Globalisation is most likely to be as significant a historical shift as industrialisation. We must activate the power of civil society worldwide in order to ensure the benefits spread to the developing world.
I am pleased to have this chance to address your conference on NGOs in a Global Future.
It is my view, as I have said before, that we are living at a time of great opportunity and great risk. History is moving under our feet. Globalisation is probably as big an historical shift as was industrialisation. When we consider how the shift from feudalism to industrialisation remade the whole political and economic organisation of the world, we may wish to pause and contemplate the immensity of the challenge we, as a generation, may be asked to meet. The speed and enormity of the change that is taking place is, I suspect, clearer to those who work in the field of development than in other areas of policy. This places a parti cular responsibility on the development community to re-examine its assumptions and clarify its objectives.
There is no doubt that globalisation is generating a big increase in global wealth. And that this has the potential to promote development and reduce poverty. But it is also increasing instability – as the crises in East Asia and Russia have so recently demonstrated. There is a real danger that some countries will remain marginalised from the global economy and that it will lead to a growth of inequality and poverty between and within countries. This reality is encapsulated in the shocking statistic which is updated each year in the Human Development Report which tells us that in 1998 the 32 richest people in the world together own more wealth than the total income of South Asia, where 40 per cent of the poorest people of the world live.
The challenge of our times is to put in place international arrangements to manage globalisation equitably. What is at stake is both morality and justice in the new century but also the future stability and environmental sustainability of the planet. Current levels of poverty and inequality – with one in four of humanity’s six billion people living in abject poverty and a further two billion in terrible need – will lead to continuing environmental degradation, population growth and instability and that will endanger the next generation wherever they live.
This is not the place to set out all that this means for our development policy. We have done that in our White Paper – Eliminating World Poverty – A Challenge for the 21st Century, published in November 1997, and in our various publications since then. But it is the backdrop to our consultation on the role of civil society in development – and to the theme of your conference, NGOs in a Global Future. As you know, my Department has recently conducted a major consultation on our relations with civil society. A process which has generated a huge number of written submissions and which involved thousands of people in detailed discussions and debate, both here in the UK and in developing countries. We are grateful to all those who participated and for all their ideas and new thinking that have been put forward.
This speech is part of the outcome of that consultation. The consultation has led me to conclude that we must get our analysis of the big questions right before we come down to the much smaller but important questions such as DFID’s funding and consultation arrangements with development NGOs in Britain and in the South.
I will of course give detailed consideration to those questions in the near future and will discuss any proposals for change with the appropriate organisations. But it is important that our vision of the role of civil society in development should not be skewed by the narrower prism of the relationship of NGOs with the Department for International Development. This leads to a distorted view of civil society, of the role of development NGOs and of the Department for International Development. Today I want to try to set out the bigger picture.
As you are all aware, we have learned some major lessons about development and poverty reduction in the past 50 years. One of these is that very rapid poverty reduction is possible – more people have escaped from poverty in the past 50 years than the previous 500. Another is that state and markets need to play their proper role. Over-mighty states are economically inefficient as well as politically authoritarian. But unregulated markets lead to corruption, inequality and marginalisation. We have learned that sustained poverty reduction requires a proper balance between state and markets in order to provide basic services in health, education and water for all. There must also be proper regulation and law enforcement in the private sector in order to reduce corruption and encourage beneficial economic growth and inward investment.
We have also learned that aid provided to governments that will not put in place the reforms necessary to produce these conditions is wasted. It simply feeds corruption or the privilege the dominant elite extract from state services. And the major lesson I wish to mention today is that conditionalities imposed by external funding agencies on reluctant governments frequently fail to produce results. When governments agree to reforms that they do not like because the International Monetary Fund, World Bank or donor countries demand agreement before they release resources, the reform programmes almost always fail! What is needed is local leadership committed to poverty reduction which is backed by access to expertise to put in place the reform needed to organise and fund universal primary education, basic health care, clean water and sanitation and bank regulation, enforcement of contracts and reduction of corruption. In these conditions, the transfer of aid resources in large amounts to invest in getting the new systems functioning leads to continuing development and eventually graduation from aid. Economic growth enables the poorest countries to pay for their own public services and brings inward investment which, alongside domestic investment, funds improved infrastructure and leads to further economic growth. The important question for us today is what are the conditions that produce that crucial local leadership?
