Our Accountability for the SDGs

Accountability: Are we responsible for meeting the SDGs? Yes, personally and by programming for more sustainability

In a 2014 article about mutual accountability for the SDGs, Dr. Paul Zeitz states that “Sustainable development is the most urgent challenge facing humanity. The fundamental question is how the world economy can continue to develop in a way that is socially inclusive, advances human rights, and ensures environmental sustainability.” Today, the UN Secretary General’s report on SDG Progress on progress to meeting them is unveiled. As many of us work in global development, we need to consider our accountability for its findings.

First, Dr. Zeitz points to key aspects to such accountability, of which three are most relevant to sustainability:

  • Universal, Voluntary and Commitment-Based Approach

For the SDG agenda to be successful, “Shared and joint commitments by partners from governments, civil society and the private sector can inspire faster and bolder action, can garner enhanced citizen and media attention; and can contribute to the mobilization of resources from internal and external sources.”

Our industry has pushed for greater investments for decades.

  • Broad-Based Youth and Citizen Engagement

Local youth- and citizen-driven monitoring and accountability mechanisms are essential for improving budget transparency and service delivery outcomes. If citizens are enabled to pay attention, respond and engage, and then take responsibility and action, then everyone can be empowered to foster an enabling environment for “mutual accountability” and measurable results.”

While most of our work does M&E and listen to ciitzens, even foster voice through civic engagement and feedback loops, we are far from done.

  • Call for a Multi-Stakeholder SDG Monitoring and Accountability Mechanism

“… it is more challenging and more complex to ensure ‘mutual accountability’ for results. Given the advances in human cooperation and technology, we know that the SDG era can usher in and foster a new culture of ‘mutual accountability.’

It is here where we fail quite badly in global aid. We rarely talk about our reciprocal accountability with our participants and partners, with the countries themselves.  Too often we push money, extract data, claim success and leave abruptly. These SDGs push us to think about “global accountability” and how our actions at work and home need to change to (un)affect others. In a piece on mutual accountability, “Accountability for Development Cooperation under the 2030 Agenda” by Timo Mahn Jones explores “global accountability”, based on “mutual accountability, by which two partners agree to be held responsible for the commitments they voluntarily made.”

  • He warns of the danger that “development cooperation stakeholders do not follow through with their commitments, and are not held accountable.
  • He suggests that existing donors need to honor ODA/aid targets and new partners, especially the private sector are vital for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, “to move from billions to trillions” in funding.
  • Equally in need of revision is the roles of ‘donor’ and ‘recipient’ as we have entered a new world of “sharing of risk and ‘mutual pain’ where all of us are affected if we do not reach the SDG targets – although unequally.

How do those of us in our industry foster such accountability? We can say, rightly that we have played a role in sectors like health, agriculture, natural resource management through many projects over the last century or more. Absolutely but we know, our projects are piecemeal and often scattered, more short than long in implementation (typically 5 years) and as we rarely return after clcose-out, we do not know how long will results will be sustained. Yet we have tried to do good and there are many public and private players. Is it adding up? .

The Sept 2019 UN report shows promising if mixed results.  

Immunizations are increasing, thereby saving millions of lives (SDG3).


There is also good news from investments in
renewable energy growth.

However, while those living below minimum living wage is falling on every continent, still, “one child in five lives in extreme poverty” (SDG1).


Hunger
, unfortunately, is rising (SDG2), partly due to a 150% increase in “direct economic losses from disasters… over the past 20 years, with losses disproportionately borne by vulnerable developing countries” and 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced, sometimes from wars donor governments supply arms to or refugees are forced to remain in other developing countries, the UN report tells us, with shrinking refugee funds.


C
limate is the most worrisome of the UN reports. Reversing CO2 emissions and fostering the sustainability of climate adaptation and mitigation projects is imperative given today’s UNEP report that includes this graph. Collective accountability is key to reining in CO2, for our emissions are leading to unprecedented ice melt, sea-level rise, and high pollution, not globally sustainable. 

While we in ‘development’ could say we affect the earlier SDGs, climate is a global problem, one that each one of us affects with our consumptive actions… or aren’t all of them? Don’t we affect hunger through our food waste and food purchases from afar? Don’t we affect child survival and immunization through our advocacy for aid and even private donations to other health and food security charities?

