DFID and leadership change: What can we expect?

Priti Patel’s successor as Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mourdant, has told us “I believe in aid”, signalling a welcome re-affirmation of the work of the department she leads following a crisis of trust.  She has also points out that “Aid allows us to influence and shape the world around us”: important for a Britain that needs to reposition for trade.  So what can we expect from DFID under Penny Mourdaunt?  James Inkles explores this question in his latest blog:

 

Penny Mordaunt: Who is she and what can we expect? by James Inkles

Penny Mordaunt has been appointed the new head of the Department for International Development after a tumultuous week which saw it dominate the headlines. Priti Patel’s resignation after being found to have had a series of meetings with the Israeli government without notifying the Foreign Office left a lot of questions about who would take over the mantel at DFID. We now have our answer, but the question still remains, what can we expect?

Unlike Priti Patel before her, Mordaunt does not lack experience in international development. She has often claimed that her interest in politics stems from her time spent working in hospitals and orphanages in post-revolutionary Romania during her gap year. Additionally, Ms Mordaunt worked in the charity sector as a director of the Big Lottery Fund and Diabetes UK. She also holds an extensive military background being the daughter of a former Paratrooper, herself being a Royal Navy Reservist. For this reason, she was originally tipped as a frontrunner for the position of Secretary of Defence after Michael Fallon’s resignation. This posting was ultimately given to Gavin Williamson. She has been warmly received by the likes of Tamsyn Barton of Bond.org, Mark Goldring of Oxfam and Kevin Watkins of Save the Children. This is not unusual when a new DfiD head is appointed, but her background and experience will certainly go some way to easing some of the aid communities’ worries. Their statements have however called for Ms Mordaunt to reiterate hers and her department’s commitment to UK aid efforts, and the goals and principles of her posting.

Under David Cameron’s leadership, previous DFID head Justine Greening introduced the pledge to commit 0.7% of the UK’s Gross National Income on International Aid. Patel reiterated this commitment during her tenure, and Mordaunt previously backed the move back in 2014 but has not recommitted to this pledge since. Many in the Conservative party are now calling for the 0.7% pledge to be scrapped, or at least the terms of the pledge renegotiated. This has put a considerable spotlight on Penny, as it did also Priti Patel. The Labour party’s shadow International Development secretary Kate Osamor has added her voice to the calls for Ms Mordaunt to commit to the DFID project, and to oppose those who want to see the department merge with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. On her predecessor, Stephen Bush of the New Statesman has stated that “there will be few tears shed for the loss of Patel” who was seen as a sceptic of the aid budget and damaging to its project. Because of statements like these, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, has asked Ms Mordaunt to distance herself from her predecessor and lead the department in the right direction.

The reasons surrounding Mrs Patel’s sacking also call into question whether there is a hidden agenda in Mordaunt’s appointment. Primarily, Mrs Patel resigned due to undisclosed meetings with Israeli officials and lobbyists. However, details have emerged from numerous sources, which indicate that these meetings, contrary to Priti Patel’s claims, were by no means innocuous and humanitarian in their agenda. Jonathan Cook’s brilliant write up of these claims explains the allegations in full, but to paraphrase, evidence suggests Mrs Patel planned to divert part of the very limited international aid budget, a budget that had to cut millions of pounds of funding for Palestinian Aid, to the Israeli military. In addition to this, claims also suggest that the British Government and Theresa May were fully aware of these meetings, and agreed to their aims, Mrs Patel’s only discretion being caught. If that is the case, then is Ms Mordaunt’s appointment to be just more of the same. Ms Mordaunt’s extensive military background would suggest that she would have little qualms about using the UK aid budget in the same way Patel had tried. Both women were prominent, outspoken Brexiters and Eurosceptics, and would be eager to form close relationships further afield.

Unease also stems from the fact that many in government and within the media have criticised her appointment over those they see as much more experienced and qualified for the position. Much of this is because, in addition to originally being tipped for the position of Defence Secretary, Ms Mordaunt has never publicly expressed any views or opinions on her new brief. These two factors have led many to worry she will see this position as a stepping stone, as many believe Priti Patel did. Distrust has also formed around an incident in 2016 involving Ms Mordaunt that garnered much media attention. During a BBC television interview Ms Mordaunt wrongly claimed the UK did not have a veto on Turkey’s acceptance into the EU, which Conservative party leader at the time David Cameron was forced to clear up and denounce just an hour later.

