A roundup of 2012 aid and development predictions
I just received this fabulous overview of 2012 forecasts and predictions from the world of development and aid via e-mail from former colleagues in UNICEF, who have kindly agreed to allow me to share it with all of you. Thanks to Bjorn Gillsater, Sofia Soromenho-Ramos, Yulia Oleinik and Viktor Damjanovic who pulled together and synthesized this great reading list and saved us all a lot of time!
Here it is:
The beginning of each year always brings a flurry of “Year Ahead Predictions” from a variety of pundits. Some are light-hearted, and many acknowledge the unreliability of gazing into a crystal ball. At the beginning of 2011, almost no one expected the upheavals in the Middle East… Hillary Clinton famously stated that she expected calm in the region. So is it useful to look ahead? Some (e.g. Andrew Hill, in the FT) are doubtful, calling instead for embracing the increasing uncertainty in the world, making the best of what we do know, and moving ahead in any case. But even from this critical viewpoint, there are some recurring themes in this year’s “predictions” that set the stage for the year ahead, at the very least, and that we may want to keep in mind as we plan for UNICEF’s work in 2012 and beyond – including in the context of the reviews of the UN’s Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review and the next Medium Term Strategic Plan, and the Post-2015 discussions.
- Broad reflection on social and economic objectives, including measures of national welfare and the best path to development, will intensify: Concerns about inequality and other downsides of the current economic model are fostering some rethinking of “the growth imperative,” as Kenneth Rogoff calls it. He notes that “modern macroeconomics often seems to treat rapid and stable economic growth as the be-all and end-all of policy… But many critiques of standard economic statistics have argued for broader measures of national welfare, such as life expectancy at birth, literacy, etc.” John Gapper seems to agree, predicting that China will be worried about “balancing social reform with economic liberalization,” in a way that fosters “harmonious development” and inclusive growth. “Without popular consent and a fair distribution of economic opportunity, the entire Chinese experiment will come tumbling down,” he argues. The upcoming change in leadership (see point 3) will determine where the balance will fall, between a more pro-business or more socially conscious stance.
- Inequality, in particular, will remain a central issue for discussion: In an FT article entitled “Peaceful acceptance of deep differentials is coming to an end”, Moises Naim suggests that “inequality will be the central theme of 2012. It has always existed…but this year it will top the global agenda of voters, protesters, and politicians running for office in the many important elections scheduled.” Michael Ignatieff agrees that this will be the key issue for the American electorate in November.
- Politics will be focused on domestic challenges– making focus on international issues and agreements difficult: According to Gideon Rachman (and James Lindsay), in 2012 “efforts to rescue the world economy will be afflicted by a perilous political paradox. The more international cooperation is needed, the harder it will be to achieve,” as many countries (the US, France, Russia, Egypt, South Korea, Taiwan, Venezuela, and Mexico, who will host the next G20 summit) will be facing elections and domestic political constraints. China will also change leadership, and has been facing its own internal social unrest; China was clearly alarmed by the Arab Spring, meaning that it may have little energy to devote to elaborate international cooperation. In this context, Nouriel Roubini predicts a game of “kicking the can down the road” with regard to taking the tough decisions, and Kishore Mahbubani expects that calls for global leadership will be unanswered. The WEF’s “Outlook on the Global Agenda” agrees that global power shifts are favoring regionalism over global cooperation, and foresees a weakening of global leadership as governments face inward, leading to the rise of “multistakeholder partnerships” at different levels to deliver needs where government fails.
- Politics will become more unruly. Lawrence Haddad notes that “the Arab revolts and the Occupy movements (due to be focused on Washington DC in an election year) have brought protest to the fore. Even TIME magazine made “The Protester” its Person of the Year… It remains to be seen how much of this is enabled by Facebook (800 million users and counting) and other social media platforms, but we will see more of it in 2012.” Jeffrey Sachs similarly predicts another year of protest and instability; and Naomi Wolf sees increasing conflicts between empowered individuals and the interests of global capital and governments that have grown accustomed to operating without citizen oversight. Mark Malloch Brown, on the other hand, thinks that 2012 may be only the calm before the storm, as incumbents like Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy will do just enough to keep things on an even keel until after their (re?)elections.
