Day 2: What can we do differently?

Delegates in conversation

During the second day of the 2018 GIZ Symposium in Bad Neuenahr participants examined what needs to be done differently to make globalisation a positive force for development. Below we present highlights from the cross-sectoral plenaries and thematic workshops in the area of Health and Social Protection.

Can the data revolution change the lives of the poor?

At a cross-sectoral plenary entitled the ‘Data for Development Debate,’ four experts on digitalisation – Linus Bengtsson, Executive Director of the Flowminder Foundation; Andreas Pawelke, an independent consultant; Nicola Jentsch, head of the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung; and Stuart Campo, a researcher at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative – engaged in a debate over the actual value of digitalisation for the global fight against poverty. The high level of interest in this session pointed to both the increasingly important role of digitalisation in many GDC programmes – and to the desire for a critical appraisal of its benefits and risks.

At the start of the session, the moderator established a ‘baseline’: a poll of those present showed that opinion was evenly split between those who believed that that the data revolution can improve the lives of the poor and those who did not. Each side of the debate then brought its arguments. Bengtsson and Pawelke, arguing ‘for’ the benefits of digitisation, provided a range of examples illustrating how digitalisation enhances the collection of data needed to plan and implement interventions which benefit the poor. This includes everything from using satellite imagery to estimate the population density for vaccination campaigns in remote or conflict-affected areas to the use of drone technology by villagers in Indonesia to monitor and protest deforestation and illegal logging.

While acknowledging the power of the data revolution, Jentsch and Campo took a much more skeptical approach, arguing that the rich will be better off and the poor will become poorer. They warned that, in the competition for market share, private companies are not sufficiently concerned with the security and privacy of consumers’ personal data. The same is true in the context of development projects piloting digital solutions. ‘We would argue that the ethical obligations of the development sector are not being met,’ said Campo. Under the banner of innovation, too many digital projects are launched and run without considering ethical risks and implications.

During a break

In response to the moderator’s closing question, about what GIZ can do to make digitalisation work in development contexts, the panelists agreed that, rather than introducing further digital tools, GIZ is well-placed to support partner governments in developing regulatory frameworks. Where GIZ is already involved in introducing new digital instruments, Campo urged those present to make data protection and privacy a priority and to follow through on it – rather than just going ahead and assuming that tricky data protection questions will somehow get solved on the way: ‘We all know this attitude of building the plane while you’re flying it. This doesn’t work here. Before you introduce something in one of your projects, ask yourself: Would I want to use this at home? If you aren’t sure, it’s a sure sign that you should stop.’

When the moderator re-polled the audience at the end of the session, it again yielded a tie between the two positions. When asked if anyone changed their minds in the course of the debate, many people raised their hands. Clearly, the four panelists got people thinking. This debate needs to continue.

Making development cooperation ‘risk sensitive’

A second cross-sectoral plenary tackled the topic of building resilient societies. In a keynote address, Stefan Dercon, Professor of Economic Policy at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Governance, explained why over the coming decades a ‘business as usual’ approach will be insufficient to manage emerging threats such as extreme weather events and natural disasters, the concentration of extreme poverty in fragile states, and technological change. The ‘shocks’ produced by these forces will increasingly threaten the resilience of societies, he said, with particularly devastating effects in countries which have recently made great strides in reducing levels of extreme poverty.

Dercon argued that the only way to bolster resilience is through ‘a cultural shift in how we manage risks’: rather than relying on expensive and fragmented ad hoc responses when crises arise – an approach which he characterised as the ‘begging bowl’ approach – countries need to be well-prepared and ready to act before shocks occur. This means ‘thinking like insurance companies do,’ explained Dercon: there should be clear decision-making systems, a concrete plan about what to do when something happens, and stand-by financing to cover the implementation of the plan.

‘Climate change, fragility and technological change mean that development won’t look like it did before,’ said Dercon. There’s a role for the international community in working with governments to put systems in place that can be scaled up when needed, in being an honest broker for pre-disaster financing, and in making sure that the correct instruments (e.g. insurance, contingent credit) are available. Most importantly, we have to make our work ‘risk sensitive’ – thinking ahead about how systems we are building and supporting will continue in the face of inevitable shocks.

