Fragile States and Post-2015 Development: The Need for Resilience Architecture in the Face of MDG Failure

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Fragile states constitute a global development crisis. Government capacity and public institutions in these states are weak and international aid approaches are often fragmented and piecemeal. Extreme poverty doubled in fragile states in just five years between 2005 and 2010[1], and not a single Millennium Development Goal (MDG) has been achieved in low income and conflict affected fragile contexts. The failure of MDGs in these volatile contexts means that the most basic standards of care do not exist for a widening number of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. The UN Secretary-General has tasked the UN High-Level Panel on Post-2015 Development to address conflict and fragility as part of its broader mandate to envision development beyond the MDGs. Despite this task, the UN’s preparatory report to inform the Panel’s work scarcely mentions fragility[2]. Instead, it takes up issues shared more broadly among developing countries, such as peace and security, sustainability, and human rights. In order to deliver on its mandate of tackling fragility, the High-Level Panel must significantly elevate this development crisis and seek out new models for resilienceas part of the post-2015 development agenda. Any model for resilience must address foremost the reasons why the MDGs did not work in fragile states.

The UN’s preparatory report lists key shortcomings of the MDG implementation process. These include a lack of guidance for tailoring MDGs to specific country contexts, under-appreciation of the complexities of development in promoting MDG attainment, and poor management of the synergies between various MDGs.  The dilemma in addressing these shortcomings, as argued in the report, is whether to over- or under-prescribe future policies. The former would give detailed guidance to developing countries for implementing global development goals but fail to account for country-specific challenges and complexities, while the latter would give greater discretion to developing countries for achieving global development priorities within their unique contexts without sufficient external guidance and expertise for implementation. To be sure, the way out of this dilemma is not about simply finding the right level of prescriptiveness in external policy guidance. The way out is rather about establishing change management processes in developing countries that enable regular dialogue, knowledge-sharing and coordination between national and international partners as the means of tailoring global development goals into national strategy and action.

The answer in fragile states is to develop a change management process in the shape of a resilience architecture that privileges national ownership and national solutions, while better ensuring coordinated and strategic international engagement. The g7+ has set forth a foundation for resilience architecture in the New Deal for International Engagement in Fragile States. The New Deal has the potential to adapt post-2015 development goals to different fragility contexts through a variety of strategic instruments. These include country-specific fragility assessments, and shared development plans and compacts to promote coordinated national and international cooperation—all in a way that weaves sustainable development with state-building and peace-building goals.

A needed element of the New Deal’s nascent resilience architecture is a coordination structure for implementing development plans and compact agreements. Without a robust mechanism for implementation, plans and compacts can quickly lose the momentum gained in creating them. Opportunities for relationship building, as well as mutual accountability and trust between host governments, international partners, local civil society, and the private sector are also diminished in the absence of a regular dialogue and cooperation forum. I have previously outlined a next generation model for coordination in g7+ countries, drawing on the ad hoc experiments of g7+ members with an under-developed first generation model over the last decade[3]. The next generation model has essentially three levels:  a high-level for overseeing and troubleshooting a country transition from fragility to resilience; a multi-sector level that develops and implements sector plans in areas like security reform, infrastructure, economy, governance and basic services; and a secretariat to run the coordination structure as well as provide situational analysis and progress reports on the transition to resilience. The coordination model is government-led but multi-stakeholder. It includes international donors and operational partners, as well as local civil society and the private sector. Although g7+ countries have repeatedly experimented with versions of this model, they have done so in the absence of a global doctrine for its proper design and use. This has led to highly uneven practice, poor lessons sharing across g7+ countries and instances of “reinventing the wheel”.  Incorporating the next generation coordination model into a resilience architecture would provide the missing element for more effectively tailoring and implementing global development goals in fragile states.

The High-Level Panel should envision a resilience architecture for post-2015 development in fragile states.  This architecture would help to overcome the dilemma of under or overprescribing policy guidance for locally implementing broad-based development goals.  Instead, post-2015 development would use resilience architecture as the change management process which tailors the global development agenda to the exigencies of fragile states in strategic, coherent, and coordinated ways. Defining a resilience architecture for post-2015 development would also present an unprecedented opportunity for the High-Level Panel, under the UN banner, to bring on board the g7+ and a wider number of fragile states (or stable countries with fragile geographic sub-regions) into a common resilience framework. The panel could similarly bring emerging donors from the Global South—who are not participants in the g7+ or its main supporting organization, the OECD, into a strategic partnership. To envision resilience architecture for fragile states, the panel should draw on the instruments of the New Deal (compacts, assessments, and common plans), but place them in the context and emerging modalities of post-2015 development. These modalities should include a coordination structure for implementing a post-2015 development agenda in fragile contexts, which, as argued, is an essential but absent feature of this evolving architecture.

If the High-Level Panel can develop a resilience architecture to enable post-2015 development in fragile contexts as part of its broader mandate, it will have charted a vision for global sustainable development, while better addressing the needs of over one billion of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

About the Author

Jonathan Papoulidis is Senior Policy Advisor, Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Affairs, World Vision Canada. He previously served with the UN on three continents, including as Special Advisor for Aceh and Nias, Indonesia, and advisor to the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Liberia. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of any organization.

[1] Chandy, L. and G. Gertz  “Poverty in Numbers: The Changing State of Global Poverty from 2005 to 2015”, Policy Brief 2011-01, The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, 2011

[2] UN System Task Team on the Post 2015 Development Agenda, Realizing the Future We Want for All, Report to the UN Secretary General, New York, 2012.

[3] Papoulidis, Jonathan, Towards a New Paradigm of International Engagement in Fragile States, Harvard International Review, 2011, http://hir.harvard.edu/towards-a-new-paradigm-of-international-engagement-in-fragile-states.

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