Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 17:19 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 Nov 2020 | 17:19 | SYDNEY

Dust settles on Lowy aid conference


Danielle Cave


8 July 2010 13:58

As previously reported here, the Lowy Institute hosted a unique international conference in Sydney on 16-18 June: Advancing innovative development and aid strategies in the Asia-Pacific: Accelerating the Millennium Development Goals. The conference was supported by AusAID and the Myer Foundation. It aimed to broaden what has been a very narrow debate on aid and development in Australia, with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region.

The conference brought together key decision-makers across government, civil society, multilateral and bilateral donors, the private sector and philanthropists. A huge effort was made by the Institute to identify and attract voices that are rarely heard this far south. Social media proved to be a particularly useful tool in identifying individuals and organisations undertaking forward-thinking research and initiatives in this space. 

Video, audio, PowerPoint presentations, conference background material and a gallery of conference photos can be trawled through here. Of particular importance is the final conference report, which strings together the key themes that emerged from the conference discussion. It is not the quickest read, at 20 pages, but it is certainly worth it, as it pinpoints gaps and issues that need greater attention if we are going to speed up MDG progress; it also notes that a number of important factors are not covered by the MDG framework.

If this is your area of interest, I would highly recommend giving an hour of your time to the public discussion video on 'the impact of aid on development'. In step with one of the key themes of the conference ('transformative technologies'), a wireless voting system was employed, and the voting results are also on our website.

The discussion was moderated by Dr Alison Evans (Director of the Overseas Development Institute) and involved a panel comprising of The Hon. Misa Telefoni Retzlaff (Deputy Prime Minister, Samoa), Professor Peter Singer (Princeton University) and The Hon. Bob McMullan MP (pictured; Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Australian Government).

The conference session on 'New development partners – private sector, philanthropy and new funding models' generated the most buzz. While one could argue that in fact these development partners are not really 'new', they are obviously new enough to not comfortably fit into the components of the current aid architecture established to help donors coordinate effectively.

Conference attendees were fascinated by some of the initiatives announced by the philanthropy and private sector speakers, and it was interesting to watch how little knowledge there was in the room about what these organisations were exploring, funding and implementing in the countries they operate in across the Asia-Pacific.

Erna Witoelar, UN Special Ambassador for the MDGs in the Asia-Pacific 2003-2007, recommended that the conference would have benefited from having a media representative as a speaker. She commented that the media should play a much bigger role in accelerating progress towards the MDGs and sustainable development in general in the Asia-Pacific. This was a great suggestion and something we will certainly be taking into consideration for the future.

Australia is in dire need of interesting and fresh policy discussion and reporting in this area. Outside of a very tired and increasingly boring debate on the amount of aid Australia spends on technical assistance, there is very little public debate or coverage on the progress of the MDGs, Australia's overseas development assistance program, aid partnerships and on the innovative and technological advancements that could benefit the aid agenda.

I am not arguing that the spotlight on technical assistance be removed; it is important, and as such is regularly covered in the media. However, I, for one, am craving information on what is happening now in aid and development-related issues around the world, and have been accustomed to going abroad here, here, here and here to get my fix.