Andrew Preston

Development Counsellor

Part of Shoulder to Shoulder

23rd December 2013 Washington DC, USA

2013 in Review: Washington’s Development Highlights

This is a joint post by Andrew Preston and Rosanna Kim who work on international development issues at the British Embassy in Washington.

We are loving all the different reviews of the past year, with the best and worst from the world of films, books, and music. So we thought it would be fun to put our own spin on the cultural commentary by sharing our 2013 highlights for international development.

Best Film

It’s tough to single out just one out of all of the widely acclaimed films that have been released this year. Captain Phillips received plaudits for its treatment of the issue of Somali piracy, and our resident Embassy film critic, Omar Daair (who covers Africa policy here at the Embassy) enjoyed it. Rosanna was a fan of No, a Chilean film nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the last Oscars, about the advertising campaign during the 1988 plebiscite that forced Pinochet out of power.

But our winner for 2013 is a must-see BBC documentary called Saving Syria’s Children, which the Embassy, alongside Crisis Action and the Atlantic Council, showed on Capitol Hill earlier this month. The film follows two British doctors inside Syria as they come face to face with the conflict’s devastating impact on Syrian children. It is a harrowing and eye-opening film that has stiffened our resolve within the Embassy to do what we can to keep real attention on this issue here in Washington.  And if you haven’t seen it yet, don’t worry – we are planning more screenings in the new year.

Best Book

Though it’s been one of the most talked about books within the development community this year, Paul Collier’s new book on migration, Exodus, is definitely NOT in the running for best book. It has been roundly criticized in Washington – with some even suggesting it verges on racism. This review from the Center for Global Development is the most thorough critique we have seen.

I am Malala seems a more deserving candidate, but we have to confess that neither of us has read it—gives us something to do over the holiday break.

Our pick might seem a little nerdy. We’ve gone for A New Global Partnership, the report from the High Level Panel on Post-2015 Development Agenda. Now we realize this isn’t a book per say, but we’ll confess to taking some liberal interpretation with this category. After the report’s release in May, it has gotten rave reviews from many in Washington. We salute the Panel for setting out an exciting, compelling and simple vision for the world after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015. As UN negotiations continue on post-2015, we just hope the report doesn’t end up in the “fiction category”! We’ll be doing our best to ensure it doesn’t.

Best “Rockstar”

This year has been a big one for music, with many excellent albums showcasing rock star talents. Reflektor by Arcade Fire has topped UK charts and was inspired by a trip that the band took to Haiti, band member Regine Chassagne’s home country. Of course we can’t fail to mention Beyonce’s surprise album, which has blown everyone away. (Huge hats off to her for having a sample track of a Nigerian writer’s call to feminism!)

But from a development perspective, we were thinking of a different kind of rock star.

President Obama almost gets rock star status for committing the US to work with others to end extreme poverty by 2030 in his State of the Union address in February. We’ve started to see what this means in practical terms.

And we had some serious rock star contenders at the replenishment conference for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria in DC earlier this month.  Andrew loved seeing Bill Gates speak (twice), but had to admit that his rock star status is probably less about his abilities as a live performer and more about his back catalogue of work!

In a stellar cast of US administration rock stars, Samantha Power stood out for her dedication and her optimism. Reflecting on the fight against AIDS, TB, and malaria she said:

“We must keep our eye on what’s true: good things happen when multilateral organizations and national governments work together with scientists, philanthropists and civil society. Good things happen when we share responsibility and good things happen when we never give up. Above all, good things happen when we value every human life and honor the rights and dignity of every human being.”

In the end, we decided that Samantha Power was narrowly beaten to the prize by a seemingly unlikely group of rock stars. While this group can sometimes be discordant (aka partisan) and prone to smashing up their guitars (aka shutting down the government), they were in perfect pitch when it came to the fight against HIV/AIDS. We select the Members of Congress we saw at a Congressional breakfast during the Global Fund conference. This group (which includes Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Ed Royce, Nita Lowey, Kay Granger and Barbara Lee among others) demonstrated a personal drive and enduring commitment to global health that transcended the Washington partisan squabbles. Let’s hope that carries through into next month’s FY 14 state and foreign operations budget negotiations!

And looking forward?

And our hopes for 2014? For one, we’re eagerly watching Members of Congress (we’re looking in particular at Ed Royce’s amendment!) and hope they’ll successfully pass US food aid reform. But we want to do our part as well, especially on keeping humanitarian situation in Syria on the front burner. Perhaps in some small way we can try to emulate the commitment and energy of those rock stars we mentioned… so watch out for us British Embassy folk playing our air guitars in the new year!

About Andrew Preston

Andrew is the Development Counsellor at the British Embassy in Washington where he facilitates collaboration between the US and the UK on international development. Andrew’s development experience includes work for…

Andrew is the Development Counsellor at the British Embassy in Washington where he facilitates collaboration between the US and the UK on international development. Andrew’s development experience includes work for the UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) in London, Mozambique and India, rice farming in Uganda (a private sector business start up), and a period as a consultant providing development advice on programme design, implementation and monitoring/review. Andrew is married and has a young child.

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