Due to the corona pandemic, worldwide networking is being criticized. How do you see that from the perspective of development cooperation?
Ledolter: Despite the partly justified criticism of globalization, I am convinced that we can only face the challenges of our time together. The events of the past few weeks have shown this clearly. The world is based on international cooperation. A pandemic can only be managed with global cooperation. Development cooperation in particular depends on the interaction of all social forces. We can only work out solutions for the multiple facets and backgrounds of poverty and hunger, humanitarian crises and global inequality together with our partners. Austria cannot combat the effects of climate change alone.
How is the pandemic affecting the work of Austrian development cooperation?
Ledolter: Many projects and programs are delayed. In some cases, infrastructure projects are difficult to implement, in some cases employees of our partner organizations had to leave the countries of operation. At the same time, the pandemic threatens to destroy development progress that has already been made. We can only guess at the economic damage and the actual increase in global poverty. But both will be great. Global supply chains no longer work, jobs are disappearing. We are already seeing how the corona crisis is exacerbating the food situation of millions of people.
What specific priorities does the Austrian Development Agency currently have?
Ledolter: Basically, the pandemic has not changed our primary goal - the fight against poverty. Our mission remains unchanged: reduce poverty, promote peace, protect the environment. Since the outbreak of the global health crisis, our top priority has been to provide quick, unbureaucratic and flexible help to deal with the corona pandemic where it is most needed. In close coordination with our partner organizations and the local authorities, we therefore devote budget funds, for example for the provision of respirators and protective equipment, or for contributions to information campaigns on how best to protect yourself against infection. We also support the World Health Organization and the Red Cross in coordinating relief efforts globally. As with other crises, the following also applies here: individual campaigns are of little help. We have made a total of around twelve million euros available for immediate measures.
What does that look like when working with business?
Ledolter: We see an undiminished interest of companies in international projects. And not just in our immediate neighborhood in the Balkans - Africa in particular is becoming increasingly important. We started seven new business partnerships in the first half of 2020. We are particularly pleased that we were able to respond directly to the challenges of the pandemic with a project: At the beginning of April we started our cooperation with the London health platform MedShr (see page 36).
Last year there were two evaluations of domestic development cooperation. What points do you take from the evaluations?
Ledolter: 2019 was an exciting year for us. On the one hand, the ADA was evaluated at the institutional level. On the other hand, the OECD Development Aid Committee devoted itself to a peer review of Austria's development cooperation. Both evaluations have confirmed: The Austrian Development Agency works at a very high level. We implement projects professionally and distinguish ourselves through our expertise. Our work was given a very good report. Both evaluations have also shown that we need more resources in order to meet our growing responsibility. Because both the scope and the complexity of our tasks have increased. With the budget increase of just under eleven million euros for development cooperation and around ten million euros for humanitarian aid decided at the end of May, Austria is already complying with this recommendation in an important first step.
104 million for development
The Austrian Development Agency was founded in 2004 as the agency for Austrian development cooperation and is subordinate to the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs. In addition to the headquarters in Vienna, ADA has offices abroad in eleven priority countries and in Serbia. Together with public institutions, NGOs and companies, ADA supports partner countries in their sustainable development.
In addition to the operational budget of Austrian development cooperation, ADA implements third-party funds for other donors - for example the European Commission. With the 2020 budget decision, the program and project funds of the Austrian Development Agency ADA will be increased by more than XNUMX percent.
Where will you use the additional funds?
Ledolter: The funds are already planned: As already mentioned, they will be used to contain the pandemic. In addition, the topic of migration in the Middle East will play an important role this year, as will the nexus between humanitarian aid and development cooperation, particularly in West Africa. And we would like to increasingly promote projects on renewable energies in southern Africa.
Where do you see the strengths and weaknesses of ADA?
Ledolter: Our greatest strength is definitely the know-how and commitment of our employees. We are known to our partners for this, we are valued for this. Our processes and structures, our risk management work well, we implement projects competently and professionally. We have built a strong evaluation system. In short: You can rely on us and our expertise. For what is probably ADA's greatest weakness, we have to think outside the box. Austria's development cooperation is fragmented, many players are involved. The Austrian Development Agency is the agency for Austrian development cooperation, but we only manage a comparatively small part of Austria's development aid. In addition, there are limits to what we can plan for our funds: Our legal basis is the Development Cooperation Act, and that provides for an annual work program and annual budget. The step away from an annual budget makes sense, of course - in the past few years I have campaigned for a multi-year budget and thus for more predictability of our financial requirements and I will continue to do so.
The evaluation speaks of a further development of ADA from a funding organization to an implementation organization. What is it about?
Ledolter: As part of its legal mandate, ADA not only awards grants, but also implements projects itself with funds entrusted to it by other donors. These are, for example, the European Union, other donor countries or Austrian federal states. We have also been accredited to the Green Climate Fund since 2018. We have continuously expanded our third-party funding area in recent years. For the EU alone, we carried out twelve delegated collaborations in 2019 with a contract volume of almost EUR 100 million. In October we created our own department with eight employees in order to do justice to this growing business area.
An Africa strategy is currently being developed in Austria. How can such a strategy interact with development policy?
Ledolter: The potential of political coherence is particularly evident in the example of this strategy. An Africa strategy can not only work together with development policy. Because in the end it's all about: Africa's youth need training that makes them fit for the job market - and the continent investments that create jobs. Food security and sustainable innovations in agriculture are required, as well as the promotion of entrepreneurs - and better integration into international value chains. It is a win-win situation. A general government strategy for Africa that includes development policy makes sense in every respect. It would give the departments concerned a clear direction and bundle all strategic resources in one place. And of course this also applies to the three-year program of Austrian development policy.
Vielen Dank für das Gespräch!
Martin Ledolter has been Managing Director of the Austrian Development Agency since 2013 and is responsible for the implementation of Austrian bilateral development cooperation. Before that, the lawyer worked as a speaker at the ÖAAB and in the cabinet of the then Vice-Chancellor Michael Spindelegger.