You can also view our most recent newsletters to learn what the ASAP network has been delivering. Links to the most recent editions are listed below:
Winter 2018: https://mailchi.mp/137b832448ff/asap-winter-533471
You can also view our most recent newsletters to learn what the ASAP network has been delivering. Links to the most recent editions are listed below:
Winter 2018: https://mailchi.mp/137b832448ff/asap-winter-533471
A Summary Report by Knut-Eric Joslin
The next two years will be a formative period for potential successors to the Millennium Development Goals, and a significant policy dialogue has already begun. Given differences in the degree of elaboration, the diversity of orientations, and the multifaceted nature of the proposals, a key question is how to structure discussion and comparison of possible MDG-successors. The contribution of this report is therefore the identification of a set of questions that articulate key contrasts between the proposals. Specifically, this report suggests that proposals can be compared along eight dimensions:
The report also comments on elements of the policy process. It concludes with a brief summary of leading proposals.
2015 is the target date for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). As this date approaches, attention is increasingly directed to the possible successors to this framework. Most commentators view the next few years as a critical opportunity to revise and improve international efforts in poverty relief and development. A prevailing concern is that failure to effectively mobilize resources around a specific proposal or approach will handicap or even stall progress on the amelioration of poverty. For many, the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit demonstrated the challenges of international negotiation in a period of shifting economic influence, financial turmoil, and the uncertain long-term prospects for employment and growth.
This report reviews current thinking on the MDG-successor process and MDG-successor proposals. Its major contribution is a set of key dimensions around which thinking about the successor proposals might be organized. These dimensions are meant to provide an analytic framework by which elements of multi-faceted proposals can be productively compared. Specifically, an initial set of eight elements is suggested:
Part one of this report provides background, describing three types of “inputs” in the MDG successor policy process: i. Sectoral assessments, ii. framework assessments, and iii. theoretical orientations. Part two of the report focuses on the MDG successor policy process. It reviews the normative and positive perspectives on the process and concludes with a summary of recommendations by policy experts about how to make the process successful. Part three addresses the content of possible policy frameworks and how these frameworks might be compared. The report concludes with a brief list of leading proposals.
The post-2015 agenda is well underway and a sense of urgency is building. Key questions that need to be addressed include: How should the process be organized? What are the goals or objectives of the MDG successors? What elements should MDG successor policies include? And what types of policies are realistic? A number of actors have responded to these questions. Their answers are informed by a combination of empirical assessments and theoretical perspectives. Some of assessments and orientations are highlighted below.
Although there is still some time before the final tallying of results, the contours of success and failure with respect to each of the MDG’s sectoral goals are already fairly well defined (See Hulme and Scott 2010; Waage et al. 2010; UN 2011; and Melamed 2012). Most of these evaluations conclude that while there has been progress during the past decade, this progress has been uneven across geographic areas, populations, and indicators. With respect to specific goals, progress on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and HIV/AIDS are on track, while those on maternal and child health and the environment will likely not be achieved. Similarly with respect to regions, East-Asia has made substantial progress—and has accounted for the bulk of progress on MDG1—while Africa has demonstrated less progress (while admitting that these assertions are contingent on the choice of metrics).
Causal Contribution of the MDG Framework: Assessing the causal impact of the MDG framework on achievement of the MDG goals is an extremely challenging methodological proposition. Disentangling the true contribution from aggregated figures has not been a fruitful approach. In an attempt to tease out the role that the MDGs have played, researchers have therefore examined the relationship between the MDGs and (i) attention to specific issues, (2) the allocation of resources to these areas (Manning 2009; Fukuda-Parr 2008). In general, there seems to be agreement that the MDG framework has galvanized attention around particular issues (Manning 2007; Watkins 2008; Van der Hoeven et al. 2011; Sumner and Tiwari 2009). Kenny and Sumner cite an analysis of the Commitment to Development Index as evidence of a positive trend (both including and excluding the contribution to this index from foreign aid). However, with respect to the funding priorities the evidence is mixed. Fukuda-Parr (2008) has examined the policy statements of donors and 22 PRSPs and found that while the MDGs appear to have generated increased emphasis on certain areas such as economic growth, they have not had a meaningful impact of resources directed to other areas such as maternal mortality and child survival
With respect to assessments of the overall MDG framework, there are a range of standard endorsements and criticisms that are, in the words of Darrow (2012), at this point “well rehearsed.”
