This week, I am hanging up my boots as EU commissioner for international cooperation and development and passing the baton to Jutta Urpilainen, whose new title as commissioner for international partnerships is symbolic of how much the world of development has changed over the past five years.
Ask me what stood out to me over these past five years on a human and personal level, and I would answer with one word — gender.—
As I think back to the start of my mandate in 2014, what strikes me the most is the fundamental shift from what was very much a “donor-recipient” focused relationship, to what we have now — real partnerships adapted to our new geopolitical reality.
This shift kicked in early-on in my term, when we agreed on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, a global vision to cooperate for sustainable development in all countries around the globe. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, the targets in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals were no longer solely on developing- or least-developed countries. The enormity of the task ahead of us — to end poverty, hunger, and inequality once and for all required a concerted, global effort — focused on partnerships between countries at all levels of development.
Putting partnerships in the driver’s seat
Determined to translate the 2030 Agenda into the EU’s development policy, I reached out to other EU institutions and all member states to agree a new European Consensus on Development. Eradicating poverty would continue to be our number one objective as set out by the EU treaty. But I firmly believed that a wider approach encompassing the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development had to be the way forward. And this meant putting partnership in the driver’s seat.
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More tailored partnerships involving a broader range of stakeholders, including all levels of government, civil society, and the private sector. Partnerships with the lowest-income and most fragile countries. But also partnerships with middle-income countries that build less on aid and more on innovation.
The idea of modern partnerships, which respond to the challenges and changes of the world we live in, has guided efforts in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and the Pacific these past few years.
With Africa for example, our Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs moves into new territory for African-European cooperation: an economic partnership based on mutual interest.
The Africa-Europe Alliance stems from the principle that there are many unprecedented opportunities in areas with huge potential for the African economy and huge impact for European investment, areas such as sustainable agriculture, digital technology, renewable energy, and transport. It also seeks to make the most of relationships with the private sector, and in doing so breaks what was previously a very narrow mould for development financing.
This would have been hard to believe just five years ago. However, when we introduced a new generation of financial instruments based on risk-sharing under the external investment plan, we set in motion a quiet revolution for financing our development agenda, decisively moving away from a narrative focused exclusively on aid.
That quiet revolution has been gathering pace. We have already committed the lion’s share of the €4.5 billion ($4.9 billion) in EU grants and guarantees and aim to hit our target of mobilizing €44 billion in overall investment by 2020.
The plan may mark a change in approach for us, but our aim remains the same: to bring about positive, lasting change on the ground. The plan’s NASIRA program is a case in point. It has brought together the EU and the Dutch Development Bank in support of young, female, and migrant entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa and countries neighboring Europe.
Seventy-five million euros in EU funds will leverage up to ten times that amount in investments for these entrepreneurs, who would otherwise have struggled to secure loans. Through its risk-sharing, NASIRA is expected to create jobs for up to 800,000 people, and I am confident that this new way of working, drawing on programs like NASIRA, is here to stay.
This can only be a good thing because, first and foremost, the alliance is about investing in people. Africa is the world’s youngest continent; according to the United Nations, by 2055 the number of Africans aged 15 to 24, is expected to more than double the 2015 total of 226 million.
In response, the alliance seeks to bolster cooperation on education and skills to give young Africans better job opportunities. It offers students, staff, and academics the chance to travel and experience life in other countries and seeks to build up vocational education and training opportunities, focusing on sectors with the highest potential for job creation.
No progress is too small
Looking back, then, if you were to ask me to summarise my mandate, I would say that all our actions sought to make the link between the core mandate of poverty eradication and our place in the world, as a strong global actor.
But ask me what stood out to me over these past five years on a human and personal level, and I would answer with one word — gender. My efforts to mainstream gender equality in EU development policy and my work to tackle gender-based violence through the Spotlight Initiative were always driven by the sense that we will not eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development for all, if women and girls are left behind. The Spotlight Initiative sees the EU and U.N. join forces to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. It is a prime example of a meaningful partnership that is seeking to change minds and attitudes.
For instance, over 5 million households in a number of countries have taken part in community dialogues to end child marriage. And on a much smaller scale, Spotlight is joining forces with participatory projects like Envion in Buenos Aires to educate young people about the effects of cyberbullying, online harassment, and grooming. When it comes to basic respect for others, no progress is too small.
Looking ahead, I remain convinced that protecting and empowering girls and women is the best chance we have of building a fairer, more inclusive, and sustainable world for all. For the fact is that inequality in all its forms is an obstacle to poverty reduction and sustainable development worldwide. That is why our international partnerships are more important now than ever. And I have every confidence that they are in safe hands.