Fragility is also an opportunity

One of the more difficult issues aid organizations are facing is how to plan and conduct interventions in fragile situations where armed conflict is still going on, or recently have ended. There are formidable challenges involved in assisting the world’s poorest people who live under the conditions of a wretched society.

But, turning the coin, there are also opportunities.

Large structural changes, however necessary, are often hard to carry through in stable societies due to all kinds of factors ranging from vested interests to institutional inertia. In a country coming out of a conflict there is less concern with existing structures and state-building can almost start from scratch.

These opportunities were discussed on 23 October when researchers, policy makers, NGO-people and students gathered in the Charlottehaven conference centre in Copenhagen for the ReCom results meeting ‘Challenges in Fragility and Governance’. The position paper on fragility and governance was also presented there by UNU-WIDER research fellow Rachel Gisselquist.

Unfortunately, the history of donors involvment in state-building is not very encouraging.

One of the reasons mentioned during the meeting is that donors are risk-averse and do not trust the competence of their people on the ground to make the right decisions.

Ellen Margrethe Løj, a former UN Special Representative for Liberia, noted that it is much easier to do planning for fragile states ‘in an air-conditioned office at the UN building in New York’ than on the ground. When facts change donors do not easily adopt.

The key lesson from the day was that donors need to ‘act fast and stay long’. This requires both a good assessment of the task ahead and a realistic view of the challenges involved, but also competent people with local knowledge and flexibility to local circumstances. And their interventions should be co-ordinated with other actors, most importantly diplomats, but also others such as the military and the police.

A report from the Copenhagen meeting can be found here and video recordings here.

UNU-WIDER had a follow-up meeting around the same theme in New York a couple of days later and Roger Williamson’s report can be found here.

This brings us to another of the five themes that are under scrutiny in ReCom, gender inequality, where there is also lots of opportunities for development. As the Norwegian minister Heikki Eidsvoll Holmås wrote in a recent guest article for the WiderAngle: for his country’s economy it is more important that women are part of the work force than is the whole oil industry.

‘For society to prosper, all human capital must be utilized. In other words, gender issues are not just women’s issues, they are crucial for men as well.’

Our last ReCom results meeting ‘Aid for Gender Equality’ will be arranged at the Eigtveg Pakhus in Copenhagen on 16 December. We have changed the date from the 5th of December mentioned in the previous newsletter. The conference web site with programme and registration will be open from the beginning of November.

Hope to see you there.

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