The strengths of the MDGs framework are generally identified as:
Despite the positive elements of the MDGs, there is a truly extensive range of criticisms:
Another criticism is that because the MDGs focus on a limited set of areas, they may inappropriately direct attention to issues that are less important in a particular context.
The sectoral and overall assessments are constructed in relation to the MDG process itself. There are, however, a number of theories and bodies of knowledge that are influential to the MDG dialogue, but that have scope beyond the MDG process. Three that have direct relevance are (1) technical/scientific theories of environmental sustainability, (2) theoretical/empirical beliefs about economic development (and, especially the poverty elasticity of growth), and (3) theoretical/philosophical perspectives on the nature of well-being. All three have implications for how to address poverty and could or already are the basis for proposals: Both Martens (2010) and van der Hoeven (2011) suggest that “alternative” indices of well-being could form the basis for proposals; Munasinghe (2011) has promoted a set of “Millenium Consumption Goals”; and commentators such as Gore (2007; 2010) have endorsed a “productive capacities” paradigm that is predicated on the theories that link structural change and economic growth.
A prominent strand of criticism of the MDGs relates to the process by which they were developed. Lack of participation of the both the poor and the international financial institutions (IFIs) in the formulation of the MDGs can partially explain weaknesses of this framework. Substantial debate has therefore focused on the process by which MDG successors might be legitimized and strengthened. A number of substantive efforts around consensus-building have also been initiated. The richest of these is described in a workshop report from 2011 (Quick and Burall 2011) and in the Beyond 2015 project. Despite the substantial disagreements about the nature of an ideal policy, there is recognition that the feasibility of various solutions depends critically on dialogue and organization. Many commentators acknowledge the trade-offs between debate and discussion, and the need for mobilization and advocacy around desired policies or strategies. For example, Quick and Burall point out that “a number of the key questions that were identified during the workshop rest on difficult trade-offs between competing purposes. For example, engaging citizens in general in the process may help to reinvigorate the development movement in general, but could jeopardise the purpose of ensuring that the voices of the very poorest are strongly represented (Quick and Burall 2011, 11).
The majority of commentators seem to operate with the assumption that the UN will lead the post-2015 process and that this is the most appropriate leadership body. In those few analyses that explicitly address the role of UN leadership, almost all seem to come down in favor of a UN led process (Beyond 2015; CGAP 2011; Carin and Bates-Eamer 2012):
Civil society actors, think tanks and UN agencies are all agreed that the UN will be the central organisation in the process. They underline that it will be up to the Secretary-General and his office to oversee the process and make the final proposal to member states. This is based on both idealism and realities; addressing both sides, a commentator at the CIGI/Red Cross seminar stated that in terms of legitimacy the exercise must be embedded in the UN and added that the UN’s central role is important because it is impossible to overemphasise the UN’s capacity for jealousy (Nowlan et al. 2011, 8).
The prevailing argument seems to be that the UN is the most representative international body and therefore in the best position. Beyond 2015 puts this forcefully: “the UN is the only legitimate and representative global governance structure and must lead the process.”
Endorsing the leadership of the UN should not, however, preclude the organization of parallel efforts. For example, in a recent workshop focused on how to involve the poor, there seems to have been agreement that while the UN should promote participation and facilitate consultation, there also needs to be a parallel organizing effort outside of the UN process in which the poor can articulate their position in the process (Quick and Burall 2011).
With respect to specific tasks for the UN, Vandemoortele (2012) identifies four: Convening national review, promoting participation, aggregate outcomes, and gatekeeper for new targets. While the first two are self-explanatory, the last two are more particular. With respect to “aggregating outcomes,” Vandenmoortele suggests that is will be important for the UN to manage an independent panel that can assess proposals based on merit. With respect to “gatekeeper for new targets”, Vandemoortele believes that it is crucial for the UN to preserve the MDGs as a limited set of quantifiable targets that are easy to understand; a task of the UN will therefore be to prevent the addition of too many new goals and to preserve their character.
