Enabling change | Enabel - Belgian Development Agency

Enabling change

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There is no doubt that 2020 has been a most peculiar year. Yet, despite the hardships, we see several reasons for both our partners and ourselves to be proud of what we achieved and to move forward towards our long-term objectives.

Jean Van Wetter, Managing director
Hannelore Beerlandt, Chair of the Board of Directors

How do you look back on the year 2020?

Jean Van Wetter - Of course, it is impossible to reflect on what happened in 2020 without mentioning the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact it had on our partners and on our own organisation, as well as what it meant for our projects. It has been at the same time a humbling experience and a confirmation that we have chosen the right strategy and objectives over the past years.

Hannelore Beerlandt - Indeed, and I think one of the most important lessons of 2020 is that what happened in many partner countries has confirmed that international cooperation really is a two-way relationship. We have as much to learn from our partner countries as they can learn from us.

You mentioned strategy. How could your strategy affect the way partner countries reacted to Covid-19?

JVW - Enabel has been working for several years on reinforcing basic services in our partner countries, with a focus on solutions that will last. Over the last years, we have worked a lot on reinforcing health systems in our partner countries. For example, in Senegal, we contributed to the development of a health insurance system that gave more than 320,000 people access to quality health services.

The covid crisis has shown that resilient health systems are key to managing a pandemic. Some countries in Africa were able to put in place measures that we could not in Belgium, notably based on their previous experience in dealing with epidemics such as Ebola.

HB - It is quite humbling in a sense. And it is a proof that partnerships work better when all partners are at the same level. There is a lot we can learn from how our current partners reacted to the current crisis. For example, from the start, most have adopted a cool-headed approach and conducted an assessment of their needs. So, when we contacted them and asked how we could support them, they replied with very specific and well-thought requirements. From an economic perspective, there were also very impressive initiatives. In Morocco, for example, the government understood that helping only the ‘formal’ part of the economy during lockdowns was going to lead nowhere. So they decided to put in place a system to help the informal businesses.

Still, there is a long way to go, including on building capacity to react to pandemics.

JVW - Which is why, once again, we want to put the focus on the long term and on systemic change. From a health perspective, Covax, the system created to ensure that every country gets its share of covid vaccines, is of course welcome. But taking the long-term approach means, instead, to think about how we could develop vaccine production facilities in our partner countries. This requires new types of large-scale partnerships between governments, development agencies, research institutes and the private sector. This also asks for a mindset shift. The transfer of technology and the development of local know-how will not bring immediate results, but they will have a lasting impact and reach more people on the long run. In turn, such a shift implies that the donor community will have to remain involved beyond the traditional project life cycle that characterises our current way of working.

Back to partnerships. Besides partner countries, Enabel has also developed public-public partnerships. What does that mean?

JVW – We have been working with Belgian public services to draw on their expertise for our programmes in partner countries. In total, we have now signed more than sixty partnership agreements with public institutions: finance, civil registry, police, education, health, etcetera. This is something I am very proud of because it allows us not only to offer the best of Belgian public expertise, but also to create lasting partnerships and to build even more trust between Belgium and our partner countries. Civil servants from one country talking to civil servants from another country makes absolute sense: they share a common understanding of public service and of the challenges faced.

HB – Benin is a perfect illustration on how partnerships with countries go both ways. Our partners from Benin were instrumental in securing a partnership in Belgium between Enabel and the Federal Public Service in charge of mobility, which will in turn be of great help for our common project on the management of the Port of Cotonou.

Enabel is also working more closely with other European agencies.

HB – Working together as a team – called Team Europe – makes us stronger and more efficient. Who are we indeed, as a country, to say we can revolutionise the way things are done in our fourteen partner countries in Africa and the Middle East? But when we cooperate with other European agencies, each with its own expertise, we bring more value to the table. Besides, things are also moving in terms of regional cooperation in Africa: ECOWAS, for example, on economic matters in Central and West-Africa. And Sahel countries are coordinating their actions to fight the consequences of climate change. This is, I think, accelerating the trends: international cooperation has left the ‘charity’ model and is rapidly moving towards partnerships.

JVW – On the European level, we are not only cooperating in partner countries. European agencies have also set up the Practitioners’ Network, of which Enabel and LuxDev, the Luxembourg development agency, have been co-presidents from May 2020 until May 2021. Belgium has also been at the forefront of the D4D hub, a joint initiative of the European Commission, the African Union and six European development agencies, to leapfrog development initiatives around digital solutions. This programme is partly built on previous initiatives run by Enabel that have been tremendously successful, and some solutions that are currently implemented in partner countries are indeed more advanced than what we currently have in Europe! For example, in Benin, the agriculture ministry is now using drones to help farmers in monitoring pineapple growth to achieve better quality and standardisation of size, thereby unlocking access to new export markets. And in Burundi, an information system using tablets in advanced medical outposts has allowed the creation of an early-warning system for pandemics that takes only a few hours to identify possible outbreaks.

It is also hard to talk about partnerships without mentioning the relationship between Enabel and the Belgian government. Enabel has a ten-year strategic plan. How does that fit in with the priorities of the ministers in charge of development, who may have their own priorities?

JVW – Both the previous and the current minister understand the importance of a long-term approach. But having a ten-year strategy does not mean being rigid about what we do. We have selected a few global themes that are part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and we address these challenges. This is compatible with a minister putting his or her priorities forward within that framework. For example, Minister Kitir has a strong focus on fighting inequalities and climate change, which will reflect on the way we are doing things in partner countries. But having a solid framework underneath is important, as it also underpins our action in our partner countries.

HB – The most important part of our strategy going forward is really to foster cooperation and partnerships. Acting together means we can have more impact, now and in the longer term. Enabel’s strength and its added value to the partner countries is our ability to pool expertise from different partners and turn it into a coherent package. In this respect, our collaboration with Belgian defence and diplomacy in the Sahel is very promising.


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