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Development cooperation at a crossroads

Revisiting globalisation at the 2018 GIZ Symposium on Social and Economic Development

Happy delegates at GIZ symposium

Welcome to Healthy DEvelopments’ coverage of the joint Symposium on Economic and Social Development, which was held from September 11-13, 2018, in Bad Neuenahr, Germany. Check the conference programme which takes you to session summaries and presentations for downloading. Also check summary articles about day one and day two for more details.

No more ‘business as usual’

Over the course of three days last week, the more than 800 delegates who assembled for the 2018 GIZ Symposium on Economic and Social Development in Bad Neuenahr grappled with the inherent contradictions of our age: unprecedented wealth and connectedness co-existing alongside staggering inequality and marginalisation; astonishing technological advances stretching the boundaries of what is possible, while unchecked economic and population growth has pushed the world to the edge of environmental catastrophe.

The discussions were characterised by both urgency and hope: while some voices struck an almost apocalyptic tone, others celebrated the incredible opportunities for change and reinvention presented by the current stage of globalisation. One theme was echoed time and again in many different sessions: In times of climate change, rising inequality, accelerating digitalisation and a bold international commitment towards realising the Sustainable Development Goals, GIZ must not continue business as usual. This is both a challenge and an opportunity, as discussions at the Symposium showed.

In the opening plenary, Peter Wahl, a founder of the international movement Attac, pointed delegates to the risks posed by unchecked climate change – one important conference topic – and argued that maintaining the status quo will lead to nothing less than ‘the end of the planet and humanity as we know it.’ Politicians are fond of quoting Max Weber’s saying that politics is like drilling through hard pieces of wood, he said, but today there is no longer time for such drilling: ‘The physical, chemical and biological laws in the biosphere don’t care about Max Weber or the dynamics of United Nations conferences.’ The following day, Stefan Dercon, an economist from Oxford University, picked up his point, arguing that climate-related extreme events will undoubtedly disrupt livelihoods and undermine resilience in the coming years: ‘It’s nonsense at this stage to talk about zero risk,’ he said. ‘Extreme events will cause damage and they will hurt.’ Governments and institutions around the world, including development actors, need to think more like insurance companies do, Dercon explained, planning ahead with risks in mind and anticipating the shocks that are inevitably coming.


A need for solidarity-based systems at the global level

Kerstin Nagel and Axel Klaphake

Social and economic inequality was another major topic. In a plenary on Health and Social Protection, Gorik Ooms, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, argued that current patterns of inequality and exclusion throughout the world are unsustainable. Cautioning that war and armed conflict have historically been ‘great levellers,’ he urged that we can avoid this fate by moving in the direction of a global social protection system based in notions of solidarity beyond the national level. Rising inequality was also on the mind of Michaela Baur, the GIZ Country Director in Jordan, who argued that this needs to remain the central focus of development cooperation. ‘If we aren’t open to learning the lessons from globalization in its neoliberal form, we’ll fail to improve the situation,’ she said. One task for GIZ is to broaden the range of partners with which it engages. ‘By tradition we talk with governments and with the economic elite, but we can’t take for granted that they are taking care of people’s needs. There is a need to rethink economic relations and to change societies in order to overcome inequality.’

While not denying the negative consequences of globalisation, some contributors to the Symposium emphasised the positive, seeing the present moment as one of unprecedented opportunity. The keynote speaker, Amy Jadesimi, the Managing Director of the Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics Base (LADOL) in Nigeria, argued that a new and more equal age of globalisation is unfolding. ‘Even though the world has dramatically improved over the last few hundred years, most of us think that it’s getting worse,’ she said. ‘Our task is to see how to accelerate the positive changes that are currently going on.’ Kerstin Nagel, the Director of the Division Economic and Social Development, Employment at GIZ, echoed this sentiment at the closing plenary when she referred to the advent of new actors and global powerhouses: ‘There’s a chance for the creation of something new,’ she argued.

Despite the wide range of perspectives put forward by panelists and conference delegates, there was, overall, widespread agreement that channeling the potentials of globalisation toward a more prosperous and sustainable future will require new ways of thinking and acting, including for GIZ. Tanja Gönner, the chair of the GIZ board, echoed this call for new ways forward at the closing plenary, and called for an expansion of GIZ’s cooperation with the private sector. Gönner noted that GIZ has the skills and experience to help reduce the risks for private sector companies, including small and medium enterprises, to invest in new markets, contributing significantly in areas such as vocational training, education and job creation. She also spoke about the need work in a more integrated way to tackle the complex problems before us: ‘We have to move beyond the classic sectoral approaches,’ she said.

Over the three days of the conference these overarching themes and related topics were further debated in 14 plenaries, 5 world cafés and over 70 workshops. The remainder of this article will present some Symposium highlights from a health and social protection perspective.

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

Following words of welcome by Dirk Assmann, Director General of the GIZ Sectoral Department, and Daniela Zehentner-Capell, Head of Division ‘Trade-related Development Cooperation’ at the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the first day started with a passionate keynote address, followed by a lively panel discussion about the challenges and opportunities of globalisation for German and international development cooperation.


Amy Jadesimi

Globalisation – a blessing or a curse?

In her keynote address Amy Jadesimi 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: 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. Jadesimi argued there is clear evidence that sustainable businesses and policies are going to out-compete non-sustainable ones.