The UNDP-led Post-MDG Agenda: Regardless of the normative merits of a UN led process vis-a-vis other processes and other parallel efforts, the structure of an UNDP-led post-MDG agenda appears to be in place. This will consist of (1) a global conversation, (2) national and regional consultations, and (3) thematic consultations in the areas of inequality, health, education, growth and employment, environmental sustainability, governance, conflict and fragility, population dynamics, and hunger (Pollard and Fischler 2012).
The UN System Task Force is also in the process of producing six background reports due to be released on May 20, 2012. These six reports will cover the following areas:
A high-level panel on “post-MDGs” will also be announced at Rio+20 or shortly thereafter (Pollard and Fischler 2012, 8). This body will include representatives from civil society and a “special coordinator” who is a woman from the “South” (Pollard and Fischler 2012, 8).
A large number of analysts and organizations have demanded a participative process that is open and inclusive, and that is constructed around norms of consultation and consensus-building (Quick and Burall 2011; Van der Hoeven et al. 2011; Vandenmoortele 2012). In particular, ensuring that the poor are active participants is seen by many as an integral to the process.
There was broad consensus that there were multiple purposes for running processes to engage poor people in the formulation of the post-2015 framework. These were to:
In a similar vein, Allison (2007) emphasizes the participation by civil society is a precondition for national rather than simply governmental ownership.
Quick and Burall also suggests the need for an “umbrella mechanism for initiatives engaging the poor in the development of a post-2015 framework” (2011, ). The intent of this project would be facilitate and stimulate participate by the poor, as well as to increase their impact on the project by situating individual voices in part of a larger movement.
While there is widespread support for an inclusive process, there has been less theorizing about how this process will lead to an agreement. Pollard and Fischler (2012) are, for example, optimistic about the chances of having wide participation, but question whether the process will reach a coherent outcome because there will be need for “tough decisions” about what initiatives to support.
With respect to goals, Hulme and Scott (2010) insist that future goals should be set at the national level, ideally as part of a democratic process and not set globally.
Carin and Bates-Eamer outline a set of principles by which sets of indicators should be developed:
In terms of positive rather than normative theorizing around the policy process, a number of analysts have speculated about possible policy scenarios or trajectories (Pollard and Fischler 2012; Nowlan et al 2011; Melamed 2012). Most see the difference between success and failure as predicated on the extent of political will.
Pollard and Fischler (2012) envision three possible scenarios that are distinguished in terms of the (i) breadth of participation and (ii) the degree of focus of the agreement: The first possibility they identify is a “last minute rush” in which many actors enter the process relatively late in the process, exacerbating difficulties in negotiation and thereby sapping momentum from the project. The second is an open and inclusive process that nevertheless is ineffective because no clear leadership is empowered to make tough decisions; the project ends up being a lowest common denominator “all things to all people” initiative. Pollard and Fischler see the third “bell curve” option as ideal policy trajectory: This scenario begins with wide consultation but through extensive dialogue and compromise the set of policies is narrowed and a coherent forceful policy is put in place. Of these three scenarios, Pollard and Fischler see the second is the most likely to occur.
Employing a different analytic framework, Nowlan et al. (2011) suggest that the possible policy outcomes will be primarily influenced by (1) the effectiveness of international cooperation, and (2) the economic outlook. Of these two, Nowlan et al. (2011) seem to view the cooperation dimension as more important. Although they suggest that an “ambitious” agenda will depend on both a high degree of cooperation and a positive economic outlook, they also consider that even “If the economy is not strong but countries are willing to explore new innovations to help support development, then the MDGs may be truly interesting and experimental” (Nowlan et al. 2011, 6).
