Editorial: From aid to global justice

Development Policy02 Feb 2010Frans Bieckmann

Is aid in crisis? Probably it is, but only in its current form. Because there will always be people who want to care for others in our interconnected world, whether for reasons of solidarity or ‘enlightened self-interest’. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that aid is in crisis. Because that opens up the space for a fresh debate about the future of global development. The Broker would like to invite all readers to contribute new ideas, insights and experiences in the run-up to the UN’s MDG+10 conference to be held in September 2010. We want this debate to be open and daring, critical but constructive.

Both governmental and non-governmental development policies seem stuck in a rut. The aid community is afraid to step out of its comfort zone into the wider world, for fear of being crushed between the negative images of aid propagated by the media, and the many institutional, economic and political interests. In his reflection on our online blog on ‘Complexity and strategy’, Nils Boesen believes that we are approaching ‘a tipping point where development aid will enter into a deeper crisis with an unpredictable outcome’. A Danish national, Boesen has experience with many European and OECD aid policies and practices.

In the Netherlands, we may have arrived at such a turning point, with the publication of a long-awaited report by the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR), Less Pretension, More Ambition: Development Aid that Makes a Difference Minder pretentie, meer ambitie: ontwikkelingshulp die verschil maakt), was presented to the Minister for Development Cooperation, Bert Koenders, on 18 January. The report immediately prompted an intense and diverse debate, both on The Broker website (with dozens of extended comments, most of them in Dutch) and in the Dutch media (for a summary see the blog).

The WRR deliberately uses the term ‘aid’ instead of the more usual ‘development cooperation’. This is indeed a more honest way of describing the unequal power relations that still exist between ‘donors’ and ‘recipients’. Unfortunately, the Council’s recommendation to establish national ‘NLAid’ offices echoes this somewhat technical view of aid, rather than paving the way for a new vision of a more political approach towards an alternative setup of global systems. But even so, the WRR report is an excellent starting point for a discussion of Dutch policies relating to development, globalization and ‘global common goods’. It provides state-of-the-art overviews of many of the relevant discussions in these fields.

However, we need more than state-of-the-art. The Council urges us to be more ambitious. We need a vision of the future and an approach that reflects changing global realities. Or, as Jeffrey Sachs puts it, referring to the ever-growing global interconnectedness: ‘Our institutions and ethics come from a different era and have not yet been “updated” to knit together a globally stable society’. Our notions about the global economy must change, Sachs believes, and ‘economics textbooks will have to be completely rewritten, as they do not match today’s realities’.

The WRR report pleads for stronger policies focused on global public goods, and emphasizing ‘policy coherence for development’. What is lacking in its analysis, however, is an exploration of a particularly promising prospect: bringing together, in theoretical and practical ways, economics and ecology as an alternative to unbridled global capitalism. Sachs and Peter May, former president of the International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE), write about ‘Greening the global economy’. The Broker will set up a special discussion blog, hoping to integrate this debate with more explicitly development-related discussions. Economics, finance, environment and development … it is high time to bring down the disciplinary fences. Ecological economics, May writes, is a practical and policy-oriented research branch, and explicitly transdisciplinary. May quotes Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom, one of the founders of ISEE, who has argued that cooperation and communication are the most important tools to combat the ‘tragedy of the commons’.

Complementing the calls for a ‘broader’, more global approach, the WRR report pleads for aid that is ‘country-specific’. The Broker underlines this need, which is one of its editorial guidelines: how to analyze the complex combination of local economic, political, social, cultural and ethnic factors, and how they are integrated, how to relate them to global trends and networks, and how to arrive at strategic decisions based on such analyses.

Other articles in this issue also emphasize the importance of local contexts. Mariano Aguirre and Chris van der Borgh relate the latest academic insights, which tell us the international peace- and state-building efforts need to pay more attention to local political, cultural, administrative and governance traditions, rather than focus only on imposing Western forms of liberal democracy. On a more theoretical level, Jeroen de Lange elaborates on a framework for interventions based on experiences of change management in business and government organizations. We may know in general terms what should be done, but often lack the understanding of local circumstances that is needed during implementation.

These are just some of the issues that will be explored in the debate to be hosted by The Broker under the umbrella ‘From aid to global justice’. Since the publication of the WRR report, much of this online discussion has been in Dutch (because an English translation of the report was not available) but in February we will extend this and international experts will be invited to respond.

It would be nonsensical in this day and age to discuss the future of global development or global justice – and each country’s contribution to this – within narrow national frames. Foreign eyes can help us to look at ourselves anew, and to learn from the experiences of others. Many countries – including France, as Danielle Barrett and Henri Rouillé d’Orfeuil report – are struggling with integrating ‘the global’ into their policies. If, as Nils Boesen notes, ‘in virtually all governments, aid is seen as part of a more important joined-up agenda that includes climate change, security, migration, trade and finance’, then the Netherlands has a lot to learn from other countries. We must combine our efforts to adapt to and shape the new global context. At the moment, Boesen laments, ‘the 27 EU countries … are all busy with their own aid systems rather than building a strong joint European institution that could compete in quality and financial muscle with institutions such as the World Bank’.

There is still a long way to go. We need to start a real international debate.

We should not let this serious crisis go to waste.


  1. WRR (2010) Minder pretentie, meer ambitie: ontwikkelingshulp die verschil maakt, Scientific Council for Government Policy, WRR Report no. 84. Amsterdam University Press. The full report in Dutch, and a summary in English, can be found at


Global justice: how?

Toon van Eijk | February 12, 2010

Editorial: From aid to global justice. Frans Bieckmann

Referring to the WRR report, Frans Bieckmann remarks in his inspiring Editorial ‘From aid to global justice’ that one of the editorial guidelines of The Broker is: “how to analyze the complex combination of local economic, political, social, cultural and ethnic factors, and how they are integrated, how to relate them to global trends and networks, and how to arrive at strategic decisions based on such analyses”.
This one sentence very aptly demonstrates the enormous complexity of arriving at global justice. How are we going to do this? Elsewhere on The Broker website I have labeled this ‘the illusion of intellectual holism’ (References 1 and 2). To my mind we simply do not have the intellectual capacity to analyze these multiple, interdependent local factors and their complex relations to many global factors, let alone that we are willing and able to adjust our behaviors accordingly in an ecologically and societally sound direction. In this volume of The Broker Jeffrey Sachs says that “Our institutions and ethics come from a different era and have not yet been ‘updated’ to knit together a globally stable society”. To my mind this is the bottom line. If our ethics –and thus individual behaviour and collective institutions, which are built by individuals- are not ‘updated’ or ‘upgraded’ to a higher level of performance, the ‘planning’ of Sachs and ‘searching’ of Easterly will be equally futile, I am afraid.
Although in the analysis of today’s multiple crises the term ‘ethics’ regularly surfaces and behavioural change is deemed indispensable, concrete suggestions on how to ‘upgrade’ our ethics are conspicuous by their absence. In other publications (van Eijk 2010a and 2010b) I indicate how techniques for consciousness development can, at least partly, fill this void.


  3. Van Eijk T. (2010a). Development and Work Ethic in sub-Saharan Africa. The mismatch between modern development and traditionalistic work ethic. Free Musketeers, The Netherlands (to be published at end of March 2010).
  4. Van Eijk T. (2010b). Societal Transformation through Consciousness-Based Development. Civic Driven Change through Self-Empowerment. (In press).