Lambert Mbom

Aid and International Development ForumOver 2000 persons attended the 2012 Aid & International Development Forum (AIDF) at the Washington Convention Center where over 135 exhibitors showcased their innovative work.

This annual event now in its seventh year brought together NGOs, governments, intergovernmental organizations, aid and development agencies and the UN “to share best practices, debate key issues in the aid and international development sector, exhibit new technologies and services, and create new partnerships.”

Historically based in Geneva, and now a UK registered charity, AIDF organizes this annual event in Washington DC. Roopi Woodall, marketing manager of Aid and International Development Forum explains that one of the motivating factors for this is the fact that DC is the nerve ganglion of international aid and relief with over 200 NGOs and aid agencies in DC.

“What is more, DC is the center of policy and decision making with regard to humanitarian aid and the U.S. is a leader in global spending on aid,” Woodall added. “And there is the general movement from Europe to the US market given that Europeans do not trust private entities.”

One significant part of the conference is the education combo with conferences and workshops on contemporary issues complemented by an interactive zone.

In the first of two keynote addresses, Patrick Fineman, Vice President, Millennium Challenge Corporation, captured the difficult prevailing circumstances during which this year’s forum is convening.

“This 7th edition of the Aid and Development Forum convenes when the landscape for development and humanitarian work is rapidly shifting,” Fineman said. “In the United States, we’ve been through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Europe is in the midst of a debt and currency crisis. A group of new world powers, led by China, is exerting increasing influence both economically and politically.”

This notwithstanding, Fineman highlighted the fact that because of aid and international development, the world is more prosperous. There has been momentous progress, both for nation-states and individuals, in terms of more income, better health and increased opportunities.

The changing landscape brings with it a new set of challenges and the following three factors will shape the industry over the coming years requiring many to rethink business models and operating principles. 

First, a “new era of austerity” with plumetting funding for development and humanitarian relief; then new rules of engagement with a focus on country ownership. This will cause “a shift in procurement and implementation responsibilities to partner governments and local implementing organizations leading to increased competition and increased opportunities. 

Conferences of the first day focused on stream partnerships with presentations on global partnership for development, Food security and sustainable growth, empowering women as a development tool, post-disaster governance systems and NGOs and civil society working in Harmony with the military.

Workshops focused on streams providing basic human needs such as water & sanitation, education, nutrition, health and shelter.

The Interactive Zone presented solutions for each of the phases of emergency management such as prevention, mitigation & preparedness, disaster and response, early recovery & reconstruction

Zainab Bitrus, from Kaduna in Nigerian who was part of a delegation from St Paul’s Episcopal Church, Pennsylvania was very much appreciative of the conference on empowering women as a development tool. What brought me here is not what has impressed me, she said. She was particularly fascinated by the condom for women. This was her first time of seeing it. “Practically if people know about it in Nigeria, they are few. We were taught how to use it and I would like to get this project and share it.

 Rosa Malango, Chief of External Relations and partnerships at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) graced the second day of AIDF. She highlighted the work of OCHA asserting its responsibility for coordinating the work of United Nations’ humanitarian agencies – including UNICEF, the World Food Programme and UNHCR, the UN refugee agency – as well as international and national humanitarian NGOs.

“Our mission is to mobilize and coordinate humanitarian action, in partnership with national and international actors, to alleviate human suffering in disasters and emergencies. 

Malango stressed the fact that partnerships are the central factor in aid and development. Managing diversity and innovation are key elements that must inform our relationships and partnerships going forward.

She cited the examples of the partnership between OCHA and Ericsson for the provision of communications and related services and expertise to support humanitarian relief operations. Ericsson response is the company’s volunteer programme which works to help the UN in emergency situations by setting up mobile networks for voice and data communication.

OCHA’a partnership with DHL’s GoHelp programme included the establishment of Disaster Response Team. More than 400 DHL staff are able to deploy within 72 hours of a disaster to manage warehouses, sort donations, repackage items and work with all those sending and receiving aid.

“If we are to ensure a more effective response to the challenges ahead, a wider incorporation of the private sector, academia and individuals into the humanitarian family must be given top priority,” Malango added.

Further more, given that aid agencies must learn to share their experiences, the emerging reality is that all actors who seek to assist people in need can and should learn from each other to strengthen collaboration for more principled and accountable preparedness, response and risk management.”

“One of the biggest assets the private sector can bring to the table is its capacity for creativity, innovation and cost effectiveness.”

“If we are to make the most of the opportunities for growth, it is important that partnerships are established in non-emergency situations. This will allow for familiarization and time to explore possibilities and options that are relevant and sustainable. Partners who are familiar with each other and understand each other’s vision, ambitions and strengths are more likely to act in harmony.

Joanne Kennard, director of Mum And Kids Enterprises (M.A.K.E.) placed a premium on the partnerships she established through the event. “You cannot meet the people I have met by phone. I met the guys who make the decisions. It was a lot of work contacts, business deals, great excitement and new ideas for adaptation. It was absolutely worth the trip flying 26 hours, simply brilliant,” she said.

As part of the evolution that each year brings, the forum hosted the first Washington D.C. Projection of the Tribeca film festival commended documentary, ‘Baseball in a time of Cholera.’ Directed by aid workers David Darg and Bryn Mooser, “the film is a powerful insight into the tragedy of Haiti’s cholera epidemic as seen through the eyes of a young baseball player.”

At the level of innovation, two that impressed Goodall were the brick building machine and the Talking First Aid Kit. 

For the organizers one of the take home lessons this year was to work more with local partners. One of their greatest partners this year was Society for International Development (SID). Others include, Team Rubicon – a 21st approach to aid and development from Ex marines, Business Fights Poverty and INSSA among others.