3-D Conferences and the QEII

photoFor those readers unfamiliar with Bond, it’s the UK umbrella organisation representing international development charities and organisations and their annual conference is a great opportunity to meet others in the development world that you might not ordinarily get to talk to. So, last week Team Indigo trotted down the road to the lovely – and also quite ugly – Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre. Resembling a large concrete bunker, the building nonetheless has some of the finest views of Westminster you’re likely to get. But you probably didn’t come here for my take on conference centre design, although if you’d like to know more about my views on conference centres from around the world, be sure to drop me a line and I’ll get back to you with my list of favourites. Don’t worry people, I’m not holding my breath.

So, what exactly is the British development world discussing? Well, the conference had an impressive range of talks from organisational change and development and the media to HR and the post-2015 framework. Of course, I was only able to get to a fraction of the talks, but here’s what I took away:

  • A 3-D World: In an ideal world there would be no relationship between development, defence and diplomacy, but in reality these three D’s have a long and not always distinguished relationship. Development assistance often accompanies specific economic, social or political goals and decisions aren’t always made on the basis of the greatest need. That needn’t mean, however, that the three D’s are completely incompatible or must always be at loggerheads. But for them to peacefully coexist there needs to be much greater coordination of development and aid initiatives. As Baroness Kinnock highlighted during her conversation with South Africa’s Jay Naidoo, development isn’t something that can be neatly compartmentalised within one government department, but must instead be woven into all sorts of government activities. The activities of (British) trade delegations, of diplomats across the globe and of the (British) armed forces all have huge potential ramifications on development, although this is not always uppermost in the minds of the decision makers. A recognition of this fact and that development does not stand above the fray may lead to more realistic decisions and appraisals and, hopefully, to better development policy.
  • International and domestic poverty: Poverty in the UK and poverty in the DRC look and feel very different and are generally treated as such, but can and should approaches to tackling and conceptualising poverty be developed in isolation or are there things that we in the UK can learn from the ways in which the international development community approaches poverty reduction? This was the central question of one of the day’s panels and it resulted in an illuminating discussion. It was agreed that there are a number of parallels and that there are lots of things than UK poverty action campaigners can learn from the international development wold. Many of the issues around fair taxation, safety nets and welfare systems and the need to go beyond a notion of poverty that focuses only on its economic aspect are all common features of poverty. Tackling it, then, requires a joined-up and multidimensional approach and within there that is great scope for poverty campaigners to learn from what works and what doesn’t in multiple contexts.
  • Radical change: One of Indigo’s guiding principles is that we will endeavour to support locally-based organisations wherever and whenever possible. One of the prime reasons for this is that we firmly believe that the best solutions to problems come from those closest to them with the greatest understanding of the local context. It’s also because we recognise that the greatest need for our funding is among smaller organisations not picked up by larger funders and aid agencies. That’s not to say that larger groups or UK organisations don’t often do sterling work. But one of the greatest ways we have to build capacity among organisations in the South is to acknowledge their leading role in designing and implementing development programmes. That’s why two of the (UK) charities represented at the Bond conference are in the process of transforming from a UK-led group to ones run, owned and managed by local people in local organisations. You can read more about the work of EveryChild here and about AfriKids here.

To read more about the conference and to see videos of the sessions, visit the Bond conference website.