Global Public Investment: How Scotland could lead the world

Global Public Investment: How Scotland could lead the world

Jonathan Glennie, independent writer/researcher on the changing nature of international cooperation, writes about his new book and why he thinks Scotland is well placed to be at the forefront of this totally new approach to development financing fit for the challenges of the 21st century.

Across the world, billions of people are struggling to get by in unequal and unsustainable societies, and international public finance, which should be part of the answer, is woefully deficient. My new book, The Future of Aid, calls for a wholesale restructuring of the aid project, a totally new approach fit for the challenges of the 21st century: Global Public Investment.

Late last year I had the pleasure to launch my book to a group of Scottish thinkers and practitioners on international development, at the Alliance 2020 AGM. No-one believed I was Scottish despite my name, but there we are. Scotland is in a great position to lead on important aspects of global citizenship in the 21st century, and helping to build the Global Public Investment approach could be a critical part of its contribution.

Why is GPI needed?

As we begin 2021 our world is in upheaval. Chaos in the United States presidential process is demonstrating just how fragile democratic institutions can be, while the Covid pandemic continues to ravage the world illuminating another kind of fragility, that of our health systems. Hoped-for progress in poorer regions of the world is now being reassessed as economies suffer the impacts of lockdown. Meanwhile the Black Lives Matter movement has placed racism and colonialism centre-stage, and a particularly British crisis is still playing out as the UK finally exits the EU.

It is a turbulent start to the decade.

But while some advocate a retreat into national level concerns, the opposite is needed. Not for decades has the urgent need for international cooperation been so obvious. This is a moment, like the end of the Second World War, where a bold new approach to cooperation is needed, updating the Bretton Woods Institutions that emerged in the 1950s for a very different era.

The Global Public Investment approach has been gathering momentum for years now, but it has been these global crises that have finally thrust it to the foreground. People that know that change is needed are now finally looking for a clear roadmap – and that is what GPI provides.

The Future of Aid calls for a series of paradigm shifts (excuse me for nicking from the back cover):

  • From a narrow focus on poverty to a broader attack on inequality and unsustainability.
  • From seeing international public money as a temporary last resort, to valuing it as a permanent force for good.
  • From North-South transfers to a collective effort, with all paying in and all benefitting.
  • From outdated post-colonial institutions to representative decision-making.
  • From the othering and patronizing language of “foreign aid”, to the empowering concept of Global Public Investment.

More and more people are realising that only this transformation in the way we think about global spending can save our world and make it one to be proud of, from ex-PM of New Zealand Helen Clark (“The GPI approach is our best bet for modernising international public finance for the 21st century”), to leading economist Jayati Ghosh (“GPI based on statutory contributions – rather than patronising ‘aid’ from rich to poor countries – [is] a necessary element to deal with the challenges we face”) to Lysa John, the secretary-general of CIVICUS (“Rethinking aid as a GPI is critical if we are to secure our undeniably inter-dependent future”).

What can Scotland do to support GPI?

Global Public Investment is an idea still in its infancy. While the principles are mostly agreed, how it is implemented in practice is very much still an open debate. It will need a group of leading organisations to show the way – and the Scottish government, backed by Scottish organisations working in the international development ecosystem, could be part of it.

We have entered what we are describing as a “co-creation” phase, whereby groups and experts all over the world are helping develop the idea, from the Norwegian government and the Global Fund to UNAIDS and Oxfam.

The Scottish Government could engage with like-minded small nations to pioneer and stress-test the concept. It has already demonstrated how this can be done, with its work on the Wellbeing Economy, on which legislation seems likely in the next Scottish Parliament thanks to work by a range of Scottish advocates. In fact, GPI and moves towards a Wellbeing Economy would complement one another – a wellbeing economy essentially being about “social justice on a healthy planet”.

The fact that Scotland’s budget is fairly small does not matter – this is about building a new idea not largescale spending, at this stage. Actually, the fact that Scotland’s international development programme is so small makes reframing activities, decisions and rhetoric to fit a GPI narrative more straightforward than it may be in larger countries.  

With elections looming in Scotland in 2021 this is a perfect moment to put pressure on political parties to begin a long overdue re-framing of ‘foreign aid’, enabling Scotland to take a global lead on a crucial issue, as it has so often in the past.

To claim a 30% discount on Jonathan's new book, 'The Future of Aid', head to the Routledge website and enter the discount code TFA30.