It seems like only yesterday that we moved to Ethiopia, but our three years has come to an end. Without wanting to be too sentimental, I have loved getting to know Ethiopia better and especially its people, culture and history. (I won’t be sorry if I never have to eat injera again, however.) I’ve visited Ethiopia regularly over the last thirty years, and I have seen unbelievable changes in that time, almost all for the better. I’m looking forward to returning soon.
Several of you have been kind enough to enquire what I’m doing next. This blog post comes from Washington DC, where I am starting this week my new role at the Center for Global Development as Senior Fellow and Director for Europe. It is announced on the CGD website today.
My job is to step up CGD’s engagement with the European development community; to figure out how we can better tap its expertise and experience to develop practical policy ideas for industrialised countries which matter for the world’s poor; and to promote the adoption of development-friendly policies by European institutions and member states and the global community as a whole.
I’m excited to be returning to CGD. They are smart people, serious about their work (but not too much about themselves) with a sense of fun. In a short ten-year history CGD has been extraordinarily successful at coming up with important and practical policy ideas and seeing them implemented. In the coming months I’m going to be thinking about how we can do more of this in Europe. But I’m also going to try to learn how Nancy Birdsall manages CGD so successfully and to learn more about the leadership, systems, and values which makes CGD such a great place to work.
There are two reasons I think we need more of CGD’s approach in Europe, and why it is distinct from anything we have already.
First, there is more to development than aid. I am a supporter of aid: I think it demonstrably makes a vast difference to people’s lives, by providing them with key services such as education, health and water. But I’m not sure that aid makes an important difference to how quickly a country develops. For that, I think we need to look elsewhere: to non-aid policies like progress on trade, investment, fighting corruption, tackling climate change, sharing tax information, reducing conflict and improving the sharing of technology and ideas. CGD has, from its very beginning, looked at all these ‘beyond aid’ issues (most notably in its Commitment to Development Index) in a more rigorous, evidence-based and practical way than any other organisation. Think tanks and NGOs in Europe are almost universally focused on aid or on the policies of developing countries – I suspect mainly because that is where the money is. But that means we are not doing enough to analyse ‘beyond aid’ issues and to identify practical policy ideas for rich countries which might be as important, or more so, for the development of poor countries.
Second, as a citizen of a rich country, I want to focus on the policies of rich countries rather than lecturing poor countries on what they should do differently. I do understand that many of the problems of developing countries originate there: especially in the form of poor leadership, corruption and conflict. I’m very glad that developing countries, individually and collectively, are making progress on addressing many of those issues. But I’m sceptical that there is much we can do from outside to accelerate that, and there is a good chance we might make things worse. As a British citizen, it seems to me I have both most legitimacy and most leverage trying to sort out the things that are ours to fix – such as our trade rules or our impact on climate. Again and again we fail to take account of how our policies create obstacles for development, or fail to help developing countries. I suspect that this is often caused by ignorance rather than malice. When there is so much that could be better about our own policies, I’m not completely comfortable travelling around the world advising foreign governments on how they should organise their education system or manage their agriculture. I know that some of the needed policy changes in rich countries are not straightforward, but they seem to me far less difficult than the kinds of challenge we routinely expect developing countries to tackle.
On a personal note, G is moving to a new role in Marie Stopes International, based in London; and they have agreed that while I’m here in Washington she can work half the time based here. So we’ll be spending some of our time together in DC, and some of our time in Europe.
I believe there is much more that we in rich countries could do to accelerate the end of global poverty. The combination of CGD’s professionalism, values, and its gift for developing practical policy ideas, combined with a European development perspective and expertise, could be a great force for good in the years to come.
I’m now at my desk in Washington DC, though of course I’ll be spending a good deal of time in Europe. If you’ve got ideas for how to broaden and deepen CGD’s approach in Europe, please do get in touch.