and pragmatic. When campaigning for my party during the previous elections five years ago, I formulated 10 suggestions for change in Dutch foreign policy on my Dutch political blog "De Politieke Wereld": Ten tweaks to turn the tide. I would say they still hold. Hence I updated them and translated them for those readers not mastering Dutch.
Tweak 1: From Investment back to Aid
In recent years two successive liberal cabinets have turned the development agenda into an investment agenda. That sounds good, but basically means departing from international solidarity and embracing vested interest as a leading principle in foreign policy. I would favour a return to aid without conditions and expectations. With just a responsibility to help, without obligations for the recipient to show results in terms of development. Just allowing the other party to get back to their feet and allow them treadle the path of self-help without further support.
Tweak 2: From Lecturing to Learning
In the past the Dutch claimed their leading role in development cooperation contributing the agreed 0.7% of GDP to the international development agenda. Since long we have lost this position, with recent ODA figures falling short even below 0,6% of GDP. Instead of emphasizing what we are good at, it may be time to realise we have a few lessons to learn. Proper steps have been taken during recent years in at least allowing space for learning in learning platforms where civil servants, business people, NGO workers and academia meet. However, as much as this type of learning is needed, the object of learning often stays disengaged. Hence recipients of aid should have the lead in reflecting on the aid practice.
Tweak 3: From Giving to Receiving
Often the percentage we want to set aside for international solidarity takes centre stage in our discussions. Often the 'poor' at home competing with the poor abroad. Rather than having the focus on what we donate it may be healthy to value what we receive. There is a lot I gained from my ten years working abroad and I am not too confident I have really helped a lot of people sustainably out of poverty. Likewise after ODA ceilings have been set a lot of narratives try to cover how it is spent, continuously challenging the very existence of the ODA percentage. Instead we could focus on how we spend the other 99,3 percent of our GDP and the impact of this spending on situations of poverty and exclusion both abroad and at home. If we would value better the production costs of flowers we buy, or pair of shoes we wear, would that not bring fairness to the production side of the value chain?
Tweak 4: From Fear of Loss and Damage to Longing for Restoration
A lot of the international discourse around disaster management linked to climate change is fear based. Developed economies are escaping compensations that countries demand in payment for their loss and damage. To the contrary they are demanding poor countries to contribute to achievement of the global goals, helping them to develop a tax base under the banner of domestic resource mobilization. Although aiming for improvement of the social contract may be appreciated, this does not mean western countries can withdraw their support. Especially when disasters strike there are many personal loss and damage stories that take primacy over economic losses. The most important thing aid workers can contribute in such situations is to be near, comforting the afflicted and give them hope for better futures, especially in cases where situations of injustice are aggravating disaster impact. Especially in situations of conflict short-term humanitarian aid should be linked to capacity development to facilitate justice, reconciliation and peace.
Tweak 5: From Project to Context monitoring
With less money to spend on development cooperation, increasing attention is given to effectiveness and efficiency. The tendency is to select areas where the needs are highest. However, especially during humanitarian disasters, access to victims in these areas may be impeded, causing delays in relief distributions. So apart from project monitoring (does relief arrive at the right time at the right place) also context monitoring is important, which will explain at times why resources need to be kept apart till situations have improved. A diversity of actors is crucial as at some point aid may not be delivered through one channel but could still reach through other channels. That means that increased efficiencies do not always lead to increased effectiveness. NGOs often function as eyes and ears of the international community to ensure governments and multilateral agencies do their work properly.
Tweak 6: From Competition to Co-creation
The old economic model driven by competition may need a reboot, based on complementarity and co-creation. Not only between businesses, but also between NGOs, governments and the private sector. The challenges require radical different approaches where people acknowledge each other's strength and are willing to allow others to do the job, when it is done better. I take it that this is a very tough one. Nevertheless at micro-scale we see it already happening and also in organizations it is increasingly embraced. Of course this is easier said than done. Especially when preferred solutions are different and interests do not align or are even opposed. Still bringing them together and trying to resolve differences of opinion will in the end have a better result. This is the case in societal and political debates and can be practiced in academic discourse. This will require further investment in education that is geared towards co-creation rather than competition.
