The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency recently increased its field presence as part of a larger strategic reorganization. The reforms are having an impact on Sida programs and staffing, the agency’s human development chief told Devex.
A midwife by training, Anneka Knutsson holds a doctoral degree in health care pedagogy from the University of Göteborg. She honed her experience in the fields of sexual and reproductive health and rights while working for the United Nations Population Fund in Bangladesh, a position she left in 2007.
At Sida, Knutsson serves as director for human development, a policy department that encompasses issues of health, social security, knowledge and education. The Swedish government’s priorities for development cooperation are democracy and human rights, environment and climate change, and women’s role in development. Sida’s work in these and other areas has become more efficient, according to Knutsson, thanks to administrative reforms and a new mechanism to encourage a dialogue among development experts. Devex spoke with her on the fringes of the 2009 European Development Days in Stockholm.
Sida has been going through an important reform process recently. How did this change its shape and strategies?
The reform of Sida is more a restructuring of the organization with the aim of focusing even more on the field, on the work that is done on the ground, on the actual production of development cooperation work. So we have reorganized.
The core of the organization is now - as it has been before, too, but differently organized - the operations level, where all the country teams are and where also teams which are dealing with the production of development cooperation but are not attached to certain countries are located. These country teams are then filled with people that have either a policy competence - that means a thematic competence - or management competence. The management competence is not just management as leadership. It is management as in evaluation, as in methods, as in administration, budget support and such.
So, [we have a] head of the team and then the teams are located both at headquarters and in the field and that is kind of new - having one director, one head of team, but the staff can be both in Stockholm and in a certain country and you have the same head of team.
One other main thing that is new for Sida is networking. Networking is something that we have always done. I haven’t been in Sida that long so I should not say that is what we have always done but what they have done. Networking in terms of sharing experience and asking each other to assist and so on - but this is more of structuring a network where people of the same thematic competence belong to a certain network. So for my department, which is human development, we have the Human Development Network, which is divided into two sub-networks, one for health and one for knowledge and education.
The participants in the network are of course then stationed all over the world. So, we have a great source of knowledge and experience placed in different parts of the world. And so, for certain things we work together. The main thing is to use the network for quality assurance, to really see that on one hand the plans that we make on policies and strategies are well grounded in what takes place at a country level and that the decided policies, for instance, adhere in the work that we do on the ground. That is one thing. Another thing is to make the most of the experience and the knowledge which is in the organization so that we have a match-making component where we use each other. And this is not fully in place yet, but this is what we aim for, having a strong emphasis on results as in lessons learned, best practices, of course also quantity results but more really looking into the depth of what really works.
Have these changes produced any consequences in the number and kind of partnerships made by Sida at all levels?
There is a strong emphasis on multilateral partnership, on the partnership with the EU, but - as I said from the beginning - the main focus is at the country level. I would say that I don’t think this is part of what happened through the reform but part of how development cooperation is changing and how the line which we are on in terms of coordinating, in terms of adhering to the Paris [aid effectiveness] agenda, to the principles of Accra and so on [is changing].
Has Sida’s stronger focus on field work changed the organization’s recruitment strategies? Do you hire more staff on the ground?
We used to do that as well so I am not sure that I can say that at this point we can say anything about how the restructuring has affected the recruitment of people. We have always put competence and experience at the forefront of our recruitment. Maybe in terms of valuing thematic competence as important and valuable [there has been some realignment].
What kind of expertise are you targeting the most in your current hires?
That depends on which country we are in, because that depends on the strategy for that country and as you may know we are mainly involved in three sectors of a country. So if a country is involved in health, education and democracy and human rights, for example, the competence for that country will be in those thematic areas. But then the competence also depends not only on the theme but also on what kind of country we are in, There are four or almost five categories of countries that we deal with: the long-term development countries, the post-conflict countries, the reformed countries, which are mainly in Europe, and then [countries in which we are] phasing out [assistance], or selective partnerships. For instance, if you are in a country where you have budget support, you need thematic competence but you also need massive competence on that kind of development cooperation method. So that depends as well on what type [of country]. And then of course if you go into a conflict country you will need a lot of competence in humanitarian aid and the principles of those.
This year’s European Development Days was organized and hosted by Sweden last month, and Sida played a major role in it. A great part of the summit focused on climate change debates ahead of the Copenhagen conference. Has this focus a reflection of Sida’s activities and priorities?
Oh yes. Of course is one of the government’s three priorities - climate and environment. So that is one of our main priorities. And there is a lot of additional money going into that field.
What are the other priorities of the Swedish government when it comes to development cooperation?
The other priorities are democracy and human rights, and women’s role in development.
In that sense, what countries are you working in and with what partners? Are you working on any major projects?
We don’t work with projects that much. We work with programs. Our development cooperation is mainly channeling money into larger programs or larger implementers as the U.N. and so on or directly into the government of that country - sometimes just into one sector and sometimes as a large budget support.
What advice would you give to young Swedish development professionals trying to kick-start a career in the field?
To get both good technical, thematic education but also follow the international agenda. That is one path to go. The other path is to look at social anthropology, social science. There are now programs that are third world studies. That’s a good add-on. International economics is another path. Climate and environment is a field that will continue to be high-priority. There are many ways that you can enter this field. But I do think that it is important - either as a volunteer or as an intern - to try to find jobs which give you field experience as well because it is not enough to know it in theory. That’s what we all are looking for: people who have both.
What advice would you give to an organization who wants to work with Sida?
I bet that is more difficult because if I say that we will have a lot of organizations asking and applying for funds with us. It depends on what thematic field they are in and it depends on what country they would like to work in. We have our priorities in health, in education and so on but, as I said, projects are not what we embark on for the most of cooperation. So that is not so easy to say but the three priorities is of course one way to look at things - the three government priorities. Then of course we channel money through international NGOs, so that is one way of applying to those organizations and they will in turn apply to us.