Beyond the traditional donors

Development Policy12 Sep 2011Denis Burke

Can traditional and new donors agree on best development practices, should they, and if so how will they overcome the many challenges to alignment?

Just as the conversation around good development practice is shifting, so too are the players involved in development. Traditionally the biggest donors in the world were western countries. Today wealthy foundations, emerging (or emerged) powers such as China, Brazil and India, and ‘in-betweener’ countries (like Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey) are taking their own approaches to development.

While traditional donors have made meaningful steps towards real progress in stream-lining their development activities, the progress has necessitated the creation of resource-hungry reporting mechanisms to satisfy agreed standards of best development practice. Many of the newer actors have been little inclined to formally commit themselves to the ‘best practices’ agreed by traditional donors. Infrastructural improvements, knowledge transfers and commercial interests are common features of the new actors’ overseas development activities. Some observers have voiced concerns that new donors – particularly China – have unconditionally supplied resources to dubious regimes, prompting human rights concerns. The type of aid that the Paris Declaration came from is thus becoming a diminishing part of development flows. China, for instance, regards its style of aid as south-south cooperation and does not strictly consider itself a donor. Many of the new donors fear that they would lose the flexibility they currently enjoy by binding themselves to conventional development practices.

But will adopting the practices of traditional donors present new actors with real advantages? Does a diversity of approaches represent an advantage for developing countries? Can the established voice of western, traditional donors offer real advantages and guidance for newer donors? Or can distance from the old world approach be an advantage for some? Should there be compromise to create a unified approach? And if so how far should traditional or new players be prepared to move to make it happen? Are there walk-away moments (perhaps regarding reporting and transparency) and minimum requirements (a spirit of cooperation?) for agreement? And what influence will these concerns have on the Busan Forum? Can traditional and new donors align their development practices, should they, and if so how will they overcome the many challenges to alignment?