On 15 and 16 November, CONCORD took an active part in the AidEx conference in Brussels, that gathered more than 2.000 people from the aid and development.
AidEx is defined as the platform for professionals in humanitarian and international development. It is a place where delegates from governments, institutions, NGOs, media and private sector meet, exchange and network. All the stakeholders gathered in one place, what a great opportunity! This gathering helped us reflect on the current trends for this sector in perpetual change. And the role of the private sector is not the least of them.
PRIVATE SECTOR, YOU SAID?
Private companies were highly represented in the event. This reflects a changing reality: the collaboration between private sector and development stakeholders is increasing. The private sector is a key player and investor in development aid, and according to the UN, “businesses [should] apply their creative and innovation to solving sustainable development challenges”. But what business are we talking about? There is a big difference between small enterprises and big multi-nationals. There is also a big difference between financing development through sustainable socially responsible agencies and global speculative banks and investment funds…
On the first day, the Belgian Minister for Development Cooperation, Alexander De Croo, called on the private sector to invest in development: As any other kind of investment, it is profitable. Investing in developing countries, as long as Human Rights are respected, benefits economic growth. “Sustainable business is critical for development outcomes. Don’t shy away from profit or business,” he said. (Read the article from Euractiv for more details).
Listening to this call, we could not help but think of our “10 point roadmap for Europe on the role of the private sector in development”. While we definitely believe that the private sector can positively contribute to sustainable development in a myriad of ways, it is nonetheless important to put safeguards and remind ourselves that the private sector is responsible for tax avoidance, lobbying against climate change regulations and incriminating evidence of pollution and waste. What’s more, public-led development ensures the concept of general interest drives decision-making: can we count on the private sector to protect this fundamental notion, axiom of sustainability? Sustainable development should be at the heart of business and not the other way around (sustainable business at the heart of development).
EFFECTIVE AID, YOU DEMANDED?
Invited to the opening of the conference, our Director, Seamus Jeffreson, presented the main outcomes of the AidWatch report in a debate titled “Forces that shape the effectiveness debate”. As a starting point, Seamus referred to the Istanbul principles, a code of conduct guiding the work of civil society towards development effectiveness. Today, effectiveness is seriously put into question by the fact that EU Aid is less and less reaching its primary target, least developed countries. Instead, a big portion of ODA stays in in-donor countries, reveals the AidWatch report. At the same time, the poorest people in the world actually live in middle-income countries like Indonesia, which don’t receive humanitarian aid, because the GDP of their country of residence is higher than that of Malawi for instance.
Next to him, Gwyn Lewis (UNRWA) and Nick van Praag (Ground Truth Solutions) raised the concerns that beneficiaries should be given a greater say in what they need. Effective aid should be more about the ‘pullers’ than the ‘drivers’. They reminded us that the ultimate measure of success and effectiveness is whether it works on the ground, with and for the people it is intended to.
GO DIGITAL, YOU ORDERED?
With the help of private sector, digitalisation is another trend our sector is getting more involved in. From Virtual Reality glasses to experiment the on-the-ground reality of humanitarian assistance – and by them avoiding a consequent amount of burn-outs and post-traumatic shock – to the use of satellites technologies to track, geo-localise and provide data from the ground, digitalisation is all around us. It will inevitably influence the work of humanitarian aid in the future, providing opportunities but seriously putting sustainability into question. Indeed, consider this: digital technologies represent 10% of the world’s energy consumption and the digital sector was, in 2011, already responsible for 2% of global CO2 emissions (on that matter, we recommend you to visit the new Devex website on “Satellites for Sustainability”).