Academic homework for development cooperation

26. September, 2005


Visvaldis Valtenbergs

Foto: B. Koļesņikovs

Even though the overall situation in the academic sector is gradually improving, the current ability to offer educational programs does not yet meet Latvian ambition to provide expertise to developing countries. Besides, there is a homework due – participation in efficient development cooperation policy mechanism development.

Development cooperation is a wide and multi-layered area that opens up opportunities for direct expert, consultant, researcher and faculty involvement in programming policy development, for policy evaluation as well as for development training and research areas. However, full-fledged academic involvement in political discussion is limited not only in Latvia, but in other East European countries as well.

2003. In 2003 report to the Canadian National education office on development studies in Czech Republic and Slovakia it has been noted that the experience of regional colleges in development education is scarce. College programs and courses still lack topics that are required for the implementation of development project – strategic planning, project and program evaluation and monitoring. Besides, the themes in environmental, gender, human rights, democratization and rural development studies are insufficiently elaborate [1]. Latvian higher education establishment at the moment are not offering development study programs, while there are required components for introduction of development studies in the study areas related to project management, finance management, environment studies, international relations and EU integration. Even though the overall situation in the academic sector is gradually improving, the current ability to offer educational programs does not yet meet Latvian ambition to provide expertise to developing countries.

Given that, development cooperation experience is still developing, Latvian expertise in development cooperation areas is being built in foreign schools and at international organizations. Surveying experts and faculty members who until now have partaken in development projects, I tried to find out their observations development in the short period of Latvian development cooperation practice.

In delivering knowledge – trusted and recognized

At the moment almost all new member states are building their development assistance in accordance with the most popular form of practice, accentuating the delivery of knowledge, good quality public administration building in the recipient countries. The majority of countries are building their strategy on the basis of the UN Millennium goals, OECD and EU documentation. On the basis of historical and geo-strategical considerations, some countries have paid significant meaning to allocating assistance means for the post-socialist countries. Poland has taken to assist the Ukraine and Belarus, while the Baltic countries – to help the countries in the South Caucasus area, Belarus and Moldova [2].

Donor countries who are unable to provide “tangible” assistance try to secure reliability and recognizability for their reform products and experts. As to the opinion of Sintija Smite, expert on Georgina development strategy, it is very important to understand the cultural context of the state. On the basis of cooperative climate of Georgian public administration, Latvian experts should on timely basis secure “entry tickets” to the administration and establish individual contacts. She also held that mutual cooperation and information exchange with the planned assistance projects with the major international donoror ganizations – the World Bank, USAID and UNDP plays significant role. Donor countries with limited financial resources have an opportunity to “pull out” certain activities on the basis of successful cooperation with the “key” donors, and to bring in their own experts for project implementation, hence providing their contribution to development cooperation. Sanda Putnina, a World Bank consultant, pointed out that within the international organizations there is a great demand for experts with reform experience in the rest of the countries.

knowledge and expertise delivery mechanism are manifold. “Let us just recall what the international experts who arrived in Latvia were like,” said Gunta Berzina, executive director for NGO “Strategija” speaking at the seminar on EC development cooperation policy, implying that Latvia has been through successful and unsuccessful expert assistance stages.

One of the knowledge transfer forms singled out by the experts has been the preparation of reform descriptions by the Latvian public institutions and their adoption for the needs of the developing countries [3].

It must be also noted that knowledge transfer requires special skills, for instance, skills in intercultural communication and diverse instruments even some like doing a teleconference.

Provision of development cooperation is a dynamic process as assistance recipient country’s priorities often change and contracts with these countries are coveted by businessmen, non-governmental organization and individual consultants. As is known, it is not only Latvia but also Estonia and Lithuania who have opted for Moldova and Georgia as their assistance recipient countries. All the experts surveyed noted that for the implementation of Latvian development cooperation efficient coordination mechanism was required. This means that along with preparation of assistance projects in the recipient countries, the role of the Latvian NGO and academic sectors was significant, doing their homework for efficient development cooperation policy mechanism. At the moment the Latvian NGO sector has most of the tools in their hand in contrast with the moment when we will act as assistance providers, such is the opinion of Geert Laporte, the head of the Department of Institutional Relations at the European Development policy management centre. The fist serious test for these “tools of influence” in the hands of the NGO sector would be the negotiations on state support in capacity strengthening as they compete for development project funding from European Development fund.

National interests and moral imperatives

Development cooperation may also be looked at as an instrument in foreign policy, preparing the ground for external economic and political relations. The projects implemented increase the recognition of Latvia in a certain region and allow Latvian businessmen for easier entrance in the respective countries. The author of the Moldova development strategy, Dr. Andris Spruds thinks that the implementation of Latvian development cooperation policy activities should be in line with the Latvian foreign policy priorities. As to his opinion, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported technical projects should support Moldovan integration into European and Trans-Atlantic structures and its territorial integrity, they should also facilitate capacity strengthening for public administration and non-governmental sector as well as the development of information society. Without clear vision and alternative discussion, development cooperation issues gain mere technical character and wider public fail to gain better understanding on their significance.

