The COVID-19 crisis has affected all aspects of life across the globe. The moves to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been affected as well, particularly in emerging markets, given that from January until March, investors moved around $90 billion out of such markets, the largest outflow ever recorded according to UN data.
Moreover, global growth is projected to drop by 3 percent in 2020, creating the worst recession since the Great Depression and much worse than during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, according to the International Monetary Fund.
In an exclusive interview, Egyptian Minister of International Cooperation Rania Al-Mashat spoke to Ahram Online about how emerging countries, in particular Egypt, will be affected in their attempts to implement the SDG agenda in light of the pandemic and its repercussions.
She told Ahram Online that no country nor institution has the ultimate solution to COVID-19, but that through effective cooperation, developing countries can make progress.
Ahram Online: How could the COVID-19 outbreak affect the efforts of countries in the region to achieve the SDGs, including Egypt?
Rania Al-Mashat: We are very mindful that the COVID-19 outbreak should not derail us from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. On the contrary, the Ministry of International Cooperation has just launched the Global Partnerships Narrative, focused on the goals. The new narrative not only aims to highlight Egypt’s previous development story but also continues to showcase future cooperation efforts.
The ministry commenced a “Global Partnerships for Effective Development Cooperation” meeting early on to step up coordination efforts with all multilateral and bilateral development partners on policies and strategies related not only to response efforts but more importantly to the recovery, with the aim of pushing forward the SDGs agenda around a common narrative.
There are some SDGs now which come even more strongly to the fore, such as SDG 3: Good Health and Well Being, SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG 5: Gender Equality, SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities and SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. Infrastructure is going to be quite important going forward, as many countries are going to do fiscal stimulus through infrastructure spending.
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AO: So, what is the situation for Egypt in particular?
RM: In the case of Egypt, structural reforms have been expedited alongside monetary and fiscal measures to help flatten the recession curve. These reforms will help push forward the SDGs agenda.
For example, structural reforms related to advancing financial inclusion and digitalisation have been fast tracked to address the issues of unorganised labour force and unemployment benefits as well as transitioning from an informal to formal sector.
Similarly, scaling up the social protection and social safety agenda that prioritises the protection of women is another case in point. It is important to underscore that Egypt is the first country to issue a policy paper titled “Egypt’s rapid response to women’s situation during the outbreak” and a Women Policy Tracker on responsive policies, which has been highlighted by UN Women.
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AO: How can the SDGs’ achievement enhance the region’s countries to overcome COVID-19’s harsh implications, in particular for economic and social aspects?
RM: The SDGs create a common platform for all countries to be able to reference and benchmark against the COVID-19 implications. Certain themes such as digitalisation and technology have great potential to advance and accelerate SDG progress. The deployment of digital solutions across sectors such as health care, agribusiness, logistics, energy, finance and education, harnesses connectivity, innovation and opportunities for growth. It is also an opportunity for the recovery post COVID-19 to include environmental responsibility and climate action, with a call from all global institutions promoting a “green recovery.”
Moreover, there are new modalities in education, creating more opportunities for the next generation. In the case of Egypt, the Ministry of Education and Technical Education accelerated the implementation of the reforms by scaling up technology-based learning with the distribution of tablets and enhancing access to increasingly sophisticated digital resources through a state-of-the-art Learning Management System.
AO: What are the efforts of the Ministry of International Cooperation in this regard?
RM: The vision of the ministry is to strengthen Egypt’s inclusive multilateral engagement with development partners, governments, global policy makers, private sector and the civil society to effectively deliver the 2030 National Agenda, consistent with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, aimed at achieving a circular economy.
This year marks the start of the Decade of Action on the Sustainable Development Goals agenda. With that, the notion of multilateralism has become even more important because common problems can only be solved through global solutions. Coordinating on achieving the SDGs’ monitoring and implementation is also going to be very important going forward, and this is the message that we keep on repeating.
The Ministry of International Cooperation, along with its multilateral and bilateral development partners, is mobilising and streamlining efforts to accelerate the SDGs and identify needs and gaps for future collaboration.
The Ministry of International Cooperation, along with the United Nations and its agencies, is collaborating to meet the call for” glocal” (global/local) action to prepare for the Decade of Action on the SDGs. The Ministry of International Cooperation co-chairs the UN Partnership Development Framework (UNPDF) steering committee in partnership with the UN Resident Coordinator to coordinate and streamline national efforts. There are four results groups that include the themes of prosperity, people, planet and women, with a focus on social inclusiveness, job creation, restoring livelihoods through supporting MSME [Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises] and achieving a green economy.
AO: Is there a room for the private sector to play a role in this regard?
RM: Of course. Building on the importance of the private sector and public private partnerships, the Ministry of international Cooperation has been keen to foster inclusivity, with private sector engagement included in our dialogue with the multilateral development banks.
AO: What is the expected role the P&P&P [People&Projects&Purpose] narrative is to play in helping Egypt to deal with the significant challenges imposed by the COVID-19 crisis?
RM: Egypt’s development story is one that needs to be told, with more than 247 projects that cut through the 17 SDGs and a future that continues to boost inclusive growth. The new global partnerships narrative positions Egypt in the cooperation space with people at its core providing multi-sectoral assistance to millions of beneficiaries through public private partnerships, projects in action through a well-diversified portfolio which includes education, transportation, water desalination, renewable energy, entrepreneurship, women’s empowerment, among others, and purpose as the driver to generate sustained and inclusive growth, stay agile in a rapidly changing world, and deepen ties with our stakeholders.
It is a way to unify our vision as government along with our multilateral and bilateral development partners, so when we tell our story it is a structured, powerful and impactful one that echoes both domestically and globally.
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AO: What kind of challenges may Egypt face in resuming its journey to achieving the SDGs, in light of the COVID-19 crisis?
RM: P&P&P is a way to make sure that we are always on message, and that we collaborate in an effective and transparent manner. We have also initiated an SDG Mapping Framework that outlines the approach for the SDG Mapping leading, in line with the UN “Official Global Indicator Framework.” This mapping exercise will lead to a consistent approach across all development partners which is expected to contribute to a stronger narrative and result in effectively capturing and measuring the goals.
AO: What is the expected role of the international institutions in extending support and assistance for the region’s countries to achieve their SDGs?
RM: All countries globally work with each other through bilateral cooperation, and work multilaterally with development institutions to collaborate to push ahead with reform agendas and policies that help in achieving the SDGs. Collectivism plays an indispensable role in the COVID-19 fight, with multilateralism providing a platform for shared experiences, technical assistance and partnerships in launching and executing the projects.
No country nor institution has the ultimate solution to COVID-19. It is through effective cooperation that we can progress towards a better future that serves the people who are the core through projects in action with purpose as the driver.