In her first interview as the new head of DFID, Ms Mordaunt has stated she wants to continue the work of her predecessor, which infers that she will not be a departure from Ms Patel. She also stresses the need to open up Dfid funding to a wider range of partners. Most notable, and potentially worrying for the international aid community, is her claim that “as we leave the EU we must seize every opportunity to champion democracy and human rights, expand trade with developing countries and build competitive markets to end poverty”. In this case, and in the case which led to Ms Patel’s downfall, EVERY opportunity could mean the types of projects and causes that see the DFID budget used not for international aid programmes, but rather those that might be used, as Ms Mordaunt states, “furthering UK strategic interests”. We have seen similar uses of the UK aid budget over the last few years. In 2015, 19.5% of the Aid Budget was spent outside of DFID, a number that’s expected to rise to around 30% by 2020. Departments chanelling the aid budget include the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence. These departments are typically providing funding to middle-income countries such as China and Brazil, and are not focusing on the least developed countries which are the budgets intended use.

With all this in mind, there is little to suggest Penny Mordaunt is set to buck the trend and lead DFID in a new direction. Ms Mordaunt’s experience in the third sector is refreshing to see and will ease some concerns. However, she has shown little to differentiate herself from her predecessor in terms of her views and opinions on the role. Her and Mrs Patel have very similar voting records, are prominent Brexiters and, although they both stated their commitments to the 0.7% pledge, they have both indicated a willingness to use the aid budget to further the strategic interests of the UK, outside of the department. It is still very early days, and so we cannot for sure what direction Ms Mordaunt will be taking DFID in. For now, all we can do is wait and see what happens next.

 

 

 

Brexit: How will it impact on EC Funding for Development NGOs?

It has been estimated that the European Commission currently provides around £200 million in funding to UK INGOs through a range of funding mechanisms. The UK’s departure from the EU will have significant repercussions on this important source of income. This may be felt unevenly by the sector, potentially reducing UK international NGOs’ ability to respond to certain development or humanitarian needs going forward.

Bond have commissioned research to examine the potential impact that different Brexit scenarios may have on the ability of UK INGOs to leverage EU funding streams in future.

Myself and Costanza de Toma are leading this research. As part of the process we are undertaking a survey of UK international development NGOs to determine how access to EU funding may be affected by Brexit, and identify the major issues and risks. We are also keen to ensure that humanitarian aid is included.

We would like to invite as many organisations as possible to participate in the survey by Wednesday 25th January, and to contribute to this important piece of research. The findings will be shared widely within Bond and will inform Bond’s work in this area going forwards.

The full link to the survey is: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/H3S53X7

A Leap of Faith: Personal reflections on the Bond conference 2016

 

Crowded-London-Underground-platform-563435

 

Excitement woke me early this week on 29th February. Leap Day, offering the promise of opportunity, and extra chance to do things differently.   And I was on my way to the Bond conference, full of expectations of the promise of learning, being inspired and challenged with insights into the future of the global community.

My challenge started unexpectedly at Green Park underground station with a glimpse of a world without solidarity.

It wasn’t that I had to wait twenty minutes, and for five trains before I could squeeze into a packed carriage, it wasn’t that sense of stifling claustrophobia, or the panic I felt as my coat got caught in the doors of one train as it pulled off. It wasn’t even the stress that I felt teetering at the front of the crush on the edge of the platform, with my nose millimetres from the next train hurtling in and visions of being crowded onto the tracks.

What really shocked me was the sense of being completely alone and isolated, despite being tightly packed crowd. Standing on the platform as the long minutes dragged by until the next packaged train screamed in, I looked around hoping for a sense of camaraderie from my fellow travellers. Just a small smile of exasperation from my neighbour, even a barely perceptible exchange of glance would have communicated that we were not each on our own on that shared platform – but there was absolutely nothing coming back.

So what has this got to do with the Bond conference?

