"The ‘North-South’ approach of development cooperation evolves into a global partnership that addresses the shared challenges of our planet"

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Five questions to Jean Van Wetter
Managing director of Enabel


You start heading Enabel at a moment that the organisation goes through a major transformation. How do you think will the organisation evolve in the next few months and years? 

Enabel has a Management Contract which has considerably broadened the agency’s mandate: besides implementing governmental cooperation, which is our core business, we also assume the role of a broker or facilitator between cooperation actors. The idea is to serve as an intermediary when new partnerships are put in place for development projects. That is also why we have changed name, since Enabel is a pun using English enable in the sense of making things possible or facilitating. This clearly illustrates this new aspect of our work. 

At the same time we also focus on collaboration with other Belgian and international actors. In Belgium, this will also lead to closer relations with BIO, the investment company put in place by Belgium, as well as with the Belgian private sector. One of our objectives is indeed also to contribute to Private Sector Development in the partner countries. By combining our forces with BIO and with businesses we can intervene everywhere in the chain and develop solutions involving all, public and private, economic players.
"There are many lessons that can be learned from what is happening right now in the partner countries, and particularly in Africa. The situation in the field is such that it is essential to innovate and test new approaches that we have no experience with, at least so far." 
Do you have any experience of this kind of partnerships involving cooperation players or NGOs and the private sector? 

In my international aid career, I worked in Tanzania for five years for VSO, an international development organisation which promoted skills sponsorships. My role consisted in developing and coordinating partnerships with the business community in twelve countries in Africa. I became a specialist in building bridges between the development sector and the business community. My business education background was most likely helpful in this: Many still see a gap between the development sector and the corporate world, but I primarily see converging interests and the possibility of developing partnerships which all can benefit from.
What does this new facilitator role of Enabel look like?

We endeavour to identify public or private actors who can provide expertise to the projects we are involved in and we function as the bridge between both. For instance, in Benin we are working on a governmental cooperation project to manage the Port of Cotonou. Therefore, we have entered into an agreement with the Antwerp Port Authority, which provide its expertise to the management in Benin. Another interesting example is Burkina Faso, where we have just concluded a new agreement financed by the European Union to strengthen local teams in the fight against terrorism. That project also illustrates another important feature of the change we are undergoing: We can now use many different sources of financing. 
Working visit to Benin, together with Minister of Development Cooperation, Alexander De Croo
The diversification of the sources of financing is a fundamental trend in the development assistance sector. How has this change impacted the activities of Enabel?

New actors are assuming an increasingly significant role in financing development projects: Besides the traditional donors such as governments, the European Union and the United Nations, new actors take on a broader part like, for instance, major private foundations, philanthropists and new actors who develop innovative financing products. This makes our ecosystem more complex, but it also offers many innovation and co-creation opportunities, because it urges us to work together more closely with other development agencies on sizeable projects with each agency providing specific expertise.

For Enabel this means we must considerably review our approach and become more visible and boost the global reputation of our development work. If, for instance, USAID, the development agency of the United States, finances a project that is managed by Enabel in Uganda, this is a win situation for the three countries involved and this strengthens Enabel’s and Belgium’s credibility.
With the Enabel team in Benin,  Minister De Croo and Hannelore Beerlandt, head of Enabel's board of directors..
For the longer term you believe that the nature itself of development cooperation will undergo profound changes and will lead to balanced relations, offering mutual learning opportunities. What does that mean? 
I believe there are really many lessons that can be learned from what is happening right now in the partner countries, and particularly in Africa. Firstly, because the situation in the field is such that it is essential to innovate and to test new approaches that we have no experience with, at least so far.

Take education, for instance: In Europe, we still work at incorporating ICT and PCs in our learning approaches. In Africa, you can skip this stage and immediately move to using tablets at school. Such a technological leap forward will bring education to remote areas where teachers are not likely to go but where distance learning is possible. The lessons learned from rolling out the use of tablets in education will be precious ones when our countries launch initiatives of their own in this domain.

As a more concrete, everyday example, in Tanzania a birth can now be registered by mobile phone. Such innovation is essential to update the civil registry and avoid that inhabitants from remote regions have to go on a journey which they cannot actually afford. Here again, such experience may one day be useful to us.

Recently, I was invited to Morocco to the inauguration of a project launched by Enabel and the Government of Morocco: The aim is to involve the Moroccan diaspora and encourage them to create businesses in Morocco and foster economic development and job creation in disadvantaged regions. This is definitely no ‘traditional’ development cooperation but something far more innovative, which also can leverage the investments made in the development of our partner countries. I believe these three examples show that we are leaving behind the ‘North-South’ approach and evolve towards a global win-win partnership logic.

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