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Day 1: Are we in a golden age of opportunity?

Panelists at opening plenary

The 2018 GIZ Symposium on Social and Economic Development kicked off on Tuesday with lively discussions about challenges and opportunities of the present global moment: Despite rising inequality, environmental degradation and resurgent nationalism, are we in fact in a golden age filled with opportunity? Or has the intensification of globalisation brought us to the brink of an unstable and unsustainable future? Over the next three days these themes will be debated and unpacked, from multiple perspectives, by the more than 800 delegates from approximately 80 countries who have gathered in Bad Neuenahr for this year’s symposium under the motto ‘Globalization – Revisited.’

Development cooperation in the age of globalisation

In his opening comments, Dirk Assmann, the Director General of the GIZ Sectoral Department, pointed out that, despite huge successes in poverty reduction, globalisation has contributed to enormous economic, environmental and social challenges which defy easy answers. Development cooperation, guided by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has a critical role to play in addressing these challenges. He called upon the delegates to overcome siloed thinking and to use the coming days to exchange and learn from colleagues across a range of sectors.

Daniela Zehentner-Capell, the Head of Division, Trade-related Development Cooperation at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), encouraged those present to honestly discuss how globalisation can be shaped in a more sustainable and inclusive direction. ‘If we take the SDGs seriously, it’s not about North-South or about good and bad. We’re in this together and we have to tackle these challenges together,’ she said.


Move beyond the negative mindset

Amy Jadesimi

In a passionate keynote address, Amy Jadesimi, the Managing Director of the Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics Base (LADOL), argued that the world has improved dramatically over the past few hundred years as a result of globalisation. ‘Lose the mindset that this is a negative thing,’ she said. ‘We are in a golden age right now.’ All the ingredients for positive, sustainable change are present, explained Jadesimi: an increasingly educated and connected population; a blueprint and template – the SDGs – that we can use to define new solutions; and people in power who recognise the need to change. Drawing on her own experience in the private sector in Nigeria and her participation in the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, Jadesimi argued there is clear evidence that sustainable businesses and policies are going to out-compete non-sustainable ones. In Nigeria enterprises like LADOL are charting a new course, guided by sustainable principles, which is laying the groundwork for a new form of globalisation based on equal partnership.

More globalisation or de-globalisation?

Members of a panel then had a chance to weigh in with their own assessments. Daniela Zehenter-Capell largely shared Jadesimi’s positive outlook. ‘Globalisation is the best success story for development,’ she said. ‘It’s brought millions out of poverty all over the world. What we need is more globalisation of the right kind,’ oriented towards the provisions of Agenda 2030.

Peter Wahl, the founder of Attac and member of the board of World Economy, Ecology and Development (WEED), disagreed. Globalisation has progressed to such an extent, he argued, that certain problems which it has exacerbated, such as climate change, now threaten the very survival of humanity. ‘It’s not a question of more or less globalisation, but a question of selective de-globalisation’ in areas such as finance and the arms trade which threaten peace, security and human lives.

Michael Pittelkow, SAP’s General Manager for Public Services in Africa, shared Peter Wahl’s view about the limits to growth, but argued that the solution lies in transforming economies, business and capitalism into something new. ‘I believe in markets, but not free, unregulated ones. We need governments to provide the framework for a sustainable and inclusive economic system.’


Envisioning a global layer of social protection

In the second half of the day, participants reconvened at sectoral plenaries. In health and social protection the topic was ‘Living in Dignity: What is the global outlook?’ In his pre-recorded keynote speech, Gorik Ooms, Professor of Global Health, Law and Governance at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, linked the concept of dignity in health to social and economic inequality and exclusion. When people are sick, or die, even though society could have prevented it, their human dignity is lost. This happens particularly often in countries with high levels of inequality.

Ooms offered a critique international assistance based on charity, which he considers an attack on human dignity. He challenged the donor-recipient paradigm and contrasted this with taxation-based solidarity mechanisms which are widely accepted at the national level, to a certain extent at the regional level (e.g. within Europe), but not at the global level. ‘No one considers me a donor when I pay taxes,’ he said, ‘and no one considers me a recipient when I go to the hospital and receive heavily-subsidised health care.’ Ooms concluded his presentation by calling for the introduction of a global social protection layer, grounded in the idea that citizens around the world have duties to one another, just as they do within their own nations.


Efforts to address inequality in health

Thomas Samba and Manelisi Billy

Following the keynote, a panel reflected further on the topic of inequality in health and efforts to overcome it in their respective professional and personal contexts.

Thomas Samba, Sierra Leone’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Public Health, and Manelisi Billy, an youth entreneur from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, both pointed to the lack of access to health facilities as emblematic of the inequalities in their country’s health systems. Francis Nwachukwu Ukwuije, a Senior Health Economist with the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health, described how, in rural areas, pregnant women with serious complications are turned back from health facilities because they are unable to pay, while federal civil servants who are covered by health insurance are able to seek treatment abroad. Arguments about health as a human right have long failed to change the government’s approach to health financing and health systems strengthening, according to Ukwuije. But changing the narrative and making an economic argument for health as an investment that yields real returns has been more successful and led to the eventual passage of a National Health Act.

Bernd Appelt described how in Cambodia, where he is a Project Director with GIZ, the political leadership has recognised the need to manage the consequences of growing economic inequality in the country by putting in place a national social protection framework. ‘The present government has understood that if it is not able to ensure that economic growth is invested in social capital, post-election violence like that which happened in 2013 could occur again.’ In the health sector, this can be seen in the doubling of budgets and strengthening of mechanisms to make health services financially accessible to the poor. However more resources have not translated into greater utilisation or satisfaction – one of the central issues which Appelt’s project is commissioned to address.

Echoing Gorik Ooms’ critique of international assistance, Isobel Coleman described the work of her organisation, GiveDirectly, which provides unconditional cash transfers to poor people, primarily in East Africa. The premise is that poor people use money for the things they need, whether this be livestock, food, health services or school fees. ‘They don’t need us in New York, or Bonn, to improve their situations,’ Coleman says. Trusting them to make sound decisions about the best use of the money also respects their dignity.


A busy first day

For the health and social protection community the day concluded with three parallel workshops, summaries of which will be uploaded and linked to the conference programme in the coming week. The workshops looked at the growing threat from non-communicable diseases, partnerships with the private sector, and opportunities for designing M&E systems using digitisation and collaboration.

Visit again tomorrow for an update on Day Two of this exciting symposium!

Karen Birdsall and Anna von Roenne


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