A final set of five policy scenarios is offered by Melamed: (1) The UN finds its voice, (2) the OECD and IFIs take charge, (3) the emerging economies in pole position, (4) a civil society groundswell, and (5) a failure of the process as a consequence of financial crisis and lack of political leadership — “the dampest squib” (2012, 47). With respect to each of these scenarios, Melamed considers the degree of influence by civil society and low income countries, as well as the overall likelihood of each. In her opinion the two most likely scenarios (2) and (5).
A third type of commentary focuses on how to ensure that the policy process is as effective as possible. Although this process has a multi-year schedule, commentators recognize the urgency of fostering a dialogue on MDG successors as early as possible (Quick and Burall 2011). As Nowlan et al. (2011) point out, negotiation of the initial MDGs was carried out over a much more protracted period and seemed to involve less complex issues and less pronounced trade-offs. Pollard and Fischler emphasize the need to put in place incentives to submit proposals early and to that the process have strong financial.
In terms of the characteristics of successful proposals, Melamed (2012) argues that successful proposals will be characterized by (i) clear goals, (ii) strong monitoring frameworks, and (iii) norm setting. For Nowlan et al. (2011) policy success will depend on policy coherence (especially with respect to incorporating IFIs support) and buy-in among the South and the new “power brokers” (G20, China, South Korea, Indonesia etc) as two major priorities. Pollard and Fischler believe that a focused, forceful outcome depends crucially on a deadline, compromise, and courageous political leadership empowered to make tough decisions.
Finally, there is recognition that the MDG successor process would be strengthened by extensive public support and famous champions:
Develop a broad social movement to facilitate a change in perspective. Participants also discussed the need to take this opportunity to create a shift in the way that development is perceived by both policy makers and the public at large, and that a broader social movement is required to achieve this. This movement should be driven by vision rather than goals and be focused on sparking energy and action (Quick and Burall 2011, ).
Part three of this report attempts to organize thinking about the content of possible MDG successor frameworks. It begins by considering the range of policy possibilities and goes on to present eight analytic dimensions by policy possibilities might be analyzed. Then in the final section leading proposals are identified.
The range of MDG successor proposals ranges from a continuation of the existing MDGs to a radical revision of the nature of global cooperation with respect to development. Modest proposals aim to incorporate lessons learned, but preserve the key elements of the existing MDGs. They argue that a set of simple, clear outcome goals represents the best instrument for advocacy and for coordinating action among diverse actors. At the radical end of the spectrum are those who believe that the logic of the MDG process is fundamentally flawed. These proposals insist on the need for a radically different type of cooperation to address issues of poverty and development.
A number of analysts have attempt to classify these MDG successors proposals (Martens 2010; Giffen and Pratt 2011; Nowlan et al. 2011; Melamed 2012). These classification systems are in essence organized by reference to the existing MDGs and the degree to which proposals resemble or deviate from this framework. The implicit assumption of these commentators appears to be that frameworks that resemble the one in place now will also be the most politically feasible. The MDG framework appears to enjoy an incumbency advantage insofar as the continuation of the existing policy is considered the most politically feasible.
(1) Existing Proposal Typologies
Giffen and Pratt (2011) suggest three different types of proposals. The first possibility is a refinement of the existing framework. They suggest that an “MDG 2.0 framework” could include revision of goals related to women and maternal health, incorporate a focus on fragile states, and introduce the use of “non-mean” indicators as changes.
The second possibility that Giffen and Pratt (2011) consider is a framework developed in a more inclusive process that includes elements of governance and accountability and/or could be organized around cross-cutting issues such as human rights, climate change, and environmental sustainability. A typical example of such a proposal would be that by Waage et al. 2010.
Giffen and Pratt describe the third possibility as a fundamentally new approach or paradigm, one which might “consider poverty more broadly, as a feature of developed, middle income and poor countries, and are focusing on thematically based solutions to problems which may be seen as more systemic to all societies rather than just to the poorest countries” (2010, 7). They suggest that alternative approaches might return to a focus on economic development, could be oriented to ‘poverty issues’ as global problems, with the need for global thinking regarding solutions, rather than seeing poverty as a national issue within individual countries.
