Donor coordination 1: the challenges

 If one assumes that donors are above all committed to poverty reduction and improving the lives of the populations in their target countries, it would seem logical to think that they would have a strong interest in closely coordinating their activities, in the aim of increased efficiency and impact. However, in spite of significant efforts, donor coordination remains more an aim than a fact.

There are many reasons for this. They can be classified as “internal” to the traditional donor community and “external” to it (i.e., challenges within or outside of the direct control of the traditional donor community).

The most important internal reasons are:

  • A preference for one’s own procedures and approaches over those of others
  • Distrust of the capabilities of other donors in the particular field, country, etc.
  • The aim to maintain a certain profile and consequent unwillingness to pull back in favour of “the competition”
  • Competing or even contradictory goals and priorities
  • An interest in some partner countries to play one donor against others in order to obtain an advantage
  • Ignorance of what others are doing
  • Overreliance on overburdened administrations in the partner countries

Despite major efforts (for example, the High Level Forums, in Rome in 2003, Paris in 2005, and September 2008 in Accra) these obstacles have not been overcome over the last 40 years.

They are further complicated by the “external” challenges:

  • The proliferation of donors in the past 20 years
  • The significantly increased complexity of development cooperation programmes and projects

Not only are countries such as China and India very active, but the world has also seen a major increase in NGOs, religious donors, foundations, and other new entrants, some of which channel considerable amounts of money into development efforts. This influx of donors makes coordination vastly more difficult, as the interests, experience, objectives, etc., of the “new” donors must be taken into consideration.

Furthermore, as development cooperation has moved from relatively simple infrastructure or other direct support activities into policy, SWAP and other broadly-based interventions, the number of players in any one programme has significantly increased, and therefore also the coordination challenge.

While I do not deny the value of the high-level meetings and round tables on the subject of donor coordination, I believe that significant progress on this issue can only be achieved by radical measures. In coming blogs, I will propose some new ways of approaching donor coordination.

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