The next few days part of the PCDN team is attending the annual Interaction Forum in Washington, DC. The event is the annual convening (this is the 33rd forum) of the Global Development and Humanitarian Community as Interaction is made up of over 200 leading US NGOs in the field. Nearly 1000 people from around the world attend the event. As part of our collaboration with Interaction we do write a series of blogs about the event, posts on social media and conduct a series of Facebook Live interviews with some of the attendees about their work.
The opening plenary session included a number of amazing people including President Bill Clinton who gave an in-depth keynote, a panel with former Presidents, Dr. Joyce Banda of Malawi and Mary Robinson from Ireland, followed by a cross-stakeholder panel of key people from media, business, and NGOs.
In one short blog it isn’t possible to cover the wisdom and insights conveyed from this inspiring morning session. What I will try to do is highlight a few key themes as outlined below
1) We are more interdependent than ever, but there are many challenges – Across the sessions in the morning, it is clear that as a planet and people we are more interdependent than ever. President Clinton stated this powerfully, “The number one job of everyone on earth is to increase the positive and reduce the negative forces of interdependence.” The challenges facing the world cannot be addressed by one country, a single business or NGO, or person. While there are many positive signs of collaboration taking place around the world, there is also a strong backlash taking place.
What is happening in many societies is there is an increasing division between us and them. Many people are not seeing the economic benefits of the global economy and their basic needs are not being met. Moreover, many politicians and leaders are mobilizing people around more exclusionary, populist approaches that are causing pain. President Clinton stressed we have to decide to if the only safe path is go back to us and them to “ensure” we win everytime. Or we can work for a more positive future of win/win solutions, seeing the humanity in all and draw on the thred in each of us that permits us to see the possibility of a shared future.
2) Development needs to do a better job responding to challenges – There was no mincing words in many of the points the speakers made today. It is clear that under some of the current political trends in the US and elsewhere that there is a backsliding of support for human rights, funding for development, and other basics that seemed to have widespread support and norms in the global community.
Unfortunately there is no magic panacea to solve this problem. It may be a hard slog to help ensure a more just and equitable future and push politicians, business leaders and others to support development and fairness. Despite the challenges (Clinton highlighted there have been many challenging times in the past) he emphasized the importance of not getting frustrated and to focus on doing work better, saving more lives and that the power of the impact will bring others on board.
Kimber Shearer from the International Republican Institute, discussed the need to combine better storytelling and use data to show the benefits and impact of aid. Moreover, many Americans falsely believe that the US spends over 20% of our federal budget on international assistance. But in reality it is less than 1%
3) All sectors are needed (but government is essential). Governments do need to continue to support for foreign development assistance. For example, with climate change, President Mary Robinson explained how we are asking less developed countries to do something more developed countries haven’t done themselves. That is to grow economically while reducing emissions. This requires technical assistance, financing and more.
A major challenge is that to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals with current levels of overseas development assistance leave an over 2 trillion dollar gap each year. Some of this funding can be achieved through smart collaboration with the private sector as governments cannot do this alone. Rajiv Joshi from the BTeam highlighted how more businesses (not enough) are starting to play an increasingly important role and also providing support for civil society actors to maintain their work in a world where civic space is narrowing in many locations.
4) This is a bumpy time. It is clear that the immediate future is going to be a turbulent time for the development community. In an increasing number of countries, civil society is under increasing restrictions, displacement is at an all time high, and media disinformation is growing
What we need to do is develop alliances, and continue the work of advancing justice and opportunity for all. President Clinton discussed the importance of working with unlikely actors and fostering win/win collaborative approaches. Whether this be his key work helping to negotiate the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland at the high level, to a more recent example through is presidential library. A few years ago the Clinton Presidential Library and the two Bush Presidential Libraries started the Presidential Leadership Scholars program where every six months they invite 60 leaders from different backgrounds to engage in a leadership program. People are brought together across politics, gender, sexual identity, and build connections, visit each of the presidential libraries and explore how to respond to the global challenges of today. He has seen many people who strongly dislike each other because of their backgrounds have their relationships transformed as they engage in joint learning and problem solving.
Clinton stressed that he is optimistic that despite the challenges we will reach a time where people realize that we live in a world that requires positive sum solutions rather than competition.
5) Leadership is Key – Speakers stressed the need for ethical and humble leaders to help advance justice and development to meet the challenges in the world today. Dr. Banda defined leadership as a love affair underpinned by transparency and accountability. She stated “You must fall in love with the people you serve and they must love you”. Of course leadership requires addressing challenging policy and ethical situations and this requires participatory spaces where the public can engage in debates about the right next steps.
President Robinson also talked about the many challenges of fighting for rights in unjust situations, whether supporting human rights activists around the world as the High Commission for Human Rights at the UN or as President of the Republic of Ireland.
The opening plenary was truly inspiring and a wonderful opportunity to hear from some of the servant leaders who have helped to advance justice in difficult contexts around the world.