Tweak 7: Ideals, Leadership and Faith
Ideals, the world is full with them. And in order not to lose them you have to put them to work. Many politicians started their political career with ideals. They wanted to change something. Development workers are a kind of international politicians. Ideals that require faith to keep them alive. And faith requires someone else who could draw the picture of how the change may look like. Not the first step, but the finish. The ultimate goal. Many people seem to have lost sight of that. For many the goal is to be free, as they feel trapped in situations of injustice.
In the Netherlands we have developed what I would call 'programme politics'. Political parties do not debate but exchange positions. However, some parties still have a number fundamentals that help them taking position when context changes. Rather than having priorities a number of non-negotiables are formulated based on fundamental principles. It helps taking position, or even joining positions of others. This kind of politics requires a different kind of leadership that is grounded in faith. The faith that the challenge ahead of us is never as big as the power behind us. It is faith in the bigger picture, where somewhere at some time everything comes together for the good, despite current circumstances. It is the type of faith that helped Bonhoeffer oppose Hitler and Luther oppose the religious clergy of his time. It helped Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela to fight racial injustice and inspired Ghandi's non-violent opposition. A moral compass that helped them overcome anguish and fear of repercussions. It is this type of leadership that the world is lacking today.
Tweak 8: From Bursting to Bending
Our societies are at the brink of bursting. Some fear this will be the result of foreigners who want to take over. My perceptions is that our own consumption patterns have increased the pressure. We cannot uphold current levels of consumption any longer. They need to align better with what the earth sustainable produces and should be shared by everyone living on it. Unless we manage to control consumption, bringing it down to reasonable levels that allows for prosperity for many more, population growth and migration will continue to challenge the system. In this connected world everyone strives for the best, and many will feel left behind, despite the rhetoric that no one should. If I lived in Syria at present time, for sure I would send my children to Europe or I would go myself if I had a chance. Individual decision-making makes for rational choices that people make. Hence, system change is required. The old order cannot be maintained and should bend towards a new world order, where prospects are given to Africa and the Middle-East for better futures, now that the oil is running out, and few alternatives seem to be available to sustain the wealthy top-tier of our societies that have gradually enslaved the poorer sections of society (like Joseph enslaved the Egyptians at the time of famine). In old-testament times, a year of jubilee was required every 50 years. A year of returning ancestral land. How this can be done will be a matter of bending towards a new world order that acknowledges the primacy of sustainable living.
Tweak 9: From Dooms-Day to D-Day
The current situation in the world today may be compared to the times of Nazi-Germany having the upper hand in Europe implementing its fascist and racist policies. In the end it was Hitler's hunger for power that caused the Soviets to align with the British and American forces which tilted in favour of the allied forces. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor engaging the Americans where the Monroe-doctrine prevented them of doing so for quite some time.
Clear goals have been set with regard to combatting climate change. The sudden change in the American position made the rest of the world realise they needed to join hands. Suddenly China is welcomed as an important ally in the fight against climate change. Will the Russians follow? Or will they join hands with the United States in the end? Time for a D-Day in which all parties work together to make change happen, even if it generates short-term losses.
Tweak 10: From Leading to Following
Though in my tweaks five years ago I already pleaded for better followership amongst politicians, we see a worrying trend in terms of political leadership. Increasingly politicians are portraying themselves as the protectors of their economies and even democracies. The examples are plenty where presidents hold on to power, but also new politicians presenting themselves as the new promise for the nation. Rather than following what is happening in society and trying to bring that together in the political arena which then would lead to the encouragement of initiatives that serve the common good and constraining initiatives that destabilize society. Partly this has to do with laziness of the electorate who want politicians to think for them, and copy them in their dialogues, giving headway to populist forces. The intellectual elite seems to disengage as they observe there is little to gain in politics and many political careers are just a first step for a successful career in the private sector, resulting in closer connections between the public and private sector spheres. No wonder, ordinary citizens no longer feel represented. It is high time that politicians reconnect to their constituencies and listen to their problems, noting the solutions they propose and allow it to inform their policies. High time to turn the tide!
