The Council for International Development (CID) conference is an annual event that brings together almost 50 non-government organisations (NGOs) working in international development. Each annual conference explores a different theme and the theme for 2017 focused on the question: what does the future NGO look like?

Chairs, chief executives, and representatives from across the sector.

Thank you for inviting me to speak today and join your discussion on the ‘future NGO.’

I also want to talk about the future:

  • the future of development cooperation
  • the future of New Zealand’s development cooperation
  • issues of change and continuity in getting there. Two years ago, world leaders gathered in New York to adopt the 2030 Agenda.

It is a global agenda and by its very nature it is large and complex. Everyone’s priorities are reflected, everyone has a stake, and everyone has a part to play. The 2030 Agenda brings together both existing and new targets and ideas under one banner - giving us a single yardstick against which to measure our efforts and a common language with which to engage sustainable development challenges.  

These goals and targets are already proving valuable - providing alignment across international agencies and diverse sectors. Just this week MFAT was invited to an event by Countdown who have developed their corporate social responsibility goals around the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

From the Ministry’s perspective, our development assistance, and much of our foreign policy work, already aligns with the SDGs and with the Pacific priorities identified under the 2030 Agenda. For us the real challenge lies in responding to the call to action contained in the 2030 Agenda leaders’ declaration.

Challenging as the SDG targets may be, the underlying principles cut more deeply – and they challenge the fundamental nature of our work and even the kind of organisation we need to be. These principles call for sustainable development cooperation that:

  • is balanced – integrating the social, economic and environmental
  • is coherent – ensuring that national and international policies do not work at cross-purposes
  • is mutual – that recognises the role, benefits and contributions of all countries – developed and developing alike
  • is inclusive –benefiting all groups and sections in society
  • leaves no-one behind – meaning targets need to be met ‘for all nations, peoples, and all segments of society’
  • reaches the furthest behind first
  • engages all actors and resources – building on the contribution and collaboration across government, business, civil society, and other stakeholders.

The approach I have just outlined has implications for our operating model. New Zealand has a very credible record on the quality and effectiveness of our development assistance and on our policy coherence and we are currently ranked 10th in the Commitment to Development Index. 

However, much of the machinery which sits behind our aid programme remains grounded in a ‘development assistance’ centred approach to the world. Our structure, our policy, our plans, our systems, our accountabilities – are all centred on this flow of money to developing countries. That often means that we limit our field of vision and fail to ask the more important questions. Too often it assumes that our own efforts and resources will be sufficient – when it is clear they won’t be.  

And so I come to the need for change.  

You will be aware that we have created a Pacific Branch within MFAT to provide a single point of leadership for all our policy and engagement in the region. Sustainable development in the Pacific is a central pillar of our foreign policy. Acting as one ministry enables us to bring together a wider range of interventions to bring about positive change in the Pacific and further afield. Beyond this we must also work as one government.

There are now more than 30 New Zealand government agencies working in the Pacific and MFAT is increasingly playing the role of facilitator or coordinator – helping to match line Ministries directly with needs and gaps in the region. New Zealand’s development assistance to the Pacific is only a fraction of the total government activity and it sits alongside contributions from the private sector, New Zealand-based Pasifika communities, and civil society.

Looking beyond development assistance delivery the Ministry also has a vitally important role to play in advancing the cause of small island developing states, influencing global fisheries policy, reducing fossil fuel subsidies, improving Pacific access to climate finance, and pursuing strong action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, over time, I expect our development policy agenda to be at least as important as our development assistance programme.  

That is what our partner countries expect – they value our aid, but their long-term development depends on factors beyond aid. They seek beneficial access to our markets, to seasonable labour opportunities, lower cost remittances, improved investment and taxation policy. Ensuring clear alignment between our policy development and the delivery of our aid programme will enable us to better respond to our partners’ needs and maximise the impact of both.   

I am also ambitious to improve the way MFAT works to support development cooperation. We are rethinking our approach to design – to be more problem and less solution driven at the outset, more enabling of critical thinking and engagement, better able to partner and quicker to deliver.

As I mentioned earlier we are also seeking to use our knowledge of the Pacific and development issues to maximise the collective impact of the state sector work in the region, and influence to actors from outside the Pacific.  

And continuity?  Amidst this change, are touchstones that will remain central to who we are and what we are about. These include: 

  • The Pacific – there is no doubt the Pacific enjoys cross-party support as the core focus for our development cooperation – our success or failure rests on the success or failure of our Pacific neighbourhood and the quality of our engagement in it.
  • Partnership – is a guiding principle for New Zealand’s engagement. It is about listening, hearing, respecting, and allowing space to work as equals. 
  • Our values – we are strongly committed to the values that guide our work -  including; human rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality, and the environment.
  • A focus on results – our focus on impact will only increase and we will direct resources to areas showing impact.

So – that is a brief insight into some of the themes occupying our strategic and day-to-day thinking at MFAT, what we hope to change to face the future, and what we will take with us.    

I would like to conclude with some brief reflections on your own debate.

Civil society occupies a critical space in the 2030 Agenda. And, the civil society landscape is changing – in partner countries the voice, independence and confidence of NGOs and civil society groups will only grow as they build their local constituency and legitimacy. They are claiming their space and critical local role in all spheres from humanitarian through development action, in human rights and advocacy.   We value our relationship with New Zealand civil society but as the ‘localisation agenda’ continues to develop, New Zealand based international NGOs will come under increasing pressure to demonstrate the value they add and how they can enable and support their civil society orgnaisations partners in developing countries.  

New Zealand-based international NGOs bring a unique perspective to New Zealand’s development effort and will remain the right partner in a number of cases, especially around delivering outcomes for communities.   As the development ecosystem continues to evolve we all need to move with it and be very clear about what we bring to the table.

We look forward to exchanging insights and approaches as we respond to the challenges and opportunities of today and into the future.