The Locus coalition has named Gregory Adams as its new director. Adams joins the coalition from Oxfam America where he most recently served as director of the organization’s aid effectiveness team and global aid policy lead.
Locus is a coalition of organizations that is dedicated to advancing evidence-based solutions to global development challenges that are integrated, driven by local communities and based on shared measures. Our ultimate aim is to achieve a better model of development that results in greater impact to people living in poverty. Our members believe these are key pillars of effective global development practice in the 21st century that will maximize development investments and impact.
Adams has almost two decades of experience designing and leading strategies to advance policies that strengthen the voice and power of poor and marginalized people. Before joining Oxfam, he spent more than a decade on Capitol Hill as a foreign policy advisor for two members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Adams has a B.A. in political science from the University of Illinois at Chicago and has pursued graduate-level studies at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.
Locus sat down with Adams to ask about his views on the role of integrated development in today’s landscape and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
Why did you decide to join the coalition?
I’ve been an admirer of Locus from the start. As an advocate for change in how the U.S. fights poverty, I’m constantly aware of the role that implementers play in determining who sets the priorities for development investments. Locus represents the best instincts of our community—a group of implementers who are willing to both be self-critical of our role and actions in supporting the voice and power of poor people, and making hard decisions about where we need to change to help them take control of their lives.
How do you think integrated development fits into international development today?
It’s a well-worn cliché to say that “we live in a rapidly changing world.” But in our sector, I don’t think we really have caught up with just how much has changed in the last twenty years. From where we sit, much of that change has been good. Billions more people are able to earn a living wage, feed their families and get basic human services. And that progress means more people are also demanding more power and control over their lives. But this progress is happening so fast, and so organically, that our log frames can’t keep up. Development professionals must have a flexible approach to problems that engages a variety of stakeholders and sectors, because we can’t deliver lasting results unless we’re able to work within these dynamic local systems.
What is the biggest challenge Locus is facing?
Our whole sector is facing a severe crisis of legitimacy, one unlike many of us have ever seen. Governments are feeling threatened by our independence and seeking to constrain—or delegitimize—our work. Donors, both institutional and individual, are questioning the value that we add, and looking for ways to cut us out of the value chain, or turn us into contracting agents. Most important, many of the people we seek to serve are asking tough questions about the value we offer, and whose interests we serve. Designing and implementing more flexible, responsive and accountable approaches for our work is a necessity for demonstrating our value. Locus is not alone in grappling with these challenges. But I think Locus members deserve special credit for the human and financial resources they are dedicating to the challenge, and their willingness to question past assumptions about the role of international development implementers.
What about the biggest opportunity? Or, phrased another way, what do you hope Locus might achieve in the next, say, three years?
I think the big win is to shift the development marketplace to bring in new customers. I think Locus members can lead the way in showing that the progress of the MDG era means there is a new development marketplace. If the customers of our sector in the last two decades were northern donors, increasingly we should be cultivating customers in the global South—governments, CSOs [civil society organizations] and the emerging private sector in the countries where we work. This new customer power has the chance to give us as practitioners more freedom to try new approaches and better serve the demands of the people we’re trying to help.
But I think we need to start more modestly. I think we’ve done a poor job as a sector explaining what we do and the value we add. I would love to see Locus be the voice for what development practice looks like in the 21st century. Too many Americans—and Washington policymakers—still think development is about pushing bags of food off the back of a truck. In fact, our work in the field is less and less about what we do and more about what others do with our help. Locus members can lead the way in explaining the value of our work while still elevating the need for the people we serve to have the ultimate voice and choice over how we operate.