IDC report on DFID’s Economic Development Strategy: lacking punch, misunderstanding gender but with some positives

by 18th Jul 2018
Brenda Katelele, a seasonal food seller in Zambia and member of Lendwithcare microloan foundation. Brenda Katelele, a seasonal food seller in Zambia and member of Lendwithcare microloan foundation.

The House of Commons Select Committee on International Development (the IDC) has just published its report on DFID’s Economic Development Strategy. But it seems to have only ONE new recommendation. This compares with, for instance, the IDC report on DFID and Education, which features 19 recommendations.

This is a bit of a surprise as three prominent reports by the Aid Watchdog ICAI give a very mixed review of DFID’s economic development work. In the ICAI’s reports, DFID’s Private Sector Development Work, Business in Development and DFID’s Approach to Supporting Inclusive Growth in Africa: a Learning Review were respectively given ratings of Amber/Red, Amber/Red and Green/Amber (but see my own scepticism about how ICAI arrived at such a score).

It is therefore a disappointment to see the IDC not engage in sufficient detail with the issues around the economic development strategy (some of which I have previously blogged on here and here).

The one new recommendation is that DFID should ensure that “country teams maintain a focus on wealth creation that includes marginalised groups”. The IDC is clearly concerned then that the ‘Global Britain’ language around aid in the national interest may lead to Britain’s trade and geopolitical interests dictating where aid goes rather than the UK’s commitment to tackling poverty and supporting the achievement of the SDGs.

This is very much in line with CARE’s recommendation, acknowledged in the report, that “DFID’s focus should not be on whether the global supplier is British but on whether the value chain fulfils the most development objectives such as incorporating the most women”.

This push to ensure the inclusion of marginalised groups is not really a new recommendation since, as the report itself explicitly acknowledges, the fairly recent IDC report on the Definition and Administration of ODA said “we recommended that poverty reduction should be the central pillar of UK ODA spending”.

The fact that the IDC has to spell out in its reports that this should be the case, despite the existence of the 2002 International Development Act, which explicitly requires the Secretary of State to be satisfied that the provision of development assistance is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty, shows that there is substantial continuing concern as to how the Government may use development aid in the pursuit of UK trade and geopolitical policy.

This is why the lack of depth of inquiry by the IDC into the thrust of the Economic Development Strategy is concerning. This lack of depth is highlighted by the report’s treatment of gender, which it lumps under the category of “marginalised groups”, despite DFID’s recent commitments on gender equality in its Strategic Vision for Gender Equality.

On a slightly more positive note, the IDC does note that “the evidence we received suggested that DFID could go further in its work on women’s economic development”, including noting CARE’s recognition of “an opportunity for DFID in conflict and displacement settings to sustain positive changes to gender roles where women’s participation in economic activities had already increased”.

However, the IDC’s framing of the issue as “women’s economic development“ is also arguably problematic. CARE’s (and many of our civil society allies’) concern is women’s economic empowerment. Talking about “women’s economic development” leaves too strong a possibility that policy will simply focus on jobs for women or simply access to resources such as bank accounts, credit or agricultural inputs.

Yet we know that women can only achieve their rights (including economic rights) if significant efforts are made to change norms and policies around what roles women (and men) can have, who bears the unpaid care burden, and how macroeconomic structures work to either support or undermine women.

We welcome the IDC noting CARE’s concerns on Decent Work, and the need for an ILO Convention on ending violence and harassment in the world of work. However, the IDC comes to no conclusions as to the implications of these for DFID’s approach to economic development.

Thus, overall, the report is disappointing: it hasn’t addressed key issues around DFID’s approach to economic development, quite specifically how it will ensure that its investment and the jobs created will economically empower women and address poverty. My overall rating for the IDC report on DFID’s Economic Development Strategy is therefore: Could have done better.

Gerry Boyle

Gerry led CARE International UK’s policy analysis and advocacy around value chains and dignified work. He originally joined CARE as the Senior Policy Adviser on Private Sector Engagement. With the advent of our new Global Programme Strategy which put a particular emphasis on women’s economic empowerment, his focus changed a little.

Gerry co-chaired the Bond Private Sector Working Group. Immediately before he joined CARE he worked for Oxfam as Head of Business Relations for about three years, but the vast majority of his career was spent as a management consultant including being a consulting Partner at Deloitte, where for a time he led Deloitte UK’s Consumer Business consulting practice, serving many major multinationals. Gerry's original degree was in Law from Oxford University, and in 2008 when he left Deloitte he did an MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy at LSE.

One good thing I've read

Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom. It provides a framework for many people’s modern understanding of what is development, based on a profoundly human-centred approach rather than anything instrumental. And to check whether one personally is doing enough to fight poverty, I recommend Peter Singer’s The life you can save: Acting now to end world poverty – it’s very clear and easy to read but very challenging! Finally, Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans: Rich nations, poor policies, and the threat to the developing world is a very readable guide to economic development which argues strongly against many of the prevailing orthodoxies.

Twitter: @gerryboyle10