A round table discussion on development cooperation - assistance that Latvia could give to less developed countries and countries in transition period - brought together different stakeholders: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, Saeima, NGO representatives, academic sector and International organization’s representatives to discuss how to coordinate the agenda setting and implementation of the Latvian Development Cooperation Policy. This discussion is the first event in a series of planned discussions on different aspects of the Latvian Development Cooperation Policy.
Development Co-operation in Latvia - Public Awareness and Development Studies
Maija Manika, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Under-Secretary of State, Economic Relations and Development Cooperation Policy Directorate: I would like to welcome everyone who is present in this discussion. The aim of this roundtable is to exchange views on involvement of different groups in Development Cooperation. Vidzeme University College and Canadian Embassy in Riga initiated this idea, as a result of two workshops that took place in April in Valmiera. Now we have invited other important stakeholders – NGOs, Parliament, UNDP Latvia and international programs like GLEN. We would like to increase coordination among different stakeholders and we invite stakeholders to involve in formulation of overall Development Cooperation Policy of Latvia.
Development cooperation is a new issue for Latvia and when we started to formulate our policy at the end of 2002, we were just a very narrow circle of people in the MFA who were dealing with it. Now we see that more stakeholders are interested to get involved. We have some resources, even if small, in the MFA from the State budget, to assist some development projects. We have policy documents, basic principles for development cooperation already adopted at the beginning of 2003 and for 2005 we have a Policy Plan. Priority countries for this year are Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus and Uzbekistan. For the next year we feel we should narrow this list, because we cannot be active in too many countries. We can do something but would not feel such an impact, like in Ukraine. Now we are working on a Policy Plan for 2006 and we would like to concentrate on Moldova, Georgia and Belarus.
I would like to specially welcome Mr. Chandran, representative from ODACE and Ms. Strautiņa from the Canadian Embassy. Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has been very active in organizing stakeholder’s dialogue. We would like to discuss how to continue this cooperation, since ODACE capacity building programme has been closed and we have entered the stage of trilateral projects, where we could do projects together in third countries like Georgia and Moldova.
Chandran Thiruchittampalam, Official Development Co-operation in Central Europe (ODACE) program office in Bratislava, CIDA: We have been helping out on capacity building for various stakeholders in Canada and here, and yes, we are in the second phase where the intent is to co-finance as many projects as we could to meet Latvian requirements in a third country. It is your programme, you choose the projects and then we would co-finance 50% of your project. But what we are looking forward is openness in how the proposals are done, and the same evaluation criteria as we would do back in Canada - efficiency, sustainability, management structure.
That phase has been just started in many countries, and hopefully Latvia will get moving and have projects, and I believe Moldova is first in line. We are pulling out our office in Central and Eastern Europe, but support to the 8 EU countries has certainly not diminished. There will come a time when you will have to go to Africa or Asia, and that is where we have been supporting our programs in the last many years.
M.Manika: Hopefully in future we will be able to go to those countries, but in the beginning we concentrate on where we see our current experience as a transition economy and integration in the EU.
Vaira Paegle, Member of Parliament, Foreign Affairs Committee: We with our experience here want to make sure that our region is stable, democratic, civil society is having adequate resources. We have very limited human and money resources and we do not want to duplicate anything, but we want to have an impact, to feel that we have done something. I know that besides Canada, also America is very active in these regions, how do you prevent duplication of efforts?
Chandran Thiruchittampalam: Well, we have the same concern. Your focus has also been adopted by Slovakia, they have created special Bratislava-Belgrade fund because of their special interest. That you could do if you wish to, making sure that you do not end up overlapping.
When we know of the projects, we send them to our CIDA field officers in these countries and say, do you know of anybody else who is financing or doing this so that we can come back and ask why you want to do this when another agency is doing it? On the other hand, as Moldova came up, I told them in Lithuania that Latvia is interested and the answer came back that our money is so little, they are not going to cross each other’s road right now. Right now there is enough space for all of us, but your concern is valid and Baltic States will have to start coordinating with each other, maybe through EU, to see that one doesn’t do the same thing twice over. We coordinate our efforts in those countries themselves. Various agencies coordinate on a very regular basis.
