General Synod and the Night Train to DfID

A colleague and I are catching the sleeper – separate berths I should stress –  to Glasgow tonight for a meeting tomorrow with Department for International Development officials ahead of Andrew Mitchell’s speech to the General Synod next month. This is a long way to go for a conversation with DfID, but East Kilbride is the glamorous out of London location of DfiD’s Civil Society Department.

DfID's East Kilbride Office

Next monday will be the third time that a Secretary of State for International Development has addressed the General Synod, the Church’s Parliament. The first time was in 1998 with Claire Short. The last occasion was with Hillary Benn in 2004.

On each occasion the Secretary of State has filled the Synod chamber with a champagne style glow that then appears to go flat all too quickly. Why does champagne leave you with the mother of all hangovers?

A cautious Andrew Mitchell - Secretary of State for International Development

Successive occupants at the Department for International Development have been all to eager to affirm the depth and reach of the Church’s international work but slow – even resistant – when it comes to harnessing the Church’s potential. It’s as if DfID doesn’t do faith-based development.

I’m not sure whether this reflects a lack of religious literacy on behalf of DfID or a more deep-rooted prejudicial objection against faith-based development. What do you think?

My hope is that the business like style of this Coalition Government and a willingness to base policy around what works might open up new avenues for partnership. That’s the hope anyway in inviting Andrew Mitchell to address next month’s General Synod!

The General Synod - The Church of England's Parliament

I was excited when I read the Conservative Party’s 2009 Green Paper on International Development titled, One World Conservatism: A Conservative Agenda for International Development. The prospect of a non-bureaucratic approach to international development is one that the Church has championed for many years.

The Church has consistently argued that the community based approach offered by the churches and other voluntary organisations provides the best means by which aid recipients can be agents of their own development. This work has the benefit of providing a values based approach to international development and one that is of value to British taxpayers.

Development expert - Paul Collier

Last Thursday, in the margins of a lunch with the Archbishop of Canterbury and Andrew Mitchell, I had an opportunity to talk this all through with the development expert Professor Paul Collier. If you haven’t read his book the Bottom Billion you should.

Collier argues that much of our understanding of development has been based on the Big State model that depends for its success on the internalisation of motivation. This model might have worked well in places like Finland, but it has singularly failed when exported to Africa.

Collier argues that the reason why Churches and faith communities have a proven track record in delivering basic services like health and education is because they are intrinsically motivated to serve people and that this internalisation of motivation matters quantitatively in away that distinguishes them from other public sector service providers.

His argument is backed up by some pretty rigorous research provided by one his former students, Ritva Reinikka, who now heads up the World Bank’s Health Programme. 

Ritva Reinikka - Working for God at the World Bank

Reinikka shows in Working for God that faith matters in a country like Uganda. Her research shows that if the contracted party can be trusted not to shirk or benefit itself, policy makers – and taxpayers or donors – can be more confident that services will be delivered according to their preferences even if the contract cannot be detailed or monitored.

This finding naturally has major implications for public investment decisions. It should also have ramifications for the way that DfID sees faith development.

Although there is little empirical evidence on religious non-profit health care provision in other developing countries, it must be hoped that the work of Paul Collier and Ritva Reinikka stimulates further investigation.

Who knows, in time it might actually encourage DfID to back up their rhetoric by actually working through faith communities. If DfID really are interested in a results based approach to development then they could do no better than look to use the church’s faithful capital.

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3 Responses to General Synod and the Night Train to DfID

  1. Claudine Haenni D. says:

    Dear Charles, champagne doesn’t give you a mother-of-all hangovers if it is of good quality…. or if you haven’t imbibed too much of it…. So, the issue is less who is invited to speak, but more how much is made of it afterwards…. Regards, Claudine

    • Thanks Claudine – You’re absolutely right, we need to work harder in using such events as stepping stones in a wider process of engagement. Maybe we should forget the champagne and go for a more balanced diet of beer and sandwiches.

  2. Pingback: The General Synod and DfID – East Kilbride Reflections | Ethics and Foreign Policy

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