Capacity Building, Investment, Local Partnerships Among Opening Topics at AEF

ASTANA – At the initial side event panel on official development assistance (ODA) at the Astana Economic Forum, international aid experts called for a post-Millennium Development Goals ODA programme to focus on prevention, longer-term planning and capacity building, acting as a catalyst to other investment. They also advised Kazakhstan in developing its KazAID programme, Central Asia’s first official development programme.

KazAIDSessionAEF1_673_377_95“What’s clear is that the global architecture of international development cooperation is undergoing dramatic changes,” Kazakh Minister of Foreign Affairs of Erlan Idrissov said to open the event organised by Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “[The] ODA contribution to the global agenda for sustainable development will be successful only if the process will be supported by all other interested stakeholders – national governments, international organisations, bilateral donors, the private sector and civil society,” he said. And, he noted, having graduated to an upper-middle-income country, it is time for Kazakhstan to shoulder more of the burden of helping its region develop.

Keynote speaker Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, made the case that ODA in 2015, after the expected passage of the Sustainable Development Goals in September, the follow-up to the organisation’s Millennium Development Goals, must be “bigger, bolder and more transformational,” and take a holistic, integrated approach to development, incorporating economic, social and environmental goals together.

KazAIDSessionAEF2_673_362_95The new agenda also recognises the “incredible importance of peaceful and inclusive societies for development,” Clark said. “No development without peace, no peace without development.” The agenda is also trying to spur the transformation of developing countries to low carbon economies.

ODA must be smarter in building capacity in people and countries and creating the conditions for other investment, Clark said. “Investment capacities must be strengthened to leverage all sources of development and public and private finance. I think the catalytic use of ODA is also very important in areas like disaster risk reduction,” she said. ODA should take on a stronger role in supporting countries’ capacities to trade, to attract investment, to collect taxation, to allocate funding, and to deliver on policies.

This point was echoed by members of the panel. “There are three main sources of finances for development: aid, investment and tax. And you need to open all three veins at the same time with absolutely no competition and no complications between them,” said Erik Solheim, chair of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). “Investment is the biggest source of rapid development in the world.”

Later in the panel, he followed up this point, saying that the public and private sectors must talk to each other more and meet as equal partners, and that the public role in fostering investment is not to cut taxes, but to provide a stable legislative framework for investment and adequate dispute-solving mechanisms. In this way, he said, ODA can bridge the risk gap that may keep investment out of countries perceived as risky.

Clark also noted the need for risk-informed development and for more work to be done on prevention and long-term planning. “We live in a world where the new normal is volatility,” she said.

Vice President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Christine Beerli called for a difference in thinking about how to distribute ODA funds. Today, “resilience is extremely important,” she said. The most vulnerable and poorest people live in conflict zones and violence-prone regions, and this must be taken into account when aid is considered. There should no longer be a wall between humanitarian funding and development funding, she said. Extreme vulnerability stems from a combination of state fragility, lack of governance and violence. Agencies and institutions should direct more money toward these contexts, she said. Here, there is no chance for investment or tax collection – aid must make up for it in these places.

Kae Yanagisawa, vice president of Japan’s International Cooperation Agency (JICA), commented that the humanitarian crises in West Africa, due to the Ebola virus, or in Nepal after the recent earthquakes, were not actually caused by the natural events, but were instead rooted in the existing fragility in society. In disaster responses, aid agencies must take a longer view when building back.

Moderator Susanna Khlavichkova also asked participants technical questions about their operations and about how they would advise the nascent KazAID programme. Jonathan Addleton, mission director for the U.S. Agency for International Development for Central Asia, advised engaging the private sector locally, working with local organisations including the Central Asian Regional Environmental Centre and ARGO, for example. “In local organisations, dollars go further,” he pointed out. He also advised Kazakhstan to connect its work on the aid frontier to its own needs and activities domestically.

Yanagisawa advised concentrating on quality, not quantity, in aid and projects, and counselled maintaining a clear vision. She also said Kazakhstan should remain open to partnering with a variety of actors. Sondheim echoed this, saying a limited focus and specific competencies would be most effective. And Doyle urged Kazakhstan not to be afraid to question old approaches and bring new ideas to the world of humanitarian and development assistance. “We need new ideas,” he said.

Speaking after the forum, Addleton noted Kazakhstan’s informed position as simultaneously donor and recipient, in some cases, and that it can bring some very relevant and recent experience to the process of providing aid. He also elaborated on effectively using local organisations. “There’s an active dialogue within Kazakhstan about that. … [Local NGOs] have a continuing, very active dialogue with their own government about this,” he said.  There are already rules and regulations in place, and there are very specific conversations taking place between actors within Kazakhstan already – and, he said, USAID has also been consulting on the subject and the regulatory framework for cooperating with small, local organisations.

Also taking part in the panel discussion were Kim In, vice president for strategy and planning of Korea’s official aid agency, KOICA; and Serdar Çam, president of the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA).

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