Thursday, June 07, 2007

Too Poor for Peace? Global Poverty, Conflict and Security in the 21st Century

Featured Speakers:

Lael Brainard (Director, Global Economy and Development, Brookings)

Jane Nelson (Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative)

Jennifer Windsor (Executive Director, Freedom House)

Susan Rice (Senior Fellow, Brookings)

Tariq Yousef (Senior Fellow, Middle East Youth Initiative, Brookings)

The fight against poverty has become a war of necessity for the US. Traditionally, the US military has been the main actor in crisis and reconstruction scenarios, though several panelists argued for a much broader approach to reducing poverty in weak or failing states all over the world.

Susan Rice argued that reducing poverty in weak states is a national security imperative. This is a unique moment in which American morality and strategic interests coincide, hopefully providing incentives for greater action the field of development. Globalization has made it increasingly easier for terrorists, pollutants, diseases and other threats to cross borders. The lack of strong governance and effective institutions in poverty-stricken states allows them to become active conveyor belts for transnational threats that directly affect US national security. These states also act as regional sinkholes that can destabilize entire areas.

Jennifer Windsor presented the view that advancing individual freedoms is an essential component of poverty reduction. Political restrictedness directly contributes to poverty and civil unrest. The promotion of democracy has come under recent attack, mainly given the Bush Administration’s approach to this process. Instead, the focus should be on providing support to local actors working for reform. Currently, democratic assistance accounts for less than 4% of total foreign aid, a statistic which leaves these actors vulnerable in their work. According to Windsor, there needs to be greater initiative on behalf of the US government to promote democracy based on local culture, traditions and experiences.

The role of private corporations and NGOs in poverty reduction initiatives has also been growing in the recent decade. Jane Nelson, part of the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative, emphasized that these actors must ensure their own operations do not undermine local efforts and exacerbate the ongoing conflict. Country-based initiatives are also highly successful, such as the Angola Enterprise Program developed as a partnership between the UNDP and Chevron designed to support local businesses. Hybrid initiatives, combined with market-driven approaches to philanthropy, can have great effect.

Poverty reduction efforts in conflict-ridden states have proven most effective when they are coordinated with national strategies and local actors such as NGOs and corporations. Development is ultimately about helping others help themselves.

This event was designed to promote Too Poor for Peace? Global Poverty, Conflict, and Security in the 21st Century, Lael Brainard and Derek Chollet, eds. Brookings Institution Press 2007.

Sponsor: Brookings Institution

Location: Falk Auditorium

Date: June 5th

Time: 10:00-11:30am

Approximate Number of Attendees: 100

Intern Attending: Alexandra Martins

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