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Cooperation: why, how and who for?

Posted by: Muna on 15 Apr 2014
in News

A version of this article originally appeared on The Guardian.

This week in Mexico City, the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) is holding its first ministerial meeting.

The post-Busan iteration for global development effectiveness discourse, the GPEDC is jointly run by the UNDP and OECD, and was established in part to support the implementation of a post-2015 global development agenda.

More importantly though, the GPEDC draws its relevance from its insistence that it is a forum for 'advice, shared accountability and shared learning and experiences to support the implementation of principles that form the foundation of effective development co-operation.'

But, when the GPEDC's three co-chairs welcome representatives from governments, civil society, the private sector and philanthropy in Mexico, they're going to have to work hard to prove it.

Experiencing the somewhat customary setbacks associated with holding a major international meeting with so many stakeholders, and plenty at stake, the GPEDC's own legitimacy looks to be under threat if it cannot progress the inclusive development project by ensuring the institution embodies the principles upon which it was founded.

It is, assuredly, a difficult task; with so many (rightly) invited to the table, it's going to be near impossible for everyone to feel satisfied.

But despite the eleventh-hour politicking and competing agendas, there is no denying that a consensus has emerged.

The world needs not only more, but better development cooperation; an inclusive cooperation that involves the entire range of global stakeholders that the GPEDC has laid almost exclusive claim to.

Philanthropy's contribution to the GPEDC

Ultimately, Mexico is about bringing together these actors to ensure funding, time and knowledge produce maximum impact for development.

And we in the philanthropic community have been working on a blueprint for foundations seeking to engage in collaboration.

Under the leadership of the OECD's Global Network of Foundations Working for Development (netFWD), with support from Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS), the European Foundation Centre (EFC), UNDP, Rockefeller Foundation and colleagues at Stars, philanthropic actors have drafted a document to help clarify the cooperation and collaboration aspirations of our sector.

The Guidelines for Effective Philanthropic Engagement serve as a bridge between foundations and other development stakeholders, particularly governments in the first instance, toward greater cooperation.

They provide insight into the comparative advantages of foundations as development actors and seek to locate philanthropy more fully within the development ecosystem.

Codifying philanthropic engagement under the three headings Dialogue, Data/Knowledge Sharing and Partnership, the guidelines represent an educational, practical and aspirational framework through which to encourage greater collaboration with other development actors, as well as other foundations.

Some of the voluntary, non-binding guidelines could be deemed too prescriptive for some, whereas others might argue it's all rather rhetorical; motherhood-and-apple-pie without the bite.

That is a necessary function of documents of this ilk: there is something for everyone, and something everyone may disagree with.

But, if applied widely and in good faith, we believe the guidelines could help to establish better enabling environments for those seeking to harmonise their efforts at the front line of development.

Walking the talk: country pilots

Having undergone a wide consultation process, the latest version of the guidelines will be introduced at a dedicated GPEDC focus session in Mexico.

This is the chance for the guidelines to gather political recognition and momentum. Indeed, the guidelines are likely to feature in the GPEDC's Ministerial outcome document.

What must follow the Mexico discussions is field-oriented action to illustrate what innovative, inclusive development cooperation between willing foundations and a cohort of development stakeholders could look like in practice.

Of course, much of how policymakers at government and multilateral levels are expected to engage in cooperation is already defined in international agreements, including those that arose from Rome, Paris, Accra and most recently Busan.

While the guidelines reinforce and complement these global commitments, country pilots will seek to live them, and expand their net to bring in new development players.

Driven by foundations, early pilots will convene participants in order to improve their engagement practices and contribute to a better enabling environment for effective and sustainable development.

By providing this mood music for a broader spectrum of development actors with interest in a given country to use their respective advantages – insights, resources, reach – to tackle pressing development challenges, the guidelines could help foundations transition their philanthropic energy toward greater collaboration, and hopefully greater impact.

In whose name?

More and better cooperation is crucial, but on whose terms is paramount.

At Stars, our mandate comes from the outstanding local civil society organisations we support. For us, the extent to which philanthropy should act in this policy space must reflect the extent to which foundations are entering these spaces in order to advocate for a greater enabling environment for their key stakeholders – their partners in civil society.

The guidelines are a key initiative through which foundations can be engaged more systematically with the GPEDC and therefore with development processes at large, both at global and country levels. The GPEDC cannot be an exercise in which plutocrats are simply invited to dine with technocrats and bureaucrats. Development, after all, is about people.

And our involvement in the GPEDC – and the creation of the guidelines – is about finding a way to cooperate more widely for the benefit of the people whose futures rely on a more coordinated, equitable and sustainable development compact.