The panel which followed partly supported and party disagreed with Amy’s optimistic outlook. According to Daniela Zehenter-Capell, ‘Globalisation is the best success story for development. It’s brought millions out of poverty all over the world.’ Peter Wahl, founder of Attac and member of the board of World Economy, Ecology and Development (WEED), expressed a different view: Globalisation has progressed to such an extent that certain problems, 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’. Michael Pittelkow, SAP’s General Manager for Public Services in Africa 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, 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 (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.


Panelists discussing Living in Dignity

Efforts to address inequality in health

On the panel that followed the keynote, 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. While arguments about health as a human right have long failed to change the government’s approach, 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, GIZ project director, described that in Cambodia ‘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. 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.

For the health and social protection community the day concluded with three parallel workshops, summaries of which can be found linked to the conference programme.

Day 2: What can we do differently?

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.

The double-edged sword of digitalisation

At a cross-sectoral plenary entitled the ‘Data for Development Debate,’ four experts on digitalisation engaged in a debate over the question ‘Will the data revolution transform the lives of the poor?’ Two of them argued in favour, providing examples which ranged from the use of satellite imagery-derived data to estimate the population density for vaccination campaigns in conflict-affected areas to the use of drone technology by villagers in Indonesia to monitor and protest deforestation and illegal logging. The other two took a much more skeptical approach, warning that under the banner of innovation, too many digital development projects are launched and run without considering ethical risks and implications.


The panelists agreed that, rather than investing in 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, panelists 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.’

Bolstering partner countries’ resilience

A second cross-sectoral plenary tackled the question ‘What does it take to make countries and societies more resilient?’ 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. He argued that ‘a cultural shift in how we manage risks’ is needed: rather than relying on expensive and fragmented ad hoc responses when crises arise, countries should be well-prepared and ready to act before shocks occur. This means thinking like insurance companies do: 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.


‘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. Matthias Rompel, the GIZ Country Director for Ethiopia and Djibouti, 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 design the types of solutions that these complex challenges require. Echoing one of the Symposium’s overarching themes, he called it imperative to bridge silos, both within GIZ and at country level, and bring holistic thinking to the challenges of our time.

In addition to the four 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 issues that are currently on the development agenda. For more detail, read the full summary of Day 2 and check the workshop summaries and presentations linked to the conference programme.

Day 3: The way forward

The last day of the Symposium kicked off with a round of workshops, followed by a plenary for the health and social protection community. Participants were treated to a 10-minute video with highlights from the previous two days, including the voices of a handful of presenters and delegates who shared their main ‘takeaways’. Afterwards, in small groups, the participants reflected on this year’s Symposium and the changes they would like to see introduced. One theme which emerged is that the commitment to cross-sectoral interaction and exchange should be deepened in the future: the sheer volume of sessions and workshops made it difficult for many people to move beyond the health and social protection track to explore offerings in other thematic areas. There were also calls to institutionalise peer-to-peer learning formats, such as the ‘learning from failure’ workshop, into future Symposia.


Panel discussion at closing plenary

Time to open up for new partnerships…

The final event of the 2018 Symposium was a closing plenary session which recapped the main themes from the previous two days and looked toward the future. In their closing remarks, representatives of GIZ and members of a panel took up the question of what GIZ as an organisation can and needs to do to make globalisation a positive force. Axel Klaphake, the Director of Division Economic and Social Development, Employment at GIZ, underscored the need for GIZ to open itself up further for more and different kinds of partnerships, including with private sector institutions. ‘Agenda 2030 is all about partnerships and the very positive discussions we’ve had with external partners at this Symposium show that we’re moving in the right direction.’

Clara Gruitrooy, the General Secretary of the Euro-Mediterranean- Arab Association which links German businesses and entrepreneurs interested in cooperation with the Mediterranean and Middle East, echoed the important role that the private sector can play. ‘We can debate a lot about the SDGs and the private sector, but it’s a fact that we need private sector investment to achieve them,’ she said. GIZ can help to shape the environment for joint ventures and partnerships between the German ‘Mittelstand’ and small businesses in partner countries. Tanja Gönner concurred, observing that representatives of the private sector have a clear view of GIZ’s strengths: supporting countries to have strong and competent institutions and frameworks in place, providing entry points to governments for discussions about investment, and contributing to the vocational training sector. ‘Working with the private sector is a huge thing that is relatively new for us, but looking to the future this is what we have to do.’


Tanja Gönner

…while leaving no one behind

At the same time, panelists underscored the need for GIZ to design its projects carefully to ensure that the principle of ‘leaving no one behind’ is clearly reflected. Manuela Baur, of GIZ Jordan, agreed with the need to engage the private sector as partners, but wondered if ‘we don’t need to widen our partnerships and methods even further.’ ‘As GIZ we need to have access to certain groups in order to involve them,’ she said. ‘It can be difficult to find the room in projects to access the most vulnerable.’

Markus Engels, the director of the Global Solutions Initiative, reminded delegates that if social progress does not keep pace with technical and economic progress, ‘the current business model is over.’ There are tasks here for everyone: States and governments have to provide a legal system and framework where development is possible, and they have to ensure the delivery of public goods. Businesses need to adopt new rules and ways of working which take climate change and inequality into account. Development cooperation initiatives for their part need to be open to new partners and sectors, ensuring that they are having discussions with a wide range of people and not only those who are in power. ‘The world has changed,’ he said. ‘It’s important that we accept that and try to be a partner in shaping what comes next.’

Karen Birdsall and Anna von Roenne, September 2018


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