Partner countries benefited from Finland's support in their COVID-19 response
According to a recent report, Finland’s response to partner countries’ needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was prompt and flexible. The report also assesses what Finland could do better in future crises.
The COVID-19 pandemic created a large number of new and altered needs both in Finland and in Finland’s partner countries. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs commissioned an assessment of how Finnish development policy and development cooperation succeeded in the fight against COVID-19.
The measures were appropriate...
The overall assessment was very positive: the Foreign Ministry responded to the COVID-19 pandemic expediently. The Ministry took into account its development policy objectives and managed to meet the changing needs of partner countries. Even though healthcare is not among the priorities of Finland’s development policy, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs was able to allocate significant funding to the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries.
According to the assessment, the work was based on the Foreign Ministry’s long-term strengths in both policy dialogue and partnerships, which ensured that the measures were consistent. On the other hand, it was good to seize new initiatives (e.g. the EU’s Team Europe initiatives).
...prompt and flexible...
The Foreign Ministry responded to the pandemic rapidly and flexibly. Significant amounts of funding were granted through humanitarian assistance and development cooperation. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs also made adjustments concerning policy dialogue with multilateral organisations and made changes affecting development cooperation processes, forms of cooperation and projects. At the same time, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs continued to implement the development cooperation programmes that had been planned and launched before the pandemic. This led to an increase in the workload of personnel both in Helsinki and in the missions abroad and, at the same time, the situation put a strain on personnel also in their private lives.
The assessment proves that the Ministry’s response to the pandemic succeeded largely thanks to the motivated, devoted and at times overburdened personnel. The pandemic together with an increasing workload burdened the personnel of the Ministry and its missions abroad, and the Ministry was unable to fully guarantee the safety and wellbeing of its personnel.
...but the results must be monitored.
The effects of the pandemic on the success of development cooperation are not yet fully known. What is known is that the pandemic hampered the attainment of the sustainable development goals and increased poverty, but less information is available on results reached in individual projects. Some projects have been postponed, others may have ended and some have been adjusted to the circumstances. This may mean bad news when more information becomes available concerning the effectiveness of projects that were planned and implemented during the pandemic. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs should carefully monitor the results of pandemic-era development cooperation andbuilding Back Better and Greener efforts.
In other words, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has the capacity to act – but what is missing? Finnish development policy should be better prepared for crises. In addition, decision-making responsibilities between the departments of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs should be clarified and, on the other hand, the units should be given the power to make decisions in matters concerning projects and programmes. A concrete plan is also needed on what Building Back Better and Greener means in practice. With regard to the health security of personnel, it is important to improve influencing and coordination with other Finnish actors and, on the other hand, to reallocate human resources more flexibly within the organisation.
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has led the way in assessing the results of pandemic measures but is not the only one to have done so. In the launch event of the Finnish report, Megan Kennedy-Chouane from the OECD Development Assistance Committee highlighted the need for information:
“There is a great demand for evaluation data and learning. Different actors want to know what works and what doesn’t. Even measures that failed are accepted, as everyone relies on imperfect information.”
Lisa Hjelm from the Swedish EBA (Expertgruppen för Biodiversity) discussed how the lessons can be utilised:
“Crises are different, so the lessons learned from the pandemic may not be directly suited to other crises.”
Development Evaluation Unit
The report of the assessment and a recording of the launch event are available on the website of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.