The stark absence of common humanity, the chilling lack of acknowledgement of common distress, that I felt briefly on a cold February morning, is one that some wake to each and every day without fail, all around the world.  But isn’t this what global civil society is all about?   Isn’t this what international NGOs should be all about? A countering force against the sense that any person is alone in their distress, that we are a giant mass of individuals each blindly shoving ourselves forward, and at the same time pushing others over the edge.

The Bond 2016 conference is desperately important in the face of massive changes and pressures to the global common good. And we heard plenty about those challenges over the two days of the conference. We heard about shrinking civic and political space around the world, about declining trust in NGOs, and about how southern NGOs receive just 1% of ODA, while much larger International NGOs get twelve times as much.

Yet, despite this, the conference generated a real sense of hope. My five top headline take-aways:

  1. “Indivisibility, universality and leaving no one behind: that is really radical” – this is how Jessica Horn of the Africa Women’s Development Fund described the SDGs. The SDGs have the potential to be a powerful lever for change, but they are what we make of them. The onus is on leadership in the civil society sector to ensure that they are radical, and that leadership will not necessarily come from the top and the biggest.
  1. Charity is out dated. In her keynote speech on Leap Day morning, Aya Chebbi from the Africa Youth Movement challenged the conference to recognise that the language of beneficiaries and aid is rapidly becoming redundant as a driver for change, as transformation and mobilisation driven from civil society takes centre stage: “We are not the subject of development, we are the drivers of development… we don’t work with beneficiaries, but with our friends, colleagues and communities”.
  1. A strong Civil Society of the future does not necessarily need INGOs. Imagining four diverse and contrasting near-future global scenarios in a climate constrained world led a room full of people to recognise that, whatever our future, the common features will be an globalised civil society that plays a role in networking and amplifying diverse voices, ceding power to social movements, and being ready to challenge as well as engage with global players of all kinds. What is the role of INGOs in that? It is up to us to determine that, there really are no guarantees that INGOs in their current forms will “survive” the next 15 years.
  1. Donors to fund People in the Lead. And in relation to funding, common themes coming from donors at the conference were about a shift away from the north-south paradigm, towards a recognition that poverty is global, and donor policies will reflect synergies between UK and international themes; a desire for more direct connection, direct funding of southern NGOs, funding work of rather than for people.
  1. Collaboration beyond the sector is our future. Sam Worthington, from InterAction, painted a picture of a future where the top 18 major players in development are private sector companies, where technology is the driver for transformative change, where social enterprise replaces charity, and where the role of NGOs is as intermediaries between government, the private sector, philanthropists and universities.   This picture of the future for the UK NGO sector is a description of how it is in the US now, and as Sam optimistically said, in this future: “the reality is that the US sector has never been stronger”.

My Leap Day did not start well. But I ended the Conference full of excitement about the power of humanity, optimism for the future of the sector and inspired by the potential of a collective vision, which completely banished the ghosts I had encountered on the Green Park platform.

Again from Sam Worthington:

“Stand shoulder to shoulder with CSOs around the world, partner in new ways. You are part of something bigger”.

Future of funding for NGOs in a post-MDG landscape

 

Can you imagine a world without hunger? by Dhan Bahadur Bohara, 14.
Can you imagine a world without hunger? by Dhan Bahadur Bohara, aged 14, Nepal.

The Sustainable Development Goals:  A new kind of development agenda that is much about influencing global norms as directing aid flows.

This description of the Sustainable Development Goals is taken from the ICAI’s report this month about UK Aid in a changing world. The SDGs are a radical departure from the MDGs.  Rather than prescribing a framework to harmonise funding, the SDGs reflect much broader policy commitments on a broader development agenda which goes beyond aid.

Whether we welcome it with the open arms of eager early adopters, or feel intransigence and resistance, we are part of the rapidly changing face of international development. And while the landscape facing NGOs may be shifting, intensifying as a result of major geo-political, climatic, demographic influences, the development problems stays fundamentally the same, rooted in power differentials. The paradigm shift that the SDGs accompany, is a new difference in a collective, global understanding of the challenges, rather than a change in the problems themselves.

Donors’ policies are reflective of this change. In the UK we have seen the adoption of a cross government approach to Aid Strategy, with a focus on security, resilience, prosperity, alongside tackling extreme poverty. The 0.7% development budget commitment is to be shared between a number of departments, tackling global challenges such as migration and climate change, as part of a more holistic approach to development and national security.  DFID is currently reconsidering its policy towards civil society. A similar reflection and shift is taking place in other European governments.