Another typology is that proposed by Melamed (2012). Her typology consists of two axes: A content dimension and a framework dimension. These leads to three types of deviation from the existing framework: “(i) Same terrain, new framework, (ii) new terrain, same framework, and (iii) new framework, new terrain” (2012, ).
In certain respects similar to Melamed, Martens (2010) introduces a two part typology, distinguishing between the dimensions of goals and indicators: Retaining the goals but introducing new indicators; retaining goals but introducing new goals; defining new models and goals of well-being and social progress (Martens 2010, ).
A fourth classification system is that proposed by Nowlan et al. which considers a “spectrum of approaches” ranked from more “status quo” to “revolutionary”:
(2) Criticism of Existing Typologies
These typologies systems, although easy to understand, may be criticized because they obscure important differences between proposals. The groupings in Giffen and Pratt (2011) seem, for example, fairly arbitrary. Proposals are multifaceted and one or two dimensions is not sufficient for comparing them. In addition, the degree to which proposals are considered radical seems to vary strongly across various proposers. For instance, while some individuals seem to believe that human rights could be addressed with the addition or modification of goals, others seem to believe that a human rights approach would demand a fundamental revision of the structure of the MDG process.
Instead of a classification system or typology, this report therefore focuses a set of key questions that address basic elements of MDG framework proposals. This strength of this approach is that it facilitates the comparison of multidimensional proposals along a range of dimensions.
(1) What is the scope of the proposal: collective problems or common problems?
A key distinguishing feature among the proposals is the scope the problems that they seek to address. Illustrative of the types of differences is the proposal from CAFOD, which describes the purpose a post-2015 framework in the following fashion:
The purpose of a post-2015 framework is to ensure that the issues of great significance to people living in poverty, and which collective international efforts have the most potential to deliver change, are goals at the centre of international policy which drive actual progress in the real world (Pollard and Fischler 2012, 19).
Crucially, the focus is on emphasis on “shared” rather than “common” problems: “We suggest the focus should be on shared problems (i.e. where the causes and remedies are primarily to be found internationally) rather than common problems (which are found in many countries around the world but where the causes and remedies are primarily found at national level). We suggest that the value-add of an international agreement is greater for shared problems than common ones” (Pollard and Fischler 2012, 4).
(2) What is the “goal structure?”
The goal structure of the proposals may be described in terms of the number of goals, the narrow-ness or broadness of goals, the existence of a hierarchy of supporting targets and indicators, and the time horizon. While some proposals endorse a clear hierarchy of goals and indicators, others propose general “principles.” Similarly, there is a debate about the total number of goals and the desired timeframe.
(3) At what level are the goals articulated?
Whether global targets should be included and, if they are, how they should be translated (“localized”) in particular nations or communities is an outstanding source of controversy. In line with the endorsements and criticisms outlined in part one of this report, there are proposals on both sides of this debate.
(4) Does the proposal focus on issues beyond material deprivation?
The current set of MDGs is focused on issues of extreme deprivation. However, a number of commentators argue that well-being depends in addition on a range of non-material factors and believe therefore that these should be incorporated in the MDG successors. These perspectives are, for example, articulated by human-rights proponents and those who view development in terms of capabilities.
(5) Is the proposal motivated by a particular theory of change or development?
In contrast the agenda in earlier periods — the “development decades” of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s — which focused on economic transformation, industrialization and growth — the MDGs are not linked to a particular theory of change or development. It may therefore not be surprising that there has been a swing back towards development narratives. As Sumner and Tiwari (2009) observe, “over the last few years, there has been some re-emergence of the grand- or meta-narrative in approaches to development” (839). Examples include economists such as Collier, Sachs, and Rodrik, who identify particular constraints associated with poverty (“traps”) that limit the possibility of growth, as well as heterodox economists who emphasize various need for structural changes (Gore 2007). Whether or not the proposals endorse a theory of change or development tends therefore to separate between alternative perspectives.
(6) Is inequality a central issue?
Inequality is consistently recognized as an issue that must to be addressed. How central this is in the proposal varies, however. For some, inequality is a problem only insofar as it relates to absolute deprivation. For others, inequality is itself exclusionary and therefore problematic. In the latter case, there is motivation to directly target inequality itself.
