Goodbye and hello ReCom!

December 2013
Carl-Gustav Linden

The research programme ReCom – Research and communication on foreign aid – is ending this year. There is a large and unique collection of research synthesising the impact of development cooperation – more than 220 working papers which are the result of collaboration between more than 270 researchers worldwide. The key messages have been put into five so-called position papers for each of the five themes. By every measure it is quite an achievement.

The whole idea of researching what works, what could work, what is scalable and what is transferable in foreign aid has been driven by the ambition of both researchers and funders (Sida and Danida) in order to bring substantial new knowledge into the development debate. This is also the largest collaboration to date by UNU-WIDER with policy makers in designing and sharing research.

When ReCom was started less than three years ago the global discussion was still very much influenced by Dambisa Moyo and her bestseller Dead Aid (2009). That was a pamphlet, not a piece of research, but it was still perceived by many as a truthful account of the real effects of foreign aid. What we suggest now is that people instead turn to robust research evidence when searching for new arguments in the debate about development aid. One key finding in ReCom is after all that aid, even though it is a relatively small source of funds at the global scale, actually works most of the time contrary to what seems to have become quite popular belief. And the internal return on aid, if we want to discuss aid efficiency, is surprisingly high at 16%.

The outcomes of ReCom have also been influenced by two years of discussion with aid practitioners and policy makers; an exchange of views and insights that has been crucial to, for instance, the position papers. This month we met for the last time to discuss aid effectiveness under the ReCom flag. We had a really impressive group of people gathering in Copenhagen on 16 December to think about aid and gender equality. For those who weren’t able to come we provide the opportunity to watch the videos we recorded.

One participant was a strong woman from Bangladesh, the Speaker of the Parliament Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury who’s views can be found in this last ReCom newsletter.

External Research Director Caren Grown, Economist in Residence at American University in Washington DC, presented the overreaching themes of the research at the beginning of the day. A key theme she identified was the tension between a rights-based approach to gender issues and the instrumental case, women’s empowerment and gender equality as a means to achieve human development which is the way donor agencies frame the gender issues.

Caren Grown also noted that there is now is a broad agreement, including in the World Bank, that economic growth alone ‘doesn’t do the trick for equality’. Other dimensions are forgotten, such as power relations and social issues.

‘The issue is not to get women into the labour market, but to improve the conditions under which they work’, she said.

Women in the world work two hours more than men per day, and even in a country considered equal, like Sweden, women do more housework.

Since most of the world’s poor people make their living from farming, land ownership is also crucial. In the Indian state of Karnataka women own 20% of all land, but in general the land is of lesser quality and  represents only 12% of the value of land. Still, in a country like Ecuador, women own the majority of land.

One of the moderators of the day, Roger Williamson from IDS, Sussex, condensed the discussion of the day in this report. Gry Tina Tinde, senior advisor at Norad, put her reflections on Slide Share and our Storify piece based on pictures and tweets can be found here.

In this month’s newsletter you can read about; how sustainable jobs could be promoted in Mozambique; what has been the effect of foreign aid on the fiscal discipline of Uganda; further research on the effect of microfinance on poverty; and what can different academic approaches tell us about aid effectiveness.

As already mentioned, this is the last of the ReCom newsletters. Readers are invited to subscribe to the WIDERAngle instead which gives a comprehensive update of ReCom and UNU-WIDER activities every month. The ReCom website will be regularly updated with new material such as working papers and research briefs, and videos.

Carl-Gustav Lindén is Senior Communications Specialist, UNU-WIDER