corporAID: You have been Managing Director of the Austrian Development Agency since the summer. What motivated you to take this step?

Pen: I first came into contact with development cooperation as a schoolboy through the Catholic youth and the caroling campaign. Since then I have been interested in global development and intercultural exchange. My experience in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as an ambassador in the People's Republic of China, which until recently was the largest developing country, as well as in Iran and Saudi Arabia, also help me with my task. Being the managing director of ADA is a special task that fills me with joy and humility. Austria is one of the richest countries in the world with a high social standard and a very good education and health system. It is an act of solidarity to support less privileged people. 

Has your view of development cooperation changed since you became ADA Managing Director? 

Pen: Development cooperation is facing enormous challenges worldwide. While the numbers of global poverty were on the decline before the pandemic, Covid-19 has partially wiped out the development progress that had already been made. In addition, we are confronted with the climate crisis, which is causing the greatest knock-on effects, especially in the poorest regions of the world. Unfortunately, the security situation in some of our priority countries has also deteriorated in recent months. For example, in Ethiopia, which is in a civil war, or in Uganda and Burkina Faso, where there have been a number of terrorist attacks. 

How does the corona pandemic affect the work of the ADA?

Pen: Dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic is also a major challenge for development cooperation. Especially people in countries with inadequate health care now need our protection, especially since the living conditions for the people have deteriorated significantly. Many women who work in the informal sector have lost their jobs. Women also bear the greatest burden because they are more involved in nursing at home and in hospitals and are therefore the most exposed. We have to start there. 

Which priorities do you want to set now?

Pen: To follow up on what has just been said: We have to see that women are taken out of this disadvantage. My special focus is on environmental and climate protection. Because we can only achieve something here through sustainable management and careful treatment of nature. Overall, the priorities of ADA are specified by the three-year program of Austrian development policy. These are also the areas in which we have many years of expertise: These range from human rights and good governance to vocational training and sustainable economic development to water supply and renewable energy. In doing so, we take gender equality into account and promote social issues such as the rights of children and young people and the inclusion of people with disabilities. 

We can only achieve something through sustainable management and careful treatment of nature.

Friedrich Stift, ADA managing director
The competencies of a country manifest themselves not least in successful companies. What can Austria contribute internationally?

Pen: Austria has many innovative companies. The ADA tries to arouse and promote their interest in development cooperation. From my point of view, entrepreneurship is an inner attitude and lived everyday practice: It's about being customer-oriented, efficient, responsible and prudent. We want our companies - from large corporates to social entrepreneurs - to convey these values ​​in their projects abroad and thus also contribute to the achievement of the global goals for sustainable development.

How can development cooperation promote this? 

Pen: Companies make an important contribution to global development. An efficient private sector with its innovations, capital and job opportunities is essential in the fight against poverty. We work closely with companies that pursue sustainable business models. Development cooperation has long played a role as an “enabler” here. For example, the funding instrument of business partnerships gives companies the opportunity to sustainably strengthen value chains, in particular through the transfer of know-how. From an economic point of view, the ADA provides companies with financial support, whereby the commitment must come from the company itself. A total of 2012 business partnerships have been implemented since 160. In 2020, for example, almost 3,6 million people and more than 77.000 companies benefited from our business partnerships.

An efficient private sector is essential in the fight against poverty.

Friedrich Stift, ADA managing director
How can cooperation with business be stimulated in the current situation?

Pen: Many jobs have been lost as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is therefore all the more important to strengthen cooperation with business and to continue pursuing social and sustainable goals in order to improve the worsened living conditions of particularly disadvantaged people. 

Do you see development cooperation in Austria as being well positioned compared to countries like Switzerland or Sweden?

Pen: In its government program, the federal government has made a clear commitment to development cooperation. As you know, the budget for Austrian development cooperation has been gradually increased over the past few years. At the same time, we are confronted with increasing conflicts, natural disasters and crises, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. The events quickly triggered humanitarian crises and endangered the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. For this reason, the foreign disaster fund was also substantially increased: from just under 15 in 2019 to 55 million euros for 2022. These funds are also mostly handled by ADA. So our tasks have become more. In order for us to be able to meet future requirements, as ADA managing director I will work to ensure that we are provided with the necessary budget resources to carry out our increased tasks in the future.

One of the future topics of ADA is the further development from a funding organization to an implementation organization. What is it about?

Pen: As part of its statutory mandate, the ADA not only awards grants, but also implements projects itself using funds entrusted to it by other donors. These are, for example, the European Union, other donor states or Austrian federal states. We have also been accredited by the Green Climate Fund since 2018 and can apply for funds for projects that support developing countries with climate protection and adaptation to climate change. In the past few years we have continuously expanded our third-party funding, which is an important strategic goal of our corporate concept. To date, we have successfully completed a total of 14 projects for the European Union with a contract value of almost 90 million euros. The number of projects and the amount of funds are increasing continuously. We are currently implementing projects totaling 127 million euros.

The ADA is sometimes described as bureaucratic. How do you intend to make ADA more attractive for business partners?

The ADA works with tax money. It is therefore our responsibility to process funding according to defined criteria. This may be seen as too bureaucratic or too complicated for some. But as I said, we are committed to Austrian taxpayers. However, we are constantly working to review our specifications and guidelines for service orientation so that we can continue to be an attractive partner. 

We continuously review our guidelines for service orientation.

Friedrich Stift, ADA managing director
Where do you see the strengths and weaknesses of ADA?

Pen: Our greatest strength is the expertise, reliability and impressive commitment of our employees. We are present in our priority countries with foreign offices, experts and the appropriate infrastructure. This is how we ensure that ADA funds are used in a targeted manner and that the measures meet the needs of the local people. As a weakness, it must be noted that there are limits to the long-term planning of our funds: Our legal basis is the Development Cooperation Act, which provides for an annual work program and an annual budget.

What are your personal goals? Where should the ADA be in a few years?

Pen: It is important to me that ADA is an attractive and constructive partner for the priority countries of Austrian development cooperation. Our partner countries know best in which areas they need our support most. We also attach great importance to good, trust-based cooperation with Austrian NGOs who implement the projects on site. And we continue to strive to be a good employer, with whose values ​​and goals all employees identify.

Many thanks for the interview!


Friedrich pen

Friedrich pen is the managing director of Austrian Development Agency (ADA). In the summer of 2021, the top diplomat took over the management of the Austrian development agency, which, with around 350 employees, is responsible for the implementation of bilateral programs and projects with a total volume of 550 million euros. Before that, Stift was ambassador to China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. In Vienna, the doctor of law headed the Middle East department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for four years and was deputy political director.

Photos: Wilke