While Theresa May and her conservatives are licking their wounds after a not so convincing parliamentarian win, the European leaders came together to build consensus for future foreign aid programming. The win of Macron in France over right-wing populist Marie LePen, and the not-so-convincing win of Wilders in the Netherlands seem to indicate that right-wing populism is on it's retreat and gradually replaced by a European consensus that we are in this together. However, on what specifically consensus can be reached in historically such a divided continent? In answering this question it helps to focus on joint challenges.
As a result, the European consensus is no longer necessarily mostly about a common market as much as it is about a common security policy and policy measures that curb migration flows, though these two seem to be interdependent. This has brought a new realism to the European continent that without investing in their neighbours also Europe's economic future looks grim. Hence the new European Consensus on Development was received with much interest and in the coming week will be further explored during the European Partnership Forum in Brussels, July 6 and 7.
The forum is organized to explore ways in which the Non-State-Actors and Local Authorities (NSA-LA) budget line will take shape in the near future. Though the wording suggests otherwise, the European Consensus shows a lot less agreement on the way forward than suspected. It mostly states that 1) We are all in this together. 2) We need to arrive at solutions with all stakeholders on board. 3) And we need holistic solutions that will last. It is the typical bureaucratic language to say: "We have no clue where we are going, but let us stay together and hopefully arrive safely."
Securitization of aid
The ideas that are ventilated on the Partnership Forum pages rather expose a defensive attitude with most of the attention given to the ring around Europe. It is clear, Europe won't any longer be the care-taker of global stability along with its allies, of which it has lost a few with the British departing from the EU and the Americans further withdrawing from global agreements. Europe's foreign policies are therefore mostly concerned with European stability, currently challenged by influxes of perceived masses of refugees and economic migrants. For a while it looked like it would cause the union to collapse. However, the general public also sensed that wars and humanitarian disaster cannot be tackled by simply ignoring them and closing borders. A new narrative is required that reconnects Europe with the rest of the world.
With the Americans withdrawing from the Paris Agreement Europe realises that it no longer can rely on the US in global policy formulation. It has to show-case a new way for dealing with diversity and multipolarity in facing global challenges. Collaboration with China in implementing the new green deal seems to emerge. The question is how this will play out in their quite different histories in relating to the rest of the world. China has always had the investment lenses on, while Europe only recently discovered these lenses and for many years mainly used rights based approaches to inform foreign policy. Will it be possible for these two paradigms to marry into a responsible investment discourse?
Focusing on the state as the sole protector of rights and provider of basic services is increasingly challenged. When states fail you can go two directions with governance. Either localise it or centralise it even further to the sub-regional or regional level. Both movements are being made. Inter-state complexities that link to humanitarian situations are sorted at regional level. At the same time national policies focus on decentralisation of decision-making, shifting the burden to local level government bodies which in turn need a lot of capacity building to absorb these new responsibilities. Hence, budget-lines like the Non-State-Actors and Local Authorities become an important accelerator to support this movement.
A future with cities
Apart from decentralisation, another trend can be observed while reviewing how the latter budgetline takes shape. The focus shifts from the rural to the urban space with increasing number of people living in cities. In the face of increasing challenges in the rural space, the answer for dealing with these challenges is hoped to be found in responsible urban planning and development with a focus on innovation and youth employment. Cities of the future challenges pop-up everywhere as well as innovation centres around mobility challenges. 'Engineering the crowd' in ways that support new economies seems the way forward.
How will this urban bias serve those in the rural space? Will they be 'left to themselves' to sort out their own vulnerabilities while having to deal with many demands that arise from cities? Cities need water and food supply as well as power supply. The surrounding rural space may see this as an opportunity. More often city development is considered a threat. The rural space for years has been utilized to provide for its own inhabitants. Will rural areas be able and willing to meet the needs of the towns? Customary rights over the use of natural resources often clashes with national policies that support land acquisition for commercial enterprising. Often there is a fine line between consensus and conflict. In the end solutions are to be found that everyone can live with. These solutions have to provide perspectives on sustainable futures for both urban and rural populations. Local rights and realities, domestic policies and foreign direct investment should be balanced. If only this could be the consensus!
