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Interview with Laura Frigenti, Director of the new Italian Agency for Development Cooperation 0

Brussels – A generation. That’s how long Laura Frigenti had waited for the Italian Development Cooperation Agency to be launched. In 1987, Italy passed a law on international cooperation that remained in force for 27 years. An eternity, during which time Frigenti left Italy and had a highly successful international career spent mostly at the World Bank. January 1st, 2016 marks her return to her birthplace where she has been appointed to lead the new Italian Development Cooperation Agency, officially established by the Italian parliament with the approval of a new bill on development cooperation in August 2014 (law125/2014).

It came into force on January 1st, 2015 and provided for the establishment of a new development agency as well as the creation of a development financial institution. In this interview, Laura Frigenti discusses the many challenges she faces in her new role.

What made ​​you decide to apply for the position of director of the Agency?

When I left Italy in 1993, I was part of a group that was trying to create a convergence of ideas to provide Italy with an agency. Twenty years later, which I spent living abroad, this bill has finally been approved. My return as director means I can close a circle in my professional career.

What are your ambitions in this role?

I want to use the experience I have gained in international affairs during the past twenty years in service to my country.

The most urgent of the numerous challenges you face is the launching of the Agency. How does the absence of a deputy minister affect this crucial stage?

It would definitely have been preferable to have a deputy minister in place as the key political contact during the launching phase when we are creating the foundations of the Agency. I must say that the existing political structure within the ministry has given me a great deal of support, particularly the Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni and the two under-secretaries. We are doing our best in rather unusual circumstances.

What do you mean exactly?

There are two main concerns. The first is the necessity of guaranteeing continuity in the on-going activities. The Agency is new but it has, in fact, inherited a whole series of programs and projects that already exist. None of these activities must suffer a slowdown. Then there are the challenges regarding the transfer from the Directorate General of Development Cooperation (DGDC) to the Agency, and its implementation as a new organization.

How the Agency is structured?

The Agency envisages two Vice directors: one with technical duties and the other with a legal/administrative profile and they in turn will be assisted by 16 managers with functions equivalent to office supervisors at the DGDC. There are also the technical offices abroad that we are accrediting with the governments of the countries where we are present and whose efficiency has already been guaranteed. All in all there will be about 200 people in Rome and another hundred or so abroad. From now on my top priority is the recruitment of the two Vice directors, the managers and the technical staff that will complete the organizational structure of the Agency.

In 2016, the Agency should receive about 350 million euros. Don’t you think that’s rather a small amount?

Considering the challenges that lie ahead it’s not a lot, but the point to underline is that compared to the past, the funds are increasing again and that is positive. An increase in resources goes hand in hand with the strengthening of the economy and the hope is that Italy will continue to grow. Of course we are far from the famous target of 0.7 % of GNP, but even if the OECD countries were to reach it within the next three years, as called for by Ban Ki Moon, the needs will still be greatly superior compared to that target. The question isn’t the abundancy of Official Development Assistance (ODA) resources, but rather how to make private financial flows converge in the interest of development. This is the main challenge of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), regardless of a country’s level of economic growth.

All or most people agree that the private sector is a key actor in the growth of development. What are the conditions and criteria that would help this sector to access public funds on an equal footing with respect to NGOs?

I worked a great deal on the preparation of the conference in Addis Ababa on financing for development. It is now clear to everyone that ODA funds are no longer the only ones to be taken into consideration. We have an enormous amount of resources that move from the private sector to NGOs through philanthropy – the ODA should therefore have a catalytic role whereby they bring together these actors with different operating procedures and diverse objectives. The agenda with the private sector goes well beyond the simple management of ODA funds, which are limited compared to other flows. In the case of businesses, they must play a leveraging role to bring about a much greater investment.

How do you see the role of the National Council of Development Cooperation that initially caused uncertainty among NGOs?

It is a very important forum in which to exchange views with all the stakeholders of cooperation and development with whom it’s necessary to discuss fundamental questions regarding cooperation. Last week we had a meeting of the four working groups created in the framework of the National council. The groups selected their chairs and vice-chairs and started developing a plan of work. This is a very important process and I expect that the Agency will be fully engaged with the four groups.

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By Joshua Massarenti 

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