Kristīne Rudzīte, Global Education Project, Ministry of Defence: I can share some experience. In order not to duplicate efforts we in the Ministry of Defence have what we call clearinghouses, aid coordination groups. For example, we have a group for South Caucuses, we meet regularly twice a year and that is a place where donors can share information what is done, and the aid receiver comes and tells what is needed.
M.Manika: Yes, it is very important to coordinate in the country of assistance. I also always try to tell my bosses that we need more embassies, especially in the countries where we settle priorities for development cooperation. In the meantime, we successfully use some other agency, like UNDP field offices. I think that if we assess the need for new embassies, the development cooperation area should be taken into account.
Now we would like to invite other participants to say how you see your role and responsibility in cooperation with MFA and different stakeholders? We are ready to involve large circles from outside the MFA. The first mechanism we have is Consultative Board for Development Cooperation issues, where almost all ministries, NGOs and academic sector are represented, and we are also able to invite ad hoc observers. The main aim of the Board is to define the priorities for development cooperation.
What about the Parliament? You adopt all the important documents, including budget, which is one of the weak points, because we do not really have enough resources.
V.Paegle: Not only public awareness about assistance programs, but also awareness within Parliament about the importance of development cooperation issues is needed. I don’t think that there is a level of understanding of how important it is for forming the image of our country as someone who is no longer a consumer of assistance, but has become a producer. We are at this stage, despite the lack of monetary resources, we are starting to produce our experience not only about integration into EU, but civil society and good governance.
Probably the Foreign Affairs Committee would be the proper place where to start to discuss this. I think one of the outcomes of this meeting will really be to put it on the agenda. At least to start awareness of what this is and what needs to be done, because the coordination of development cooperation policy is in the hands of MFA and I don’t see in near future that it will be a separate agency like in Canada.
The mechanism that we have in Saeima is these Interparliamentary friendship groups, but what we need to do is to see how we can integrate Parliament in the overall development cooperation picture.
Ilmārs Solims, Consultant of the European Affairs Committee: The most visible activities currently are with the Parliament of Georgia. The most recent event was a conference in Riga in May with the participation of the Speakers of Georgian and Latvian Parliament. We could achieve the same goals in Armenia as in Georgia, in sharing legislation, which is also a means of cooperation without being involved in big cooperation programs. The same applies to Moldova.
As regards priorities of Saeima and EU affairs, with Georgia we are already cooperating since many years. The new priority will be Moldova and Ukraine, we will soon sign a Memorandum of Understanding which will specify in which areas our assistance will be needed.
M.Manika: I would like to talk about other stakeholders. So far we have relied on expertise within the government, and it is on one hand good because the people in the government are the most knowledgeable in many areas. Ministries themselves have had many activities for cooperation on ad hoc basis, we collect data on what they have done. On the other hand, in the future we could also look at other areas and experts outside government. We have Latvian Platform for Development Co-operation (LAPAS), a platform of 21 NGOs active in development cooperation, established a year ago. Common activities with LAPAS are for communication and awareness raising, development projects and research about country priority needs.
Irēna Freimane, Education Development Center: I represent LAPAS and one thematic group - Development Education. I think it is very crucial to create public opinion about Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Eurobarometer has recently had a survey in all EU countries asking people if they knew these MDGs and the results were shocking - about 80% or even more did not know about them. Forming the public opinion we see as one of our first goals at LAPAS. In May LAPAS has become a member of CONCORD (European NGO’s Confederation for Relief and Development). In the first year of our activities we were learning a lot what and how to do, and what other countries are doing. But now we have taken one step further and now a group of our representatives are in a needs assessment visit in Georgia looking for contacts and we will also try to do our best in development cooperation.
But we see a very great need and our role in fostering development education in Latvia, as a group of development education we would like to cooperate with the Ministry of Education as to get the topic of development education in the curricula, both in formal and informal education.
