COMMENTARY: Responding to Shifting Trends in International Cooperation

12 04 2012

by Sebastian Reichman
ASSIST Intern
University of Applied Sciences Krems

A fundamental shift in the language landscape of international cooperation has taken place. In the 2005 Paris Declaration of OECDs “High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness”, the word ‘aid’ is mentioned 57 times, whereas ‘cooperation’ is only used twice. In the Busan Declaration of 2011, however, a reversal of pattern can be observed: ‘aid’ appears six times, and ‘cooperation’, 41 times.

This shift goes beyond simple word-games, as it reflects a deep change in the very nature of the process of development cooperation. Besides promoting solidarity and human rights, it is vital for solving global problems, such as food security and climate change. These problems are borderless in nature and require coordinated, global action to tackle, and the one-sided process of giving aid simply does not grasp the requirement for comprehensive cooperation society faces nowadays.

Development cooperation can also be seen as a contribution to the highly globalized world we nowadays find ourselves in. As a fact, globalization knows winners and losers and those who benefit face the moral obligation to share their dividends with those who lose.

The need to address climate change also calls to mind the concept of climate justice. Western countries had their phase of industrial revolution – a period of extremely high pollution – at a time when carbon emissions hardly received attention. However, this is not a thing of the past, as countries in the northwestern hemisphere still emit about 55% of the global emissions, while comprising merely one-fifth of the world’s population. Now that developing countries find themselves in a state of industrial development, bringing about improved living standards, it would be two-faced to deny them this progress.
Furthermore, growth’s meaning differs based on the socio-economic context. In the North, growth often refers to greater purchasing power or higher living standards, but in developing countries, it is a matter of life and death, of survival.

Scientific consensus proves that the current situation simply does not allow pollution at current levels if global warming is to be limited to 2 degrees Celsius. Henceforth Western countries face the moral imperative to employ their expertise in order to pursue this development on a sustainable basis. This can be achieved through bilateral aid and/or by supporting organizations that engage in the campaign to achieve development in sustainable terms.

The beneficiaries of achievements in this context are by no means the partners in developing countries only. In the same way challenges such as climate change do not know any borders, the alleviation of such problems as hunger, poverty, human rights violations and social injustice do not know any either. It is what economists like to call spillover benefits, where countries benefit from the world being a better place.

Partnerships for cooperation come in all shapes and sizes, but Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) in particular are emerging as effective means of generating and promoting innovation and entrepreneurial development.

By participating in public-private partnerships companies are able to improve their reputations, achieve product differentiation (think fair trade) and foster a sense of corporate identity. Beyond these benefits, companies simply have to react to consumer demands, as consumers increasingly require companies to deliver more than just good quality at a good price.

In addition, globalization and technological advancements increased public awareness for the imperative of development cooperation. Organizations can now deliver their messages in a far more comprehensive and sophisticated way, and the public responds as the world’s grievances transform from words into images and videos. This perfectly coincides with a broader realization of the process of globalization, which in turn inspires people to grasp the need for coordinated action.

But as promising these partnerships may be, there are challenges ahead which may be rooted in differences in ideology and values between the partners, the cultural and geographical distance, politically-loaded relationships and fragile social trust, among others.

Thankfully, organizations like ASSIST are emerging to help respond to these challenges, through their comprehensive capabilities in conceiving and handling projects to address the needs of the society. They can bring together appropriate partners, experts, relevant grants and civil society organizations, to make the vision of sustainable development a reality.#


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