INTERVIEW: Preparing for the International Cooperation Forum

Doaa Abdel-Moneim, Friday 3 Sep 2021

Minister of International Cooperation Rania Al-Mashat talks about the forthcoming International Cooperation Forum and sheds light on the parameters for sustainable recovery with Al-Ahram Weekly

Preparing for the ICF

As the world deals with the repercussions of two years of the Covid-19 pandemic that have slowed down efforts to meet the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are slated to be reached by 2030, Egypt’s Ministry of International Cooperation is to hold the first round of the International Cooperation Forum (ICF) on 8 September.

Minister of International Cooperation Rania Al-Mashat discussed the agenda and the recovery with Al-Ahram Weekly.

AW: How do you see Egypt’s strategy to cooperate and partner with international financial institutions (IFIs) over the past five years?

In an increasingly interconnected world, the social contract in the 21st century is constantly being redefined. Egypt recognises the urgent global need to redesign international cooperation and propose an architecture that pushes for country-led development cooperation.

First, leadership and vision are key. Every country in the world today has to show commitment and define its own long-term vision to achieve the SDGs. Egypt’s homegrown economic reform programme initiated in 2016 within the framework of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) contributed to boosting the country’s economy and helped it to withstand the shocks that came with the Covid-19 pandemic. Through structural reforms, Egypt was able to cushion socio-economic challenges and catalyse foreign investments that have contributed to stability.

Second, coordination is significant for the harmonisation of development goals. The Egyptian government has pushed for stringent measures of re-adjustment and reform in order to strengthen coordination with existing ministries, development partners, civil society and other stakeholders in society in order to set up robust, national-led coordination mechanisms.

Amidst global uncertainties and as the world hit the peak of the economic downturn in 2020, the Ministry of International Cooperation managed to secure development financing worth $9.8 billion. This is undeniably attributed to Egypt’s stability and perseverance on the path towards sustainable development. Such amounts were secured through private-sector engagement and multilateral and bilateral partnerships with global and regional actors.

AW: What funds has Egypt been able to secure to finance its development projects within the framework of the Egypt 2030 Vision?

The implementation of the various aspects of the 2030 Vision are defined by ambitious and pragmatic evidence-based decisions regarding the prioritisation of development goals based on local conditions. Egypt’s resilience has proven itself to be a driving force during times of crises. This was shown in the 2020 annual report published by the Ministry of International Cooperation entitled “International Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Writing the Future in a Changing Global Dynamic” that showcased $9.8 billion worth of funds secured to boost the national and global sustainable development agenda.

In 2021, we were able to keep up the momentum and expand our $25.6 billion portfolio, venturing into new partnerships that focus on digitisation, entrepreneurship, transportation, and green recovery measures in vital sectors, such as the infrastructure sector.

AW: What are the main issues the forthcoming ICF is expected to cover?

Our model of development cooperation focuses on the exchange and access to knowledge that can have a catalytic effect on designing new policy outcomes. Through the ICF, Egypt is welcoming the international community to “the new normal” — a two-speed world in which two types of economies are emerging: low-growth and high-growth.

Success at this stage requires rethinking international cooperation for new and emerging economies and understanding the different ways each economy operates while taking into consideration different ways of looking at the world to provide global sustainable solutions.

The forum serves as a hub for sustainable development ecosystems to come together and to lay the way forward for an inclusive and green recovery that is in line with every country’s national priorities. Sharing knowledge and acting collectively are two fundamental pillars constituting the essence of our endeavours. We are promoting multilateralism as the initiator and the guardian of our shared goals in the face of global challenges, and we pride ourselves on acting as one, abiding by the global pledge to “Leave No One Behind”.

The forum hosts esteemed stakeholders who will contribute their experience and input to the development narrative. They include high-profile global, regional, and national state ministers, financial entities, think tanks, and private-sector bodies, which will be attending in the spirit of coming together to work cohesively on the global agenda for development.

Our two-day agenda comprises four panels that aim to shed light on global challenges across different sectors, coupled with innovative approaches that could be deployed to seize propitious opportunities and combat impending and preexisting adversities. During the first day, we have our four panels: Panel 1 will focus on “Multilateralism and International Cooperation Post Covid-19;” Panel 2 will emphasise “The Role of International Development Cooperation in Accelerating Progress towards the 2030 Agenda;” Panel 3 will push for “Private-Sector Engagement in Development through International Cooperation;” and Panel 4 will trigger discussion on “Climate Action in a Post-Covid-19 Context: A Twofold Challenge.”

This is in addition to a networking talk organised for private-sector entities from various countries, looking for partnership opportunities in order to share knowledge and expertise.

Six interactive workshops are scheduled for the second day of the forum, where the conversation will be steered towards the efficient and effective way forward for the global agenda in development. They include workshops on the “Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA): Prospects and Challenges of Digital Trade for Private Sector;” “Mapping Official Development Assistance (ODA) for the SDGs: A Tool for Effective Policy Making;” “Women in Business: Supporting Female Entrepreneurship in Egypt;” “Food Security and Employment in the Digital Age in Africa;” “The Demographic Divide: Youth and Innovation for Transforming Africa;” and “Triangular Cooperation with Africa.”

