In his new book "The successful development assistance - On Swedish development cooperation in practice" Jan Bjerninger writes about his personal experiences of Swedish development assistance and its results. Inge Gerremo, who also has extensive experience of development aid issues, shares her views on the book.
I have read with great interest Jan Bjerninger's recent book, The Successful Aid - On Swedish Development Cooperation in Practice. It is a breathtaking journey through time and space in the world of development aid. It is important to be well-read and keep up with the turns, but then the book gives a very interesting picture of what both the author has been through during more than 40 years of work with Swedish development assistance, as well as myself. It is inevitable that I read the book colored by my own developmental experiences from mainly areas such as natural resources and the environment and in a very focused on Africa's challenges.
One might think that the book could have been written more rigorously and given a more restrained structure. That this is not the case already gives the table of contents a hint. But this is also the book's strength. It is an author with both long, broad and highly solid experience who writes about what he has devoted his entire professional life to and in an impressive variety of roles. This is more important than the shape. It requires a lot of personal experience from the reader to be able to assimilate the interesting views that the author wants to convey in his open and unreserved way. It is with a great deal of recognition that I read these thoughts from the inside of development aid. The book's title, The successful aid, only it should be able to give rise to a much-needed ideological discussion about past and present development aid ambitions and what is needed in the future.
From the very beginning, the author raises a controversial question. Why is the responsibility for the Government's policy for global development, PGU, with the Minister for Development Aid when this responsibility should probably lie with the Prime Minister's Committee? The author also mentions one of my own stick horses here. The poor must be able to support themselves. Why is so little of the energy and resources of aid being invested in favoring agriculture and other industries that are crucial to the daily bread of poor people?
Here at the beginning of the book, the author asks the question whether we in Swedish development aid have been afraid of evaluations. The answer is a resounding no. Swedish development assistance is full of such. But of course it has often been difficult to describe the final meaning where aid can always be only a small part of everything that is needed.
There have also often been significantly higher demands on development assistance than e.g. corresponding investments in Sweden. For my own part, I remember how in our childhood development assistance we thought about why the high demands were not placed on e.g. then large infrastructure investment in Stockholm, the construction of the Essingeleden, while we were faced with completely different requirements for relevance, alternative areas of use, etc. in development assistance.
The author addresses the issue of development assistance coordination in an attempt to reduce the increasing demands placed on partner countries to lead the activities. Our own management of development aid has also been a complicated area from the outset, as state aid often moves in the borderland of politics.
Also interesting is the description of the development assistance's different roles at the home authority and at the embassies, respectively, and what different competence requirements it sets.
Not least the latter role leads to the important aid dialogue with relevant partner countries, organizations and others. That role requires a great ability to listen, but it also often gives great personal influence in designing the assistance in question. It is worth thinking about whether it is good or bad and what the alternative would be.
This is how the author discusses the role of civil society, one of the cornerstones of Swedish development assistance. Here is perhaps the book's most important conclusion, as I see it:
Reducing poverty in the broadest sense is a result of interaction between the public sector, the market and civil society.
If there is anything Swedish welfare development is based on, it is this and the author exemplifies it with what also seems to me to be particularly important in the many agricultural-based partner countries, vital farmers' organizations with the opportunity for dialogue with the state.
The author discusses the historically important role of Swedish non-governmental organizations in development assistance. An interesting question that turned out not to be completely uncontroversial is when people from there are recruited into Sida and what loyalties then apply.
The author discusses the historically important role of Swedish non-governmental organizations in development assistance. An interesting question that turned out not to be completely uncontroversial is when people from there are recruited into Sida and what loyalties then apply. From my own experience, I have sometimes wondered about how the role as a civil servant is perceived today. Because that is what you are also in the state aid authority.
The question of successful aid takes on a special dimension in connection with the tsunami disaster, when it turned out that Sida's many years of routines to be able to act quickly in humanitarian contexts also worked in an exemplary manner at the time.
The author discusses a lot about the criticism Sida and development assistance have been subjected to over the years. He wonders, like myself, if aid did not sometimes become a little too much of the central planners' new spring. What we realized was not reasonable in Sweden, we still thought it could be in different developing countries and especially in Africa. One of our former colleagues, the now deceased Bo Karlström, gradually became one of our foremost system critics and wrote, among other things. the book, The Impossible Assistance. There he coined the concept that it is probably easier to be a donor than a recipient and that everyone in some context should be allowed to try the latter.
In his discussion of various development areas, it is interesting to note that the author has acquired significant knowledge of the natural resource area, as head of Sida's natural resource department. This has resulted in an initiated discussion on issues concerning the role of the areal industries in development assistance, in ways that would otherwise have been difficult to conduct. It also leads to the author's own reflection on how the deep expertise that exists in most important areas should be able to find its way all the way to the final decision-makers.
