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Delivering the development message: why it matters

Time (GMT +01) 12:00 13:15


Gillian Merron MP - Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development


Simon Maxwell - Director, ODI

Introducing Gillian Merron, Simon Maxwell said that there were two fronts in the battle for international development. One, where development professionals mostly worked, was in developing countries, like Nigeria, which Gillian Merron ahd recently visited. The other was in places like Lincoln, Gillian Merron’s constituency, where the money to pay for aid efforts was raised, and where support needed to be strong. Gillian Merron’s great contribution had been to see the importance of telling a development story which resonated with the changing concerns and preoccupations of voters in the UK. She had already made an inspiring contribution.

In her speech, Gillian Merron reviewed the importance of the development effort, strongly rooted in core Labour values. She said there had been a ‘golden thread’ of development since 1997, but she feared it might now be coming to an end. While 80% of voters in the UK supported efforts to tackle poverty, there was also strong support for the idea that much aid was wasted through corruption. There was misunderstanding about how aid was  spent, but it was also impossible to over-estimate the damage that had been done to the image of development efforts by Zimbabwe.

There were two approaches that should be followed. The first was to make sure that poverty reduction was explained in terms people could relate to, with human stories and not just jargon-laden policy and large, aggregate statistics. She gave several examples from her own visits to Nigeria, Ghana and other places.

The second approach was to relate the case for development to the preoccupations of voters: to make the case through enlightened self-interest as well as through altruism. She gave examples from migration, disease and crime.

These points were extensively discussed after the speech. Among the key themes were:

    • To reinforce the point about Zimbabwe, similar issues arising in Sudan and Nigeria;
    • The importance of building support for development through better school programmes, wider development education, media engagement etc . . .;
    • The value of involving diasporas, as agents of education; also the need to make the link between individuals in North and South, possibly through some kind of twinning;
    • The value of new actors in making the case, with the example of business arguing for social justice and reduced inequality in Peru, because they could see the value for their business of better education, less violence etc . . .;
    • The attraction of new media, including Web 2.0, with the Guardian’s Katine project being an example;
    • The disjuncture between wanting to tell the development story through specific cases and projects, and the desire to spend a greater proportion of aid through budget support;
    • Some specific points about whether aid was really valuable, about population and about energy.

Closing the meeting, and thanking Gillian Merron, Simon Maxwell said it was clear that support for development could not be taken for granted. As the Minister had said, the public was skeptical on several fronts and needed to be convinced that development was both a moral crusade but also about their own self-interest in a world of global opportunities and threats. Gillian Merron had performed a very valuable public service by bringing this issue to public attention.


The last eight years have seen a huge amount of British support for international development generated through campaigns such as Live Aid, Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History. The public responses to natural disasters illustrate that support, and the impact that ordinary people can have. But will support be sustained if the economy enters a down-turn? Is it enough to focus on poverty reduction and the Millennium Development Goals? Should self-interest play a part in telling the development story?

At this ODI event, Gillian Merron, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development will share her thoughts on why reducing global poverty is one of the major challenges for all of us here in the UK, and why we need to do more to raise the public profile of development issues.  Her presentation will be followed by comments from ODI Director,  Simon Maxwell, and a question and answer session.