The first preparatory webinar of the V World Forum of Local Economic Development (LED) was held on the 17th of December 2020 and focused on the role of Regional and Local Development Agencies (RLDAs) as catalysts of integrated territorial responses to the Covid-19 crisis.

With representatives from 3 continents, the webinar presented concrete experiences of RLDAs in tackling the challenges brought by the crisis. The main goal of the session was to highlight how RLDAs can enable a transition to more inclusive and sustainable societies, through structured territorial processes of dialogue for the co-construction of policies and programmatic responses.

The session started with the introduction to the World Forum of Local Economic Development process by Roberto Di Meglio, Senior Technical Specialist in the Cooperatives Unit of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Representing the International Committee of the Forum, he underlined the importance of the Forum of LED to address some of the most compelling issues related to LED and its potential role in addressing the multiple implications of the current Covid-19 crisis.

Daniel Passerini, Vice-mayor of Cordoba City (Argentina), represented the National Committee of the V World Forum of LED, which will be hosted in a fully online format by Cordoba from the 26th May to 1st June 2021. Passerini highlighted that for Cordoba sustainability is the pillar for the designing and implementation of public policies, and therefore, adopting the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs is key to achieve it. He also took advantage to invite the public to join the V edition of the event, where their experience will be presented among with many other very relevant topics related with LED.

Following the introduction, the first round of debate was moderated by Andrea Agostinucci, Local Economic Advisor of the ART Initiative, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), who reminded that back in 2011, the 1st edition of the World Forum of LED was focused on RDAs and allowed to display their potential in supporting local economic and development processes through combined functionalities and services and a variety of institutional and operational models that were adapted to different contexts.

Roberta dall’Olio, Manager of EU Policies, International Territorial Cooperation and Social Innovation Unit of ART- Emilia Romagna Region (Italy) and President of European Associaton of Development Agencies (Eurada) was the first to intervene. She presented Eurada, a network of regional development agencies located in Europe, that counts with 79 agencies in 22 countries. The network has worked for the very beginning of the pandemic to monitor the effects of Covid-19 in Europe to enable the exchange of different experiences. More specifically, Eurada mapped all the initiatives done by RLDAs and LRGs in order to understand the situation, looking specially at the worst affected sectors and focusing in interventions around culture, SMES, and research and innovation. Among the strategies are the creation of a platform to inform the companies and public servants on the different measures and financing instruments created at national and regional level to support companies and the civil society in respective regions; the activation of a helpdesk to support SMEs and operators to get the funding and receive technical assistance for the elaboration of innovation projects or plan the reconversion of their services to respond to the emergency situation; support of LRGs to manage and design loans or guarantees or financing measures to helping the most in need sectors; and, the adaptation and reconversion of programs and policies to give very punctual responses to the emergency. For the future, Eurada foresees to get further political endorsement and technical knowledge to implement projects. Likewise, Eurada aims to involve territorial stakeholders and work through a multi-level approach.

Mirela Koci, Executive Director of AULEDA, the Local Economic Development Agency Vlore (Albania), explained how the AULEDA combines economic competitive development with social cohesion and inclusion and the environmental protection according to United Nations Human Development principles. One of the outstanding characteristics of AULEDA, it is the fact that the agency is governed with the participation of public and private stakeholders and pursue self-sustainability, through differentiated resources of incomes.

Hakkı Gökhan Elüstün, Expert of the Green Growth Policies Unit of the İzmir Development Agency (Turkey), gave as a glimpse of the Agency’s operations, which counts with the coordination of the Ministry of Industry and Technology and the Executive Board is the decision-making. It also counts with the participation of the Development Council, as an advisory body, composed by representatives of the private sector, non-governmental organizations, public institutions, local governments and universities. By the end of May, a nationwide study was initiated under the coordination of the Ministry to investigate the social and economic effects of the pandemic. It was clear that the impact of the pandemic was not similar for every sector and region. For this reason, it was important understand how each case would reflect in the national policy development process. Therefore, the result of this study should be used as a basis and road map for the activities that development agencies will carry out from now on.

Martín E. Peña, Executive Director of the Red ADELDOM (Dominica Republic) emphasized how crises can also bring opportunities. In Dominican Republic, the LEDAs are analyzing important social and economic factors, in order to support the recovery from the crisis. In this context, the Agenda 2030 has been put on the spotlight as a mechanism to ensure articulation and territorial responses to the pandemic consequences. He stressed that capacity building and strategic planning are key in the current work of the LEDAs. And therefore, we need to base our work in principles such as the integral nature of our interventions, efficiency and inclusiveness.

Carlos Callejas, Director of the Red ADELCO (Colombia), highlighted how diversity in Colombia is reinforcing the need to work with LED. This allows to bring to the table the local identity and culture perspective of different territories. Based on this, Red ADELCO has been enabling a strong articulation between producers and local markets, including the development of markets circuits.

 Wrap-up and closing remarks: United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG)

Sara Hoeflich de Duque, Director of Learning, UCLG, concluded from the experiences and discussions held during the debate that the crisis forces us to seek new responses, taking even greater advantage of endogenous resources to reactivate an economy focused on a more local, urban-rural and more conscious model.

Key take away messages

  • We are living in complex times that imposes to combine immediate response measures needed for a longer-term transition to more inclusive, resilient and sustainable societies as part of the 2030 agenda implementation. The territories are key to drive such transformative transitioning process.
  • The pandemic crisis itself has showed to have a strong territorial dimension. It is producing large asymmetric regionally and locally differentiated impacts on health, economic, social and fiscal settings.
  • To enable systemic change and effective territorial processes, it requires coordination mechanisms for the joint collaboration and implementation of integrated response policies and strategies and, at the same time, specialized operational capacities to support the role of LRGs as promoters and regulators of business development dynamics.
  • Regionally local economic development agencies and other similar structures are good examples of entities that somehow allow to institutionalize and operationalize partnership for the diversity of territory actors in support of LRGs’ functions.
  • RLDAs play a key role in rebuilding institutional trust and social contract in communities that were deeply affected by social tensions or natural disasters now.
  • Today, under the current context marked by the COVID-19 crisis, we have an opportunity to focus again on how RLDAs are adapting their functions to serve as catalysts for the co-construction of policies, programs and innovative territorial solutions to the challenges of sustainable development in the complex and global crisis scenario.
  • We need to look at the evolution of the agencies with a renewed potential today in supporting institutions in different levels and different degrees of capacity to deal with the consequences of the crisis playing a key intermediation function that allows to connect and articulate LRGs, private and civic actors and the needed dialogue across levels.
  • We need to reflect specifically in the capacity of the agencies of being drivers of change and enablers for the transformative transition. This counts to social institutional, technological innovation, social territorial cohesion and building societal resilience for the empowerment groups and the promotion and adoption of alternative social economic development models and practices such as the green and circular economy.