This is a background briefing for an ODI Workshop on Preserving Multilateralism (January 2005) on some salient features of the multilateral aid system and its strengths, weaknesses and challenges in a rapidly changing global setting. Many participants will be familiar with the basic issues, but may benefit from some additional context from which to spark discussion.
The task which the workshop assigns to the group – to compare the major multilaterals from a recipient country perspective – is not an easy one.
Despite a wealth of information on each agency, there is no generally accepted framework for rating their comparative merits consistently.
Qualitative donor ratings by aid recipient governments are valuable inputs, rarely canvassed and more rarely discussed by senior donor officials.
But they can be misleading, for example because the recipient, rightly or wrongly, fears retaliation from some quarters or feels their country has leverage only on some aspects of donor behaviour. Cross-country recipientdriven assessments of donor agencies are even scarcer1. The facilitating role of respected independent observers, such as the co-convenors of this workshop, may be instrumental.
Times of rapid change in the overall aid funding climate-strong decline or, as we may be witnessing now, major increases – are an opportunity to make conscious and non-marginal decisions about its seemingly haphazard “architecture”. Rapid expansion creates absorption difficulties, which some institutions are much better equipped to overcome than others. If the voices of recipients are not heard clearly now, the resulting outcomes may not be what they want or expect.