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“Cookie cutter” development policies won’t deliver for the world’s poorest - new report

Written by Leni Wild, Marta Foresti

​Embargo: Tuesday 3rd February 2015, 00:01

A radically different approach to development is needed if progress in reaching the poorest is to be accelerated says a new report from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). 

In spite of aid flows and robust economic growth, the report, ‘Adapting development: improving services for the poor’, shows that some countries could still take 100 years or more to deliver some basic healthcare, sanitation and education services.

“For too many poor people, the question is not whether they will have access to services by 2015 or even 2030, but by 2090 or even later” said Leni Wild, lead author of the report and ODI’s public goods and services team leader.

International aid can be part of the solution, but if development practice is not reformed then the goal of improving services for the poor and narrowing inequality gaps, is likely to take many decades to deliver. In the report, authors highlight that on current trends and projections:   

·       Kenya, one of the fastest growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa, faces a 150-year wait until nationwide sanitation is achieved.

·      In Ghana there is a 76-year gap between when the richest and the poorest are projected to have access to a skilled health professional during childbirth.

·      Rwanda, Burundi and Lesotho have up to 85 years to wait until full coverage of improved drinking water sources is achieved.

·      Across sub-Saharan Africa, rich urban boys will be completing primary school 65 years before all poor rural girls.

While an ongoing commitment to aid in the UK is welcome, the authors note the current focus on volume of aid, has to be matched by an emphasis on the quality and better delivery of aid, which are key to improving outcomes. “Looking at how aid works is more important than how much to spend”, said the authors. 

“Our research for the last three years has shown us that projects delivering good results are locally led, politically smart and often employ entrepreneurial techniques,” said Ms Wild.

“Too often donor-funded aid programmes are designed as ‘one size fits’ all, not tailored to the political realities and the capacity to deliver of the countries they are operating.”  

The authors argue that development agencies need to be more innovative and flexible, learn from failure, and ‘spread their bets to minimize risk’ –something which is well recognised in other sectors, including the experience of business ‘start-ups’.

However they say to do this, there has to be a more honest debate about aid, beyond the simple ‘heart strings’ approach.  A more public discussion about the difficulties would enable development practitioners to take more risks.

“They fall back on technical fixes, rather than working in the more uncertain territory of locally-led solutions”, added Ms Wild.

The report calls for governments to be honest when aid programmes fail and to cut schemes that cannot prove they have made a difference.

It gives examples from Malawi, the Philippines, Nigeria and elsewhere of what successful approaches to aid look like.

In the Philippines, long-standing efforts to tackle property rights were solved when local reformers worked differently, by building coalitions to target local power-brokers.

- Ends -

For more information, a copy of the report, or to arrange interviews with the report authors please call Clare Price on +44 7808 791 265 or email [email protected]

Notes to the editors:
The figures are projections based on the observed rate of change experienced by countries in selected service provision indicators from the late 1990s to the present day.

The report, info graphics and film can be found at: http://www.odi.org/adapting-development