The Development Assistance Committee at 60

By Susanna Moorehead, Chair of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC)

The DAC’s 60th anniversary is a good moment to pause and take stock with some honest self-reflection.  Like any 60 year old, the DAC has grown up, changed a great deal, at times become a bit set in its ways, but it has also learnt to adapt, flex, respond to shocks, be less risk averse and better able to meet new challenges, incorporate new members and work with others.

The DAC’s – an international forum of many of the largest providers of aid -, middle age was defined by the Millennium Development Goals.  Human development was paramount. Children born in 2000 who are alive, healthy and educated thanks to development successes are now 21 and need jobs.  Many live in conflict-affected and fragile places. Many still go to bed hungry, without access to power or other necessities. Many have less and less freedom to express their views or exercise basic rights and liberties. Many young women live with more not less discrimination and violence.  Many have mobile phones that empower them and show them what a better future could look like. Everyone is living with the climate crisis.

In 2015, in the DAC’s late middle age, the world agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals.  They reflected the complexity and multi-faceted challenges of development and the need for innovative policy responses.  The DAC has had to change and modernise too, and has done so with energy and commitment.  It’s got much better at working with others, including the private sector, civil society and other donors.  Above all, the DAC listens to its partners.  

Despite so many changes in the DAC’s 60 years, its basic mandate to help poorer countries create better lives for their people is as valid today as it was in 1961. It is a coalition of the willing, based on shared values and standards, now with 30 members.  They compromise, collaborate, take risks, evolve, and learn from each other and from our mistakes – to build consensus to deliver better development policy, practice and outcomes for the most vulnerable communities in developing countries.  

The DAC’s core business of setting the standards for effective development cooperation, promoting transparency through data,  holding each other to account through peer learning, and developing new policy and guidance through our networks also remains unchanged.  And official development assistance (ODA) has climbed steadily over the last two decades from USD 54 billion in 2000 to USD 161 billion in 2020.  ODA will never be enough to tackle today’s challenges, so much of our work is about using ODA to leverage other sources of finance for development.

We’ve grasped a lot of troublesome nettles, particularly the need to join up our humanitarian and development work better and to invest more in conflict prevention.  Sexual exploitation and abuse in our sector is not new, but our determination to prevent it is.  We’re working to enable civil society. We’ve done better on gender equality, but still have a long way to go.   We’re committed to upholding the internationally agreed development effectiveness principles of country ownership; a focus on results; inclusive partnerships; and transparency and mutual accountability. They are more important than ever.

COVID-19 will frame the next decade, casting a long shadow over the lives of poor women and men.  The DAC needs to help mitigate the consequences of the pandemic, while retaining its commitment to all the SDGs.  COVID-19 has shown the world the havoc that global public bads can wreak. Vaccines are the ultimate global public good, but only if they are available to all.  DAC members are the most generous donors to the ACT Accelerator to vaccinate the world, but there’s a long way to go.  More and more of our work will need to tackle global public goods and bads.

Climate change is the defining challenge of the future. Vulnerable communities in poor countries are already living with its consequences.  Small Island Developing States are literally sinking due to rising sea levels. Time is running out. We need to come together and use our development cooperation more effectively and in new and innovative ways to help partner countries make their own just transitions to net zero sustainable growth and development. 

For the DAC to remain relevant and effective and for it deliver the best possible development outcomes for the most vulnerable communities in partner countries, it must continue to change and adapt to these stark new realities. The DAC needs to retain its values but listen to and learn from others, especially those who challenge it, and importantly, to the voices of the poor.

More information can be found on the DAC@60 and including registering for the virtual event commemorating the DAC’s 60th anniversary on Tuesday, October 5th 2021, from 1 pm – 3 pm CEST.