Following the keynote presentation participants had the opportunity to learn about some of the ways GIZ is working to build resilience at various levels. In Malawi GIZ is supporting the government to introduce a ‘shock-sensitive’ system of social protection which helps households prepare for and respond to recurring risks, rather than relying year after year on short-term humanitarian responses to food insecurity. In India, it is working with the Ministry of Rural Development on the MGNREGA programme, which supports livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing 100 days of wage-employment per year. GIZ is helping MGNREGA to focus on employment opportunities which not only react to crises, but help to build longer-term resilience in communities through the creation of assets.

Matthias Rompel, the GIZ Country Director for Ethiopia and Djibouti, offered some closing comments at the end of the session. While recognising the important contributions being made by GDC, he also acknowledged that there are factors inherent in the way development cooperation is currently structured – i.e. short-term project cycles and projects following a sector logic – that make it difficult to look more broadly at what is really needed in given setting and to broker the types of solutions that these complex challenges require. This makes it imperative to bridge silos, both within GIZ and at country level, and bring holistic thinking to the challenges of our time.

Practitioners dig deeper in a series of workshops

Carl Leitner on global goods

In addition to the cross-sectoral plenaries, the second day also featured a broad range of workshops which gave delegates a chance to take a closer and more critical look at some of the issues that are currently on the development agenda.

At the workshop ‘Digital Health and Social Protection: from Local Solutions to Global Goods’ Carl Leitner, Acting Director of Digital Square, an initiative aimed at coordinating international efforts to develop and broadly share useful free and open-source digital tools, presented both the Principles for Digital Development and the Digital Investment Principles. This was followed by group work to exchange what these principles mean in practice when it comes to supporting partners in introducing new software tools. ‘Had I been aware of these principles at the time’ one participant reflected towards the end of the session, ‘I would have done things very differently’.

‘Learning from failure’ was the title of a workshop in which five experienced GIZ team leaders shared situations which had professionally challenged them quite profoundly. Groups of 4-6 colleagues listened to the cases and questions they brought, and then reflected on them on the basis of the Capacity Works framework. There was a sense of full engagement, empathy and creative reflection about the room, with delegates leaning towards each other, giving their best, and often succeeding, to provide new angles and broader perspectives on the ‘wicked problems’ their colleagues had struggled with.

At the workshop ‘Why climate change is a social issue,’ Stefan Dercon, Professor of Economy from Oxford University, urged delegates to start thinking more like an insurance company when planning and implementing development projects in order to be better prepared for climate-related natural disasters. What came out clearly in the discussion was that the need to foster climate change resilience challenges politicians and development practitioners to break down silos: experts and decision makers in social assistance, social insurance and employment promotion needed to come up with combined schemes to support countries at higher risk to adapt to, and mitigate against, the effects of climate change.

In the session ‘From poverty to productivity,’ teams from Malawi, India and Serbia presented promising approaches to including vulnerable groups in employment promotion. One important insight participants shared at the end of this workshop was that, in order to have an impact, the interests and capacities of vulnerable groups – be they persons with disabilities, unemployed youths or refugees – need to be considered across the project logic and not just in isolated activities.

A workshop on ‘Demographic development, policymaking and programme design’ attracted participants from different sectoral communities, which led to an eye-opening discussion between colleagues who share a common interest in population dynamics, but who view them through distinctly different lenses, e.g. job creation and the labor market, or even national security. The health and social protection experts welcomed the chance to break out of the ‘echo chamber.’ ‘This has made us think differently about how to position to his topic to make it relevant to people who work outside a rights-based framework,’ said one of the workshop organisers.

Universal Health Coverage was at the center of two different workshops on Day Two of the Symposium. At the first of these, participants grappled with the challenges and opportunities of UHC for development cooperation, learning from cases where this is going well (e.g. Cambodia, where GIZ is playing a key advisory role) and discussing how sexual and reproductive health can be used as an entry point for advancing UHC at county level. The second workshop used case presenters and small group discussions to illustrate that very diverse countries are at different stages on the same path to UHC, and that all of them face similar challenges in moving beyond technical discussions of UHC to actually aligning the disparate interests of powerful institutions and actors. For many participants, the focus on conflicts of interest, underlying motivations and power dynamics introduced a completely new way of thinking about their work.

Ending the day with comedy, music and wine

Enjoying the Gorillas’ performance

With two packed days behind them, Symposium participants spilled out onto the patio and gardens surrounding the conference venue and enjoyed the warm late summer weather. The Berlin-based improv group, the Gorillas, entertained everyone with their special brand of comedy, and set the mood for a relaxed evening of conversation, food, drink and dancing.

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