Let’s turn now to the subject of development service and the Development Workers Act (EhfG). Through your work in the BMZ and in your previous positions at the Evangelical Development Service and Bread for the World, you got to know professional development workers and development projects. Are there occasions, when you saw development work in practice, that have stayed in your memory?
Whenever I’ve been travelling, I’ve always tried to be sure to meet with development workers and to get them to tell me personally about their projects. I’ve always been particularly interested in the impact of development policy. Let me give you an example: The KCMC – Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre – is a large hospital complex at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Over a period of 15 years, Dienste in Übersee ("Service Overseas") built up a remarkable health centre with trained medical staff including between 20 and 25 doctors, and built and equipped an infusion unit and workshops – all thanks to development professionals who had an ambitious plan. They pursued and achieved long-term goals.
One development worker who impressed me especially was a journalist who worked for the Süddeutsche Zeitung, which was training journalists in Goma, in the Eastern Congo (DRC). In a country such as the DRC, it is essential to have well-trained journalists. This woman journalist set milestones by teaching the standards of journalism that are familiar to us in a liberal democracy.
When the EhfG (Development Workers Act) was passed in 1969, responsibility for implementation of the Act was given to Unit II B/4 "Development Service". The unit which now has this remit is called "Policy issues of cooperation with civil society, private organisations". This unit is in your department. What significance does the EhfG have for the BMZ today? And how is it perceived within the ministry?
The EhfG is a long-standing law that is very useful for our work, in particular because it lays down the special status of development workers as volunteers. The law is useful despite having been passed in an outdated political context, which was concerned with sending out young people and giving aid. …
A lot of people in the ministry are no longer fully aware of the importance of human resources cooperation, because development services have become less visible. In the past, visibility was guaranteed by the DED (German Development Service), which served as a sort of academy for professional development workers. This changed when the DED merged with the GTZ (Society for Technical Cooperation) to form the GIZ (Society for International Cooperation) and as a consequence of the decline in the number of development workers. Due to the rapid growth in staff numbers in recent years, we have a lot of young colleagues in the ministry who are not familiar with the DED or even the Development Workers Act. The current figures certainly do not reflect the potential of development service. There's plenty of scope for expansion.
The United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs) are currently serving as the global framework for international cooperation. Development service contributes to the achievement of these goals. One of the strengths of development service is partnership (Objective 17). Those who stay “in the field” for longer and invest in relationships and build trust are able to build fruitful and sustainable partnerships. This is particularly important where the space in which local civil society can operate is restricted. This brings us to the subject of “shrinking space”. What is your experience of this? And what is your assessment of the situation?
Unfortunately, this is a very difficult issue. We can observe two global trends: on the one hand, a trend toward more authoritarian styles of government; and on the other hand, growing restrictions on the activities of civil society organisations. These two trends reinforce each other. It is extremely difficult for NGOs to develop strategies for continuing to operate within these restrictions, without giving up. In many places charitable or social activities are still tolerated. It is okay to run a hospital. Or a school, but then the curriculum becomes a critical issue.
We and the Federal Foreign Office are well aware of this problem. We regularly discuss it with our partner governments, especially during inter-governmental negotiations. And we support German NGOs by enabling them to continue working in accordance with the rules under such difficult conditions.
Our cooperation with civil society in Germany is unique. No other country in the world has a comparable support structure - with grant funding to the tune of 1.3 billion for more than 1,100 NGOs working abroad – from small voluntary organisations that run schools to the Welthungerhilfe.
The Civil Peace Service (CPS) was founded in 1999, and all the professionals in this programme, which is now well established, are sent out under the auspices of the EhfG. About 35 percent of all professional development workers are now serving in the CPS. The first government declaration on development policy in the history of the Federal Republic, entitled “Peace Needs Development” and published in 2000, is an indication that this is an important area of work. What is the significance of this programme in relation to the goals and work of the BMZ?
The founding of the CPS followed a long debate. And it was first run as a pilot project, before it became - quite rightly, in my view - an established institution.
There is a growing number of conflicts around the world, which means that the demand for CPS professionals has grown. And the idea that "development needs peace” is development cooperation in a positive light at the time.
The merger once again underlined the need for a clearer profile. It is important to be clear about which kind of development workers can best be employed in which set of circumstances. It is possible to employ “integrated experts” (formerly CIM), expatriate workers, or development workers, for example. The decrease in the number of development workers sent out under state auspices is due not only to the merger. It is due at least as much to changes in the context. In some partner countries, demand has dropped significantly because they have their own well-trained staff. There is still plenty of potential, nevertheless. We need to inform our partners better about the programme and the profiles of development workers.
In 2019, we too celebrated an anniversary. A lot of knowledge was gained from experience during more than 50 years of development service – not least as regards the importance of solidarity and how it can be practised. If we look at the world as a whole, and at Germany in particular, we could say: This solidarity – and the knowledge gained from development service – are now more important than ever. Do you agree with this assessment? And what does this mean for our work with returnees?
Development service was essentially based on the idea of solidarity. This can be seen from the positions that development workers now have within the structures of partner organisations, indicating a growing degree of independence from the sending agencies. Over the years, development service has been professionalised to a large extent. This is an important factor in my opinion. Solidarity and professionalism are not at all contradictory and must go hand in hand. It is not enough just to show solidarity here and there. We need to see the big