Finally, we have a closing panel on “Investing in Human Capital,” where high-profile figures will come together to celebrate our greatest asset: people. In this panel, our distinguished participants are placing people at the core of all development discussions and pondering policies to streamline human capital development efforts.

AW: What are the main agreements that are anticipated to be reached at the two-day forum?

Over the course of the two days of the ICF, the forum will hammer out the challenges and opportunities the global development community could encounter in charting the way forward for building back better and greener economies.

The four panels taking place on the first day delve into the importance of multilateralism and the role allocated to different stakeholders, with a special emphasis on the interplay amongst these roles in enhancing sustainable development interventions. The second day will hold many initiatives by development partners and multilateral development entities with the focus on actionable and effective plans towards inclusive and green recovery.

Towards the end of the forum, we are set to issue the first Cairo communiqué to lay down a list of important decisions and initiatives coming out from Egypt and the ICF. The communiqué will serve as a reference for future international forums, as we aim at reaching constructive conclusions, providing insightful recommendations, and capitalising on previous experiences for ensuing development initiatives.

AW: What are the actions Egypt is taking to meet the SDGs agenda by 2030 and 2050?

Egypt’s Vision 2030 rests on transparency and governance as a means to track progress made towards fulfilling the global sustainability targets. This comes as part of the three-pillar framework the ministry of international cooperation has designed to ensure the effectiveness of economic diplomacy in Egypt. Hence, our second pillar, “Official Development Assistance Mapping of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” keeps track of the allocation of development financing to serve national projects.

This principle is further elaborated in a book published by the ministry entitled Stakeholder Engagement through Economic Diplomacy in June. The book accentuates the benefits of ODA-SDG mapping through the coming together of two approaches: Single SDG mapping, which identifies the primary SDG towards which each project contributes; and multiple SDG mapping, which accounts for the multidimensional linkages projects may have to different SDGs.

By the same token, the Egypt-ICF’s second workshop on the second day of the forum, “Mapping ODA to SDGS: A Tool for Effective Policy Making,” underscores the importance of this novel approach in developing effective policies, guiding decisions, and accelerating the pace of development plans according to 2030 Agenda.

This method has been tested and proven to be effective in helping us to stay focused on our goals and circumvent efficiency obstacles, catalysing stringent efforts towards achieving the global goals. Thus, the Egypt-ICF is shedding light on Egypt’s experience as part of the knowledge and expertise-sharing journey we aim to provide through the forum.

AW: Is there an intention to hold this forum periodically?

Egypt is an active participant in the sustainable development realm; what we aim for is not only capitalising on Egypt’s role in the development scene, but also steering and spearheading global and regional efforts serving the SDGs. This is the first edition of the forum, and we plan to keep Egypt as a hub for global sustainable development stakeholders to come to the country and tailor strategies that fit all countries and synchronise all their priorities.

AW: What is the status of ongoing negotiations between the government and the World Bank concerning securing finances for the second wave of Egypt’s structural reforms?

The World Bank is a strong affiliate and development partner. Our ongoing portfolio with the bank encompasses 14 projects, with development financing worth $5.88 billion to implement projects in different sectors, including central government, social protection, irrigation and drainage, health, agriculture, banking, and SMEs, which have the biggest share of financing. The International Financial Corporation, as part of the World Bank Group, is keen on providing advisory services to tap into the private sector as a key player in Egypt’s economic growth and sustainable development agenda.

In the light of this, the Egypt-ICF is dedicating a panel to discussing the ways in which the private sector can provide technical and financial assistance to the country’s overall development strategy via a networking sub-event entitled “Dialogue with the Private Sector: Towards Inclusive Partnerships” that will tap into possible collaborations and future affiliations nationally and globally between different private-sector bodies.

AW: What are the ministry’s plans for 2021-22?

We are working on a holistic and integrated portfolio with a focus on national targets to achieve development across all sectors and for all Egyptians. Education, health, transportation, infrastructure, water, agriculture, trade, digitisation, and entrepreneurship are among the top sectors we are focusing on.

We are liaising with development partners and state ministries in order to help fill the financial gaps and push towards rounded sustainable development, seeing ourselves as agents for change and facilitators of efficient sustainable interventions. These notions are woven into our philosophy of economic diplomacy and the three principles that comprise it: Multi-Stakeholder Platforms (MSPs); Official Development Assistance mapping to the Sustainable Development Goals (ODA-SDG Mapping); and the Global Partnerships Narrative that is constituted by People at the Core, Projects in Action, and Purpose as the Driver.

Our well-defined framework safeguards our vision, as it articulates Egypt’s commitment to agile, resilient, and inclusive governance, which instills faith in Egypt’s Vision and builds trust between the country and investors from across the world.

We have taken our principles beyond theory and convened more than a dozen MSPs across several sectors. Our first was held in April 2020 and was followed by many others targeting vital sectors, namely health, communications and information technology, energy, SMEs, digitisation, transportation, and gender equality.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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