Solheim: All we need to end absolute poverty is political will
Last night I attended the launch of the OECD Ending Poverty report. The panel included Erik Solheim, Sabina Alkire, Jamie Drummond, Priyanthi Fernando and Homi Kharas. It was quite a lively event particularly as they decided to forego the traditional Q & A section allowing audience members to raise their hands as soon as they had a point or question to make. It worked because the moderator Matthew Taylor was excellent and commanding (wholeheartedly recommend him!).
Some very quick reflections from the event:
- Addressing Insecurity and Violence: I got the first question in which was along the lines of “The majority of world’s poor will live in countries affected by violence and insecurity by 2030. Should we address the peace agenda within the post-2015 framework?”. Solheim responded that ending war was critical for ending poverty. Drummond strongly agreed highlighting that even stable countries like Ghana are worried about spillover effects of instability, although he put more emphasis on need for good governance (n.b. ONE do a lot of work on transparency and accountability). Fernando made the point about the need for a universal agenda stating there are “power struggles in development” and alluded to the need to move beyond this competitiveness.
- Political will: Solhiem and Kharas clashed repeatedly during the discussion. Solheim said we could end absolute poverty “all we need is political will”. Kharas was more cautious commenting that “we don’t know everything….if we want to get to zero we will have to do something different”.
- The China Model & Good Governance: At one point, it seemed like Kharas was endorsing the China model and Taylor challenged him on whether he felt a strong centralised state – like that in China – was necessary for ending poverty. Kharas responded saying that it is also about bottom up empowerment using the example of m-pesa in Kenya. It actually led to a really interesting discussion on what type of politicians we need with most of the panellists agreeing that bottom-up pressure is key to changing policy and improving politician’s decisions (e.g. China’s leadership under pressure to improve pollution). Fernando was one of the only panellists to talk about the need for global governance reform. This led to one of the audience members to eloquently make the case that we need an education system that led people to change their mind-sets from just thinking about ending poverty to asking questions on a larger-scale (i.e. why are we not studying the unequal effects of globalisation?).
- Can We End Poverty? Solheim reiterated the need for political will, while Drummond stated, “yes we can, but we won’t” unless all citizens make an effort and actually care. He further commented that “there is a war in each one of us between apathy and interest” arguing that we spend meaningless time watching X Factor and reading the Daily Mail rather than the bigger issues like fighting poverty, which led Taylor to reject the moral equivalence of watching the X Factor and reading the Daily Mail (cue laughter). Perhaps most interesting was Homi Kharas who addressed the framework as a whole. He was not confident; reasoning that if it were another North-South, Rich-Poor framework – it would fail. Overall, he articulated the need for national leadership and the buy-in of private sector to create jobs. He also said that understanding what is actually sustainable development would be essential.
I went with a friend who does not work on development issues who complained that all they seem to do at these things is say what is obviously important – for example, education, addressing inequality – but asked if anyone is actually doing anything! Welcome to the wonderfully, inexact and frustrating world of post-2015.