We in the Netherlands have often looked at our neighbours as stiff, bureaucratic and a bit distant and noisy holiday guests at our shores. In development cooperation we thought we were doing much better in terms of being entrepreneurial and innovative. We had two subsequent governments massively investing in our innovation power. However, in the same period we have managed to turn a blind eye to the development partners that have helped us shaping our ideas. The Dutch connectedness to the world has given them great comparative advantage over other nations both in trade and investment policies. However, we lost our moral high-ground to our opportunistic trade spirit, which caused many multinational companies to virtually locate their head-offices in the tax haven we created for them.
In the meantime our German neighbours did a much better job in learning from history creating safe havens for migrants who were escaping war or economic exploitation. Germany realised that only economic development would bring the required changes that could curb migration. Hence, like the US invested heavily in Europe following the World War II, Federal Minister Gerd Müller organized a highly participative process in which 10 starting points were formulated that should guide future German investment in Africa. The Broker picked up on this development and also this week it featured at various gatherings in the Netherlands discussing the way forward towards inclusive global development, emphasizing the need to invest in Africa's next generation.
African ambitions come with African resources
Whereas the world did not attempt to look beyond 2030 while developing the SDGs, Africa adopted a much more long-term vision in Africa Agenda 2063 that also forms the basis of their negotiations with Europe and other international parties. You may think that 2063 is a bit far-fetched for a continent where the majority still lives from hand to mouth, leave alone thinking about tomorrow. Nevertheless, the educated class, the elite if you wish, has become more confident about their future prospects, also in view of the seemingly decline of the Western world and an upcoming Eastern dominance in world matters. Despite of a few dictators still clinging on to power, a middle-class has been formed that demands more from their government than clientilism and systems of patronage.
Some of these traditional migration routes are now blocked as wars are ravaging in countries like Yemen. It caused many to return home and others to choose other destinations. Now that Europe has become one of those destinations, the welfare state has clearly been unable to absorb these influxes of labour. A well regulated labour market also minimizes chances of employment for these groups, certainly as Brittain is closing its borders. However, the young generation does not seem to have the patience to wait for this middle-class to fix things. Desillusioned about their chances in the near future in their own country and enlightened about chances elsewhere they try their luck abroad. For years already labour migration has been common place in Africa, primarily to countries in the Middle-East.
Current investment policies still ignore to a large extend the enormous potential of welcoming people, training them for jobs where there is currently shortage of (like health workers and technicians). Rather than investing in Africa for the sake of Europe, Europe could try investing in Africans for the sake of Europe ánd Africa. Welcoming people now and offering save passage and proper employment schemes, while agreeing with African governments on return migration after say 5 years of service would do good to both Europe and Africa. Not only in terms of increased welfare but also in terms of people getting to know each other within the safe conditions of a temporary situation. After return many will take those friendships along with them, establishing strong connectors between geographically, economically and culturally distant societies. On the medium to longer term this will be extremely beneficial to European-African relations.
What I like about the German Marshall Plan is that it embraces the reality of a rich Africa that has resources on offer. And what I also like is its inclination towards proper diplomatic relationships between Europe and Africa that embody mutual respect while upholding standards of good governance both in Europe and Africa. Germans, like no other people group in Europe, know what can go wrong when nationalism takes over and populism creates a dictator. It may be best positioned to support some of the African governments in dealing with autarchies and lack of countervailing power within their societies. It would be good if the Dutch would help further EU-Africa relationships and share their experience with farmer cooperatives, water boards, etc. Terms of trade could include circulation of human capital building an EU-African knowledge economy that would focus on developing strong local markets while paying due attention to labour conditions and impact on the environment. This would have a great potential towards inclusive global development. It would indeed need to exclude countries not living up to these standards, like the United States today. China and Europe have shown this week that agreeing to work together on the implementation of the Paris climate agreement will have the best chance to produce solid results that last. If good EU-Africa relations are added to the equation, Triangular cooperation takes shape and Project South-East may become more than just a thought experiment. The current flaw in Europe's domestic policies inspired by fear for the unknown and fuelled by extremism both at home and abroad, should be countered by a daring foreign policy that is willing to invest in the human dimension and balances African, Asian and European interests and aspirations towards a sustainable future.
