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5 things I learned at the Bond Conference – Day 2

And that’s a wrap – here are some thoughts from the closing day of the 2018 Bond Conference.

1, Leading from the Global South has become a more prominent conversation in the North, but this is only the beginning of a very long road ahead

The Leading from the global south session was pretty much the reason I decided to attend the conference, and it did not disappoint. The speakers deconstructed some of the reasons behind continued power imbalances between North and South and highlighted the importance of acknowledging the work the South has ALREADY been leading on for a long time. As Jessica Horn said, “African women are always talked about but rarely listened to… and highly undocumented in what we do.” Ambika Satkunanathan highlighted changing power disparities as the key priority, and posed the challenging question of how donors can support without diluting the principles and values of organisations operating at the local level in Southern countries.

2. Northern organisations are grappling with how to be ‘fit for the future’, but there are no easy answers

The other side of the coin is to “know when you need to step back”, as Ronald Siebes from the Dutch MFA put it. Is the North really ready to relinquish some of the power and control it currently holds as one of the key sources of funds in development? The complex question of how we build genuinely equitable partnerships between the Global South and North will be the focus of my upcoming research – so please be in touch if you have views you’d be willing to share.

3. We need to have a discussion about the role of technology in development (#DevTech?)

It seems to me (a decided non-expert) that technological solutions to development problems have become synonymous with innovation. I’m not entirely sure why, but the idea that accessing more data, or using Artificial Intelligence to gather data, will radically transform the sector makes me slightly uncomfortable. Perhaps because I don’t think that lack of data is the key barrier to effective development interventions. With my PEA hat on, I believe a greater challenge is getting policymakers to act on that data, especially when it conflicts with their political interests. I’m not a technology sceptic, and DevTech will be an undeniable part of the future, but overstating its role seems unwise.

=> Challenge me on this!  What are some of the ways that technology can and will transform development?

4. The Oxfam scandal still still looms large

One session addressed the role of the media in reporting on Oxfam, asking: was there too much coverage? Was it disproportionate? Audience members commented that other industries face similar crises, but no-one is talking about killing the film industry because of Harvey Weinstein, or the football industry in the UK because of instances of sexual abuse. I appreciate the differences: neither of those are funded directly by taxpayer money, and therefore we rightfully hold international development to a higher standard. But there is an interesting dilemma when it comes to media coverage on development: reporting so intensively on scandals seems to have a disproportionate effect on whether or not people feel the sector has a right to exist. No easy answers, but something to interrogate further.

5. Inspiration and connection count for a lot

It’s rather easy to be cynical about large conferences and their utility (I know from painful personal experience, having organised similar events in the past). I can only speak from my own perspective, but I found that connecting with people who are thinking through the same challenges and dilemmas is heartening. It can help you feel like you’re on the right track.

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and was particularly grateful to meet some powerful, intelligent women working to call out and combat pervasive issues of racism in international development.

Onwards and upwards.

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