By: Moslem Ali and Ahmed Allam
Cairo – Mubasher: Egypt was the only country in the region to achieve positive economic growth last year, despite the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Now, the country aims at taking the recovery as a chance to revitalise its economy, especially from social and environmental aspects.
In an interview with Mubasher, H.E. Dr. Rania A. El-Mashat, the Egyptian Minister of International Cooperation, explained the ministry’s role in coordinating efforts to combat the pandemic, the importance of public-private partnerships and small business in enhancing economic growth, and the cooperation with international stakeholders.
Furthermore, we discussed with the minister the rising role of renewable energy to build a green economy and achieve sustainability goals, regional integration projects, and the ministry’s efforts to promote diversity and gender equality.
Rania El-Mashat, who has been leading the Ministry of International Cooperation since December 2019, has a PhD in international economics from the University of Maryland. For about a decade, she served as Sub-Governor for Monetary Policy at the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE). She previously worked with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in multiple roles, before being appointed to lead the Ministry of Tourism in January 2018.
Could you tell us about the recent efforts by the Ministry of International Cooperation in combating the COVID-19 pandemic? In what areas is the ministry cooperating with other national entities and international stakeholders on this front?
In an era of nationalism, COVID-19 has instilled the importance of multilateralism and global cooperation. On 2 April 2020, the 75th day from registering patient zero in Egypt, the Ministry of International Cooperation convened all multilateral and bilateral development partners in our first virtual Multi-Stakeholder Platform to share Egypt’s Response and Rebuild Strategy to COVID-19, which outlines all the fiscal, monetary, and structural measures taken to flatten both the health and recession curves. Virtually with more than 100 participants and together, we were able to carefully pinpoint and secure development financing across various priorities and sectors.
We have worked with several development partners on immediate and critical areas of support within the National COVID-19 response plan, including the World Bank, Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the United States of America, and Japan. The agreements supporting the healthcare sector included procuring and distributing medical equipment and necessary supplies, training health workers, community outreach programmes, such as the Egyptian Red Crescent, and supporting operations of specifically designated quarantine, isolation, and treatment centres.
In 2020, the Ministry of International Cooperation secured $477 million in development financing for seven agreements supporting the healthcare sector, with development partners that include the World Bank, Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD), [United States Agency for International Development] USAID, African Development Bank (AfDB), Japan, and Canada.
There is a dedicated chapter on COVID-19 in our 2020 Annual Report titled “International Partnerships for Sustainable Development: Writing the Future in a Changing Global Dynamic”.
Egypt is the only country in the region that continued to achieve growth during the pandemic. How do you view the outlook for the Egyptian economy in terms of recovering from the pandemic’s impact on various sectors?
Egypt’s homegrown economic reform programme, initiated in 2016 within the framework of the agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), contributed to strengthening the country’s economy and helped Egypt withstand the shock that came with the pandemic. Through structural reforms, enhanced private sector participation, economic growth, and increased job opportunities, the Government of Egypt was able to move forward. We continue to capitalise on the 2020 economic growth momentum by focusing on the green recovery of the country’s various sectors.
The Ministry of International Cooperation focuses on building back a better, more inclusive, greener, and digitised future; curating multilateral and bilateral partnerships that serve Egypt’s Sustainable Development Vision and the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We are keen to stimulate the renewable energy sector, in order to achieve Egypt’s 2035 Integrated Sustainable Energy Strategy (ISES), and the green economy via implementing the principles of circular economy and engaging with the private sector.
What is the role of the private sector in restoring pre-pandemic growth rates?
2021 is the year of private sector engagement to build back a better and more inclusive world. Egypt recognises that engaging with the private sector is critical to the economic growth of the country. The Ministry of International Cooperation secured development financing agreements in 2020 with a total of $3.19 billion through direct financing to private sector companies as well in the form of credit lines to commercial banks for the financing of the micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).
For the world to return to pre-pandemic growth rates, we all need to work together, multilateral and bilateral partners, government entities, the private sector, and the civil society. As Egypt recovers and moves forward post-pandemic, the focus is on the private sector’s creative and technological input in the development plan of Egypt, integrated with the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles.
What is the Ministry of International Cooperation’s strategy to secure development financing at a time when the global economy is still recovering from the impact of COVID?
Shifting financial markets and evolving public policy priorities amid the pandemic are all impacting the mix of products and strategies garnering more attention in development finance this year. Innovation and creativity, in closing the financing gap and meeting the goals, is one of the key themes surrounding [official development assistance] ODA budgets. One of the trends is blending finance, which will experience a rapid acceleration.
Going forward, the Ministry of International Cooperation aims to finance development opportunities at scale and with speed through blended finance and private sector engagement, bringing in public-private partnerships to catalyse progress towards the SDGs and building competency and trust along the way for sustained efficiency and transparency.
Egypt alongside Jordan and Iraq are working on forming new ways of trilateral economic cooperation, especially in the energy domain. How does the ministry view the potential of this cooperation?
Preparatory ministerial meetings began at the headquarters of the Ministry of International Cooperation in February 2021 to prepare for the 29th Joint Egyptian-Jordanian Higher Committee, where we met with H.E. Eng. Maha Ali, Jordan’s Minister of Industry, Trade, and Supply; H.E. Hala Zawati, Jordan’s Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources; and H.E. Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Amjad Al Adaileh.
While the trilateral cooperation is still in the works, the Egyptian and Jordanian sides discussed the documents and proposed areas of cooperation in several sectors, including irrigation, housing, customs, international cooperation, aviation, and immigration. The discussions also shed light on projects for the trilateral cooperation between Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq in the fields of electrical interconnection, oil and gas, health, food security, logistical areas, and industrial integration.