At a personal level I am excited that I may be part of a whole different connectedness around the globe, encouraging churches globally to take up their role in transforming communities at the local level. While contemplating global relationships, we are constantly reminded that at a very local level people already have difficulties living at peace with one another and seeking the common good. It is nice to see how faith communities, rather than caring about personal salvation, seek the well-being of the communities they are part of through church and community transformation.
This Sunday churches world-wide recall the day of Pentecost, the day that transformed fearful followers of Christ into men and women fearlessly professing their faith. Last week 26 people did the same in Egypt and they were shot dead by terrorists. Contemplating the level of violence originating from the Middle-East with so many people on the move, I just hope it will find itself embraced in the midst of a triangle of improved relations between Asia, Africa and Europe that will feel a joint responsibility to pray for peace for the most contested area of the world and warmheartedly welcome those fleeing from violence or persecution.
Several Dutch development agencies still maintain organizational structures that would much better support a production factory than the entrepreneurship model that is required today. New leadership is taking on the required transformation, raised in modern business management schools. However, will they succeed?
It struck me that various development organizations in my direct environment are letting go of the old departmental hierarchy model and start working with self-steering project teams to trigger a more entrepreneurial spirit. It builds on the idea that we often harbour more skills, network and experience in ourselves than our job-descriptions will mobilize. For example: people feel constraint to do marketing if they are not part of the marketing team, while possibly the best positioned to take on marketing in the current digitally connected world are the first line responders. Hence the idea to constitute project teams that bring together a team with complementary skills, networks and experience that work together on specific projects.
However, the big question is how do we get from A to B. Especially when B is not all that clear to everybody and cannot be captured into a simple and straightforward organizational model that presents a clear staff- and line-management structure. Secondly, where should all these middle-managers be heading for. Should they become peers to staff they previously managed? And what about good managers? They may not necessarily be the best implementers but have other skills to develop their teams: allocate time efficiently, ensure systems are in place and keep people in check, carry out performance appraisals. Who is going to do all of that? And who is to manage the size of portfolio's and ensures that all costs are covered? So, everybody senses the need for some rigour to be maintained while building sufficient flexibility to facilitate entrepreneurship.
Institutional change required
Also, the institutional environment of development actors should evolve. This environment is still dictated by the old Taylorian school of increasing efficiencies through corporation and division of labour. Institutional donors, requiring agencies to compete to deliver on projects and programs, basically have embraced the market-based model that dictates who wins the bid. Relations matter less or could even hamper a due diligence approach. International NGOs themselves have contributed to this by raising their corporate profile through branding, linked to professionalized lobby on key-thematic areas that help shape their corporate identity. Phrases like: "we want to be world-class experts in..." frequently feature at strategy sessions at corporate level. The focus shifts from 'where the needs are' to 'where we are good at', or ‘our policy goal’. For example: discussions around the Sustainable Development Goals do no longer circle around whether or not the SDGs do present useful lenses that helps us understand the complexity of the challenge at hand, but help us to position our organization in the global development landscape. Hence the aim becomes to identify the SDGs that are most relevant to our mission rather than considering the framework of all 17 SDGs as a guiding instrument for all our actions.
In the field
At the bottom end this results into a myriad of agencies with a presence in a certain locality, often working with a single sector or bureau on a very specific problem. Hence, when a disaster strikes, you may find a lot of capacity available in terms of personnel, cars, etc. but a marginal proportion of it can be mobilized to deal with the disaster. Rather agencies are busy with the impact of the disaster on their operations and how to be answerable to the donor who paid them for the specific service delivery, which is impeded or even aborted by the crisis. How do you do education around family planning and contraception as a development agency in an area where people are busy with their herds preventing massive starvation and where families need to employ all sorts of coping strategies, ripping families apart? Or even closer, how to implement a major cattle vaccination campaign when cattle are undernourished and cannot be vaccinated?
