May 30, 2016

Cooperation and development have changed

Cooperation and development have changed

For nearly 20 years she had worked for the World Bank in Washington DC, following development projects. Until she became chief of staff of the Bank’s President, Jim Yong Kim. A remarkable carrier, the one of Laura Frigenti, 56, Roman, appointed by Matteo Renzi to structure and direct the Italian Agency for Cooperation and Development (Agenzia Italiana Cooperazione e Sviluppo, aka AICS), established on January 1st this year.

 

Avid reader of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and a great connoisseur of Latin America and Africa (her favorite country: Ethiopia), Laura Frigenti has a mission: to revive the Italian cooperation, making it more comprehensive, selective and effective.

 

 

A new agency, a new legislative framework. What is your vision of Italian bilateral cooperation?

The development challenges are becoming increasingly complex and multi-sectorial. I believe in a strategy based on factual analysis, in the collection of accurate data, to formulate responses that are not improvised. It requires scientific cooperation.

 

An agency with a top down approach?

Today global development is a multidimensional world, where there is a variety of actors involved in the definition of effective solutions: the Agency’s role consists in being a catalytic device, that manages these actors to operate consistently. We want a light device, no gigantism.

 

How will the Agency relate with the new Agenda for the UN Development? Is there a sector where Italy wants to excel?

 

Every organism working on a particular theme, pushes us to say “you have to give priority to that” or “this is needed to give more relevance to education or water, etc”. The reality is that there isn’t a more important goal than others. All the seventeen goals of development, the SDGs, should march together on a balanced trajectory. If the Millennium Agenda (which ended in 2015, author’s note) has been a set of priorities for developing countries, the SDGs have a vision of global development in which all countries must participate. Without exception.

 

The agency has a budget of 290 million. Apparently not much.

Look, nothing is sufficient, in the sense that the problems the world faces are immense. Even if the amount would double, quadruple, it would not be enough. But remember that Italy has returned to invest in cooperation. This government should be given credit for this turnaround.

 

Now at MoFA you have AICS and at the same time the General Directorate for Cooperation and Development. The first will deal with bilateral projects, the second with emergencies and multilateral cooperation. But do you not risk to waste money and to have coordination problems?

This division is not unique in Italy: just look at the division between the State Department and USAID. There is a division of roles in the major donor countries. On one hand, the institution that coordinates the foreign policy of the country and then the need to complement with a more flexible structure, more operational, more technical, that looks for the best available practices and strategies to achieve the SDGs.

 

Cooperation remains a sector widely supported by public funding.

Not quite so. Public support, from a financial perspective, is now a minority. Look at the US: from private individuals are gathered each year about 12 billion dollars. If they were a nation they would have been the sixth global donor. Today we cannot work on the economic development of the poorest countries without working closely with the private sector. The Agency needs to maintain a catalytic and coordinative role that the private aid has not and cannot have. We’re working on about how we can fulfill this role.

 

The Italian business world will take the field?

Italian companies have realized that to be effective and operate in a developing country, they need to interact in a different way with local communities and businesses. Social instability, governance-related problems in the countries, corruption, repression of the public opinion, etc etc: this has become the key issue that affect their business abroad, as never before. Hence the interest to support development in order to protect long-term investments.

 

Although a global issue, cooperation is often ignored by the media.

There is a lack of understanding of the continuum between emergency and development, which are both newsworthy. The press should pay more attention to issues related to development, so to prevent situations that might resolve in emergencies and crises.

 

What role will the agency have in the tragedy of the great migration crisis?

We Italians are a country of emigrants. And then we know from our own experience: people leave their homeland in search of a better future. Therefore improving living conditions reduces the need to migrate. The issue of migration needs to be approached from the point of view of the welfare of the populations leaving their countries in an uncomfortable situation, but also from the point of view of what is the trajectory of the demographic indicators of countries receiving these migrants. In many cases the welcoming countries need to absorb migration of younger people, or qualified people, or people who can cover some segments of the productive sector.

 

 

With COP21 it was decided to invest 100miliardi dollars a year by 2020. Many of these will go on bilateral cooperation. How will we find this money?

Resources will be leveraged by taxes, like a tax on air tickets, on high-carbon energy resources, etc etc. We also require a major rationalization, in order to avoid duplication of accounting and ensure that the majority of resources go effectively into concrete projects on the ground and not in the organization of large infrastructures.

 

(This interview has been also published on La Stampa by the Author)

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About Emanuele Bompan

Emanuele Bompan

Emanuele Bompan is a geographer and journalist and has been involved in environmental reporting, cooperation and development and international politics since 2008. He has worked with La Stampa, BioEcoGeo, Sole24Ore, Reuters, Nuova Ecologia, LEFT, Vanity Fair and MAX. He studied geography and communication at Bologna, Los Angeles, Madison, and Washington DC. In 2010, he won the prestigious Middlebury Fellowship for Environmental Journalism, an award for environmental journalists, and in 2013 and 2014 the Innovation in Development Reporting Grant Programme (IDR) for innovation in journalism connected with cooperation and development. He specialises in climate talks, environmental disasters, energy markets, food safety and sustainable development.

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