Commission on International Development [Pearson Commission]

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Commission on International Development [Pearson Commission]

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In August 1968, former Canadian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Honorable Lester Bowles Pearson, accepted an invitation from the President of the World Bank, Robert S. McNamara, to form an international commission "to review the impact of external assistance on the development of the poorer nations over the past two decades", assess the results, and make recommendations for the future of aid and development.

The initiative for the Commission came from McNamara's predecessor, George D. Woods. Amid international concern about declining foreign aid available from major donor countries, particularly during the declared United Nations Development Decade, President Woods explored different methods to increase development funding. In 1967, Woods spent a weekend at Sussex University to discuss these problems with a small group of individuals including diplomat William Clark and Barbara Ward, author of the UN Midterm Report on the Decade. The meeting resulted in the proposal for a commission of experts to examine the state of development and the steps necessary for maintaining hope and progress. Woods launched the idea of a "grand assize" of experts when he spoke to the Swedish Bankers' Association in Stockholm on October 27, 1967 in his last major speech as Bank president. He stated that the World Bank would be prepared to finance necessary research and to assist in recruiting a group of experts to examine the development problem. According to Woods, "[s]uch a Grand Assize - judging the world's record and prospects of growth - should in any case precede any attempt to round off our faltering Decade of Development with a genuine reformation of policy". The proposal was formally instituted ten months later during McNamara's tenure as World Bank president.

The Commission on International Development, also known as the Pearson Commission, was financed by the World Bank but operated as a completely independent body, just as its members were not representatives of their respective governments. Chairman Pearson had the authority to assemble the Commission members and by mid-October 1968, seven prominent international figures, each from a different country and background, had agreed to serve with Pearson in a non-official capacity. They were: Sir Edward Boyle (United Kingdom); Roberto de Oliveira Campos (Brazil); C. Douglas Dillon (United States); Dr. Wilfried Guth (West Germany); Sir W. Arthur Lewis (St. Lucia); Robert E. Marjolin (France); and Dr. Saburo Okita (Japan).

Because of the crisis in aid shortfalls, the Commission decided that its report should be made available as early as possible. To complete its objective in a timely manner and to sufficiently study the multitude of topics, the Commission employed contractors to conduct the research. Between October and December 1969, the Commission was also staffed with senior professionals and experts, some of whom were World Bank employees on loan. The group was housed in an office building at 1900 L Street NW, Washington D.C.

The Commission's eight members met four times in order to direct the staff's work, to receive senior staff's analysis of their study topics, to make decisions about the ideas and conclusions, and to write the report. The first meeting was in Mont Gabriel near Montreal, December 16-17, 1968, followed by Rome (March 1969), Copenhagen (June 1969), and Geneva (August 1969). Between these meetings, the Commission also sponsored a series of regional hearings in developing countries across four continents. Pearson, accompanied by one or more commissioners, invited governments and in some cases distinguished private individuals, to come during the few days spent in each location and give testimony to the Commission on the full range of development issues under study. The regional hearings took place in Santiago, Abidjan, Kampala, Rawalpindi, New Delhi, Singapore, and Ankara, and were attended by government representatives of some seventy countries to present their views.

The Commission investigated a wide variety of topics, including the volume and terms of aid, the debt burden of developing countries, technical assistance, trade, private investment, economic growth, population control, and education and research. The findings and recommendations of the Commission on International Development were published September 15, 1969 under the title "Partners in Development". The report presented thirty-three recommendations and argued that developed countries needed to make a more substantial commitment to foreign aid and to economic development as a global initiative. Many of the proposals would involve the leadership and support of international organizations including World Bank Group and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The Commission was dissolved in 1969 following the completion of its report. "Partners in Development" was the first sustained evaluation of international development assistance.


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