No easy answer
There is no easy answer to the questions raised above. However, what it boils down to is that at least local decision-makers should feel better in control of resources allocated through central planning mechanisms, be it with donors or with the central government. They could be helped in this endeavor by agencies that employ a so-called area development approach, trying to be partner to both the community and the local governing bodies in bringing the resources in at the appropriate time or mobilizing them from the community itself. These agencies may not necessarily have the capacity in place to compete on very specialized calls for proposals, which they could leave to other agencies, but they could link up to them. A better interplay between long-term development partners (in a specific locality) and specialized agencies that may be called in to deliver a specific service, would benefit long term development efforts a lot.
Geographies or themes
I remember many discussions in development agencies about whether they should organize themselves geographically or thematically. The first approach typically translates into country specialists and local country offices that helps implementing programs funded by international donors. The country specialist functions as an intermediary between state and non-state actors both at home as well as in the recipient country often through own implementation capacity in-country. The second approach brings experts from within the organization to any country situation where the desired expertise is required and apparently not locally available, often followed by a Training-of-Trainers approach, hoping for the uptake of the new technology or ways of working with the local organizations whose capacity is built. For this approach the building of local capacity is often prioritized. Added value is created in both situations. Knowledge is managed in both situations as well. M&E systems will need to be in place for both. And so on.
Occasionally you will find agencies from both sides of the spectrum in one consortium. If properly managed they will realize that one part of the consortium could be the implementing vehicle for the other part of the consortium, which would lead to a great symbiosis where access to specific target groups and/or areas is combined with access to specific knowledge and expertise. I would plea for better consortium management in which agencies are forced to reinforce each other. Some agencies will participate due to their long-term presence in a certain area, while others participate due to their specialised knowledge required at a specific time. However, rather than having the SDGs determine which agency is best positioned to take the bid forward, I would argue that local level decision-makers should be in the lead as to what kind of support is delivered at what time.
For the sake of clarity of the argument, I have left the political dimension outside the scope of this article. Questions around legitimacy of local decision-making need to be answered. Also it is clear that prevailing donor agendas are not necessarily focussed on what is the best solution locally. And even community based approaches often miss-out on the larger picture of a catchment area or impacts on other communities. In terms of governance the interplay between central planning authorities and local-level planning should be maximised, including cross-border dimensions of certain livelihood challenges. However, the same is true for non-state actors with central planning "authorities". If not sufficiently informed by local level realities, they tend to go off-track and end up serving political agendas of the powerful rather than stand by the powerless.
Hybrid forms of cooperation
It is for this reason that I would plea for combining long-term partnerships that carry a history of cooperation over many years with short-term technical inputs from specialized agencies, preferably in cooperation with local knowledge partners (like local universities or local specialized agencies). Hence: project teams that function across organizational spaces with a clear mandate and limited timeframe. What this entails in terms of organizational structure (as discussed above) is still unclear. The optimum cooperation between (former) departments within organizations should at least be complemented by effective mechanisms of cooperation outside the organization where longer-term engagement with certain localities is combined with specialized input that help connect the dots between local and global development agendas.
This will ensure that support provided is embedded in longer-term relationships of accountability that builds a local knowledge body that serves the local development agenda and is selective in terms of what agency to involve when. Donors would do well in acknowledging this important role of local development partners, building conditions in their contracts not necessarily requiring track record in number of projects or expertise but rather in engagement with a certain locality or target group over a longer time-frame.
The UN is reforming its systems to support more togetherness in the way they administer their programs. The name of the new system is not fo no reason "Umoja", which is the Swahili word for "unity" or "togetherness". For those who have worked with the UN you know what a challenge this often offers. Also corporate INGOs face this problem at times. I am seeing the IT industry, in particular packages like Microsoft Office 365, gradually sorting this out for them. And throughout my career I have come across the same consultants offering similar services to update systems to comply with Office 365 standards and cloud-based system administration. Although I am hopeful this will indeed bring about the sort of system change we need for corporates to better manage their business, in the end it is not about systems but about people. Tearfund adopted Umoja already years ago to name their community mobilization approach in working with churches. What I like about the approach is that it challenges churches to step out of their comfort zone and care-taking of their own community members and contribute to the wider community. what I really like about the way this is rolled-out is that it also targets churches in Western societies (like in the Netherlands) to learn from the African churches what Umoja is all about. True reciprocity that our sector is so much in need of.
