Preserving development cooperation during COVID-19 times

Europe's World

Africa

Picture of Giampaolo Silvestri
Giampaolo Silvestri

Secretary-General of the AVSI Foundation

Although missions and ‘face-to-face’ visits to countries have ceased due to border closures and preventive containment measures, the search for new solutions on development cooperation persists. Like the AVSI Foundation, many organisations have chosen to reinvent themselves according to the evolving needs of beneficiaries and new safety rules.

Thus, innovative methods have been created to adapt to the pandemic. For instance, activities under implementation have often been renegotiated and rescheduled to ensure their continuation. Crucial lessons have been learned that deserve to be shared for the benefit of all.

First, the multi-stakeholder approach has proven itself to be indispensable: partnerships among different sectors, including civil society organisations (CSOs), NGOs, businesses and universities, are no longer a mere act of goodwill. Rather, they have become a prerequisite for lasting and sustainable results.

Second, as the representatives of the external arm of the European Union, Delegations have shown to be central to the development process. They were able to simplify procedures and approve new projects for NGOs and governments. This allowed actors on the ground to quickly respond to the pandemic through awareness-raising measures, protective material and equipment distribution, and provision of emergency aid to vulnerable populations.

This close cooperation between the EU and civil society must continue in the coming month

Third, the pandemic has highlighted how much civil society organisations operating in the field are essential for EU external action, not only for their role as watchdogs, but also as pioneers for innovative, flexible and timely solutions.

This close cooperation between the EU and civil society must continue in the coming months. In fact, the priorities on which EU development cooperation will focus over the next seven years are currently being defined. The hope is that this consultative process will include the largest possible number of CSOs present in the countries, as they are still on the field and are well aware of local needs.

Fourth, we need to take a serious look at funding. International cooperation is at a critical juncture. The decrease in financial support by institutional and private donors poses a serious challenge. CSOs, together with institutions in Brussels, must find ways to release funds to continue projects in third party countries. This means ensuring flexibility in the procedures for accessing European funds, and examining the possibility of freezing or eliminating the financial contributions that CSOs must provide when implementing new projects.

Fifth, it’s time to re-examine our approach to loans in Africa. The economic impact of the health crisis, the subsequent closure of borders, and the blocking of the movement of people and goods, could devastate the ongoing development process. It is urgent to find new ways of immediately restarting the economy.

It is still possible to equip development cooperation with adequate resources

Formal and informal companies, particularly family businesses,  that have closed or downsized their activities must be provided with financial support in non-repayable and subsidised loans to recover production capacity.

And finally, the digital revolution must be at the heart of our action. We must provide financial tools to carry out projects that invest in digital training and online education. A high percentage of the young population in partner countries is at risk of being left out of the education system, as schools remain closed until early next year. Projects must be designed for them that promote empowerment and capacity building, but also support health and educational facilities, alongside productive economic activities.

Since its inauguration, the von der Leyen Commission has been committed to maintaining geopolitical leadership and promoting external policies based on solidarity. As reiterated in the first State of the Union speech, it’s important to create “opportunities for the world of tomorrow” rather than “building contingencies for the world of yesterday”. This can only be materialised by investing in forward-looking external actions, capable of having a lasting impact.

Unfortunately, the conclusions of the July European Council did not match this rhetoric. Allocations for development in the next EU budget faced significant downsizing. However, it’s not too late to reverse this.

Negotiations on the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) have yet to be concluded. It is still possible to equip development cooperation with adequate resources and meet the Commission’s ambitious goals. Speak to any development worker who is actually on the field during COVID-19 times, and they will tell you: now is the time to act!

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