Interview With Dr. Sarah Cliffe, World Development Report

Dr. Sarah Cliffe, Special Representative and Director for the World Development Report on Conflict, Security and Development, told the Global Observatory that she hopes discussions at the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness next month will include “the basic fact that no fragile or conflict-affected state has yet achieved a single one of the MDGs.”

“We also would like to see a discussion of more practical, monitorable measures that would help countries facing conflict,” she said.

Dr. Cliffe went on to discuss the role of the g7+ and the private sector in development aid; the identification of three key areas of development in societies affected by violence and the role of legitimate institutions and governance; and how conflict-affected states can prioritize their needs.

The interview was conducted on October 20, 2011 by Rachel Locke, Visiting Fellow, International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Interview Transcript

Rachel Locke (RL): In a little over a month, heads of state, development experts, civil society and business leaders will be gathering at the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness to take stock of how development aid has progressed since the Paris Declaration and to chart a path forward. Earlier this year, you led an expert group that authored the World Development Report (WDR) on conflict, security, and development. The WDR and other work has provided sufficient momentum to place fragile and conflict-affected states high on the agenda for Busan. How do you hope the results of the WDR will inform and influence the debate?

Dr. Sarah Cliffe (SC): The meeting in Busan is important because, of course, this is where the world’s development community takes stock of how aid has been performing in helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. One of the things we would most like to see highlighted there is the basic fact that no fragile or conflict-affected state has yet achieved a single one of the MDGs.

So, when we look at the core challenges going ahead between now and 2015—and beyond—really finding a sustainable way of exit from conflict and violence are the most central challenge to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

In terms of the World Development Reports results, what we would like to see highlighted there—the first would be the debate on how countries facing very fragile situations need to be able to prioritize building legitimate institutions that create confidence with their citizens, and that provide the crucial core areas of security, justice, and jobs.

The call for goals that are suited to conflict-affected countries is one of the key calls of the g7+ group of fragile states that they will present at Busan, and we very much support that.

We also would like to see a discussion of more practical, monitorable measures that would help countries facing conflict. So, the number of joint programs, for example, supported by donors which link up areas of traditional development, security, and justice; measures to respond faster; measures to maintain assistance through the length of time we now know it takes to build institutions in fragile situations and to decrease the volatility of assistance over that time.

RL: So, it sounds to me as though you are talking about adjusting the way that we act as the international community. You mentioned the g7+. It would be interesting to hear a little bit more about what role they can play in fostering this new kind of collaboration.

SC: So the g7+, which is a group of countries facing fragile situations—seventeen at present with more requests pending—who are getting together to strengthen their own policy voice on the international stage. They are a very important development, and to some extent, really a game changer in the way that we look at international dialogue on fragile states.

There are two key roles that the g7+ have been looking at: one is to work together to assess their own fragilities on risks and to exchange experiences on how to address them. The second is being able to formulate clear demands on the type of international assistance they believe is most needed to help their institutions. It makes an enormous difference to how that message—not just coming up individually country by country, but coming through a group of countries who bring that experience together.

RL: Going back to the substance of the World Development Report: as you mentioned, the report emphasizes tackling three key areas of development in societies affected by violence. Those were security, economic development or jobs, and justice. At the same time, it stresses that it will take strengthening legitimate institutions and governance systems in order to achieve progress in these areas. Can you elaborate a little bit more on the relationship between legitimate institutions and these three areas of your security, justice, and jobs?

SC: The World Development Report found that legitimate institutions were actually the central common factor to the different types of violence that we see today. Not only traditional civil wars where rebel movements face governments, but also political protests which can escalate into direct violence, and, in some cases, civil conflict which is changed into criminal violence, threats.

The common factor here was that countries with weaker institutions, or where those institutions were not trusted by the populations, faced higher risks of violence. Capacity of institutions is obviously important; countries that can’t provide services or security have difficulty in combating violent threats, but so is accountability of institutions. For example, we found that countries with high level of human rights and corruption have between thirty to forty five percent higher risk of violent conflict in the future. That, I think, is a very important signal, because sometimes governments think they can keep a lid on conflict by patronage systems or by very heavy-handed security approaches, but, in fact, the evidence shows that all that does is store up problems for the future.

When we look at the lessons of successful transitions, building legitimate institutions that are trusted by citizens played a very key role in countries that have managed position processes well, from Mozambique, to Indonesia, to Chile, or Argentina. But they played a role in a slightly different way from how we normally think about institutions for development. For development in general, all sorts of institutions are important: from banking institutions, to infrastructure, to private sector institutions. When we’re talking about peacebuilding the most important institutional priorities were to have parts of the state that were trusted to provide security and justice to citizens, and economic institutions that could generate jobs. So, a more specific focus that we would normally see in developing countries as a whole.

RL: One of the challenges that we often see in fragile states and countries emerging from conflict has to do with how to prioritize all of the plethora of overwhelming needs that these societies are facing. What do your recommendations say in terms of how we prioritize and then how we operationalize support in these three areas?

SC: The three areas, of course, themselves are a pretty focused set of priorities, because when we think normally about development needs of poor countries, you would think about twenty to thirty sectors. So, we are already saying here that there are some lessons on some core priorities that countries, in general, have found are necessary in a process.

Within those areas, the most important way of focusing priorities, we believe, is to listen directly to what citizens want. If you think that the challenge here is not to build technocratic institutions, the challenge is to build trust between citizens and their state, then you need to understand what citizens really see as priorities for change.

If we take, for instance, the recent revolutions in North Africa, or the conflict in Libya and the transition now going forward, understanding what people see as their highest priority for change is the best way to set priorities.

RL: What will be the implications for these messages that you’ve been talking about, and the overall WDR messages more broadly for the World Bank itself, in terms of its own operations in fragile contexts?

SC: The World Bank very quickly completed a discussion in its own management and board of how to operationalize the WDR. Some of the core elements of this are to put central to our strategies in countries that are facing risks of violence or risk of conflict recurring, measures by which we can link up with national efforts and with other international efforts to try to prevent that from occurring. Some of the very nitty-gritty, not-so-glamorous areas of organizational reform, which is still important to help institutions like ours do better, like improving the speed of our assistance, and the way in which we can adapt it to country contexts. One of the ways that we doing that is by moving the center of our global support to countries teams to Nairobi through a new hub on conflict, security, and development, which will provide service to the countries close to the area which are facing those challenges.

Last, we had a commitment that we think in practice will be very important in shifting the way the Bank works, to try to engage in more joint programs with other actors where we may bring the development or public finance side of that, but we work with other actors such as the United Nations, who bring more of the political and security expertise.

RL: Finally, and this relates to working with others: external communities’ efforts to improve the lives of people living in fragile states center, to a large extent, on international institutions and governments. In this equation, however, the private sector also plays a crucial role: how can the immense capital reserves, innovative capacity, and entrepreneurship of the private sector be harnessed to achieve development goals and to make societies more peaceful?

SC: The private sector plays a crucial role in several ways in areas that are affected by conflict. First, of course, it is the greatest and longest-lasting generator of jobs. So, when we argue that jobs are important for peacebuilding, that really needs close work with the private sector.

Private sector actors are also very major investors in natural resources. We know that natural resources can be an actual source of conflict risk for countries. So the efforts that they have made to set standards for investments and for transparent management of international investments in national and natural resources are important.

Last, and perhaps a more recent development: the increasing involvement of private-sector actors in social initiatives, and the burgeoning social entrepreneurship which looks at privately-driven solutions to development problems, is a very important development. So that provides an opportunity, we think, to have a marketplace of innovative ideas coming up from people working at the edges of private sector and public action.

RL: Thank you.