Some of us disproportionally affect emissions by our wealth, population, or both. The Global Carbon Atlas from 2017 shows how wealthier and more populous countries emit far more than the poor ones. As CO2 rises, climate is affected, storms are more severe, yet the poorest countries have the fewest means to prepare or respond. In their World Disasters Report, The International Federation of the Red Cross found that “Between 1991 and 2010, the impact of recorded disaster events in poor countries resulted in over $840 billion of financial losses. Yet, over the same period, only 0.4% of the $3.3 trillion spent on aid was dedicated to prevention or risk reduction“. Our industry does some Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) but why have we not advocated to prevent more suffering?

Thinking about “collective accountability” makes this graphic from the UN SDG report uncomfortable, as the burden of climate change falls disproportionately on the poor through economic losses from disasters.

The UN Secretary General states: “The world will soon enter a decade that will be decisive for both current and future generations and for all life on this planet. It is the world’s responsibility and within its power to make it a decade of action and delivery for sustainable development.”

This will require both a clear accountability to them – not just us and ‘our’ projects. This will require us seeing such projects as our continued responsibility to sustain, namely, to design them collaboratively enough, led by local partners ranging from governments and private sector to communities, with the means to sustain what they value. As we return to evaluate sustainability less than 1% of the time, learning opportunities have been scarce to improve current and future projects.

USAID has talked about long-term transparent and accountable investments in “local solutions” partners. Has it worked? Not yet. While President Obama and former United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Raj Shah promised up to 30% of all contracts would go to ‘local solutions’ that “promote sustainable development through high-impact partnerships and local solutions”, little of that was met, given bureaucracy and the need for fast success, rather than investing more in long-term capacity development of partners. While there seem to be good examples such as HaitiAfghanistan is a poorer example. While most international non-profits implement projects through local sub-contractors, certainly building their capacity to manage and account for foreign taxpayer dollars spent, like this MSI in Lebanon example, is important. But if we extend the measure of ‘success’ beyond our project implementation, then policies and programming needs to change to sustain capacity and implementation post-exit (INTRAC report). Too often we still exit when funds are spent. USAID’s new Journey to Self-Reliance does promise to listen, to “ support partners to become self-reliant and capable of leading their own development journeys.“

It requires listening to those whom our aid, aids. Time to Listen talks movingly of a desire for collaboration during design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. It requires we take the time to listen, have an openness to learn from our partners and participants about what they could – and could not- sustain and why. We need to do so before, during and well-after projects close, learn quickly and do better and be collectively accountable for longer. It requires seeing such people as real experts, not abstractions. How? Listening to those living with hunger and climate change is vital. While we read about Amazonian fires threatening over 2 million acres of rainforest, contextualizing statistics with stories that illustrate that those whose Development Goals donors are ‘sustaining’ know best what works there.  In this case, understanding the range of why the Amazon rainforest reserves are endangered is important for design, so that better approaches to achieving SDGs become a driving force to change all our lives. We need to be  accountable to them.

Let me know your thoughts on bringing the SDGs to our work and lives…

Holiday Hallelujahs and my Wish List for Sustained Impact(s)

There are six bright Hallelujahs on the sustained impact journey this Holiday. I’ve paired each of them by a wish, so appropriate this Holiday Season.

1. Netherlands Greatness! The government of theNetherlands has recently started talking with their implementing agencies about how to track and prove sustainability six years after exit, as one Dutch colleague told me at the European Evaluation Society Conference this Oct.

WOW.

As we know, demanding evaluation of sustainability after project closure is rarer than vegan turkey on Thanksgiving, and the Dutch Ministry of ForeignAffairs is tacking the issues of a) how will they pay for it after project funding has ended (hint: see 3ie), b) how will the data disseminated and influence which decision-makers? Note: Japan’s development agency JICA is the only other bilateral to have this as a mandated aspect of their ongoing evaluations. We congratulate the Dutch for joining Japan in sustained impact evaluation leadership!

My Wish: For the other bilaterals and multilaterals for whom such evaluations are exotically occasional learnings to see the value from learning about the successes and failures of how(un)sustained your results are. Also to fund such evaluations for at least 10% of all programming per year, and do better programming focused on helping locals sustain the results they want. See, that wasn’t such a huge wish was it?

