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Ending Global Poverty, four women’s noble conspiracy
Author: Constantine Michalopoulos. Oxford University Press.
Publication: April 2020.

Ending Global Poverty is the title of this book about the “noble conspiracy” of four development ministers at the beginning of this century. These were the ministers Herfkens (Netherlands), Johnson (Norway), Short (United Kingdom) and Wieczorek-Zeul (Germany), collectively referred to as the Utstein Group, named after the Utstein Monastery in Norway, where the four women decided for the first time to work together as much as possible from that moment onwards. The fact that they were looking for support from each other was special, but at the same time also explainable: all four were determined to really do something about global poverty reduction and, if necessary, to confront the interests of the established order, both internationally (UN and development banks) and in their own countries. Twenty years later, ending poverty is still at the top of the agenda, but significant steps have certainly been taken, partly due to the new élan of the four Utstein ladies at the time.

In the 1990s, more attention was paid to the need for country ownership in the implementation of development cooperation programmes. The Utstein group made this one of the core themes of their action agenda. This had far-reaching implications, also for Dutch development cooperation. For instance, project aid was replaced by programme aid whenever it was slightly appropriate. There were also implications for governments in developing countries: a great deal of attention to getting public funds in order, accountability to their own parliament and attention to the fight against corruption.

But the Utstein group certainly also had an eye for the need for reform on the side of the ‘donor countries’, as it was then called. Strengthening donor coordination (especially at the national level in developing countries), untying aid, increasing aid volumes (the 0.7% GDP target), gender equality, linking emergency aid to long-term development cooperation and debt relief were important themes. Progress has certainly been made in all these areas (think of the Rome-Paris-Accra declarations on aid effectiveness), where the commitment of the Utstein group has often made a difference. This certainly also applies to reaching political agreement in the UN on the MDGs, later followed by the SDGs. On another core theme of the Utstein agenda – policy coherence – the steps forward are unfortunately much less impressive. This is about coordinating the rich countries’ broader foreign policy (trade, security, agricultural policy) with the policy to support developing countries in their development and poverty reduction.

All in all, a book that deserves to be read about a special action group that also gives an insight into international developments in the period from 1990 to the present day. Michalopoulos may well pay a little too much tribute to the Utstein group here and there, but he is forgiven for that. After all, he is the long-time partner in life and work of Eveline Herfkens. In his commentary recommending the book, Bert Koenders points out that the Utstein legacy is highly relevant in these times of growing inequality and weakened multilateralism. The book is dedicated to three women from a new generation of young leaders: Nobel Peace Prize winners Malala Yousafzai (2014) and Nadia Murad (2018) and climate activist Greta Thunberg.