One side effect of the pandemic has been to set in motion a unique global experiment within development cooperation. Field staff were withdrawn from many country offices in the global South in 2020 and recalled to their head offices in Europe and North America. However, the affected development programmes did not necessarily stall. In fact, the opposite happened in some cases. A joint study by international non-governmental organisations and Australia’s La Trobe University, for instance, shows that the withdrawal of field staff from programmes in Oceania has significantly expanded the decision-making space for local stakeholders. When future approaches of governmental and non-governmental development cooperation are discussed, the benefits of this kind of localisation of development cooperation should be taken into account.
Public attention is currently focused primarily on the hardship and economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is undoing the development gains that many countries in the global South and development cooperation have made in recent decades. Additionally, it will now be near impossible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within the envisaged time frame. Despite all of this, development cooperation can also learn lessons from local responses to the pandemic. The aforementioned study is a good example. It shows that, as a result of the withdrawal of field staff from development programmes, local expertise and networks have been used more frequently, cooperation between local stakeholders has increased, hierarchies have been reduced, and decision-making has been decentralised. In addition to local staff members of development organisations and their partner organisations, stakeholders at national level have also been more able to influence priorities, as they no longer saw the agenda as being dominated by international experts. According to this study, the changes brought about by the pandemic have indirectly strengthened national and local ownership of development initiatives, something that is difficult to achieve in development cooperation.
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This publication first appeared on the DIE site.
Author: Michael Roll and Tim Kornprobst (DIE).
The views are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ETTG.