The Joint High Committee is considered one of the most important tools for economic diplomacy at the Ministry of International Cooperation. It is also the most effective one for establishing new bilateral cooperation between the Arab Republic of Egypt and neighbouring Arab countries.
This trilateral cooperation is key for the regional development plan framework, and it is crucial to set a new narrative for the Arab countries on the global stage of sustainable development and multilateralism.
How is the ministry coordinating efforts in shifting to a green economy, in line with the sustainable development goals of Egypt's Vision 2030?
We no longer have the luxury of paying lip-service to environmental initiatives. We must plan, act, and push for progress. We stand at the precise moment of a transformational period in human history — a moment that requires scaling up interventions and solidarity to change our world for the better.
As Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation, I have put all my support behind the push for cooperation around a green and circular economy. To reinvigorate green growth, Egypt was able to forge ahead through public-private dialogue and international cooperation. This approach ensures that public leadership meets national priorities and objectives and at the same time engages the private sector to encourage innovation and growth according to the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles.
To foster dialogue, we mobilise the international community through our Multi-Stakeholder Platforms, strengthening partnerships for achieving value-centred results through regular interactive and participatory consultations with all development partners. Since the launch of the platform in April 2020, a number of participatory workshops have been organised to engage with development partners and persistently monitor the progress of projects, which include an agreement with the AFD for funding allocated to the Energy Sector Budgetary Support Programme, as well as the African Development Bank’s financing of Egypt’s Electricity and Green Growth Support Programme, which aims to enhance the financial sustainability, improve the management and the operational efficiency of the energy sector.
Another important success story in the partnership with the [European Investment Bank] EIB includes the construction of a 200 MW wind farm on the west coast of the Gulf of Suez. This will contribute to supporting Egypt’s energy reforms that aim to increase the share of renewable energy to 30% by 2030 and promote sustainable growth in Egypt’s economy.
Currently, there is a total of 34 projects within the Ministry of International Cooperation’s portfolio answering SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy, with a total of $5.9 billion, thus making up for 23.2% of the ODA, the highest ODA financing.
Enhancing social inclusion is clearly an important target on the ministry’s agenda. Could you tell us more about “Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator” and other initiatives to support inclusion and equality?
The participation of women is macro-critical. Within the Ministry’s portfolio, 34 projects, worth $3.3 billion, are being executed to achieve the targets of gender equality, with the top targeted sectors including Health (20%), Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) (15%), and Education (14%).
The “Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator” was initially launched in 2019 with the National Council for Women (NCW), and the World Economic Forum (WEF) as a way to close the economic gender gap.
Egypt is the first country in Africa, the Middle East, and North Africa to launch this public-private collaboration. Last month, we launched the three-year action plan, after multiple working sessions between the public and private co-chairs. This action plan consists of 10 pillars, where each pillar includes several tasks and sub-actions for all stakeholders to implement, bringing their own expertise to the gender agenda. The pillars cover a wide array of fields where development is necessary to ensure women’s inclusion, empowering work regulations, leadership mentorship and protocols, educational re-skilling and preparation, digitalisation of businesses, and social inclusion measures and policies.
Going beyond the accelerator, a safe environment in the streets, homes, and workplaces is integral to helping women achieve their full potential and contribute to society. The Ministry of International Cooperation has delved into various sectors to increase the participation of women, such as education, in terms of encouraging more girls to join [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] STEM schools.
More is explained on each project in detail in the education and gender chapters of our 2020 Annual Report.
How important do you view SMEs to Egypt’s economic growth and development goals?
Supporting SMEs is key in supporting the economy. Egypt aims to strengthen the resilience of SMEs, by digitising their businesses, in order to adjust to the new normal and enable the businesses to become more sustainable and competitive. Through public and private sector cooperation, development is more sustainable. We aim to push SMEs into the international markets, boosting our economic growth and pushing towards Egypt’s Sustainable Development Vision.
SMEs are often tied to digitalisation and modernisation, which is where the “jobs of tomorrow” are headed. According to a report launched by Google and the International Finance Corporation, Africa’s internet economy could make up for $180 billion to the continent’s GDP by 2025 and $712 billion by 2050. There are almost 700,000 professional developers across the continent with over 50% of them located in key African markets; Egypt is one of those top 5.
You have a noticeable activity on social media platforms. From your perspective, how important is using modern tools to ensure active communication between the government and citizens in a way that enriches the public discourse in addressing all topics on the national agenda?
Social media is raw, concurrent, and real. It gives a human depth to reforms and policies, through connecting with the people on a national and global level telling Egypt’s development story. We make sure across my own personal channels as well as the ministry’s platform to showcase our development efforts with multilateral and bilateral partners across Egypt through our Global Partnerships Narrative (People & Projects & Purpose), which is the third principle of our Economic Diplomacy, putting People at the Core, Projects in Action, and Purpose as the Driver.
In Egypt, there is an appetite by the nation to be edu-tained through informative, transparent, and positive news related to progress in the country and its development projects. The nation is having the conversation, we need to join it, and digital and social media platforms give us an opportunity to have effective and purposeful development communication. Social media helps equally in documenting the physical results of development projects across the country. This encourages transparency and good governance through two-way communication, as it is the cornerstone of diplomacy
What is your message to young Egyptians, especially young women, who are inspired by your achievements?
Invest in yourself. Invest in your competencies. Keep dreaming big and work hard to achieve those dreams. For anyone aspiring to excel in their field, here are my principles of success: The 4C's. Competence, invest both effort and energy to be an expert in a subject matter, be conscientious, create a niche for yourself, and be distinguishable. Connections, to never underestimate the power of a relationship, especially in this ever-changing dynamic world we live and work in. Confidence, voice your opinion, knowledge, and expertise wherever you see fit. Charm, regardless of who you are dealing with. Be kind, authentic, carry an appropriate demeanour.