In 2001, you participated in an Executive Education programme at the Graduate Institute of Development Studies. What are the commonalities and differences of today’s notion of development as compared to 20 years ago?
First of all, let me say that I never missed a class during the eight months of the programme! This type of study was different from my previous experiences in the US and at ETH Zurich. The development knowledge proposed to the students was scrutinised through a rich and contextualised reality check and translated into action proposals. At the same time, this contextualisation made the common features that are part of any development process appear.
In 2020, the lexicon has changed but reflects the same concerns from the 2000s: grassroot involvement is now embedded in localisation, solidarity is still considered a core element of partnership, participation is again used as the key process for community engagement and continuum is now dynamised via the concept of nexus.
Whatever the words are, the understanding and acceptance of the basics of the notion of development are better today than 20 years ago, and the 17 SDGs are a reference frame in the global world. In Switzerland, the COVID-19 crisis has been a stimulus for opening a debate on the necessity to revisit what could be more inclusive development. Furthermore, COVID has demonstrated – in Switzerland and elsewhere – that answering short-term urgencies is intertwined with proposing long-term resilience developments.
How is Switzerland’s International Cooperation Strategy (ICS) 2021–2024 capitalising on previous strategies and what are the focal points for the next four years?
This Strategy has been, perhaps for the first time, easily understood, supported and accepted by the Parliament without contesting the assumptions of for what and why the budget was meant to be used (CHF 12.5 billion from 2021 to 2024, of which the SDC is expected to manage CHF 9.45 billion). It builds on previous foci, such as peace, the rule of law, populations’ needs, climate change, effectiveness, Switzerland’s long-term interests and the added value offered by international cooperation. But today’s ICS foci are formulated in a more concise manner. The focus on population/partner needs, for example, will be better articulated.
The new ICS was also inspired by the 2020–2023 Swiss Foreign Policy Strategy: it is not just about setting out what Switzerland wants to achieve in the long term, but also about knowing what relevance and value is granted to our objectives by our partners.
The ICS also emphasises that special attention be paid to further engage the private sector. This engagement is not new; it started with the support of informal/micro, small and medium size production units, responding to the needs of poor/under-privileged populations for jobs and financial support to reduce dependency and escape poverty through entrepreneurship. Today’s international firms and SMEs are ever more interested in reducing inequalities and poverty for the sake of their markets’ growth. ICS shares that same interest, but in the interest of leaving no one behind. When designing these partnerships, ICS has to remain vigilant to marry the approaches in the best interest of the communities it is meant to serve.
At the same time, the informal economy continues booming because of COVID, and acts as an accelerator, which is a reality that we have to keep in mind.
Any strategy needs data and knowledge to be developed and translated into action. This knowledge has to contribute to prospective visions that can be applied later according to context. How can the Institute contribute to these objectives?
The production of quantitative and qualitative data is booming in an exponential way in all fields. The multiplication of data platforms is not an end in itself, as data need all kinds of skills to be scanned and contextually analysed. Statistics are important and it is only with reliable data that SDG indicators can be reported successfully. Such a process is the condition to widen the perspectives and to build projections and options for defining scenarios for future action.
In that context the Institute is in a good position to take up the challenge of contributing to reach the previous objectives. During the COVID-19 crisis, the Institute gained experience by mastering virtual teaching, learning and social interactions, ensuring that its rich network of students and alumni will remain one of its comparative advantages.
Nevertheless, real social interactions are indispensable tools for analysing and understanding reality. That is why I am excited to visit the Institute, to share with faculty and students my experience and reflections about the common interests the Institute and SDC could develop in the future.
Interview by Michel Carton, Emeritus Professor of Development Studies
This article was originally published in Globe #26, the Institute Review.