Our goal is clear. The creation of the conditions that make possible sustained poverty reduction. I do not need to remind you that the countries of the world have committed themselves to halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. This means nearly a billion people being lifted out of extreme poverty within 20 years. We are also committed to having every child in the world in primary education and to basic health care for all. These are enormous goals. There is no doubt that they are affordable and achievable. But there is a question whether there is enough political will across the world to ensure that it is done. If we look at our own history in Britain and ask where the political will for major reform and advance came from – the answer is what we have now come to call civil society. The churches, the trade unions, the medical profession, radical lawyers, local government, women’s groups, academics, engineers and similar groups that are spread throughout societies – all over the world. What we need in order to ensure that we meet the 2015 targets is for such groups throughout both the developed and developing world to know that a major advance in poverty reduction is possible, and to demand of their governments that the international system is put to work to ensure that it is done.
Our own history also teaches us a further lesson which is very important to the prospects for the great advance in poverty reduction, which is possible but not inevitable over the next 20 years. Doom and gloom will not inspire people to demand action. It is right that people should be aware of the amount of suffering and poverty there is in the world. But why is it that so few know of the enormous advance made in the past 50 years? My own view is that compassion fatigue does not flow from a lack of compassion but from a sense of hopelessness. People cannot bear to think about enormous suffering if they cannot do anything about it. But if they – the people of the industrialised countries and those of the developing world – really know what major progress is possible, I believe they will demand that it is done. One of the major tasks of the development community is to spread the good news of what is possible at this point in history, so that the people can demand that what is possible should be done.
So where do development NGOs – the main focus of this conference -fit into this picture? What is their specific role and contribution to poverty eradication and development? And how might that role need to change to fulfil these goals more effectively?
I am particularly interested in the role of southern NGOs – many of whom are represented here today. Southern NGOs have a crucial role in helping local people to realise their human rights and demand improvements in the provision of core government services such as health and education. They can help ensure greater equity in resource allocation, with resources focused on the priorities of the poor and other excluded social groups. And they have a vital part to play in ensuring that public services are made more accessible to excluded groups. But to achieve this they need to make alliances with community groups and other social groupings who can help to articulate the views of the poor and excluded. It is important that Southern NGOs do not confine themselves to service delivery or advocacy on behalf of the poor. The big challenge is to move beyond advocacy on their behalf to enable the poor to make their own demands and to demand more of state systems that so often fail to provide the services to which they are entitled.
And international NGOs also have an important but changing role. I think the background paper prepared for this conference by Edwards, Hulme and Wallace is an excellent document – thoughtful, timely and provocative. I agree very much with them as I have said that globalisation must cause all of us to rethink our basic analyses, objectives and ways of working. And I agree, too, that globalisation cries out for new forms of politics, new international alliances and strategies that can make this process work for all.
As the authors put it, ‘The real debate is not whether globalisation exists and will continue (it does and it will), but about how its~ costs and benefits are distributed, and on that question there is little that is pie-ordained by technology or impervious to politics’.
The authors set out a wide range of challenges facing international NGOs. I want to touch briefly on just three of them.
Firstly, the role that international NGOs can play in building strong 1 domestic constituencies for international co-operation and development. Here in the UK, millions of ordinary people contribute money to the main NGOs – a strong sign of their commitment and compassion for those in need in our countries.
But the challenge for NGOs – which the authors rightly highlighted – is to encourage their supporters to go beyond this deeply honourable charitable impulse and to explain more clearly the growing interdependence of the modern world and the need for more profound changes – in international structures and in consumption patterns – if we are to create a world free of poverty and want in the next century. I know that many NGOs are beginning to do this; hut there is much more still to do.
