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Looking for the game changer

Frans Bieckmann is former executive director and editor in chief at The Broker

My worries, phrased in yesterday’s post, have been taken away today. I was afraid that the concept of wellbeing might create more confusion, instead of serving as a unifier that creates a broad and common target to work towards. 

My worries, phrased in yesterday’s post, have been taken away today. I was afraid that the concept of wellbeing might create more confusion, instead of serving as a unifier that creates a broad and common target to work towards. Today, the organizers asked us to forget about human wellbeing for the moment, and to think about how we can make development more effective. Okay. But that created a new problem for me, because, what’s new about that? To me, the interesting perspective that an integrated concept like human wellbeing can provide, is to pave the way for strategies that aim for change at a structural, systemic level.

The first presentation yesterday morning was very promising in this respect. Marco Mira d’Ercole, head of the division for Household Statistics and Progress Measurement of the OECD – and closely involved with the preparation of the 2009 report Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi, spoke about the report that the OECD published this month: How’s life? Measuring well-being.

However, the debates at the Bellagio meetings did not systematically pick this up. There was no systematic thinking through of what should change in national economic policies or the global economic system to achieve a more comprehensive improvement of people’s wellbeing – or on how such change can be accomplished.

Instead, the day was full of debates about innovation, logical frameworks, competition between development NGOs, open source philanthropy, the use of mobile phones, open data, accountability, transparency, and so on. All very useful and necessary subjects for the development sector, but none of them is the groundbreaking ‘game changer’ that is so urgently needed in this time of multiple global crises that affect the lives of millions of vulnerable people all over the world. I personally believe that the development sector should change towards a much more political role in trying to influence the structural causes of inequality in the world. The development sector should become a real political factor in trying to push for a more just globalisation.

Just at the moment that I thought we had thrown out the baby with the bathwater, the notion of human wellbeing popped up again, immediately followed by several proposals for an agenda for change that seemed well to the point: development NGOs and philanthropic foundations were called upon to integrate their ‘silos’ – the thematic departments in their organisations – into a holistic approach. Others suggested that the voices or the demands of the people concerned must be incorporated much more at the stage of the conception of development interventions. And others yet made reference to the fast changing global relations: we must open our eyes to other development models than the one currently followed by multilateral institutions and western donors. Models that are still based on what is not supposed to be called the Washington Consensus anymore, but which do resemble the usual recipes prescribed by orthodox economists. From China to Brazil, from Singapore to Bolivia, new ideas about how to develop a country are emerging – and proving useful. Now that the neoliberal model is increasingly proving to be obsolete, we need to look for alternatives. So, after all, this Summit day ended on a promising note.

 
Author: Frans Bieckmann

About the author

Frans Bieckmann is former executive director and editor in chief at The Broker

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