Soon I will be supporting both the Tear and Tearfund teams in the Netherlands and the UK to explore how to capitalize on this approach and similar experiences. I will also help develop some new initiatives in the context of PerspActive. The latter is an attempt to let go of the competition model and embrace the concept of collaboration to arrive at propositions for next generation development. An exciting perspective!
Being in one of the drought stricken areas of Ethiopia I heard of the enormeous succes of the Dutch public appeal for countries in conflict facing famine like situations. This is the real proof that there still is a solidarity economy in the Netherlands.
Over 30 million has been raised already! And still the action is not over. I am also glad to know and having seen even this week that assistance is provided at places where it is needed most. I visited a catte feeding centre in a drought stricken region in Ethiopia.
It is obvious that this cannot continue forever. However, not every disaster that happens can be blamed on conflict or climate change. There are also issues of mismanagement of natural resources or a mis-match between formal and customary institutions. This has now also been acknowledged by the Ethiopian government who have last month agreed to seek integration of customary and formal institutions for rangeland management in Borana region. How the two will come together is still not yet worked out, but a promising start has been made.
Drops of rain this week conveyed the positive feeling that change is actually possible. According to a the local forecaster the rain should be good this time. Let us hope and pray that rain will indeed be sufficient for men and remaining livestock to recover.
What to write about, when there are no words to express the anguish 20 million people face across Africa. A toxic mix of conflict, climate change and failing governance is currently yielding the biggest humanitarian disaster the world has ever witnessed since all institutions for peace and prosperity were erected following two devastating World Wars.
Where did the system fail? Howe come we seem to have turned a blind eye to the fate of so many African nations? Where have development partners been over the last decade? The answer is as simple as it is horrifying. We have been preoccupied with our self-interest. This lead to a general sense of disenfranchisement amongst people in Africa and the Middle-East providing a perfect birth ground for radical groups. Only in recent years we have come to realize that this attitude is finally turning against us. In attempts to 'address root causes of migration' institutions and donors are pumping resources into areas of instability or potential instability hoping people will stay put. But why would they? Their regimes have done business with foreign nations and companies, expropriating African soil and resources often without consent from the people living on it. Any clue why people started to migrate?
In the meantime, it is not the masses yet that manage to find boats to bring them to Europe. It is the middle-class that somehow manage to send a family member abroad, putting some resouces together to pay the smugglers. But the masses remain behind, for starvation as it seems today. Only one year ago the great adagium of the Sustainable Development Goals meeting in New York was to "Leave no one behind". And this is exactly what many will feel that are facing serious food and water shortages, the basic necessities of life. They are left behind by the global community that have been to busy watching TV-shows that turn them into little Masters of the Universe while spending their resources on the latest smart phone or coolest outfit produced by children in far away places.
"Boer zoekt werk"
And I have to say, even while typing this my family watches "Boer zoekt vrouw", a reality TV-show where the search for a wife of five Dutch farmers keeps millions of TV-watchers attached to their screens every Sunday night. What about the many million farmers that may have a wife but lost all of their cattle or the complete harvest to drought. Having to leave their wifes and children, migrating in search for labour in the cities to at least reduce the burden on the household, which will live of the seeds that were actually meant for the next growing season.
Dutch people can vote with their purse
While I am not against enjoying the sunny side of life watching kids trying to develop their talents or farmers to search for a life partner, I truly belief that we have to set aside all that we can to not only welcome refugees (yes they are fleeing not only from conflict but also from failing economies) but also help those that were left behind. While policy makers are reconsidering international migration legislation to curb migration, I think it is time for a counter-narrative. If the current government fails to provide even 0.7% of our GDP, citizens of the Netherlands should make a statement to those who are running for office and sollicit their votes. Give generously to Giro 555 and vote for those political parties that want to leave no one behind.
