(by Francesca Morandi)
MILAN, FEBRUARY 1 – Director of Italian Cooperation and Development, Pietro Sebastiani, lays out a new guideline that merges Italian know-how in small and medium sized enterprises (SME) with efforts to develop the economies of the countries in which Italy is engaged. Sebastiani, of Tuscan origins and a diplomat since 1984, has a long history of high-profile assignments in Moscow, New York, Paris, Bruxelles and Rome, where he was Italy’s Permanent Representative of the Organizations of the United Nations. In his interview with Onuitalia, he gave us two examples of success stories:
“Our Italo-Albanian Program, expedited access to credit for small and medium size companies to promote the widespread development of local enterprise , while in Senegal, through our PLASEPRI Program, which is primarily aimed at micro-enterprise, we were able to aid the migratory flows in and out of the country and generate sustainable growth. PLASEPRI is a success story of a new multicultural entrepreneurship in which local communities, small businesses, governmental institutions, NGOs and aid to infancy, worked together seamlessly. In light of this achievement, and thanks to the new law n.125, which fully recognizes private enterprise as an actor in international cooperation, Italian Cooperation is determined to intensify its commitments in this direction”.
In what ways is Italian Cooperation taking advantage of the new resources made possible by law n.125?
“We have a very close working relationship with the Italian Agency for Cooperation and Development (AICS), instituted by law 125, which provides us with very important technical and operative support in evaluating cooperation proposals that we receive from governments and the private sector. We are witnessing a surge of interest on behalf of Italian private enterprise to work with international cooperation and in 2017 we have set up calls for bids and allotted resources to foster private enterprise to work with NGOs. A pilot-project led by AICS on disabilities in Mozambique could be launched soon. Moreover, the law on cooperation gives us an entity that functions as a ‘development bank’, similar to the Italian Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, the role of which is critical to incisive action. In the current political landscape, marked by multiple predicaments, the engagement of new actors in the private sector is a determining factor in creating synergies that can benefit everyone. The new law allows the private sector to work in conjunction with public aid directed at development and we have very high hopes for this goal: the structure of Italian SME is recognized worldwide and it can be replicated to the benefit of developing countries. Moreover, for several decades, Italy has upheld a tradition of cooperation, on all levels, and has excelled for the tenacity of its nonprofit organizations that, even when faced with insufficient public funds, continued in carrying out their operations”.
You were appointed General Director of Italian Cooperation in August 2016, could you give us an initial appraisal of the progress that has been made?
“During these months, we focused on strengthening the strategic aspects of our operations, particularly those we deem to be priorities like immigration and the food production chain, with special attention to food safety – a field in which Italy is a global leader. The promotion of female entrepreneurship and women’s access to education – which are crucial elements for stabilization and economic growth – continues to be one of Cooperation’s primary concerns. We have also turned our attention on the study of statistical data pertaining to the territories in which we operate to assess the potential impact of our initiatives and eventually, implement them”.
What are your goals for 2017?
“We are determined to make the most out of the funds that were allocated to Italian Cooperation in the last Budget Law: approximately 392 million Euro for 2017 and 510 million for 2018. The magnitude of these funds bears witness to the commitment of our government and parliament to ensure adequate resources for our activities. A substantial part of these funds will go to areas we consider to be most concerning like Sub-Saharan Africa and the Mediterranean basin, where the migratory crisis is brutal, with special attention to the consequences of the Syrian war. The African countries that will benefit from our projects include Ethiopia, Senegal, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Mali, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan, Niger, and (only for the emergency sector) the Central African Republic. Our activities are structured so that resources are concentrated into sectors for each country and are then assigned, through regional programs, to both humanitarian aid and the activation of development mechanisms through the promotion of local productive activities”.
In a recent convention on micro-credit organized by the Ethical Bank, you suggested that the Italian experience in social economy could be used as an example to benefit the poorer nations of the world. Can you tell us about it?
“For some time now, Italian Cooperation has collaborated with ethical and cooperative finance in that access to financial resources is a pivotal factor in the development of impoverished areas. Within this framework, micro-finance plays a very important role and can advance the productive potential of women that can in turn trigger virtuous cycles of growth affecting a multitude of issues: from improved food safety to the promotion of gender equality and the strengthening of human rights in civil society, which are ultimately, key factors for peace.”
The challenges for Italian Cooperation are on the rise before a world scarred by conflict and emergencies, yet they continue to be the only alternative to walls and confrontation. What is your view?
“A globalized world must necessarily overcome barriers and offer solutions devised from shared consensus. Italian Cooperation operates within the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda: these goals are interconnected in that they affect social, economic and environmental domains. For example, the issue of food safety is linked to climate change, which is also a cause of migrations. Italian Cooperation strives to act on the root causes of conflicts and humanitarian crisis: solutions are complex and results are bound to be seen in the long term, yet we believe this is the only possible route”.
You have been Italy’s Permanent Representative at the Organizations of the United Nations, what are your recollections from that post?
“The presence of important institutions like FAO, IFAD, and WFP make Rome the third most important center for the UN after New York and Geneva. Rome is also an international focal point with respect to food safety, an area in which Italy has contributed an enormous amount of work, and in which it has emerged as a global leader. Our country is also relevant in the UN system by virtue of the UN hub in Brindisi, which we support financially, and is logistically strategic for the deployment of humanitarian aid to areas like the Mediterranean and the Middle East. We also have the UNESCO center in Trieste, which I hope will be strengthened given the scale of Italian historical and artistic treasures. Incidentally, Italy is among the largest contributors both to the UN budget and with respect to the number of troops deployed to UN peace-keeping missions. Italy’s role in the world is vastly greater than what is often perceived by public opinion. I’d like to emphasize for example, that this year our country will continue to honor the commitments it undertook at the humanitarian global Summit in Istanbul last year”. (VB)