K.Rudzīte: I represent the Young Scholars Forum, which works under the President’s Commission for strategic analysis. This is our first year and our activity theme is globalization and development. We have come up with the idea about a global awareness project targeted at secondary school students, and their teachers. We plan to issue a brochure on globalization, global problems and culture. We also plan to organize essay contests and informative lectures.
M.Manika: I have an observation that some of the very active NGOs which form public opinion, they never spoke on development cooperation. We hope that they could be more active as they are very powerful and form opinions.
Now let’s turn to academics. Some of them are already involved in CSP (Country Strategy Paper) preparation. The second area is development studies in higher education. It is important, because we rely on the young generation in supporting the development goals.
Andris Sprūds, Riga Stradins University: As you mentioned, academics can become key players in rising awareness and identifying the needs of development cooperation. But another aspect is the development of a curriculum at the university. There are several problems here. First of all there really are no teachers for it, and therefore cooperation with Canadian universities is excellent experience. Secondly, there are students, which are not aware and not really interested in this field. That is why we need to raise general awareness.
Inita Pauloviča, UNDP Latvia: It is very important that we get professional knowledge in development area. It will take a long time when you really can say that only professionals should work with development cooperation, but if there will be no professionals and no development education in Latvia, then after a few years when we will really have to compete with other countries in providing assistance to developing countries, our people would lose because of lack of professional skills. I think there are different scenarios how to develop it – you can incorporate it in curriculum of economic and social studies, but there should also be some kind of post-graduate possibility in development area. It is very, very important, because sometimes in Latvia there is a lack of very basic understanding of what development is and how you can think strategically about it. We can transfer our knowledge of transformation, but it is time-limited. In five to seven years time those countries will grow faster than we do now, and then we will have no more experience to share. So by that time we have to develop professional knowledge how to solve development issues in other countries.
Visvaldis Valtenbergs, Vidzeme University College (VUC): When it comes to development education it is very important to realize that it is not the same as awareness raising and PR on development cooperation. Development education is something that is integrated in every step we take, a part of a lifestyle, part of thinking.
I see two possibilities – to integrate development studies in existing courses, for example in course like I teach at the VUC, International Migration and Globalization. The second approach would be to design a new programme that would deal with the policies of development. We are slowly getting there.
Since the share we give to development cooperation is very small, we are not talking of millions of lats but of hundred thousand lats, we should really focus on the quality of assistance. NGOs play a vital role in designing feasible, effective projects for development, but we also need an effective system of evaluation. Here is one opening for academics to come in, to comment and be part of the building up of the assessment framework.
My final point is that both awareness raising and development education is important. We should really be working on a creative communication message. EU development Commissioner was very skeptical on brochures: why to waste money on brochures when you can use NGOs to do it directly, use existing MDG’s awareness raising visual materials, use Ambassadors for Development rather than spend money on very expensive means of advertising. This I think is another opening for academics and media specialists, to present feasible solutions in terms of ideas and money.
M.Manika: Just a comment on how to involve different types of stakeholders. We all declare that we are good experts in the needs of our neighbors. Sometimes I really doubt if we are, because some of us already start to speak bad Russian. So I want to point out for academia that they have to educate people on knowledge of this region, rather than to speak of general knowledge of helping poor countries.
Andris Sekacis, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of Development Co-operation Policy: When you talk about market for potential graduates from such a DC course, it is a 50 billion euro market a year for EU alone. It is a stiff competition and I know there are quite a few Latvian experts participation in EU projects, which actually do not have such a formal education. DC is business for private sector, for NGOs it might be different, but DC is business.
V.Paegle: I as a politician think how do I sell this idea to the voter? And the voter always says, why is this important for me, what’s in it for me? We travel through Latvia, schools don’t have computers and latest literature, and then we have to sell the idea in terms of the budget that we are now going to help other countries, despite the fact that we are one of the poorest EU countries. How do we then sell this idea to the general public? I think if we have future discussions like this, we should think of how to involve mass media people.
Anda Vaiče, GLEN (Global Education Network):I can tell you about awareness raising activities that GLEN does. We are 8 NGOs in Eastern Europe coming together and sending volunteers for 3-month development cooperation projects. This is our second year; our people will go to Srilanka, Ghana and Namibia. The basic aim of this project is development education, to share the experience when volunteers come back.
