Advisory letter 16: Development Cooperation: The benefit of and need for public support

September 3, 2009 - nr.16

Summary and recommendations

In summary, the AIV’s premises, findings and recommendations are as follows.

• While political support for development cooperation can perhaps no longer be taken for granted, public support in the Netherlands for the principle and goals of development cooperation remains as strong as ever. This does not mean that there is strong public support for all aspects of development policy or for all development organisations. There is some doubt about the effectiveness and greater insight is needed into the considerations behind and impact of different aspects of development policy and practice.

• Development and poverty reduction require structural changes in both the South and the North and in the relationship between South and North. These structural changes are laid down in international instruments to which the Netherlands is a party.

• A conceptual distinction should be made between public support for ‘changes there’ and for ‘changes here’. The debate on support, however, is unbalanced; it is dominated by ‘changes there’. Dutch society (i.e. the government, the private sector, civil society organisations and the public) gives inadequate consideration to policy coherence. To bring about effective and lasting poverty reduction, both sorts of change – and public support for them – are needed.

• Increasing public support is therefore a legitimate part of development cooperation and is a government task in the same way that the government invests in increasing public support for such goals as public health, road safety, agriculture, etc.

• A clear, transparent, efficient and above all coherent development policy is an essential condition for increasing public support in general. The best way to increase public support for activities ‘there’ is to pay close attention to the effectiveness of these activities and give a frank accounting of their results, even when they are disappointing, and of the lessons that have been learnt. This requires further elaboration of a methodology for the valid and reliable measurement of effectiveness in the complex and turbulent conditions that predominate in development cooperation.

• Responsibility for ‘changes there’ lies primarily with the development organisations and the ministry. They have both an accountability and an awareness-raising duty. Responsibility for public support for ‘changes here’ lies in the first place with the government as a whole. Specific attention should be paid to policy coherence. Development organisations should be involved in so far as they are engaged in activities aimed at the North (i.e. campaigning and lobbying).

• Government responsibility does not mean that it must act as an implementer. Since (1) working on ‘changes here’ is not compulsory for development organisations, (2) working on ‘changes here’ is necessary regardless of what happens in developing countries, and (3) context-specific expertise is required, specialised organisations and authoritative people should be engaged to work on public support for ‘changes here’

• The government as a whole – including other ministries – is responsible for ‘changes here’ and thus for the necessary contribution to a sustainable world and a coherent Dutch policy. Responsibility for funding one or more organisations specialised in promoting public support therefore lies not only with the Minister for Development Cooperation.

• In the near future, the government must clarify the level of support-related expenditure in the Netherlands. This comprises expenditure both by the government itself and by civil society organisations that are funded directly or indirectly and that are active in whole or in part in increasing public support for development cooperation. The government would also be well advised to investigate the correlation between the level and use of support-related expenditure and the level of public support in the Netherlands. Without a thorough investigation, nothing sensible can be said about the tailoring and effectiveness of support-related activities.

• The AIV agrees with the recent Policy Memorandum on Civil Society Organisations that activities concerned principally with fundraising should not receive government grants.

• In the further elaboration of grants policy, the government should clarify the relationship between the cofinancing requirement of 25% self-funding and the goal of increasing public support, since the requirement could lead to a reduction in support. Public support should not become an object of competition among development organisations.


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