Sad farewell, exciting horizons

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.


23 thoughts on “Sad farewell, exciting horizons”

  1. Good luck in your new role, Owen. I’m working on extra-aid / trade issues with a European twist now myself (DFQF etc) in the Trade Policy Unit. It’s a great area.

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  3. Hi Owen,

    Just off for a short trip to Ethiopia for CODIST II, leaving next Saturday. I am hoping Ethiopian Airlines comes through OK or better, and maybe the Harmony Hotel is not too bad a place to stay? Any tips, including a good and safe place to eat would be most welcome.

    Enjoy Washington DC, hope it is safer than when I went! The warnings were more severe than almost anywhere I have been in the world!

    1. @Graham – Harmony Hotel is nice, and close to the Beer Garden Inn, which is a good place to eat. There are lots of good places in that area. The best restaurant in Addis is the Serenade. For good snacks, go to the Lime Tree, a 5 minute walk from the Harmony.

  4. Congrats!! Any chance Development Drums continues? Or, alternatively, CGD can push a periodic hour long podcast? In any case, will look forward to your next steps. Thanks for all the great work here.

  5. I wish you lots of success and happiness in your new post.
    Your views on the effectiveness [or lack of!] of international development and aid are very enlightening and thought provoking.

    1. @Stephen, Scott – Yes, Development Drums will continue. I’ve got some GREAT guests lined up. And it should be easier now that I’m not dependent on Ethiopia’s rather limited bandwidth.

  6. Abraham Alano Ali

    Dear Owen, the points you raised are strongly invaluable but what I would disagree is the issue of aboundaning aids at this moment for developing countries. You see, development is essential to end poverty but is not a day time outcome. Haunger, dieases related to poverty and sociatal crisis arise thereoff kill many people of the developing world. Thus, the policy perspectives shoul address hand in hand how to work for devlopments with out forgetting basic life support aids.

    I strongly agree with you on global challenges of development. There fore we must work collaboratively. For me, the developing world’s population pressure shoul get adequate attention as urbanization is poor and the rural land plots get narrowe to the extent of less tah a hectar per household. Yet, fertility is high in most rural community like, Ethiopia ( 5.4 children per woman).

    Such condition is indeed serious challenge for development as you may consider the millenuim development goal attainment difficulties for developing world.

    best regards

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  10. Dear Owen,

    Congratulations on this brilliant new appointment. The more I learn about development the more I believe it to be paramount to address rich countries’ policies (on trade, climate change, finances and arms), rather than poke around in poor places. I’m a massive fan of yours and Development Drums (have listened since the beginning) and wish you every success.

    Good luck!

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