It is no secret that the assistance provided by donor organizations often fails to reach their direct addresses and the monies return to the donor side – their entrepreneurs, consultants and experts. Even discussion in Latvia has showed opinion that development cooperation is business not only for the entrepreneurs but for the NGOs and experts as well. This position being unacceptable for many, it is refreshing in the context of the political discourse and it serves the role of catalyser for community discussion on development policy instruments, their compatibility with the set global responsibility moral imperatives that are part of the UN Millennium objectives.

Integrated approach to development education

Theory and practice in assistance provision has been learned within the development education context. During the last decade these study programs have looked at a significantly widening group of questions. Initially the issues were dealt with from a perspective of international economical and politically economical perspective while now development issues are being looked at from the perspective of culture, environment, gender, sound management. Many universities are offering development studies courses within the programs of economics, administration, environment and law. As to the opinion of students and faculty, these programs gain ever increasing popularity. For instance, in Canada there are 22 universities offering a degree at the undergraduate level with focus on development studies. It is also interesting that the number of these programs rapidly increased in mid-nineties when Canadian public funding for development was reduced [4]. The popularity of development studies is supported by global phenomena as international peace movement, ecological issues as movements of volunteers. The Global Learning Network (GLEN) has started its activities in Latvia, the organization could be a forceful catalyst for young people’ s global awareness raising and accumulating development related practice competences that are crucial in building expertise for specific area development policy analysis and program evaluation.

At the moment only a few new member states are aware of the importance of development policy and only some have developed adequate mechanisms and have allocated funding. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia have funded NGO activities in development education area. Latvian NGO platform for development cooperation (LAPAS) is planning to implement activities for public awareness raising campaign – to publish booklets, organize media seminars and lecture in higher education institutions. Introduction of development education must be planned for school curricula with an aim to increase understanding on global developments from early childhood.

The fact the necessity for information exists is proved by the Eurobarometer survey of February, 2005 – the survey showed that 88% of EU citizens had not heard of UN Millennium goals [5]. 18.-20. A conference in Brussels, organized on May 18-20, entitled “Public Awareness Raising and Development Education for North-South solidarity” stressed that development education and public awareness raising is an indispensable component of development cooperation policy. That must be reflected in member state program budgets, allocating at least 3% of the national official development assistance for development education activities [6]. Latvia has not provided for funding for development education at all at the moment.

Funding is increasing

Current budgets of the new members states allocates 0.02-0.14% of GDP for development cooperation, which is significantly lower than elsewhere in the EU and as OECD objectives would require. The countries have committed to reach a 0.17% from the GDP level by 2010 and 0.35% – by the year 2015 which is an ambitious project, given the rapid GDP growth in these countries. The objectives in the EU-15 countries are twice as high.

2005. In 2005 the amount of LVL 100.000 was allocated for Latvian development policy implementation, however, the subsequent policy plan required an amount six times of this quoted one, providing for grants program funding, communication activities and research. As to the data from the UK Overseas Development Institute, donor organizations spend as much as 3 billion dollars a year for development research; nevertheless, it has been noticed that even those donors face the classic problem of applying that research to policy building [7]. The Latvian funding for development research amounts to several thousand lats.

The scarcity of resources for development research may not be viewed as an excuse to hinder development policy planning and evaluation system creation. At the same time the objective and means for this program provide grounds for questions rather than for answers. One thing is clear – while the system is not functional, it is flexible. In order to stimulate the activities of researchers, consultants and faculty members in creating this system, the following is desirable:

– support to discussion on the Georgian and Moldovan development strategies, expected in September;

– to focus knowledge resources to informative and educational events as well as for the preparation of development project evaluation system to gain the maximum possible from the money spent;

– to think of Latvian reform product and support for expert recognizability as well as for better targeted use thereof in line with foreign policy objectives.

Higher education establishments and research institutions should consider these recommendations:

– to the extent possible, introduce development topics in study programs and facilitate development study module introducing functioning among the institutions;

– gradually accumulate research capacity for certain area, development policy analysis and program evaluation.


[1] Martin Rudner “ODACE International Development Education Mission to the Czech Republic and Slovakia” CBIE, 2003.

[2] Adam Novak “NGDO Partnerships in the enlarged EU” Seminar “EU Development cooperation politics, means and funding”, Rīga, 29/08/2005.

[3] Geert Laporte “Non-State Actors in EC Development Cooperation” Seminar “EU Developmnt cooperation politics, means and funding”, Rīga, 29/08/2005 29. augusts.

[4] CASID & The North-South Institute. 2003. “’White Paper’ on International Development Studies in Canada” Ottawa.

[5] Eurobarometer, “Attitudes Towards Development Aid” Feb, 2005.

[6] Conference “Public Awareness Raising and Development Education for North-South solidarity” Brussels, May 18–20, 2005.

[7] UK Overseas Development Institute project

This publication is made within the framework of the UNDP Latvia and Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs joint project “Strengthening Institutional Capacity in Development Cooperation to strengthen the cooperation structure of the Latvian government”.

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