Opening Speech: Development Leaders Conference 2019

President Jin Liqun, President Ahmed, Distinguished leaders, guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an absolute honor to welcome you all to this conference. Thank you in particular to those who have travelled literally across the globe to be here. I certainly hope that you will return to your home countries enriched with new knowledge and ideas, better networks, as well as a little taste of China’s long and fascinating culture.

For those of you that are not familiar with Development Reimagined, we are an African wholly foreign owned consultancy with our headquarters in Beijing. We pride ourselves for being able to offer impartial advice, for independent analysis, and for being a private sector organization wholly devoted to international development.

Our Chinese name“睿纳新” – Rui Na Xin (down down neutral) – means far-sighted and innovative. And innovation is a fundamental goal for us. At Development Reimagined, our ambition is to bring new solutions to the complexity of poverty reduction and sustainable development, drawing from experience all over the world – including China – as well as piloting new ideas. Our goal to do development differently, to innovation, is exactly why when we were asked to support the organization of this conference, we agreed immediately. CGD and AIIB also fully embrace this idea for innovation and we have and will see it coming out through the agenda over the next two days.

However, beyond this goal of innovation, there are three commitments I want to share with you today. They are three commitments that I ask all experts working in Development Reimagined to sign up to – from the most experienced industry figures to high-flying graduates just kicking off their careers. I hope to also set the scene for our discussions over the next two days, as development leaders.

The first commitment is to empowerment and the agency of our ultimate clients – poor people. Those of us that work in development often forget that development involves real people. Poor people are not “them”. They are “us”. We need a commitment to an “us” not “them” approach. This commitment is reflected in the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed in 2015. The UNSDGs moved in this direction by listening better – and with a larger number of goals certainly recognize and reflect what poor people need a great deal more than their predecessors the Millennium Development Goals. Now, we as development leaders can be more empathetic in aid giving and design, we have more freedom and innovation in design of investment projects and capacity building. We are becoming more realistic about what aid can achieve, but we still have the potential to achieve better aid, by listening and thinking more. We need to keep asking is this really what recipients want? Is this what recipients need? The task for us as development leaders, is not to impose so-called “best practice”, but to work together to identify good approaches to development cooperation, from the ground-up – going beyond giving voice to giving agency to the poorest – at all stages of the development process. It’s fundamental.

The second commitment is to a holistic approach. This takes it starting point that aid is not the only answer to development. Now, pretty much all of us in this room will agree with this. Aid is important, but other financial flows are also crucial – from remittances by individuals to loans from multilateral development banks. But finance is also not the only answer to development. Solving economic and social problems from poor to high-income countries requires examining structures – of trade, investment, in people. Non-tariff barriers, scholarships to peacekeeping troops also matter, even intellectual property rights matter! That’s why we believe in a holistic approach – looking at ALL areas of development, beyond aid, and what role ALL actors can play – not just governments, and not just certain parts of the world. That’s why it is great to see development leaders from foundations and banks, from academic institutions as well as aid agencies in this room. We have more potential to think holistically, look at structures as well as flows.

The third and final commitment is to diversity – in gender, ethnicity, social background, geography, age and more. In the teams we build and bring together, in the networks we build and organizations we work with, diversity is the bedrock for realizing the other commitments – agency, holistic approaches and our goal of innovation. No one person can come up with the right solution. No one culture has all the right answers. In development and international relations we particularly need to recognize the parallels across different countries. For instance, there are parallels between cash benefits to mothers in the UK and cash transfers to women and girls in Malawi, and having diverse teams that have knowledge and experience of these systems helps us to have these conversations and improve on both. Diversity enables this analysis, the critical thinking to deliver better results. That’s why it is great to see development leaders from China, Australia, UK, Mexico – all over the world in this room. It is also why it is great to witness and work on trilateral cooperation projects, as well as cross-country partnerships between think-tanks, universities or businesses. The diversity that underlies these partnerships is crucial.

President Ahmed, President Jin Liqun, distinguished guests – it is in the spirit of diversity that our three teams at CGD, AIIB and DR have worked so well to organize this conference and I would like to thank them profusely for all their hard work.

Indeed, development leadership is hard work. It is only through embracing the complexity of multiple commitments and goals that can we find sustainable solutions. As you all share and engage in the discussions over the next few days, as you head home afterwards to continue to shape the institutions you work in, I hope the three commitments we use in our work – commitment to “us not them”, to holistic approaches, to diversity and our goal of innovation – will be and remain at the forefront of your minds. Thank you all for joining us!


This speech was given by Hannah Ryder, CEO of Development Reimagined at the Development Leaders Conference, supported by Development Reimagined and Co-Hosted by The Centre for Global Development  and The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, in Beijing, China, on 13th and 14th November 2019.

November 2019

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