5 questions for Arnaud Leclercq; Wehubit Programme Manager
Enabel already finances digital initiatives in partner countries. In what respect does the Wehubit programme differ?
Our programme does not fall under bilateral development cooperation. We do not run a programme from A to Z in collaboration with partner country authorities. Instead, our platform is to fund digital initiatives originating with the private sector, non-profit organisations or the public sector. Our partner BIO awards loans to private sector players whereas grants are awarded via Enabel to organisations. Project initiatives must register via our portal website www.wehubit.be. In other words, we do not ourselves look for projects, nor are we directly involved in implementation.
We select applicants which seem most promising and best fulfill our guiding principles and we provide them with funds to help them realise their initiative. Mind, we do not finance start-ups either: Because we do not have the required capacities to accompany the ideas which we fund in the field, we select initiatives which have proven to be successful and which need funds to move onto a next stage. In start-up language: We fund scaling-up!
What are your selection criteria?
Well, in addition to the eligibility criteria, we have put in place guiding principles. First, we want to fund projects which use digital solutions to contribute to a country’s development whilst targeting the population. For instance, take a country with remote rural regions where access to health care is poor for reasons of logistics. If a sick person needs two hours to reach a doctor, a distance consultation by means of digital tablets may make a genuine difference and help authorities to ensure first-line health care. That would be an interesting case from our point of view!
Second, we also base ourselves on the Belgian Development Cooperation strategy paper of 2016. It outlined two guiding principles and three strategic axes: The guiding principles are "do no harm", i.e. take into account possible collateral effects, and "put people first", whereas the strategic approach concerns the better use of big data, fostering a more inclusive society and promoting inclusive and sustainable growth.
Third, we prefer approaches that promote human rights and strengthen the rule of law. Furthermore, we want the initiatives to be in one of Enabel’s 14 partner countries.
And finally, we check whether the projects adhere to the digital development principles, which are principles on which international development actors have agreed.
How will projects be selected?
We schedule the launch of between 2 and 4 Calls for Proposals per year and will select the best projects. The idea is to have one topic highlighted in every call. The first Call was launched at the end of June 2018: The topic is Women and Young people’s Rights, Inclusion and Empowerment. I recently came across a project in Bangladesh, which illustrates what we want to achieve: In a textiles factory workers could register for a smartphone game to get familiar with their rights as workers. This is what is known as gamification. On Sundays, these women can meet at the park with lawyers and jurists to discuss their problems and how to resolve them. To involve youths, you could add ideas on participation and democracy or on access to jobs. Or more in general, small digital tools to learn to manage one’s finances, for instance.
This type of project differs from what Enabel usually does. Where does this idea come from?
This is the result of converging changes. On the one hand, our supervising minister wants quick and concrete results, and wants to promote the digital agenda and strengthen the role of the private sector in bilateral cooperation. Furthermore, the role of Enabel evolves: We are not solely a bilateral development cooperation agency any more: We have become part of partnerships involving other actors like public agencies and the private sector and NGOs, and we also intervene in support of development actions which we do not initiate or coordinate.
So, you also intend to develop new partnerships?
We aim to position ourselves as facilitator and to promote and support cooperation initiatives between development actors. We work with a platform that is managed by Close the Gap, a Belgian NGO, and Agoria, the technology sector federation: kindling.be. The role of this secure online space is to stimulate the creation of an ecosystem that brings together all actors who are promoting development by using digital tools. This is like a mini social network where all actors, public actors as well as private actors, NGOs, institutional players and service or technology providers can share information and experiences.
We also help facilitate the Digital for Development or D4D policy dialogue between the European Union and the private sector.
And finally, we organise events and conferences. The idea is to really foster the sharing of ideas, to stimulate networking and the interaction between development actors.