Brazil can blaze a new trail in international co-operation (Jonathan Glennie)

Brazil can blaze a new trail in international co-operation

By pursuing an aid strategy based on mutual benefit, Brazil can consolidate its newfound place in the international spotlight

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/o...

28 0ctober 2011

Jonathan Glennie

It is a good time to be a Brazilian on the international stage. Brazil has the eighth largest economy in the world, and the "traditional donors" want to know what the country is thinking. In fact, with an aid programme of under $1bn (according to official estimates), it commands far more interest than it probably should. Why? Because Brazil is the future. When leaders in poor countries sit down to plan their way out of poverty, they don't look to emulate Britain. They say: "We want to be an emerging economy, like Brazil."

 

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Economic Survey of Brazil, which was published on Wednesday, confirms this advance in terms of economic growth and poverty reduction (although the much-lauded reduction in inequality can be overstated, coming as it does in one of the world's most unequal countries).

 

In the space of a decade, Brazil has transformed its international presence. Its international development strategy is part of that. According to This is Africa, trade between Brazil and Africa has grown from $5bn in 2003 to more than $20bn in 2010 (over a third of which is with one country, Nigeria). President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose vision defined this bold declaration of international relevance, established 17 new embassies in Africa and visited 23 countries on the continent.

 

Marco Farani, the director of the Brazilian aid agency, is well aware of the political and economic benefits of Brazil's new positioning as a player in the international development field, but insists the body's motives are pure. "I have never been told to work in a country for strategic reasons," he said in a debate in Parliament on Monday, organised by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the All Party Group on Overseas Development (Apgood).

 

Farani is the leader of a growing team – under his tenure, staff numbers have risen from 70 to 160 – but, far from worrying about Brazil's status as new kids on the block, his attitude to strategy is relaxed. "We don't have a strategy", he states proudly. Farani's preference is to respond to requests for support rather than engaging in comprehensive strategic planning. "There will come a time when we will be richer and more rigid and perhaps then less creative, more boring," he says.

 

On monitoring and evaluation, he favours intuition over rigorous analysis for now. "Everywhere I go on my country visits, people tell me how much they like what we are doing," he says. With other countries, one might assume such expressions of goodwill stemmed from a desire to maintain good relations; in the case of Brazil, it's just possible they're sincere.

 

Eventually, Brazil will need to become more strategic and engage in the more rigorous elements of impact assessment that denote a professional outfit accountable to citizens (downwards) and the international community (upwards). The OECD is helping the country to record its data better, but Brazil is determined to do things its own way.

 

The main difference between Brazil (and other emerging powers) and traditional donors is that they still have to fight extreme poverty at home. Brazil has tens of millions of very poor people. The UK's Department for International Development (DfID) has led the way in recent years in insisting all aid must pass the simple test of primarily benefitting the poorest. Perhaps Brazil should embed this poverty focus as well, but with a twist, based on the idea of mutual benefit. Not only should the poorest in the partner country benefit from international co-operation, but also the domestic poor. Solidarity and accountability should exist not only between governments, but between peoples.

 

The Brazilian NGO community already understands the potential of this new internationalist vision. Building on years of leadership, symbolised by the groundbreaking World Social Forums that started in Porto Alegre in 2001, some in Brazilian civil society want to become world players, competing with the big northern NGOs in shaping the international debate, not just the domestic one.

 

Brazil continues to receive about 0.025% of its annual income in aid, as it has for the past two decades. This is roughly the same amount as its own aid programme. According to traditional, post-colonial aid dynamics, there is little sense in both giving and receiving aid. But this conception is being recast. It makes perfect sense in the new era to give and receive aid – it is part of mutuality. As if to underscore the point, Farani gave as his examples agricultural co-operation support to Japan (the third richest country in the world) and Ghana.

 

Again, civil society organisations are keen to ensure that foreign money continues to help fund their activities. Issues of inequality, environmental degradation and land rights remain complex issues in Brazil, and the international community must continue to play a crucial part in supporting just outcomes for the poorest in Brazil.

 

I believe Brazil should learn from DfID and the other successful aid agencies, but not emulate them, influencing the debate at international development fora but without getting sidetracked into the technocratic results mantra. In short, Brazil must blaze a new trail in international co-operation. Not that Farani needs much encouragement to do that. We will know in a few years how successful he has been.

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Tags: Brazil, Cooperation, DFID, NGO, South

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Comment by Jose Rodriguez on January 1, 2013 at 10:51pm

A good example of Brazilian initiative is B2Brazil.com / B2Brazil.com.br that helps Brazilians SME to achieve results in the global market.

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