Impressive Theories are not All that Matters
German development cooperation has developed impressive theories, concepts, skills and numerous practices for better integration and more inclusive urban development. On the other hand, the German development cooperation didn’t get the political mandate, and for the last decades the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has been rather hesitant, not to say reluctant, to think, act and finance simply ‘bigger’. This is an alerting and chronic shortcoming in view of the striking investment requirements needed to truly transform living, housing, working, and mobility conditions in a rapidly urbanising world. Investments simply are the key ingredients to comply with the climate goals and to accelerate the move towards more sustainable economies at a large scale. For this we need to connect our excellent soft skills, such as sophisticated planning strategies, with the necessary “think-and-act-big-projects” – far beyond our typical “light towers”, “experiments” and “pilot projects”.
Between Bureaucracy and Zest for Action
Right now, German experts and programme managers work for three years on negligible budgets, try to acquire additional funds by filling out heaps of papers, arranging inter-governmental, EU-German, and other additional agreements required for funds from third sources – while, for instance, their Chinese colleagues simply roll out high-level systems, water treatment plants, sewerage systems, university and government buildings, and IT-infrastructure across the urban hemisphere of the south – and this completely unintegrated and often times only for the benefit of various donor countries.
Which Way Forward? New Patterns of Investment!
The minimum requirement to drive urban transformation would be to link any project of the financing wing of European and German development cooperation obligatorily with the soft skills of integrated and inclusive approaches – and vice versa: No small-scale project on governance, participation, integration without a strong financing and investment wing. This will certainly improve the integration of financial tools for investments in infrastructure and adapted technologies in the respective political and administrative setting of partner countries. This will also strengthen the utterly needed soft skills and improve the longevity of infrastructure investments in the exponentially growing urban world, regardless whether in Africa, Asia or South America. But this needs to be reflected in the pattern of investment of the Northern hemisphere!
The task simply is not to invest anymore if the projects have not proved their contribution to the SDGs – and if they are not fully part of an integrated investment package which comprises all of the wonderful soft tools which we have developed over the last decades.