The author has many thought-provoking arguments about the work with human rights, MR, an important area for Swedish development assistance. It then also requires work at grassroots level and in connection with various areas of activity. Among other things, he means that well-functioning institutions for agriculture, education, water, etc. can be just as important as institutions of democracy, in the narrower sense, as part of the MRI work.
Swedish development assistance often comes into contact with minorities, who often consist of indigenous peoples. In this context, the author states, as I myself have sometimes had reason to do, that Sweden has still not signed the ILO Convention on the Protection of Indigenous Peoples.
The author dwells, not unexpectedly, on the importance of knowledge, a core issue in development cooperation. He points in particular to the role of women in agriculture and the targeted educational needs that exist there. He sees research aid as an essential part of Swedish aid. It is particularly important that research is directed at the countries' own issues so that they can be taken care of by their own researchers and their own institutions.
If you ask the locals about what they see as particularly important for their development, the answer is often a path. Such infrastructure investments are of great importance, not least to be able to develop agriculture and trade.
If you ask the locals about what they see as particularly important for their development, the answer is often a path. Such infrastructure investments are of great importance, not least to be able to develop agriculture and trade. Another highly sensitive issue is that of temporary customs protection in order to speed up a budding agriculture, often exposed to cheap imports. It is a need I have also seen in the work of starting local agricultural development.
The author's recent years within Sida, leading Sida's natural resources department, are highly noticeable in the book and have led to a lot of reasoning about agriculture and food security and the role of these issues in development aid contexts. He states that agriculture should be seen as an important part of the so-called private sector development. He sees that the farmers' voice in the development work needs to be raised, not least the women's, as particularly important. He is tormented, it must be said, by summing up the difficult and sensitive discussion of what is usually called modern science-based agriculture and organic farming. I interpret him as meaning that he believes that we have a lot to learn from both of these ambitions in order to achieve the environmentally sustainable agriculture we jointly want to achieve. In that work, the author sees no fundamental problems with using genetic engineering, GMOs. This should then be done with the help of countries' own researchers in the field. On the other hand, he seems concerned that e.g. At the same time, Sida can support research in the field of genetic engineering and individual organizations that work with emphasis to combat this development. He is convinced that more of Swedish development assistance should go to the areal industries, as well as that it will also, in the long run, require structural rationalisations of a similar nature as in most developed countries.
Since the surplus from the sale of the book will go to e.g. Vi-skogen, of course, makes one curious about what experiences the author has of that activity. It turns out that in his work he has been as impressed as I myself by the diligent work some zealots, associated with Tidningen Vi, conducted first as pure tree planting in Kenya and the other countries around Lake Victoria. An important reason for the success lies in gradually realizing the importance of broadening the work to more than just tree planting and getting the local population increasingly involved in it. I can only agree, after myself initially being critical of what I then thought was too donor-controlled and narrowly focused work.
When the area of forest is mentioned, the author also asks himself, where did the discussion about the large Vietnamese forest project Bai Bang go, not least after the evaluation that was done recently and which could state that this, despite all the odds and difficulties, may have become one of Swedish Development Aid's best technology development program.
The author then addresses a number of development obstacles and mainly mentions environmental degradation, corruption and armed conflict as well as violence. He gives a possible example here with a connection to corruption in our own vicinity, taken from the support for the World Maritime University in Malmö.
The author devotes the last 18 pages to the chapter Aid and the future. It may seem short considering the length of the book and the variety of issues he addresses there. Perhaps this should be seen as a call for that particular discussion of the future now to continue and that the author seems to have laid a foundation for such serious work. Personally, I think so. I am particularly pleased that in this chapter he points to the importance of the areal industries and that the work with food supply is a particularly important issue for the future. The author sees this as one of the main tasks of development assistance. He joins there to i.a. Göran Hydén, who in his book, Aid and Development, Africa - The donors' great challenge, from 2010, also pleads for this.
It is therefore not surprising that the author finally discusses Sida's disarmament of his once great professional competence and which has been most noticeable in recent years.
It is therefore not surprising that the author finally discusses Sida's disarmament of his once great professional competence and which has been most noticeable in recent years. Where is the development assistance expertise in important subject areas that is absolutely necessary also within Sida as a link between the real expertise, whether it is about the partner countries' own experts or those from e.g. Sweden to ask to cooperate with? A critical mass of such expertise is needed within an aid organization such as Sida, especially if an increased focus is to be placed on areas such as agriculture and food security. This is an issue that of course also concerns other subject areas that are given priority in development assistance. Such work also requires long-termism, a scarce commodity in today's political landscape.
Finally, the author asks the question Where is the necessary visionary aid thinking today?? Several of the institutions and units that had such tasks have disappeared and not been replaced. Of course, aid can be successful and of course aid will be needed further, even if a lot of this will increasingly be transferred to the exchange of knowledge of importance also for us in Sweden and in an increasingly globalized world. This is how I read the author's answer to that question.
In other words, it is a book well worth having as a starting point for the serious development aid discussion we so desperately need today before the development goals that will follow after 2015.