- New hotspots will be in sub-Saharan Africa, and possibly Central Asia. Anne Marie Slaughter expects “technology to power rolling disruption to outright revolution…In 2012, we should see many more protests in sub-Saharan Africa. Zimbabwe is one obvious candidate; Sudan is another. Nigeria could rise up en masse.” Lawrence Haddad also expects Central Asia to rise on the development agenda: “Long forgotten, despite being on Europe’s doorstep, many of the Central Asian countries have poverty rates stubbornly set at 30%… With the West’s declining commitment to Afghanistan, elections coming up in Russia and other countries in the region, will we see protest and unrest in the Caucuses?” The Center for Foreign Relations also highlights these and other hotspots in its Preventive Priorities Survey: 2012; as does Foreign Policy in “Next Year’s Wars: 10 Conflicts to Watch in 2012”
- Among the “development set”, the focus will likely shift from poverty to sustainable development, and from aid to innovation: Lawrence Haddad worries that we are not doing enough to think about the 2016+ world, partly because the focus is on the run up to the MDG 2015 deadline and partly because the list of ODA eligible countries is dwindling (a Guardian article agrees that more thinking is needed). Constrained aid budgets and the domestic focus of developed countries probably won’t help either. In this context, developed countries will only focus on development if it is seen to offer possible solutions to broader problems too, from a stalled economy to climate change. The lead up to Rio+20 seems to be heading this way. Julia Day reports that “after the second Rio+20 inter-sessional meeting held in New York in mid-December, word has it that a consensus is building among a core group of countries to use Rio+20 to shift the post-MDG agenda from poverty to sustainable development, i.e. from problems affecting the poor in developing nations to those affecting us all, everywhere… Science and technology can work more directly for social justice, poverty alleviation and the environment, helping to build a just and equitable green economy at a global level. But different forms of innovation that address sustainable development challenges at local, national and global levels need to be encouraged… Consensus at Rio on a global framework supporting innovation for sustainable development would be a major breakthrough”.
- The importance of fostering good jobs, including youth employment, will be on everyone’s agenda. Jayati Ghosh notes that “ we have to move away from the profit- and export-driven growth model to a wage- and employment-led growth model, in which improvements in quality of life of all are seen as the basic goals. This…is just as relevant for developing countries as it is for advanced nations in crisis. In emerging economies, significantly increased spending on the “social sectors” – health, nutrition, sanitation, education – are an important element of this, because these are massively undersupplied, and increasing these will have positive employment effects directly and through the multiplier. Brazil provides an example…” Many international institutions are already planning reports and events on this issue – it will be the theme of the World Bank’s next WDR, the High-level Segment of ECOSOC in July, and reports by the OECD and ILO. The G20 has also set up a Working Group on jobs.
- Donors will continue to reduce their role in Middle Income Countries: Andy Sumner and Amanda Glassman argue that this will be a mistake. The “EU, the Global Fund, and the World Bank’s IDA… all want to save money during a fiscal crunch by cutting off aid to middle-income countries (MIC). [But] there aren’t “pockets” of poverty in MICs: by income, most of the world’s poor live in MICs. The global distribution of malnutrition also points towards MICs, as do multi-dimensional measures of poverty and global disease and death figures. So if aid agencies pull out of MICs, they’re disconnecting from the majority of the world’s poor and sick. This problem is only going to grow. There are only 35 low-income countries (LICs) left, and estimates suggest that only about 20 will remain by 2025, most of them fragile states. Donors could develop a sliding scale on financial contributions…there are plenty of good things they could do in MICs at a reasonable price…[For example,] they could support purchasing clubs through existing multilaterals like UNICEF in order to achieve economies of scale in the purchase of health products like bed nets and vaccines.”
- The interest in getting rid of undernutrition is here to stay, predicts Lawrence Haddad. “I have not witnessed anything like it… Many of the investments are 5-6 years and so this guarantees their longevity… Whether this transformation of nutrition within the development agenda can be locked in will depend on how we are able to transform thinking about nutrition, getting a better balance between health and development perspectives and making it as much a political issue as a technical one.”
If we have learned anything from the tumultuous last few years it is that the future is ever more unpredictable. Nevertheless, this should not stop us for forging ahead, while still trying to discern some goal posts through the fog. In this spirit, Charles Kenny puts it all in a longer term context, and gives us several “reasons to be cheerful in 2012”.
Enjoy the reading, and we wish you a great year ahead!
Björn, Sofia, Yulia and Viktor – Multilateral System Analysis Unit, UNICEF