2. USAID Transformation to Self-Resilience is a promising analysis USAID is doing under the leadership of AdministratorMark Green. This Transformation “Journey to Self-Reliance” is “reorienting the way it does business to focus on supporting our partner countries… to solve their own development challenges.” It consists of a variety of policies, from using more private sector money for development to two exit-related initiatives including Financing Self-Reliance “to strengthen support for our host country partners in their efforts to finance their own development journey”and includes continuing to build local capacity and Partnering and Procurement such as using adaptive approaches and “principles of supporting locally-led development and long-term sustainability.”

Will USAID really follow the SDG aim to Leave No one Behind in terms of focusing on the poor? Metrics of USAID’s Country Roadmaps, range from national economic growth and democracy/governance to sectoral measures in health, food security etc. Maybe this is not just a way to use national data to justify exit of aid programs due to shrinking funding, but instead is a way for USAID to determine who is actually self-reliant among their recipient countries and focus more resources on those who aren’t on more needs-based criteria than politically strategic bases than in the past.Maybe it will look hard at assumptions rather than Uganda’s CDCS which projects sustainability in 30 years but will program on until then. OXFAM’sAid Localization may be a better, faster route.

My Wish: that bilateral donors like USAID test how well their current aid projects support self-reliance and how well they’re furthering sustainability. This includes learning what has been self-sustained and not renewing what hasn’t. We offer our database of 25 catalytic organizations’ ex-post project evaluations at Valuing Voices which were informed by local voices of our participants and partners. These fascinating evaluations need to inform new programming as sustainability is only high occasionally, unlike what we assume. We ask commissioners of such evaluations to tell us what they have learned and how they have done things differently (e.g. have they funding differently, chosen what projects are selected as implementers differently, and while adaptive monitoring is a terrific addition, how has evaluation changed -other than pending OECD DAC Criteria and Ofir’s blog commentary plus the WorldBank’s sustainability blog) and how has exit, sustainability planning and handover to national government using data about sustainability and impact changed and people really can sustain themselves? NOTE: this may lead to less money being spent over a longer time, more flexibly and locally-directed. We donor nations may benefit less as locals take their own ‘development’ in hand. Hallelujah.

3. Recently I did a webinar for InterAction webinar with dear sustained impact aficionados from Catholic Relief Services and World Vision on “How Sustained and Resilient are our Impacts?” Lessons about accountability for locally sustainable development was front and center. We all shared that ex-posts project evaluations have, shall we say, mixed results of success and failure. This can be difficult for agencies to absorb as the projects selected are not only typically selected to showcase success, but normally these are selected to be showcased as the best projects. Also, unsustained results can question the quality of funder’s design the agency’s and implementation, risking reputation and funding for both. But hiding failure is worse. A recent Evidence Action statement admitting failure of a promising intervention, promising to evaluate why and learn from it only gained kudos. Conversely, great results can show where future focus could be, or much can be (rightly?) attributed to unexpected new conditions which led it in very different directions.

My Wish: My CRS colleague was challenged by a younger American colleague who asked him “are we liable if we don’t deliver sustainable development?” Astonished, he answered “yes.”. Let’s get over our infallibility and inclination to promise something only the countries themselves can deliver. Yes, we are liable for wasting money and locals time and hopes. Yes, we can claim success when partnerships go well. May we all learn from failures, celebrate successes –especially those locals consider successes, and replicate only those.

4. Impact Investment is slowing inching forward in helping move more of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) toward fruition.  The pressure on many global funders and countries alike to meet the 17 SDG targets set in 2015 is rising.  Funding needs to accomplish the goals is $4 trillion a year, yes, trillion, compared to $150 billion available now in foreign aid. Accessing private capital is a wise investment if such development could unleash up to $12 trillion in growth. Repeatedly people like myself and Impact Guild read that “demand for SDG-aligned investment products outstrips supply“ which is true not in terms of the actual business and civil society non-profits trying to generate Social, Environmental, Governmental and financial Return on Investment (SROI and ESG), but in terms of profitable and stable investments.  Investors tend to be risk-averse yet there are a range instruments that cover the range of development to humanitarian needs. It is not a mechanism to ignore as for-profit funding will sharply increase in coming years with up to $8 trillion of impact investments moving into global disasters recovery alone and vital “climate finance” investments only going to grow, as $100 billion are year is being raised for poor countries to stem the rising effects of climate change. Combined with a $10.3 billion private Green Climate Fund that privately funds climate resilience projects all over the world to meet SDG13, we can no longer rely on diminishing foreign aid alone.

