Global Development Institute Blog

Professors Khalid Nadvi and David Hulme, current and former managing directors of GDI

Last week saw the merger of the FCO and DFID, to create the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

In the midst of a global pandemic, we believe it’s absolutely essential that DFID’s focus on reducing poverty, addressing inequalities and promoting multilateral cooperation is maintained. But at the same time, there’s an opportunity for the FCDO to think about development beyond aid programmes, as a dynamic global process that goes far beyond the traditional conceptions of ‘international’ development.

We have worked closely with DFID since its establishment in 1997 particularly on identifying and addressing chronic poverty, promoting the social protection agenda, deepening the contribution that global value chains (GVCs) make to well-being, developing pathways towards environmental sustainability, understanding the ways in which politics shape development outcomes and building better urban futures, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Launched under the dynamic and (often) forceful leadership of Clare Short, DFID became one of the world’s leading development agencies in the early 2000s. Its shift from a narrow focus on delivering aid projects to an ambitious agenda of promoting pro-poor global development was influential around the world. It shaped thinking in many of the leading international bodies- from the World Bank to various UN agencies, and it helped drive a global effort on poverty reduction. DFID’s support of the MDGs as a way to re-shape international social norms should be particularly lauded. Not only did they help focus poverty reduction efforts nationally and internationally, the MDGs laid the groundwork for the more ambitious and equitable Sustainable Development Goals.

Since 1997 the world has changed enormously. Millions of people have escaped from chronic poverty, enabling many countries to assume a positive and assertive view of their own development trajectories. Yet at the same time, inequalities within many countries have grown, climate change has accelerated, and multilateral cooperation has atrophied.

This year, the Covid-19 pandemic has brutally exposed the continuing vulnerabilities in our more globalised era, especially the linked vulnerabilities around poverty, inequality and sustainability. This is a critical juncture in our understanding of how the world works, and how we in the UK work to build a better, more socially just and more sustainable world order. The challenge for the FCDO is to retain the most effective elements of DFID’s agenda, but to conceive of it in a broader, more universal framing. We think that the idea of global development captures this well.

Covid-19 is a prime example of a development challenge for all countries, through the failure of public health as a global public good. The pandemic has highlighted the falsity of any assumption that the Global North has all the expertise and solutions to tackle global challenges, and has further highlighted the need for multi-directional learning and transformation in all countries towards a more sustainable and equitable world.

FCDO will need to be part of the process of thinking and building towards a better post Covid world in which promoting global sustainable development goals are at the very heart of international relations. This will require new ideas and new ways of working. It will require a reconsideration of how global trade and global, regional and local value chains are constructed in ways that build local capabilities, strengthen local communities, address sustainability challenges and reduce inequalities in the Global South and the Global North.  It will require thinking more carefully about the incorporation of new technologies, the use of digital processes and data management to build more effective public infrastructures across the world. It will also require a more participatory and inclusive models of terms of the politics of development, recognising the agency of local actors and local processes in shaping new and better outcomes. And, finally, addressing the climate challenges will be paramount in bringing about a sustainable world for future generations to enjoy and thrive in.

Global development cannot be brought about through a narrow nationalist vision based on the interests of UK plc. Britain’s global interests and global influence can only be effectively achieved if it engages in a global and multilateral rules-based order that ensures that the interests of the poor and marginalised are central.

DFID’s focus on reducing extreme poverty and its energetic promotion of the need for multilateral action to achieve the MDGs and more recently the SDGs has benefited poor people around the world and has enhanced the public image of the UK in so many countries. We hope sincerely that FCDO can build on the extraordinary legacy it is bequeathed by DFID. This will be challenging because of Covid-19, but it also needs to be an opportunity for a clear-eyed reflection for how the world, and development has already changed. We, at the Global Development Institute, as one element of the international knowledge system, look forward to building on our long-standing ties with the ‘old’ DFID and working with the ‘new’ FCDO.


Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash
Note:  This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole