Views from the Field: Q&A with Fiona Ramsey, EU Head of Cooperation in Cambodia
Classed as a lower middle income country, Cambodia is a growing economy that is still marked by its history, notably the Khmer Rouge period. In the first of a new monthly series of articles featuring interviews with EU Delegations Heads of Cooperation, Fiona Ramsey shares best practice examples of the Cambodian Delegation’s work on joint programming and budget support, as well as advice for other delegations thinking of using these tools.
Prior to joining the EU Fiona Ramsey worked for almost ten years for the UK Government Department for International Development as an urban planning and local government expert. In 2005 she started working for the European Union, spending four years as Head of Regional Integration in the EU Delegation to the Central African Republic, followed by three years as Head of Social Sectors in the EU Delegation to the Pacific. In 2012 she moved to Cambodia, where she became the Delegation’s Head of Cooperation.
Capacity4dev (C4D): What are the key development challenges in Cambodia?
Fiona Ramsey (FR): Cambodia is a country that is still recovering from a terrible time in history, the Khmer Rouge. This means that state building has been a very important part of what we’ve been doing there, as well as investing in future generations, for example with education.
Cambodia is a growing economy, at least 7% annually, so we’re also looking at jobs and livelihoods, particularly in rural areas, for both young people and the survivors of the Khmer Rouge period who didn’t have access to education during that time in history. Cambodia is also a very open economy. It was cut off during the Khmer Rouge period, so we work a lot on trade facilitation as well looking at how it opens up to the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] region.
Finally Cambodia is a fledgling democracy. It has multiparty elections – it’s one of the few countries in the region that has a multi-party system – meaning it’s very important for us, from the point of view of democracy and human rights, to engage on that, to try and help improve the government’s situation. Within that we work a lot on election reform, governance reform such as PFM [Public Financial Management] for transparency, and decentralisation; helping local government become more autonomous.
C4D: What are the main modalities that you use?
FR: We’ve actually increased our portfolio in budget support, quite dramatically I would say, in the last five to six years. Since Cambodia performed well at the MDG level – really achieving results in reducing poverty – we’ve seen the need to move into accompanying government reforms much more systematically, and giving much more ownership to government within that process. Budget support is one of the best tools that we have in our toolbox for that.
We do still have some projects of course, and there we tend to work with our Member States very closely, as we are engaged in joint programming. So first and foremost we look towards our Member States to bring in their expertise. In particular they can often do a lot of twinning arrangements, which bring in skills and knowledge from Europe that we as the Commission find it difficult to do. I would say it’s a win-win for us to work with them.
We also have a lot of grants for civil society actors to support their professionalization, as well as their advocacy and lobbying efforts to feed into public policy debates and discussions.
Joint Programming in Cambodia
Joint programming in Cambodia started in 2012 with a feasibility study. Together with the Member States present in-country [France, Germany, Sweden, and Czech Republic], Switzerland, and some non-resident Member States, the EU Delegation developed a joint programme covering the government’s programming period for 2014 to 2018. The joint programme includes an internal (European partners) annual review. Subsequently a results matrix was developed based on government indicators for the different sectors that the partners are operating in, and where they’re supporting Cambodia’s reform agenda.
The first annual review has already taken place. It presented an opportunity for high-level policy dialogue, and culminated in a high-level policy discussion on results with the government, as well as an informational session with the national parliament. The results were also shared with the private sector and civil society. The results matrix is currently being reviewed to factor in new priorities, climate change and gender, as well as feedback from the review.
C4D: Joint programming in Cambodia has been quite successful. What advice would you give to other Delegations thinking of engaging in joint programming?
FR: I think for us what was critical at the beginning was to have a series of discussions with the Member States about why we wanted to do joint programming; the benefits we would get out of it, both individually and collectively; our expectations; and how did we want to do it i.e. what kind of joint programme did we want in Cambodia? We had a number of discussions, including a retreat modality where we mapped out all our different expectations for what we thought headquarters wanted for our respective Member States hierarchies.
We had a very open discussion about this, and I think that was critical for us to understand each other, how we operate, and our different constituencies. There were issues that we needed to address then, which we did with joint letters to headquarters for all of us.
Once we got past that, we did a joint political economy analysis of the situation in Cambodia, which again we discussed internally. By that point we actually felt like we were all on the same page, and all knew what we wanted to achieve in Cambodia, so we were able to put it in a joint programme.
If you don’t do that and just try to bring things together, then I don’t think you have a good basis from which to carry forward the implementation. As you have to recognise joint programming is additional work. It requires additional skills, and it requires me in every single moment of my work to have the reflex what do I need to tell the Member States in the joint programming context? Do we have a joint policy brief on this? What is our joint position? Do I need to consult with them before going into larger consultation processes with other development partners? By being much closer to each other at the beginning we got over that hurdle relatively quickly.
Although joint programming is additional work, it also brings added value. For example, when it came to doing the mid-term review, I had a huge range of resources on which to draw, as I had Member States and colleagues who had worked in all of these sectors.
If we hadn’t had a results matrix, hadn’t done the progress review, and hadn’t gone through that policy dialogue process, we might still have just a document on the shelf. It’s our strategy, we need to work together to take it forward. We are the ones that make joint programming relevant, as it’s touching our work, and every month we talk about it in our coordination meetings.