I would particularly like to highlight the enormous potential power that rests with the ethical consumer movements. The movement of British consumers and consumers worldwide concerned about the origins of what they consume, about how the people who produced it were paid and treated, and about the environmental costs of its production, has enormous potential for bringing about progressive change. NGOs have played an important part in those movements and there is more to be done.
There is clearly an important continuing role for NGOs to build stronger partnerships with the trade union movement, the private sector and financial institutions to strengthen the ethical consumer movements to uphold basic labour and environmental standards. There is increasing openness amongst major companies to those movements and the potential effects are very great indeed.
A second key challenge for NGOs is to improve the effectiveness with which they lobby governments and international institutions. Arid as the relevance of the work of departments of trade, finance, agriculture and environment becomes clearer, the lobbying needs to be more sophisticated. Similarly as crucial agreements are reached in the European Union, the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank or the IMF, NGO lobbying needs increasingly to be transnational so that governments that are holding back progress in international forums are exposed to the pressure of international public opinion.
The successful campaign for a ban on landmines and the reach of the international campaign on debt relief are good examples of what internationally co-ordinated NGO action can achieve.
While NGOs must of course always choose their own campaigns, it is clear that future agreements on trade, agriculture, investment and debt are key to the equitable management of globalisation. Effective campaigns are likely to be those which are positive and underpinned by good analysis and information systems with an international reach. This is a real challenge to structures that have evolved to lobby aid departments within their own countries.
NGOs can form an invaluable catalytic role, raising issues that others would choose not to raise, advocating fresh ideas and perspectives, new ways of looking at the world. They have always done this but the challenge of the new times is much greater. It is no longer enough to demand change simply within our own national boundaries. NGO campaigning is faced with the challenge to globalise in the face of a globalising world.
The third, most pressing challenge for international NGOs is to give greater focus in their work within developing countries to ways of genuinely empowering the poor – and to acknowledge, as must governments – that the role of external players should be a transitional one. The ultimate aim of all of us – development departments and international development NGOs – should be to make ourselves redundant and success should be measured by how soon we leave, not how long we stay.
And that has profound implications for the way we work today. Our continuing role is surely less to do things for poor people – the model of the past – but rather to help them to do things for themselves. This is what I understand Edwards, Hulme and Wallace to mean by the move from ‘development-as-delivery’ to ‘development-as-leverage”.
Too much of development in the past has been about isolated development projects. The new agenda is increasingly about sector-wide approaches, helping governments to provide key services, such as health and education. The best of these include working with local NGO partners, strengthening their capacity to demand improvements in the provision of key services from governments. But sector-wide programmes provide a challenge to NGOs that have in the past set themselves up to deliver projects. The task now is to facilitate the delivery of a universal service rather than to provide for the few that the project can reach.
We are, as I have said, living in a time of great historical opportunity. Globalisation creates the possibility for an enormous advance in poverty eradication and human development. But the advance will not happen automatically. It is just as possible that the moment will he missed, and the world of the next century will be riven with conflict, inequality and environmental degradation.
The choice depends on human action. And that critically involves civil society. NGOs are part of that civil society and can be a catalyst for wider action.
Despite the obstacles that often exist to the free exercise of expression and association, the growth of democracy and an active civil society is unquestionably a developing global trend. More and more, people are standing up for their rights, demanding improvements in their economic and social conditions and the opportunity to shape their lives.
From landless peasants demanding land reform to women’s groups demanding an end to domestic violence from consumer organisations to trade unions, there is a growth of civic activism that has enormous potential to bring about major social change. Our task is to find how we can best work to strengthen the voices and influence of those who are in a position to demand the changes required in all the forums that exist in developing countries, international institutions and industrialised countries.
The challenge is great but globalisation provides an enormous opportunity. We will either achieve greater equity or suffer increasing inequality and instability. Civil society holds a major key which will determine the outcome. Our task is to activate the power of civil society worldwide.