Operationalizing a new paradigm for engagement in fragile settings

The problem of fragility

Fragile states have become the centre of the global development crisis. Even before COVID-19, more than 80% of the world’s extreme poor were estimated to live in fragile contexts by 2030—the endpoint of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Fragile states are already the farthest behind in reaching the SDGs, just like they were in meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Fragile states and societies have become a perfect storm of vulnerability to violence, disasters, inequality, climate change, disease outbreaks, rapid unplanned urbanization, and other shocks and stress. Despite statebuilding efforts over the past decades, some states have today less capacity than ten years ago.

The imperative of transformative collaboration for international development

The international ways of working in fragile settings are stuck—stuck in a paradigm that is increasingly obsolete and that focuses on disembodied transactions between governments, citizens and international actors. These transactional relations have resulted in weak trust and dialogue; piecemeal projects; the use of Western-imported best practices in lieu of continuous learning and adaptation to context; as well as fragmentation in coordination and mutual accountability. 

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Why AtCo

Although the emerging paradigm works with the right goals (including the SDGs), the principles that underpin them remain blurry, and how to operationalize them a challenging question. There has been movement in the right direction, but the broader development community’s readiness to advance new rules, policy, and research to embrace this paradigm shift is lacking. How to put new insights from research into practice is only hesitantly articulated because the necessary shift for ways of working is profound, behavior change within implementing institutions is extremely challenging, and the knowledge needed on the new paradigm is only emerging. 

“In a world where people increasingly live with fragility, a transformative collaboration mindset is the catalyst towards resilience. Transformative collaboration opens up a path to effectively, jointly, and sustainably tackle the complex risks people in fragile settings face every day—such as conflict, disaster, destitution, infectious disease, forced displacement and chronic hunger. These risks to people’s lives, livelihoods, and well-being expand to their ability to participate fully and collaboratively in the economic, political and social life of their countries and societies. Millions of people continue to be excluded from decision-making on their future, from the knowledge and from the relationships that are required to actively shape a better tomorrow. This is not a side problem for the international development community. It is center stage.”

Mareike Schomerus,  Director of AtCo