The following is a somewhat long article derived from the session on alleviating poverty at the Clinton Conference. Only recommended for those interested in the subject.
The Rockefeller Foundation sponsored the session on Poverty. Judith Rodin, their President, assumed leadership. It is one of those American paradoxes that Rockefeller, a name associated with extreme wealth should also be America´s leading name in relation to poverty alleviation. Americans however would probably argue in a practical manner that it is only the wealthy the ones who have the resources to solve the problems of the poor. The room has around 250 people distributed amongst many round tables. There´s a project in Africa called University on the Move a nomadic university. Rockefeller Foundation and others have invested 150 million dollars in helping university education in Africa, not an insignificant amount of money.
Judith told us that the Poverty Workshop has to come up with measurable, observable and tangible outputs. Whatever plans are drawn here should be plans that can be embraced by beneficiaries as their own. She ended calling all of us to use the audacity of our imagination.
Sandy Berger, former National Security Advisor was the moderator. Sandy started by saying that he started on a wrong foot cause he is doing two faux pas; firstly, speaking after Bill Clinton and secondly, speaking in front of Oprah Winfrey. These are two faces that represent the cause of global poverty.
1200 hundred children will die today of poverty. The combined GDP of the 48 poorest countries is less than the wealth of the worlds 3 richest people. On the positive side there´s never been a larger movement commited to the alleviation of global poverty. Our challenge is to narrow the gap between what we know and what we do.
Paul Wolfowitz was introduced as the 10th President of the World Bank and a person who has spent all his life in public service. We are 5 years into the announcement of the millenium goals set in 2000 and the news is mixed. The absolute numbers of people in extreme poverty in the world is declining thanks to China and India. That is good news. The bad news is Subsaharan Africa. Progress there has been probably non existent. Wolfowitz thinks that fighting corruption is tremendously important. The bribe givers are generally from developed countries, developed countries have to change vis a vis corruption. Recently $1bn were returned to Nigeria from the former dictator Swiss accounts. Nigeria is also going through a period of free press which Wolfowitz finds encouraging. As I listen to Wolfowitz going on about transparency I think of his role in promoting the Iraqi war arguing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and I wonder how he got to run the World Bank and speak like this.
Donald Kaberukca is the President of the African Development Bank. Kaberucka believes that Millenium Goals are being met in the rest of the world, but not in Africa. While he believes there´s a big opportunity for improvement so far progress is not there. Kaberucka had a good point. The best example of AID at work has been the European Union. When AID is accompanied by a huge institutional reform as it happened when Spain or Portugal joined the European Union when it is consistently delivered over time it works. I agree with him. Europe is the best example of effective use of Aid to transition from LDC status to developed country status.
Kamal Dervis is head of UNDP. He was a minister of the economy of Turkey and is credited for managing a successful turnaround after Turkey´s collapse 5 yrs ago. President of the African Development Bank. Kamal thinks that the Millenium goals themselves are a fantastic objective cause they are measurable and achievable. It is the people of the developing countries that have to achieve these goals. But they need an enabling environment and with only 10% of what the world spends on the military the Millenium goals can be achieved. He argues that accute poverty is closely related to armed conflicts and that without dealing with these conflicts it will be hard to eliminate it. Personally I think this is only partly true. I see tremendous poverty in many areas of the world without conflict. I also think that it is remarkable that the 200 million poor in Latin America are not even mentioned by these figures. Dervis also adds that agricultural barriers of $70bn would mean that a significant part of $70bn would flow to developing countries providing the agricultural goods. Still he says that the way to tackle this is to help those who lose out when those subsidies are lifted.
Paul Wolfowitz said that the good thing about development is that so many people want to help. The bad thing is that there are so many people and they are so hard to manage. Paul Wolfowitz things that donor coordination is essential. If not, it is like watching 8 year old play soccer, all running after the ball and the rest of the field is uncovered. He made a point that coordination is essential to help in a balanced way. Surprisingly I find myself agreeing with Wolfowitz on this one. I have thought that the Gates vaccine drive for example could increase the number of adults available for armed conflict if there are no other interventions that give jobs to the saved children as adults.
My contributions to the workshop:
Then the workshop started and we were asked to give ideas on what is it that the developed world should do to alleviate the problem of global poverty. We were asked for concrete proposals. My proposal was that the G8 agree on a global version of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Two decades ago United States passed a law that makes it a crime in America to bribe overseas. Europeans and Asians did not pass similar laws. In my view a lot would be achieved if the G8 all agree on a more global version of the Foreign Corrupt Practices act.
Another idea that I had is to have a millenium electronic credit card that is distributed directly to the world´s poor. A lot of aid is lost through beaurocracies, which could be mitigated if the ultimate recipients of this help got credit cards. In general the idea would be to use technology to deliver aid. A type of paypal for the needy that assures that aid gets to the final user more directly. Internet has been used to cut the middle man in many ways. Now we have an opportunity to cut the waste that is involved in aid both on the NGO side (and the corruption and beaurocracy) on the receiving side.
Design for the Poor. Transportation for the poor, housing for the poor, computing for the poor, affordable medicine, affordable food, etc. To make consumer society come up with products that are more affordable. India is a country that has a lot of experience in making extremely affordable mass production of less expensive goods and services. T
A LDC Common Market. Poor countries are unable to sign trade agreements with rich countries because rich countries generally don´t allow the goods (mostly agricultural) of poor countries to be imported, and they get flooded with imports that make whatever fragile industry they do have go out of business. But before a global free trade agreement that is truly free and unsubsidized can be signed countries who have the same level of development should team up and sign their own free trade areas.
Free movement of people. In general I believe that all countries in the world should allow free movement of people between their country and other countries that are not likely to produce population imbalance. For example the United States and the European Union should allow their citizens to work in each other countries. This would help the EU and the United States economy and there would not be any big migration either way. The same could be true of poor countries. Free movement of labor enriches all.
Workshops worked with the methodology of America Speaks . Basically there are 10 people at each table. First all members introduce themselves saying their names and affiliations and then they are all given a question to debate and answer. Answers are sent via a wifi network to one person who reads them and projects them on to a screen so the whole room of 250 people can see everyone else´s ideas. A commentator then reads the answers to all. At Davos they use a similar methodology but they ask one person to be the table moderator and another person to be the table rapporteur. Then there´s a session that lasts maybe one hour in which each table gets 3 minutes to speak about the conclusions and ideas that came at the table. That system is better if you have less than 100 people in a room. For more than that the America Speaks system is best as there´s simply no time to listen to so many ideas.
Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars