Leveraging public sector expertise | Enabel - Belgian Development Agency

PUBLIC SECTOR, A BRIDGE BUILDER FOR INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

what FIIAPP and Enabel can learn from each other
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More and more often, European cooperation agencies foster collaboration and expertise-sharing to learn from each other. In this regard Jean Van Wetter, director of Enabel, met with Anna Terrón Cusí, director of FIIAPP to exchange views and practices. 
FIIAPP, or ‘International and Ibero-American Foundation for Administration and Public Policies’, is not your classical cooperation agency. Its mandate is at the same time broader and narrower.

“FIIAPP was created some twenty years ago, when countries from Eastern Europe joined the European Union,” Anna Terrón Cusí the Director of FIIAPP, explains. “At the time, Spain was one of the latest countries to have joined the EU, and the newcomers were very interested to learn more about how our governments and administrations managed the transition. They asked us to share our expertise with them on how to proceed with the necessary reforms. FIIAPP was set up to that effect.”

“But our mandate is broader: we are charged with the task of facilitating public sector expertise exchanges between Spain and partner countries. Which means, we are active in Spain’s priority partner countries for cooperation, but also in the EU’s neighbouring countries. For example, we are currently engaged in programmes in Ukraine about public sector digitisation."

"We are also currently running the EUROsociAL+ programme in Chile, one of our partner countries, around constitutional change. We are advising on spaces for civil society on what could be useful to include in the new Constitution that’s being drafted.”
Leveraging National Expertise
“As time went by, FIIAPP realised that it was more efficient to mobilise technical expertise from its own – Spanish - public sector,” explains Anna Terrón Cusí.

A conclusion that Enabel also shared. As a result, FIIAPP and Enabel actively seek expertise in various levels of government, administration, and public institutions.

“Indeed,” says Jean Van Wetter, CEO of Enabel, “it has been a few years we have been working as ‘enablers’, hence our name. We call this method ‘public-public partnerships. When one of our projects in a partner country feels it could benefit for matters related to the public sector, we reach out to Belgian ministries, administrations, or public institutions."

"We identify people with the right expertise that could valuably contribute to the project. They join the project team and bring their expertise, while we provide our knowledge of the local context, institutions and network.” 

“Such peer-to-peer exchanges are a lot more efficient, as both parties work in the same area and share a common knowledge of their missions and challenges. We are constantly expanding our partnerships with ministries, institutions, public companies, and universities to be able to mobilise the most appropriate expertise and peer-to-peer relationships to achieve the objectives we set out with our local partners.”

“For example, port development is a priority for the Beninese government to increase their economic development. To this effect, we have asked experts from the Antwerp Port Authority to collaborate with the authorities in Cotonou to turn the port into an international commerce hub for West Africa.” 

“In Burkina Faso, Belgian policemen are currently assisting the Burkinabe police in restoring the rule of law and reinforcing their ties to the local population. And the University of Gent and the Université Catholique de Louvain are cooperating with the University of Kisangani to update the protocols to take better care of victims of sexual violence and their families in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
The European Union is based on the Rule of Law, sound institutions and a public sector that brings added value to the citizens. This should really be at the heart of our strategy regarding international cooperation.”
Anna Terrón Cusí- director of FIIAPP
Benefiting the National Public Sector
One interesting aspect of peer-to-peer programmes is that they also benefit Belgium and Spain. “It is a two-way street,” says Anna Terrón Cusí.

“Public servants who participate in those programmes often bring back useful insights that they can then pass on to their own institution, improving the way our own public services work.”

“In fact, we are convinced that public sector expertise is at the heart of the European values we want to pass on. The European Union is based on the Rule of Law, sound institutions and a public sector that brings added value to the citizens. This should really be at the heart of our strategy regarding international cooperation.”

“Moreover, the challenges we face are increasingly global, and must be addressed at an international level, requiring cooperation between countries towards common goals. Setting up more expertise-sharing projects also fosters such collaboration.”
Public Sector Is Vital to Cooperation
Jean Van Wetter wholeheartedly agrees. “In our cooperation projects, there is always a public sector dimension. At the end of the day, a country needs a strong and healthy public sector to achieve sustainable growth.” 

“One challenge in the framework of development cooperation is that most projects have a specific duration, usually five years, as well as measurable objectives. Public sector reform and transformation projects can take longer, and it is sometimes more difficult to measure the results.”

“Nevertheless, we notice that our partner countries are increasingly looking for public sector expertise, and we also receive more and more requests from other ministries. They realise we have valuable knowledge, a network both in Belgium and in our partner countries, and the tools to make things happen. They want to leverage those assets for their own initiatives with their counterparts in the countries we operate in.”
Our partner countries are increasingly looking for public sector expertise, and we also receive more and more requests from other ministries. They realise we have valuable knowledge, a network both in Belgium and in our partner countries, and the tools to make things happen.
Jean Van Wetter, director of Enabel
As far as the long-term is concerned, Jean Van Wetter thinks it would really benefit Belgium if Enabel could share its expertise with the Belgian public sector. “We are seen as an agency dealing with cooperation projects in partner countries. But other government areas are not aware of the expertise we have built in doing so.”

“Not so long ago, the government unveiled its strategy regarding the European Recovery and Resilience Facility. Belgian Secretary of State Thomas Dermine was pointing out that this plan was one of the first to include performance indicators linked to sustainable growth and inclusion. That really struck me, as we embed indicators linked to sustainable development goals in all the programmes we are running with our partner countries. We gained tremendous expertise over the years, expertise that would really benefit the Belgian public sector at every level. Maybe in a decade or so, we will be sharing this knowledge more extensively, not only in Belgium but also elsewhere in the world.”

For Anna Terrón Cusí, this is exactly the reason why it is a good thing FIIAPP was created outside of the Spanish development agency. “From the start, we were not restricted to working with priority partner countries under the development cooperation policy, which means we can act wherever our expertise is needed, as long as it is outside the EU. This allows us for example to work with EU neighbouring countries.”
Convincing Experts to Participate
Both Anna and Jean agree that one of their biggest challenges is recruiting public servants for their programmes. “Usually, it is not too much of a problem for long-term assignments, as there are mechanisms in place that make it possible for public servants to be “detached” to work for another public administration or agency, and then come back,” says Anna Terrón Cusí.
 
"Organisationally, it is also less of a challenge for the administration they come from: since the assignment will last a couple of years at least, they can organise the department accordingly. “Shorter term assignments are more complicated, because it´s more difficult to arrange a replacement for a shorter time period.”
In Belgium, Enabel is looking for solutions in the Belgian legislation to make long-term assignments easier for public servants. “The fact that Spain has put them is place is comforting, and could also help us reinforce our case,” Jean Van Wetter comments.

Regardless of the obstacles, both Anna Terrón Cusí and Jean Van Wetter are convinced the trend to rely on peer-to-peer expertise exchange is here to stay. Cooperation agencies should indeed work together and share practices to make this happen.

"The Practitioners Network where we exchange with the other European agencies is a first step in this direction," says Anna Terrón Cusí. Both Anna and Jean agree that strengthening ties inside and outside this network helps agencies make stronger claims and push for changes in their respective countries. 

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