A new direction for Italian development cooperation

Giampaolo Cantini, director-general of Italian development cooperation. Photo by: personal collection

The political stalemate in Italy has many of its partners worried about the country’s economy and the stability of the crisis-battered eurozone. A big concern for aid groups: What happens now to Italian development cooperation, which at the start of year, appears to enjoy a renewal, with more funding and a new leadership?

Ahead of the elections in late February, Devex spoke with Giampaolo Cantini, who succeeded Elisabetta Belloni as director-general of Italian development cooperation on Jan. 16. At that time, he was somewhat optimistic about political support to the country’s global development efforts regardless of who gets to be in power.

“The commitment to a progressive increase has to be verified in the light of the imminent elections,” Cantini said. “But I believe there are the conditions for an across-the-board commitment, in a way supported by the next government and above all by the next parliament.”

Cantini told Devex that this year, the Directorate-General for Development Cooperation, or DGCS, will have a total of €319 million ($415 million) in available funding for its operations. This he said, is “a significant increase” from 2012.

In this first part of our interview with Cantini, the career diplomat talked about the new strategies Italy is taking to improve coordination of aid programs among stakeholders and his wish list for reforming the existing law on development cooperation.

What are you doing to maximize the impact of scarce resources for aid programs?

It is necessary to build the Italian development cooperation system. Italian cooperation is not only DGCS. It’s a larger realm that includes many actors: regional governments, local administrations, nongovernmental organizations, companies, and universities and other centers of excellence. Those actors are developing a system of consultation to find a common method to coordinate use of scarce resources. The interinstitutional forum, which has working groups in each country, represents an important venue for coordination. That strategy [of coordination] is an important element [and] a model that needs to be enhanced.

How do you build this Italian development cooperation system?

We should look at the bright side. Each of these actors has developed its own vision and its own methodology of intervention.

Regions and local administrations may help provide their counterparts in other countries with expertise in rendering services, such as the management of aqueducts. While NGOs, in most cases, having worked closely with communities focus on areas that affect families or women or to reduce extreme poverty. Companies can give a very important contribution to entrepreneurial development.

Universities are already important actors in education. Public institutions, through the direct interventions of the DGCS, through embassies and cooperation technical units, have in turn developed their own relationships with local institutions.

There is a variety of assets whose value must be enhanced. The improvement of that model of coordination and the achievement of a [global strategy] for the country are the [main] issues.

[Those actors] have different operational modalities, which can allow the Italian system as whole to make a difference … because it is possible to operate at different levels: A region helps a big municipality to improve its social services to citizens [while] an NGO carries out a program of social intervention or in the field of education.

What specific actions are you taking to improve the transparency of Italian aid?

After the Busan forum [on development effectiveness], we took on a commitment to establish a common standard for aid transparency, through a system of data notification and communication. … It would be to have a digital platform accessible via Web. Data – which are already available – would be published in a graphic representation.

There have been attempts to reform the aid law. In your opinion, what should change in the current law to make your efforts more effective?

Let say the law probably didn’t define enough the setting of the collaboration between DGCS and some other actors. Decentralized cooperation didn’t exist at that time or at least there wasn’t a partnership [between central and local authorities]. Also with regard to NGOs, the legislation does not specify sufficiently the relationships [with the DGCS], for example, about the working conditions of the health personnel [and experts].

[Some of those issues] have been addressed in the bill discussed by the last parliament, even in great detail. About the role and the legal framework for experts, the law, which indicates a temporary contract [for such experts], is not anymore compatible with the current job legislation. It is necessary to have a new legal framework … [because experts is deemed to have a] permanent [work arrangement].

I wonder if it is the same with the private sector, if we can limit the partnerships to the joint ventures. The public-private partnerships are not considered. Those partnerships – decentralized cooperation, NGOs – but also the system of the calls, [some aspects of the] treatment of the personnel, [such as] leaves or the legal framework of the experts, the introduction of competitive procedures [tenders, calls N/A] for certain amounts — all those aspects are not included in the current legislation.

For some procedures, we refer to [other] laws — [for example the code of tenders] — … an updated aid law should take all that into account.

We can say that the legislature probably made a good law in 1987, but clearly 26 years went by and the world is changed.

What’s your take on the proposal to establish a single fund for resources of all Italian government agencies that manage official development assistance? Do believe it would improve efficiency of your operations?

Definitely. It would be an important innovation that could foster coordination of initiatives, not only between DGCS and the local authorities or NGOs and universities, but also among public institutions. There are some interventions, for instance in stabilization, like Libya or Syria, where the actions are carried out by different institutions. The Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Environment [in the field of] institutional and capacity building [for instance].

Stay tuned for the second part of our interview with Cantini, where he discusses how DGCS partners with nongovernmental organizations and advances public-private partnerships.

About the author

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    Elena L. Pasquini

    Elena Pasquini covers the development work of the European Union as well as various U.N. food and agricultural agencies for Devex News. Based in Rome, she also reports on Italy's aid reforms and attends the European Development Days and other events across Europe. She has interviewed top international development officials, including European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs. Elena has contributed to Italian and international magazines, newspapers and news portals since 1995.