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Owen Barder

Most Wonkcasts focus on CGD’s research and policy work. This one is different. My guest is Owen Barder and our topic is CGD itself, specifically the effort that Owen is leading to greatly increase the Center’s engagement in Europe. Owen, a CGD senior fellow and director for Europe, previously worked for CGD on our Advance Market Commitment initiative, which led to a $1.5 billion pilot commitment to purchase and ensure delivery of new vaccines to prevent pneumococcal disease. He subsequently spent three years in Ethiopia and recently resumed working for CGD, based in London, to strengthen the Center’s ties with the European development research and policy community. [Note: Owen continues to maintain his own excellent blog, Owen Abroad and to host occasional podcasts, Development Drums; these are also now available on the CGD Website multimedia page.]

“When I was thinking about why we needed a presence in Europe, I was thinking about CGD working on issues other than aid,” says Owen. “CGD has a really important set of projects and activities which draw attention to how the rich world affects poor countries through things like trade policy, environment, and migration.”

Owen tells me that the European development policy dialogue focuses on aid and its effectiveness, while paying too little attention to other policy issues that have a large impact on development.

“In Europe we need to have a richer conversation about some of these other questions, and that we should bring the CGD blend of evidence-led, quality research that can drive into policy propositions,” he adds.

“We no longer live in a world where what Washington thinks is the sole determinant of what’s going to happen,” he says. “If you can move forward across many fronts, you’ll be more likely to get a consensus on how to do something.”

During a recent visit with Owen in London, I was pleased to learn more about his plans to use the framework of CGD’s flagship product, the Commitment to Development Index (CDI), to look more closely at development policies in Europe, both at the EU and the country level. Devised by CGD senior fellow David Roodman, the CDI ranks rich countries on how well they help poor countries via linkages in seven components: aid, trade, investment, migration, environment, security, and technology. Owen explains that while smaller countries, mostly the Nordics, consistently dominate the top of the index, Europe as a whole does not score as highly as many Europeans might expect– falling below the United States and Canada—when European countries are combined in a weighted average.

“I want to figure out why Europe’s performance is not as good as expected,” explains Owen. “Is it because of decisions made in Brussels or country-level decisions? We’re going to try to dig in and really understand what’s going on, and what Europe could be doing differently. The purpose is to contribute to a practical policy agenda for European policy makers to have a better impact on the developing world.”

Owen explains he is seeking out experts across the continent of Europe in areas such as trade policy, the environment, and migration. He then plans to host a public conversation online, where these experts can share their research discuss development policy issues beyond aid.

“The idea is to do this collaboratively and pull out conclusions that make sense to a broader community,” says Owen.

I’d like to thank Alexandra Gordon for serving as producer and recording engineer, and for helping to draft this post.