(7) What is the proper role of foreign aid?
Foreign aid has attracted considerable scrutiny during the past few decades. It is therefore not surprising that some critics have advocated for a different orientation to development assistance, for instance in the form of public-private partnerships. Needless to say, on the other end of the spectrum are those that believe that the problem up to this point has been inadequate levels of aid.
(8) What is the proposal’s orientation to global partnership?
The issue of equal sharing obligations among actors, accountability, and global governance are among the most challenging issues for the MDG successor proposals. Indeed, few of the concrete proposals have endorsed particular institutional reforms or described how enforcement mechanisms might be implemented. However, the proposals do differ significantly with respect to their orientation to this question. While some proposals gloss over these issues or dismiss them as not implementable, other proposals explicitly address the need to reconfigure existing international relations.
At the present time, five proposals seem worth identifying because of their relatively clear articulation:
Also adding to this dialogue is a long list of other commentators (see for example Van der Hoeven 2011; Pollard and Fischler 2012; Martens 2010; Vandenmoortele 2012; Poku and Whitman 2011; Darrow 2012; Manning 2010). These are not discussed here because they either are at a low level of elaboration or present variations or intermediate cases between the proposals presented above.
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The following are Professor Thomas Pogge’s closing comments at the “Impact: Global Poverty” meeting to launch ASAP in the UK and Ireland, held at the University of Birmingham on May 23, 2011. Here, Professor Pogge outlines some of the primary aims of ASAP globally, and some of the ways in which academics might leverage their unique expertise in efforts to address global poverty.
Start with the thought that the central purpose of ASAP is to reduce poverty. Upstream from this purpose we must ask: what is poverty, what are we to measure our work against? Here, it is important to communicate with poor people themselves. Poor people may not make a strong distinction between poverty and other vulnerabilities; they may see lack of resources as intimately intertwined with vulnerability to violence, for example, and with indignities suffered from officials. Maybe we should then also see their problem in broader terms. This upstream work of specifying what the fight is about takes on special importance, because in the next two years the new international anti-poverty agenda will be decided upon. What’s going to come after the MDGs? We should work to educate and try to steer that agenda a little bit. We should be heavily present in the coming debates.
Downstream from our central purpose we must ask how the cluster of deprivations we identify can be addressed effectively by academics. How can we best help reduce these deprivations? Here we should remember that there are certain things academics are good at and others they are not so good at; and also that there’s a lot of stuff already out there. So, rather than ask blandly “what is to be done?”, we should ask more specifically: “how can we add ourselves to an already existing poverty infrastructure in order to make this infrastructure most effective?” Perhaps one important contribution we can make is coordination. Anti-poverty efforts as they are now are certainly not well coordinated. As academics, we can collaborate across disciplines and also coordinate beyond the academy, making use of an extensive network of academic institutions that already reaches into pretty much all areas of the world. Through this academic network, we can establish collaborations with civil society in many countries and collaborate with their NGO communities. We might become something like an umbrella organization that would better coordinate the efforts of different types of groups within and across different countries, including here all groups that are seriously focused on poverty reduction, regardless of any specific religion, ideology or political affiliation they may have.
I started pessimistically this morning by saying that we’ve failed to make much of an impact in the last 30 years or so. We have not been able to protect the world’s poor from a massive shift against them in the distribution of global household income. There are various reasons for this. One of them is an excess of “good ideas”. Look at the World Social Forum, where 30,000 people have 30,000 good ideas – which are bound to drown out one another. What we need is more unity: the ability to coordinate on one really good and strategically important idea and then to join forces to push it through. And so perhaps we should think of ASAP as something between a loose network and a tight organization moving in lock-step, something like a platform that mobilizes and coordinates the efforts of academics, unifying us behind a very small number of important reform ideas that we can actually achieve with the help of organizations outside academia. Then we can be, I think, massively effective: we can light fires in many countries, and can become an important voice that keeps governments focused on the poverty problem and prevents a repeat of the scandalous dilution of government promises that we witnessed around the millennium.