(for the Dutch: read the kieswijzer of Paul Hoebink at Vice Versa)
President Trump's first week in office is marked by three decisions that amplify strong divides within American society and abroad and do not show any sign of reconciliation or trying to be President-to-all-Americans. The signing of contracts to finish the wall between the US and Mexico was the most obvious one. The second one concerned the barring of refugees from a number of Muslim-countries, while making exceptions for Christians. This decision will inflict even more hatred on Christians in those countries and also degrades Muslims in the US to secondary citizens. In this blog I want to talk about a third decision creating divisions which invoked a response from my country. It was the curtailing of funding for pro-abortion agencies, which potentially impacts a much broader array of reproductive health services that also pro-life activists would support and are currently enjoyed by many women world-wide.
In a response to Trump's decision, our Dutch Minister of Aid and Trade Lilianne Ploumen launched a crowdfunding initiative. The fund named "She Decides" is set-up as a new Public-Private Partnership with Rutgers, a Dutch agency specialised in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. It aims to compensate various US based organizations for the funding cuts and Ploumen called on other governments, companies and citizens to join her plight. Her Belgian colleague already joined her initiative.
Despite broad public support for her action, some Dutch NGO staff received her move with mixed feelings. Dutch NGOs, have themselves faced serious budget cuts with the Dutch government for years not meeting their international commitment on ODA and becoming an unreliable partner in that regard. Secondly, the Dutch co-financing system already opened up to American organizations, in particular in the field of reproductive health care programming. Organizations that will be supported by the new fund, already receive substantial contributions from the Dutch tax payers.
Government as fund raiser
The initiative is also a novice for public resource mobilization. Rather than utilizing the domestic tax base and subsequently spending it in the interests of all, with government oversight and parliamentary control, the Minister now joins the fund raising in a more direct manner: collecting funds from individuals and companies in a public-private partnership with an NGO that supports her agenda. This is one step further than the strategic partnerships thus far concluded, where dialogue and dissent were both possible and permitable and even part of the strategy. As resources may come from various corners (governmental and non-governmental) for the spending of the funds as a Minister she no longer is answerable to the parliament only. This is a new situation.
Safe pregnancies as an alternative for safe abortions
The international press referred to the initiative of Ploumen as an 'abortion fund', which signals the political meaning of it. I hope in its utilization the fund will provide for better than abortion services. There is much agreement on the need to reduce the number of un-safe abortions given the number of women whose lives are seriously impacted by it. However, any abortion (safe or un-safe) stops the development of a unique creature and infringes upon the right to life for the unborn child, who already have an identity as many fathers and mothers will bear witness to.
Secondly, unless complemented with other measures (like proper sexuality education and women empowerment domestically and at the workplace) a clinical approach to sexual health does not address some of the root causes. In many countries where abortion services are promoted as a solution for women's health and as a birth control measure, protection issues may receive less attention. Women do continue to face sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination at home and in the workplace. The availability of a cheap 'solution' in case of pregnancies only aggravates this situation. She definately should decide on whether or not she wants sex or wants to be pregnant and therefore needs to be informed about her sexual rights and health issues involved. However, after conception, she should not be left alone with the difficult choice to either have the child or 'dispose' the foetus and face the psychlogical consequences. The abrupt ending of new life in the supposedly safest place on earth should be subject of a healthy societal debate where men take responsibility for their actions rather than walking away from it. I would therefore argue for the need to create conditions for safe pregnancies, where women are well protected at their workplace and at home while empowered to make their own choices with regard to sexuality and family planning.
March for women and life
The day after Trump was sworn in as president many women made their way to the squares in Washington to show their support for women world-wide. Few days later, pro-life activists did the same. If only the March for Women and the March for Life in America were held together in favour of reproductive health and rights of women. It would provide the counter narrative against a divisionist approach of governance currently pursued by the American President. It will be important to listen carefully to the women already in power, like Theresa May and Angela Merkel showing remarkable leadership in this time of insecurity and instability. Also Mrs. Ploumen's initiative may be welcomed as a piece of healthy global counter-vailing power, hopefully demanding a more holistic approach with due attention to sexuality education and emancipation of women and sexual minorities. Hope in the coming years more women will be elected in office in various countries which would definately help to further this cause.
“I have long believed that a society can be judged by how we care for our most vulnerable:
My name is Reinier van Hoffen, founder of URAIDE.
Click here for a summary.
Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.