What are the implications of this for development financing, and how does that affect civil society, including international and local NGOs? This is a question addressed in HIVA’s recent report commissioned by the Flemish NGO-Federation, which points to the following trends:

  • Lack of predictability of CSO funding models – clear policies among Northern European donors towards CSOs are yet to be reviewed or emerge, with a greater emphasis on decentralisation to the national strategies of partner countries
  • A shift away from the funding of international NGOs, towards local and national civil society. Amjad Saleem argues in the Guardian that the funding of local and national NGOs would put money and power into the hand of those who have a unique understanding of the communities they serve, and who are currently excluded from decision making
  • Expectation that CSOs will work through consortia, multi-stakeholder approaches, and/or partnerships with the private sector – hard and soft incentives for CSOs to collaborate with others, and in particular to work closely with the private sector
  • Pressure on NGOs to play specific, at times conflicting, roles – on the one hand there is a pressure on NGOs to demonstrate innovation, to reveal themselves as social entrepreneurs, to represent and embody global solidarity and to advocate for the less powerful; on the other hand there is an increasing push for NGOs to take up service delivery roles and demonstrate results
  • With the ever increasing drive for aid effectiveness, there is an increased use of conditionalities in the way that donors fund NGOs, including payment by results, value for money, transparency standards, leading to a greater administrative burden on NGOs, with a strong focus on compliance, and erosion of the right of initiative

So what does this mean for those steering the funding strategies of local, national and international NGOs? It has to go beyond a short sighted approach to chasing funding opportunities. To be sustainable, organisations will need to be crystal clear about their purpose, the change that they are seeking and the value that they add to change processes.

They will need to be strongly outwardly focussed, excellent networkers, with radar open to collaboration opportunities, and with strong systems for handling intelligence about, and building relationships with governments and donors, and others with a stake in their area or specialism, at national, international and global levels

Above all, organisations will need to build in flexibility and adaptability of their form and nature, while at the same time staying true to the local context.

HIVA’s report finishes by cautioning against “ever more donor oriented CSOs that may not be as effective agents of social change as they could be ”, and advocating for Slow Funding frameworks and Doing Development Differently. This approach of working close the ground, being genuinely led by local perspectives, harnessing latent capabilities, seeing change as a process rather than a task, does not sound new at all. However, seen the different light of a fresh global paradigm, these approaches may have an opportunity for a new blossoming.

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Flamingo

2016 is the year of Flamingo! Not least as I relaunch my consultancy work as Flamingo for NGOs. So what do I know about flamingos? A rather elegant word, and one that sits nicely with Funding, Learning and Management.  However, realising that I do not know that much about these beautiful birds I have been seeking out some top facts.

One I am sure is common knowledge is that, resting, a flamingo balances on one leg . This seems like a very apt image for me right now.

I started working freelance as a consultant over three years ago, in partnership with María-José Pérez, as Haynes-Perez Associates. For three years we shared and enjoyed successes and challenges, and above all our joint learning. María-José has now moved back into regular employment, and the consultancy is now balanced neatly on my one single leg – hence Flamingo.

flam in groupHowever, there’s more to flamingos than the one leg thing, as I have recently learned!   Flamingos like to be together in big flocks – what I did not realise is that these are called a flamboyance. Another wonderful word!

So an additional reason that Flamingo makes a great name for the consultancy is that I also love to be part of a team, and to work with others, and I am very happy to be working alongside some trusted Associates, as well as with some inspiring clients.

I have also discovered that the iconic flaming pink colour is solely due to diet, and is borrowed from the shrimps and algae that flamingos like to eat – they are born with light grey feathers.  Despite being more prone to careful consideration, and of a typically reserved English nature I secretly admire all things flamboyant, and  I am very drawn to these fluttery pink wings, long curvy necks, and elegant dark beaks.

0115 - Two Lesser Flamingos flying against blue sky_ Lake Nakuru_ KenyaOther admirable things about flamingos: they are highly adaptable, living in a whole range of different climates, they are loyal, they are powerful – flying in their flamboyance at up to 35 mph, they are great swimmers, and have very keen vision. Quite frankly, I am humbled.