Interview by Sofia Zolghadriha
As part of our student journey of understanding poverty and how attempts at alleviating it are made on local and global levels, it is useful to understand how a non-governmental organization that is both locally and globally entrenched views the issues. Islamic Relief provides us not only with the mainstream NGO development strategy, but it also incorporates some faith-based values.
The organization was founded in the UK in 1984, with its head office in Birmingham, England. It works in over 30 countries around the world and its mission is to contribute in the efforts to alleviate poverty and bring an end to the sufferings of the world poorest. Islamic Relief has been responding to natural disasters and complex emergencies since its creation. In the mid 1980s, devastating famines and the war in East Africa forced thousands of people to flee their homes, seeking refuge in camps in Sudan. The group’s first humanitarian aid project was focused upon these refugees. Since then, it has increased its efforts towards displaced people and refugees.
Since 2010 Islamic Relief has developed a new global strategy project on which they will focus on when identifying missions and areas of development. The new global strategy of 2011-2015 is based on the change from a sector-led and donor-based approach to an integrated and needs-based approach. The author of the new strategy, and the subject of this interview, is Atallah Fitzgibbon, the Policy and Strategy Manager from IR Birmingham headquarters. Contributing answers also is Dr. Muhtari Aminu-Kano, Senior Policy Advisor. This interview will explore the implications and significance of this new strategy of alleviating poverty as well as strengthen the diversity of our understanding of poverty.
Could you introduce Islamic Relief as a distinct organisation and thus what the difference is with other NGOs in the same field?
As a faith based organisation we understand Muslim culture and norms, and therefore a diverse understanding of society. We do not carry a particular collective view of Islam, rather we work with a conceptual framework combining faith teachings and secular discourse on poverty and development.
How do you define poverty?
Poverty is the result of a defect of human dignity. We don’t specify poverty as a result of economic underdevelopment, but we need to combine different approaches to view poverty. We view human development through a sustainable livelihood approach, a capabilities approach and a rights-based approach. This means that we look further than the economic development of humans, viewing our capabilities and rights in terms of human, social, natural and economic capital. In order to understand the definition, thus, one must understand the causes, which subsequently develops a change of theory and a global strategy. What our faith teaches us is to view the causes of poverty not simply through economics, but through a holistic perspective of human dignity. Human dignity is based on our belief of the purpose of creation, which is to worship God. This is not a view that isolates us as a Muslim community, but is identified within all the main religions.
Building on the theory of human dignity, we have defined rights and meanings in life. There are five human rights which builds our human dignity: the right of life, the right of family and society, the right of faith of religion, the right of intellect and education, and the right of wealth. If there is an absence of any of these rights, there is poverty. Therefore we view poverty in terms of universal human rights, as does most Western NGOs.
What will be the difference with the new global strategy 2011- 2015?
By taking a needs-based and integrated approach rather than before when we used a donor-led and sector-led approach, we will recognise those in need rather than just responding to emergencies and conflicts. We will identify the risks of communities and peoples and empower them so that they can cope better with future disasters and conflicts.
It will also be based on a spiritual recognition of development, which we base on the Muslim act of Ihsan. Ihsan refers to the inner social responsibility of deed and action to those in need as an obligation to achieve excellence in worship. It creates the basis of an integrated approach, which recognises spiritual capital and understanding of religion while at the same time practice development in the similar way as Western NGOs. It is important to incorporate religion into development as it subsumes the dimension of intellect into poverty by recognizing the need for moral guidelines, especially in these times of globalisation when communities become disintegrated.
What were the practical differences when a donor-led approach was used?
In a donor-led approach the organization was reliant on donors and therefore had a bigger responsibility to fulfill their agendas. It was very complex as we needed to also identify the needs and risks rather than responding to events as a result of donor priorities. By changing this approach we have had to build up our independence of our funding model.
What are the practical differences of the new global strategy since it was implicated?
We now seek funding for disaster preparedness rather than just disaster response. We carry out extensive research on climate change and environmental sustainability. As a result of an integrated approach we also recognize how different needs are linked with other areas of development, e.g. a water crisis will have extensive effects on health issues and education and therefore we identify these areas of work simultaneously. This affects our assessment significantly as we will work with many more global sectors of development.
