Sida's Department for Africa is one of the five regional groups in which the organization operates. Given that this region contains some of the world's poorest countries, it is unsurprising that the main focus of Sida's work in Africa is poverty reduction. Lotta Sylwander oversees the Department's work based in the field and in the Stockholm Head Office.
The Swedish government international development agency, Sida, focuses on primary themes that run throughout its work worldwide. These include human rights, democracy, economic growth and environmental sustainability. Within the African continent they also focus on the regional-specific aims of conflict and conflict resolution, HIV and AIDS (possibly the most important and critical development problem facing African nations), and urbanization. "Urbanization is very much a neglected area within development in Africa, ignored by both development agencies and African governments. Yet it is really an issue that will be important in the future development of the region", asserted Lotta. Her work covers both that based in Sweden and that in the field. "My main role is to give direction to our work so that people feel that we know where we are going, and so that we have a purpose to what we are doing". She explained. "We need to show that we know where the strategic entrances to purses are, how to organize a program effectively. My job is to see that we stay on track in terms of where we want to go and that the people implementing these aims feel motivated. This is an important part of my job".
Lotta worked for many years with Sida as a specialist in culture and social development before moving into her current role. A graduate in Anthropology from the University of Stockholm, she focused on the role gender on development and social participation. Her move from a sector-specific to a role heading regional development was one that appealed greatly. "When this chance arose I felt that this was an opportunity to move from a specialist role and use my experience and knowledge into a regional department". She explained. The position requires many skills, not least in human resources management. Lotta told us, "I like the personnel issues the most. My role is to make sure that staff, both in the field and in Stockholm, enjoy and feel comfortable in their work, and develop in their posts. Of course there are always personnel problems, but I enjoy resolving these".
The Swedish government is focusing more and more on African development, particularly in relation to the Millennium Development Goals, and Lotta believes that Sida will increasingly target the region in coming years. "The developmental challenges are the greatest in Africa and we will focus more and more on this area. It is difficult to generalize about Africa; some regions will develop rapidly and others will develop far slower or even go backwards. There will be both encouraging and discouraging signs in coming years". She said, adding that the ability to have the greatest positive impact on African development lies not with work of development agencies but with developed country governments, "One of the most decisive impacts will be how the governments of the developed world act, for example in maintaining the agricultural subsidies that they give within their own countries. Reducing the level of agricultural subsidies in developed countries would have a major impact on the economic growth of African nations". Lotta asserted.