We created a project called ‘To look wider’ funded by EU Youth programme, in six partner organizations all over the country we have multipliers trained on three topics – poverty and child labor, fair trade and environmental sustainability. This is an experiment of spreading the idea of development in Latvia, the idea of looking wider than our national borders, to show our connection with other people. We have created a first methodological material on these three topics. Avoiding brochures we have created CD manuals. We are in the process of sending the multipliers back to their cities, talking to secondary schools children, playing games, interactive learning.
Chandran Thiruchittampalam: There are ways that CIDA also helps by giving small grants to facilitate youth to go three and six months away and then to bring the message back. For professionals we have created trust funds, to encourage EU or World Bank to employ the people who gain knowledge. So we are encouraging Latvians to create trust funds. This way you could create a link to the Latvian experts who are no flying Latvian flag but who keep coming back. Of course, you need a little bit more money, but this is a thing you can look at in the future.
I.Pauloviča: I think that one unused resource for global education is also the UN Volunteers programme. Unfortunately there is not one single UN Volunteer in the world from Latvia, so I think it is time to start. From the beginning you do not need any money; people can just apply and get volunteer jobs in other countries. Another would be for MFA an opportunity to finance one UN Volunteer position and send one person to a country of your choice. But we still have to explore this.
V.Valtenbergs: If you want to connect this idea to the universities, we often have exchange students coming from countries of the region of interest. The student goes back home and he can be involved further to do development work in his country of origin.
M.Manika: We have many good ideas on this, so let’s turn to the remaining questions. On media, it is important that those projects that we have are well covered by media, show a positive message to people that we can make changes in the countries where we go. To show that we do not export money but we transfer our expertise.
Zane Ivanova, MFA, Department of Development Co-operation Policy: “The European Conference on Public Awareness and Development Education for North-South Solidarity”, that took place in Brussels in May,produced several recommendations on how to strengthen public awareness in EU about development cooperation and on state’s obligations. They recommend giving a human face to development cooperation, that everyone can participate. They recommend using MDGs as a message in public campaigns, so that people recognize it.
We need to improve regional cooperation and harmonization, exchange of information with colleagues in Baltic States. In a way we are competing among the three Baltic States, but the needs in developing countries are great and there is a possibility for everyone to act.
Recommendation for NGOs is to participate in EU tenders, even if the mechanism is not so flexible in terms of eligibility.
I.Pauloviča: I have a feeling that there is really a time to have a wider conference on development cooperation. Communication campaign has been elaborated with the help of UNDP Latvia project, promotional materials are in production, but we need to look at other implementation avenues, on how Latvia will be doing when there will no longer be a UNDP Office in Riga. So there are a lot of issues that should be discussed, and they need a forum where professionals come together and talk and come up with proposals. A bigger conference could take place in fall to think about how these action plans could be implemented and what could be the role of different actors in it.
V.Paegle: An important issue is funding. Is funding somehow coordinated for NGOs and academics, in terms of next years budget? How do you maximize value for money?
M.Manika: Yes, we have submitted a proposal for the budget for 2006.
Chandran Thiruchittampalam: I am sure there must be EU funding in these areas where Latvians should have access. NGO platform being a part of CONCORD will have a channel where a part of EU money will become available. Is there any way in finding out what is available from EU funding to academics or private sector? Get that information out to theses guys so that you do not have to use your own money for funding their activities.
M.Manika: There are also good possibilities for private sector to get involved in development cooperation and the Latvian Investment and Development Agency is already giving information on this, but we are still looking at who should do this information thing.
I guess we have identified many questions that have to be included in our further work. Thank you all for participation in this discussion!
P.S. This is a partial transcript of the discussion, which took place in Riga, May 27, 2005.
This publication has been produced in the framework of United Nations Development Programme in Latvia and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia joint project 'Strengthening Institutional Capacity for Development Cooperation in Support of the Development Cooperation Framework of the Government of Latvia'.