What about the private sector?

Like many who watched live, or later observed the social networks light up, I was pleased to hear the Australian aid program get some airplay reasonably early in this election. I thought it was strongly delivered by a very articulate and sensible leader – importantly the message came across as authentic, delivered by someone who believes in our role on the global stage through aid and development. It was also great to hear Tanya Plibersek talk with conviction about the importance of the aid program and the impact of budget cuts.

This weekend, however, I was left with the feeling that something was missing. It is still not clear whether I see this as a purposeful omission, or just that not everything can be captured in a soundbite. Maybe the strong presence of the NGO community at the announcement naturally influences the shape of any message. Regardless of the why, the lack of consideration of the role of the private sector in development in this announcement was curious.

I am not for a moment saying I am against the NGO community and their leadership – to the contrary, their leadership and public stance should be applauded. However, it would be hard to imagine addressing the SDGs more completely than we did the MDGs without the involvement of the private sector, in all of its permutations.

Some might recall me publicly opine similar subject matter when the Foreign Minister launched the new aid paradigm a while back; I shared my cautious optimism at the future with the acknowledgement of the role of the private sector in contributing to positive development. Similarly articulate and well-reasoned by someone who I still think cares about development.

I am not advocating for any particular political party. I am hopeful at some point in time that regardless of political affiliation all our nation’s leaders align on the importance of the aid program and invest in it accordingly.

Involvement, for me, is a key word. We are all in this together. I remain convinced that no NGO (either in its own right or as a conglomerate), no single UN agency, no single donor and certainly not the private sector alone is the panacea for what is needed. Together, though, we might be.

Now that the role and value of the private sector in development has gathered some momentum, it would be a shame for this feature of the Australian aid program to recede. Let’s hope this topic’s relative silence in this announcement is more to do with speechwriting and the maturity of NGO advocacy than it does with future policy framing.

Mel Dunn

Mel Dunn is Vice President, International Development at AECOM. He is also a White Ribbon Ambassador, standing up against violence against women.

5 Comments

  • Hi,

    I’m the Director of the Campaign for Australian Aid – this thread was brought to my attention.

    We will be amending our website to make it clearer about how organisations can becoming fee paying members of the campaign. In the meantime, if you would like to join, feel free to e-mail me at tonymilne@australianaid.org and I will send you membership information.

    Our first priority was uniting the NGO aid sector behind the campaign and reaching out to our core supporters to start to grow the campaign and its capacity. Our focus is now shifting to business, church, community and other groups to grow the movement.

    About a year ago we had 25 members, now we have 54 aid NGOs, plus 18 business, church, union and community groups. We would welcome the involvement of others – this is just the start of rebuilding the advocacy and campaign strength needed to shift the conversation on ending extreme poverty.

  • Gee it would be great to see the private sector get behind the Campaign for Australian Aid! Strangely, while it is a non partisan campaign open to all organisations, a quick look at the campaign homepage and organisations belonging to it reveals the private sector is conspicuous in their absence. And yet they have so much to offer in the joint effort to rebuild Australia’s aid.
    As my mum taught me, maturity is about sharing the load.
    Applications that enable companies to join the campaign can be found here.

    • To be fair, it’s not at all obvious how a corporation would sign up to support the campaign from the web page linked above. It’s pitched at individuals. One sub-page indicates that you can support the campaign ‘whether you’re a surfer, or a musician, a library or a church’ but again doesn’t provide any obvious way for an institution rather than an individual to sign up. And this ‘Who we are’ page also provides no obvious way for an organisation to join; in fact it tends to imply that the ‘we’ refers to a pre-formed, closed group.

      It’s not just that the web site asks for an individual’s name; it’s also that it urges people to ‘pledge their vote’ for a fairer world. Corporations and other institutions don’t vote, and I wonder about the wisdom of this tactic in any case. It sounds almost as if a person has to make a theoretical commitment to vote in favour of the contender that’s most generous on aid, which right now is certainly not the Coalition. Presumably the idea was to build a community of people who want to say that the parties’ aid policies will be important to them as they decide what to do with their votes — ‘aid matters to me’ rather than ‘I pledge my vote’.

    • I am not sure that this is a particularly helpful or effective influencing strategy. This hardly comes across as welcoming and inclusive. And I note Robin’s comments on this which are all pertinent. I would ask whether the private sector has been ‘asked nicely’ to support this campaign in a way with which they are able and willing to engage.

    • Thanks Marc for your comment. It is possible we are more aligned than maybe your response queries. I am pretty sure as an individual I did sign onto the Campaign page a long while back. While I am not overly active, I do apply my very rudimentary social media skills to support the Campaign.

      My commentary was not to question where the private sector was on the day – and you know from our past dealings I think more opportunity should be explored to bring a range of actors together. I also hope my commentary made it clear that I actually tip my hat to the leadership from the NGO community. I do not disagree that there is room for private sector to also be vocal, though possibly there are various ways in which messages and opinions can be delivered.

      As Robin Davies’ separate post confirms, none of us should have walked away from viewing the announcement with a feeling that things are fully back on track. There are statements being made during an election cycle; sometime after that a government that forms then ‘governs’ and history shows us that not everything always plays out exactly as hoped before the polls closed.

      My commentary meant to talk to the announcement, its content, which left me with a feeling that something is missing – it might exist, but it wasn’t discussed.

      The fact is that the Parliamentary Secretary introduced the event stating we would hear of a “policy that Tanya will announce.” Beyond the discussion of funding commitments to NGOs and UNHCR, Ms Plibersek agreed to stop the clock on aid cuts. She also talked to the issue of transparency.

      That was it.

      The announcement on a number of occasions referred to sectors and activities where Australia is making a difference – in agriculture, in governance, in policing and so on. These are all areas where the private sector is also currently working, including in partnership with the aid program, to make a difference.

      I know the government’s view on the role of the private sector in development. I would have liked to have heard something about this in the opposition’s ’policy’ announcement on the weekend.

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