‘Precise knowledge of certain regions or specific topics’
In an interview with the Agency for Business and Economic Development (AWE), Carsten Schmitz-Hoffmann, Director of GIZ International Services, talks about cooperation with private enterprises, projects at EU level and current trends.
AWE: Mr Schmitz-Hoffmann, with an eye to German business, what can you tell us about the Hindu Kush? What is the economic situation like there?
Schmitz-Hoffmann: Afghanistan and its population are severely stricken – 40 years of war have left deep scars. Even if the first green shoots of the peace process are now starting to appear, the conflict is an ever-present factor. It goes without saying that this is reflected in the economy. The informal sector is dominant across the country, a lot of money is invested abroad and corruption is a major problem. The amount of investment flowing into Afghanistan is small.
AWE: What opportunities do you see for German companies?
Schmitz-Hoffmann: There are interesting agricultural products in Afghanistan for risk-aware German companies, but sales markets, too. It is a niche market, however. Development opportunities for the German private sector may arise on a broader scale – for instance in the energy, water or infrastructure sector – if the conflict does indeed come to an end and economic activity can be carried out on the foundation of security and stability. There is a very long way to go before that, though.
AWE: You recently took over responsibility for International Services at GIZ. How would you describe your range of tasks?
Schmitz-Hoffmann: In simple terms, it is our aim that GIZ International Services continues to establish itself as the global sustainability and project service provider for commissioning parties who want to rely on great expertise, regional breadth and technical excellence outside the scope of official German development policy. We carry out projects around the world, and offer a range of sophisticated, effective services: strategic advice, implementation of large-scale projects and innovation development in an international context and in the context of sustainability. For businesses the main concerns are often about minimising risks in the supply chain, supporting investment and safeguarding sustainability factors in their international activities. They also find it important to set up overarching platforms that even market rivals can use to cooperate with each other.
AWE: Can you give us an example of how you cooperate with companies?
Schmitz-Hoffmann: One example is our Ghana Heart Initiative project that we are implementing on behalf of Bayer AG. We are strengthening the country’s health system, or more specifically improving prevention, diagnosis and treatment in the field of cardiovascular diseases. Our greatest success in the project so far is producing a standardised treatment guide to raise the quality of people’s basic care to a higher level. This makes Ghana the third country in Africa to have a national strategy for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases, after South Africa and Kenya. It will be followed up by in-depth training measures and the establishment of centres of expertise. This will have a fantastic impact on medical treatment for the local population. At the same time it is helping Bayer AG to raise the standard of medical care in Western Africa and strengthen this growing market.
AWE: Where do you get your expertise on specific subjects from – even for unusual requests?
Schmitz-Hoffmann: We have built on GIZ’s experience and knowledge around the globe, enabling us to bring in an international network of experts from a variety of specialist fields. This means we can respond really quickly and offer our clients the precise knowledge that they need about certain regions or specific topics. We are able to cover many priority areas, such as setting up training systems or even individual training courses, promoting digitalisation, establishing a sustainable energy or water supply system, putting measures in place to tackle climate change or advising on strategy and policy development.
AWE: Are you noticing any particular trends at the moment in your commissions from third parties?
Schmitz-Hoffmann: With the rising number of conflicts around the world, demand for projects and activities in fragile regions is also rising. The environment is difficult in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Colombia, but they also offer opportunities and possible development options. Digitalisation is also a significant driver in international cooperation. Other current trends include investment promotion, vocational education and training and innovative business models for cooperation between market rivals; in other words, cooperation platforms at the pre-competitive stage. In light of the lively debate surrounding supply chain legislation, there is also growing private sector interest in projects promoting sustainability in international supply chains and networks.
AWE: Do you have any exciting EU projects at present, and what effect is the pandemic having on EU cooperation arrangements?
Schmitz-Hoffmann: The EU is a major, important commissioning party for International Services, and has been for many years. The coronavirus pandemic will not have a significant impact on this portfolio for the time being – but we are not yet able to say to what extent budgetary consolidation will have an effect in the medium term. Our cooperation arrangements with the EU are running very well at the moment, though – for instance, in Turkey we were commissioned to support reform efforts in the energy sector. In Afghanistan we are providing backup to reform the health sector. As part of this, our project team is supporting the country’s national crisis unit set up to fight the pandemic. In Mali we are underpinning democratisation efforts by strengthening basic services in the health and training system. Especially considering the circumstances of the pandemic, our project teams on the ground are doing outstanding work under the most testing conditions.
AWE: Do values defined by the German Government such as sustainability, gender justice and inclusion play a key role even when you are commissioned by other governments?
Schmitz-Hoffmann: As an integral department within GIZ we are also committed to GIZ’s value framework. The procedure for approving our projects with the German Development Ministry and the Federal Foreign Office ensures that GIZ’s third-party business projects are aligned with the German Government’s point of view. We also notice that values and high standards have now become key elements in the design and implementation of projects for all donors. They have become the norm. Compliance and transparency are essential cornerstones of our work.
AWE: Finally, allow me a personal question. You are known to be a football fan. Has your passion for your club suffered more as a result of your time abroad or the pandemic?
Schmitz-Hoffmann: Well, the word passion actually comes from the Latin ‘to suffer’ – and if at all, my passion has suffered most because of the footballing limitations of the club close to my heart. Cologne will always be my team wherever I am, anyway, whether in Kabul or watching the recent games played behind closed doors on TV.