Awards 2002 The DTI Award for Capacity Building in the Comonwealth

The DTI Award for Capacity Building in the Comonwealth

This award is given to a private or public organisation working in the developing Commonwealth which has enhanced its own or others' ability to participate in international trade.

The winner: The Overseas Development Institute Fellowship Scheme

Receiving the award

Romilly Greenhill, who spent two years as an ODI Fellow in Uganda, believes her chief contribution to capacity-building there was giving her civil service colleagues the confidence to master a computer spreadsheet encapsulating the national budget. A British adviser had earlier set up the sheet to collate figures for tax and spending, and supply quick calculations to aid budget decisions. On one occasion, Romilly was asked at 2pm to produce by 5pm proposals for cutting spending by 15 billion shillings.

It had to be done without robbing anyone of their wages and without preventing donor-funded developments from going ahead. The spreadsheet also helps trace how money from debt relief is going into schools, health and water supplies. But budgeting staff lacked confidence in using it. The ODI is a research institute concerned with strategies to help the world's poor. Its Fellowship scheme meets up to 30 requests a year from developing-country governments for high-calibre junior professional staff. The scheme emphasises help with trade which, Adrian Hewitt, the scheme director, points out, is an engine of growth. But trading systems discriminate against small countries unable to play a full part in negotiations and pursue their trading rights and opportunities. ODI Fellows help strengthen the public authorities' handling of trade policy, which benefits both the economy and private business.

Andrew Keith, an ODI Fellow in Guyana from 1998 to 2000, worked extensively on farm trade issues and had responsibility for the rice sector in the Ministry of Agriculture. He helped Guyanese rice millers lobby successfully for better administration of the rice quota system for exports to the European Union. He also helped to promote trade in Guyanese rice within the Caribbean Common Market by pressing for stricter enforcement of rules on rice imports from outside the region. And he helped to develop the Guyana Government's case in regional and international negotiations, including those of the World Trade Organisation.

President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana, when he was finance minister, had a hands-on approach to selecting ODI Fellows. He called the ODI Fellowship Scheme "the future of technical co-operation because it empowers rather than imposes".

A French expert who evaluated the scheme in 2002 said that overseas governments appreciate ODI Fellows for their enthusiasm, technical skills, loyalty and openmindedness and because they are not foreign consultants but members of staff. They seek to fit in. In Uganda, Romilly Greenhill learned the local Luganda language. The plight of the public service in Africa, depleted by pay freezes and AIDS, makes ODI Fellows' work there crucial. There are at present a record 55 Fellows (half of them women) in 19 mainly Commonwealth developing countries, a few of them working with international organisations. They are not only Britons. A Norwegian ODI Fellow welcomed to Guyana in November a compatriot who had just rowed across the Atlantic. Fellows who started work this year include an Angolan, a Jamaican, an Indian and a Chilean, apart from Europeans. An ODI Fellowship is a highly prized award. Overseas governments pay the local rate for the job, which could be as little as 20 a month: ODI makes this up to a modest 18,000-19,000 a year. Adrian Hewitt, the scheme director, who was himself a Fellow in Malawi in 1974-6, points out that this salary is for highly motivated people with two economics degrees who could otherwise be bond traders in the City.

The ODI began its Fellowship scheme with Nuffield Foundation money in 1963 to help newly independent African governments. The Department for International Development is now the main funder. The Commonwealth Secretariat is financing Fellows working in trade policy in the Pacific. Developing-country governments meet about a fifth of the costs. Governments frequently ask Fellows to stay on for an extra year. That bears witness to the ODI Fellows' success. In all, well over 500 people have served in the scheme. Suma Chakrabarti, who was a Fellow in Botswana 1981-3, is now permanent secretary at DfID. Finally, a word from Emmanuel Tumusiime-Mutebile, who was long Uganda's Permanent Secretary for Finance and Planning: "Your ODI Fellows add value to our own efforts. They help us build up our own capacity. Please continue to supply them."

The judges say

The importance of correct judgments and decision-making is as vital as having the funds to carry out the decisions. By helping to grow indigenous capacity in the form of well-trained and experienced development economists, the ODI Fellowship scheme provides an essential ingredient to many developing country governments. The value and impact of young economists working alongside local staff is immense, and we hope the administrators will continue to put the strongest emphasis on the responsibility, which the scheme places on its fellows to build indigenous capacity during their tenure. But we also recognise the valuable insight that this provides for the fellows themselves, many of whom are able to use this experience in their work in development on their return.

The Overseas Development Institute Fellowship Scheme, 111 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7JD;
Tel:+44 20 7922 0356; Fax 0399;