“When properly administered, development assistance is a bargain -- for our economy and our diplomatic standing in the world,” asserted Senator Richard Lugar in his keynote address November 10 at the inaugural conference of the Tobias Center for Innovation in International Development at Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies.
Acknowledging proposed reductions to federal development assistance spending in the 2018 budget, Lugar issued a call to action. “In this context,” insisted the senator, “it’s especially vital that all of us use every opportunity to explain why foreign assistance is an indisputable tool of the United States foreign policy.”
But there is another mandate for maintaining development levels, claimed Lugar, the longest-serving member of Congress from Indiana, and two-time chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. “Beyond protecting our own interests, an effective development assistance program is really essential to our moral standing as a nation,” said Lugar, who serves as a Distinguished Scholar and Professor of Practice at SGIS. “No superpower that claims to possess the moral high ground can afford to relinquish its leadership in addressing global disease, hunger, and ignorance.”
The role that development plays in American foreign policy was the focus of the two-day Visions of Development conference November 10 and 11, marking the establishment of the center, funded through a five million dollar gift from Randall L. and Deborah F. Tobias. Ambassador Randall Tobias was CEO of AT&T International and Eli Lilly and Company before serving as the first United States Global AIDS Coordinator, and the director of U.S. foreign assistance and administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, the principal government agency that administers economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide.
Interdisciplinary in scope, the center comprises four research hubs, helmed by faculty in SGIS’s Department of International Studies. “The Tobias Center builds on and expands IU’s long history of international engagement,” stated IU President Michael A. McRobbie in his welcome remarks. “It will promote research and innovative approaches to international development and is a tremendous addition to SGIS.”
Innovation of the development paradigm was a major theme throughout the conference’s five panel discussions. “[Official development assistance] is not necessarily the biggest kid on the block anymore,” explained Una Osili, Associate Dean for Research and International Programs at the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Recent economic data shows that ODA represented only ten percent of the funds flowing into Nigeria, Osili explained, far less than that generated by foreign direct investment and remittances, which are the funds migrants send back to their families. “It highlights the role that U.S. companies, U.S. foundations, and U.S. NGOs are playing in the rest of the world,” she noted.
Osili participated in the panel “Metrics for Development,” moderated by SGIS Assistant Professor Stephen Macekura. Panelists discussed not only how to analyze statistics, but which statistics merited analysis. Economist Bernard Funck, former World Bank Sector Director for the Middle East and North Africa, suggested a variety of ways to calculate the effectiveness of development beyond charting gross national product. The UN, for example, produces a World Happiness Report, Funck noted, that might complement more quantitative analyses. Morton Jerven, an economic historian at Lund University in Norway, offered an amusing analogy for the relationship between an empirical description and a more normative one: “Most of the time we use numbers just like drunk men use light posts – for support.” His advice to fellow scholars and researchers who hoped to channel their findings into policy: “Start with the story and find the numbers.”
Over the course of the conference, international scholars, scientists, policy makers, military personnel, and representatives of NGOs, among others, proposed transcending the traditional ways development is defined and measured. Reimagining development is imperative, according to Mark Dybul, co-director of the Center for Global Health and Quality at Georgetown University Medical Center. The picture of development, Dybul suggested, had been codified by the Marshall Plan, which extended aid to Europe after its devastation during World War Two. Albeit “a remarkable thing,” Dybul allowed, the Marshall Plan “was a paternalistic approach to development. It wasn’t a partnership. And it was about money, it wasn’t about results.”
In 2002, the Monterrey Consensus represented a philosophical shift in global development thinking, explained Dybul, who succeeded Tobias as United States Global AIDS Coordinator from 2006-2009 and served as Executive Director of the US Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria from 2012-2017. The document, produced at a UN conference in Mexico, updated the definition of development by placing an emphasis on country ownership, accountability and results, good governance, and the necessity that all sectors be involved, not governments alone.
Although the Monterrey Consensus was transformative, Dybul asserted, the American development model retains what he characterized as ‘antiquated’ precepts. “We are still operating under what is known as ‘ODA,’ or official development assistance. I despise the word ‘assistance,’ ‘recipient,’ ‘donor;’ so do the countries, by the way, because it puts them in a subservient position.” The G20 nations, Dybul noted, some of whom have received American aid in recent history, “are thinking about things in a fundamentally different way.
“This is why it’s such a fascinating time in development,” Dybul told the audience. “Really for the first time in hundreds of years, everything is changing.” For the students, he suggested, the watershed moment represents an opportunity. “By the time many of you are in the positions we’re in," Dybul predicted, "the model we’ve been operating under is gone. We need a different approach. I think you all will be the ones to figure that out.”