C4D: What are the advantages that joint programming can bring?
FR: In Cambodia what is really important with joint programming is that we feel like we speak with one European voice, which gives us more space in the discussion with government. The development partner community and government haven’t had a full consultation together since 2012, but with our joint programme we [the European partners] were able to have one last year. This was incredibly important for us, and very useful in terms of realising that we closely share challenges with the government that we’re still grappling with across different sectors. So joint programming bought us, in some ways, an opportunity that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.
It also helped the government realise that we are by far the biggest grant provider in-country, which is also very important in terms of how we are seen, how we are perceived, and the leverage that we have in our policy dialogue.
It also enables us to make use of all the different tools and modalities that we have across the partners. We can have budget support [through the EU Delegation]; technical assistance; we can have twinning and loans because our Member States can do that; investments linked to loans; all types of support. Together we present a much better package and this is a better position to be in when you’re grappling with government reforms that are difficult to implement. I think we’re recognised as a partner that really tries to respond to the government’s challenges, but we also acknowledge their leadership, which is not always the situation for others.
In the following video, Fiona Ramsey explains how the Delegation's budget support programme complements the other Member States work through joint programming.
C4D: In Cambodia the Delegation supports education through a capacity development fund. How does this work?
FR: We try and cover the whole of the education sphere, including technical and vocational training, through different parts of the joint programme and through different groupings of European partners. Switzerland leads on vocational training, France leads on higher education, and the EU Delegation and Sweden support basic and primary education.
The Delegation has an education budget support package based on funds to the treasury. Alongside that we have what we call complementary support provided through a pooled fund managed by UNICEF, and steered by the Ministry. This Capacity Partnership for Development Fund is really interesting, as it has a theory of change behind it instead of a logical framework. It says that we need to build capacity at all the different levels of the education system – from the Ministry to delivery at school level – and all the elements of this system need different types of support. For example, they need different skills, and they have different timelines in which they need to do their work.
We look at how to bring all those strands together, to really bring about reform in the system. What different ways of working could we help the Ministry introduce? How do we skill people to take that forward, and how do we coach and support them in that process?
It’s very reactive, in a way, but it’s also very flexible. We recognise that as reforms happen, things might pop up. And you have to take a long-term perspective, because you can train someone one day, but that doesn’t mean that they will do their job differently the next day. You need to support them and ensure that all the things around them will support change, otherwise that change won’t happen.
This has been very successful, and has shown us that education reforms agreed at central level take a long time to go through the system. But we are now more familiar with the different parts of the system that need support in order to take reform down to the school level.
If instead we had used a classic project approach at the school level, once our project would have ended, the rest of the system wouldn’t have adjusted, and therefore there would be nothing sustainable in place. By building reform through the system, it may take longer, it may be more difficult, we may have more resistance, but once we really show the benefits of the transformation and reform, then the Ministry owns it, and this is how they will do business.
The fund has been very good in complementing our budget support, and we’re very proud of it. We’ve seen that we’ve been able to build capacity in some departments, and we’re using them to explain budget support to other parts of government, as the fund is now evolving to other areas.
We’ve also taken steps to share this experience, particularly with our neighbouring Delegations Myanmar and Laos, who also have education partnerships, and work with UNICEF. UNICEF has also brought colleagues from their Africa programmes to learn from us. The fund may have been developed for the Cambodian context, but it has shown that investing in capacity in a different way, but with a long-term vision and goal, can give results.
In the following video Fiona Ramsey discusses the Myanmar and Laos Delegations peer learning visit.
C4D: How can evaluations facilitate the learning process in Delegations? And have any of their results surprised you?
FR: I think for all of us implementing projects as task managers, there’s a lot of focus on the here and now, on the deadlines. The evaluation is really the moment to step back, to reflect, to try and internalise both as a project manager, a task manager, but also as a team which I think is important. As part of that reflection we have to think about justifications, evidence, real impact, data, and lots of things that actually are very important when you’re implementing, but often get brushed aside because you have to deal with a contract crisis or other emergency.
We have one project where we supported small and medium enterprises. It had a value chain approach, but it basically supported any type of agricultural small-medium enterprise. Through the evaluation we actually learnt to unpick what we meant by a value chain. The evaluation gave us realistic information about what we could do in a specific sector or on one specific value chain, so that when we programmed the new programme we were much more realistic in what we could achieve, it gave our ambitions much more substance.
Part of this project looked at the business enabling environment, particularly around credit and having a credit agency to share information about credit. This was a very low cost, minor piece of our project, but the evaluation revealed that it actually had the biggest impact. This came out most strongly to us: that actually by just contributing to the analysis and the original work, we had contributed to the setting-up of a credit agency, which had drastically improved the business environment in ways that we hadn’t expected.
So it was good to see that it’s not always the areas where you put the most money or the most effort that you’re going to have the most impact. I think that was for me the learning curve. Also looking at evaluating everything that we do as a package, and being conscious that sometimes just putting in a good analysis can help government suddenly take a ground-breaking decision that opens up all sorts of other opportunities, because it’s evidence based.