While patient pessimism is needed to overcome the hype that now private capital can replace philanthropy, INGOs are – cautiously innovating. As this month’s Amplify report from 40 international NGOs dipping their toes into impact investment collaborations notes, there are a wide array of collaborations. Some are investing their own private donors funds – or those leveraging other donors’ and investors’ funds in Development Impact Bonds (DIBs) or Social Impact Bonds (SIBs), and other instruments to the tune of $545.1million in assets. These are mainly in profit-low-hanging fruit development sectors of agriculture, livelihoods, and financial inclusion. Yet some of the INGO’s greatest strengths are least appreciated and what the relatively risk-averse and ‘due-diligence-focused’ impact investors do not yet know they need: ”their deep knowledge of local environments, programs, and technical solutions; their long-standing networks and sophistication in partnering with multiple actors; their financial sophistication from their wide-ranging donor relationships; and their experience in complex, multi-year measurement of impact.“

My Wish: that these two industries listen to one another. Non-profits can be mired in a can’t spend-can’t-risk mindset while being queasy about generating revenue, while impact investors can be torn between profits being king and claims of ‘impact’ from just investing in a sector without monitoring actual effects on the ground. There is simply too much good to be done.

5. Brazil/ France’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – The French renewable energy company Voltalia has created their first CSR-funded Social Projects for Social Responsibility. It is using some excellent sustainability principles as well as leveraging Brazilian Bank BNDES social sub-credit seed financing. I met Voltalia’s small CSR team at the EES conference. They started working in impoverished northeast Brazil, using great non-profit processes of communities identifying needed projects and processes that overlapped with what CSR could offer, over half of which were in education, health and ‘social responsibility’ (aka livelihoods linked to water access and use such as fisheries etc). They invested substantial funds into these grassroots projects, alongside interesting Social Management Tools that included cost management tracking of local co-investment, great collaborative communications plans, sustainability reporting, including Social Return on Investment (SROI). Like many non-profits before them, it has been hard, but also enormously rewarding and their work has led to greater employee engagement and was recognized by global headquarters – kudos! – interested? Contact them.

My Wish: Walking in the shoes of our partners and participants teaches us about their capacities and needs, and how to adapt what we can offer to be of greatest use. We need more companies with ‘dust on their shoes’, as my PhD advisor called my fieldwork. This epitomizes the Sidekick Manifesto approach where we offer local leaders help, rather than ‘solving’ poverty, hunger, ill-health, un-representation for them (which our efforts only accomplish for a short-term anyway, see #1, 2).

6. Climate Conference COP24 corralled nearly 200 nations to create technical targets and measurements to try to keep us below IPCC’s dire projections that we are not on target to limit the temperature increase to 1.5C degrees, and that it will cost billions to the economies of the world, not to mention jeopardize past development gains. You may wonder why this is a Hallelujah. It is because for those I most care about – my children and future generations-especially those in the ‘less developed countries’ who have least-caused yet are least able to mitigate climate change effects- are finally starting to be seen and heard. Conferences such as COP24, as well as a huge range of ‘non-state actors’, including corporations, non-profits, philanthropies, tribes, even individuals like you and me.  Whether it is our self-interest or expenditure-avoidance which propels us to decrease our emissions and increase our use of clean technologies, or our altruism toward the millions of species on earth, we have globally begun turning to sustainability of the ecological kind. Scientists are proposing remarkable inventiveness to capture already present CO2, studies are showing how we can be more energy efficient, buy more sustainable fashion, to eat more kindly, etc.

My Wish: We have begun changing our consumption and carbon emission and our youth are pushing us to conserve our planet. I am hopeful that we will come together to address this threat to all species. Is it far enough? Is it fast enough? Santa – help! So since it’s my holiday hallelujah, read Hans Rosling on how it’s all getting better anyway.

Happy Holidays and New Year everyone!