Furthermore, we are developing our advocacy strategy of our conceptual framework. It is an important value for our organisation to utilise an advocacy strategy which combines our faith values and universal human rights. We recognise that religious institutions are an important function in development as it enables easier access into many areas in need of development through faith and value. Nevertheless, advocacy in form of civil society is a very sensitive matter, which is risky for all NGOs, and in these situations we practice impartiality.
Does it mean that as a Muslim organization advocacy is based on faith and therefore different to what Western NGOs propose?
No. Muslim advocacy is not different to other NGOs as they are based on the same universal human rights. What is different is the way of seeing the needs of advocacy based on spiritual capital and Ihsan, not what we advocate.
There is a lot of tension and controversy between the ‘developing world’ and the developed countries on the issue of climate change. Should developing countries such as China and India be granted the same rights of development and industrialisation as the developed world has, on the cost of the environment?
It is a very problematic issue indeed, and one cannot make an easy statement due to the complex nature of development on global and local levels. As Muslims, we believe that the needs of the community are larger than the individual, as they are interlinked through the community to the individual. There is a bigger emphasis on the collective right. By identifying community rights and individual rights, one might identify global community rights and individual nations right. Global issues need to be seen in a larger perspective, thus, and the global environmental issue is one of community obligation. The imbalance between the developing and developed world is one based on inequality but cannot be solved through the equality of development, as it would sacrifice the collective and global right. As such, it is a very complex issue, but when coming down to it, developing countries should have the right to develop to the same extent as industrialised countries have but need to recognise their obligations to the community and therefore seek green technologies and resources when possible.
What are the challenges faced by the new strategy?
Our biggest challenge is that of funding. We are very bound by resources and need new products to enable funding stream based on our new directions. We need to be very innovative right now in order to fund an integrated approach and advocacy building.
Lastly, what is useful to know about poverty alleviation as a student?
There are few areas in education which are not linked or do not affect poverty. Poverty exists on all levels as a universal and national purpose. It exists as a social obligation in all cultures and religion. Every activity can be concerned with poverty. Even a field such as biochemistry is related to poverty, for example, by researching on how different plants can be as much as possible so as to be used by as many people as possible, it is concerned with poverty reduction. This is one of our purposes on earth, to fulfill the rights of all human beings.
Some of the world’s most prominent economists, development studies specialists and philosophers have joined the ASAP Advisory Board. The board will offer advice on ASAP collaboration efforts, as well as on specific impact projects. The members of the board are:
For more information, contact Luis Cabrera: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Joshua Lindsey-Turner
Students from the University of Birmingham’s ASAP chapter hosted a panel of experts from across the development sector. More than 70 students, staff and members of the public attended the debate and contributed to the discussions. This was the first event hosted by the Birmingham Chapter and it has formed the foundations for a series of events planned for the Autumn and New Year.
The panelists at the May 30 event ranged from leaders of local development groups, to national figures and academics. Neil Squires, Head of Health Advisory Services for the UK Department for International Development, and Dr. Philip Amis of Birmingham’s International Development Department, offered diverging views on the processes and aims of large-scale government development aid. From Oxfam, Sophia Ireland explained how charities and NGOs are seeking to move away from traditional shock tactics – featuring photos of starving children, for example — to secure donations, and toward approaches that reflect the long-term nature of most poverty issues. Dr. Muhtari Amiu-Kano of Islamic Relief, an aid organization working in several countries, argued for the importance of fair trade and arms restrictions.
Questions and audience dialogue focused on the future of development aid post 2015, and questions ranged from issues surrounding strategic aid to Afghanistan to the importance of education for African girls.
The debate was chaired by Joshua Lindsey-Turner and Bianca Moodie, the first Chair and Vice-Chair of the Birmingham Chapter. It was supported by funding from the School of Government and Society at the University of Birmingham.
To find out more about the Birmingham ASAP Students Chapter, you can Like the group on Facebook or follow it on Twitter.
More information: Luis Cabrera email@example.com