I spent last Wednesday and Thursday of last week at the Aid and International Development forum listening to speakers on various topics and learning about a variety of tools that are useful in international development. There was a lot to see and do at the Forum, and I was able to take away a lot from the great speakers I got to listen too.
First up on Wednesday was keynote speaker Patrick Fine who is VP of the Department of Compact Operations at the Millennium Challenge Corporation. An engaging speaker, he offered some words of advice to development workers saying, “helping developing countries implement their own development systems with their own priorities; that’s what’s important.” I thought that resonated with what we do at IIRR because our ways of development are mostly different from how many larger organizations operate their programs. I think the field is slowly shifting in this direction, but it is interesting that it is still unconventional enough that it has to be mentioned.
I also attended a few panel discussions on Wednesday. The first panel discussed global partnerships for development, and included senior staff from UN OCHA, InterAction, and USAID. While all of the panelists were interesting, I thought a few panelists really hit the nail on the head in terms of successful partnerships in development:
- Rosa Malango from UN OCHA said that “You need to have an open mind and understand cultures to respond to situations.”
- Sam Worthington of InterAction said that development is ultimately owned by the local communities making decisions about their own lives.
I think both of these statements highlight what development is supported to be about: partnering with local communities to understand their needs and help them make the best decisions for their communities.
Next up was a panel discussion on food security and sustainable growth which included senior staff from NGOs, but also included the Chief Development Officer from an international fertilizer corporation and the Executive Director of a for-profit company that makes low-cost, low-water hydroponic gardening systems (cool, right?). Highlights include:
- Robert Nooter of the International Fertilizer Development Center said that, “Just because farmers grow more food does not equal food security. They must also have access to the marketplace to sell and trade goods.”
- Nooter also reminded us that there needs to be training and skill building programs in conjunction with food security initiatives because “development projects won’t be there forever.”
I think the take-away from this panel was that food security is a tough task, but with innovation and creativity, the global community can help more communities become food secure.
The last panel of the day was on empowering women as a development tool, and of course, the panel was stacked with powerful and inspiring women from health and development organizations.
- Dr. Lucien van Mens presented her organization’s female condom which is a slightly unusual, albeit powerful, way to empower the sexual and reproductive freedom of women in developing countries helping women safely and effectively take charge of their reproductive health.
- Elizabeth Arend provided a sarcastic and cynical look at how the World Bank claims to promote programs concerning reproductive health, but what they actually work on is projects focused on maternal Heath and babies. While these topics are clearly pressing and important in the developing world, Arend points out, there are so many more facets of reproductive health that the World Bank should focus their money on as well. She highlighted that while the World Bank does spend a lot of money on maternal health initiatives, it is a sadly low percentage of their annual budget, and more should be spent on reproductive health initiatives.
- Browyn Irwin pointed out that achieving gender equality is not just about women and girls, but achieving equality in partnership with men and the global community. She also pointed out that value-chain efforts should include both men and women because both genders are equally important in the value-chain.
On Thursday, the most interesting panel came at the end of the day on how best to address climate change without a global deal. I feel like climate change in a development setting can be a lot of charts and economics jargon, but these panelists painted an occasionally gloomy, but also hopeful, look at the relationship between poverty and climate change.
- Dr. Andrew Steer, Special Envoy for Climate Change at the World Bank and President-to-be at The World Resources Institute, gave a powerful talk stating simply, “Climate Change is REAL.” I know it, science knows it, but it sill takes experts like Dr. Steer to drive this point home before it’s too late.
- Dr. Steer also pointed out that the global community can’t have a serious discussion about eradicating global poverty without a discussion about climate change. The world’s poorest people live in the areas that will surely see the greatest impact of climate change, so as Dr. Steer said, “Act now, don’t wait.”
Overall, the Forum had a lot of great speakers that provided us with the ideas to get the dialogue going within our organizations and on a more global stage.
And forum bonus: I got to watch a screening of an official 2012 TriBeCa Film Festival selection film called “Baseball in the Time of Cholera” about the parallel story of the first little-league baseball program in Haiti and the Cholera outbreak post-earthquake. It was a great film, and I highly suggest watching it.