Minister Toivakka's speech at the Seminar on Impact of Development Cooperation

Minister Toivakka's speech at the Seminar on Impact of Development Cooperation 

Minister for Trade and Development Lenita Toivakka's speech at the Seminar on Impact of Development Cooperation. Helsinki Music Centre,  4 June 2015.

Honourable parliamentarians, distinguished guests, dear friends,

This is my first public speech as Minister for Trade and Development. I carefully chose this particular event because I wanted you to be the first ones to hear what we plan to do. So thank you for being here and lending me an ear.

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Let me begin by saying this: Despite conflict and corruption; disease and disasters; mistakes and misfortune; the world is indeed becoming a better place.

Together we have more than halved the number of people living in extreme poverty. More children than ever are attending primary school – half of them girls! More mothers survive childbirth and more children get through their critical first five years. More people have access to live-saving HIV/AIDS treatment and the number of new infections has declined considerably.

Is all this happening because of global development cooperation? Obviously there are other factors at play. But despite many errors and failures along the way – and despite what some try to tell us! – development cooperation really works. It really is changing peoples' lives and making the world a better place.

This government and this minister highly appreciate the work our development professionals, volunteers and academics do. We see and recognize the results.

Of course we also see room for improvement. Who doesn't? Things can always be done better.

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At the moment Finland is faced with extremely harsh economic realities. We must reform Finland so that it will be a prosperous and caring society also in the years to come. These reforms will cut across the public sector, including development cooperation.

We will do two things at the same time:

A: We will scale back our public spending because our debt is growing much too fast. If we don't act now, we undermine the financial bedrock of our public services, benefits and also development cooperation.

And B: We will reform Finland's development policy so that we can achieve more with less. Our entire government is determined to make a leap to greater productivity. I will personally do my part by setting clear priorities and giving full support for these often difficult reforms.

Let's focus our resources better to have greater impact. Now our resources are spread too thin. And let's focus on those people who need us the most: the poorest people.

Setting priorities means letting go of something else. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.

Finland is committed to the sustainable development goals we together set for ourselves at the UN.

We make our own contribution to these global goals by focusing on four priorities:

Number one: We will do our part to empower the world's women and girls. This has been Finland's long-standing goal and will remain at the top of our list. No country can reach its full potential until women can reach their full potential.

Number two: We will strive to increase the number of stable, functioning democracies in the world. To do that, we will support human rights, the rule of law, peace-building, free media, and the fight against corruption. We are also aiming to improve our partners' capacity to collect and manage tax revenue capacity in a reliable and fair manner.

Number three: We will improve our partner countries' capacity to generate and manage energy, water and food in a sustainable manner. Clean and sustainable solutions are sorely needed to curb climate change as well as to adapt to inevitable changes.

Number four: We will help developing countries to create an environment in which responsible businesses can thrive. After all, responsible businesses play a key role in lifting people's living standards. At the same time we want to help developing countries access global trade on an equal footing.

Alongside these four development priorities, Finland will continue to bear its global responsibility through humanitarian assistance.

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Dear friends, 

The harsh reality is that we will have to cut our development cooperation spending. This is driven by the economy, not political choices.

Over past years we were able to increase our development considerable. Now we have to catch our breath and reorganize ourselves.

We will set Finland back on the right course. And we will be back. Finland is committed raising development funding to 0.7 % of GNI in the longer term. Once we have implemented the reforms we are determined to do, Finland's economy will be much stronger. And when our own country is stronger, we can be of more help to our partners.

So this a period of reform and new, strategic thinking.

In that process we need all of you. Your thinking and your analysis – such as this report by Ms Reinikka and the work UNU Wider is doing - are extremely valuable. I like the way you put it: we should aim to ”position ourselves as a global leader” on a limited number of development issues. 

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Dear colleagues, 

The cuts are real and they hurt. No question about that. But I would like to ask two things of you today. 

Firstly, let's work together to implement these changes in a way that minimizes the impact on those who need our support the most.

And secondly, let's take this as an opportunity to think in new ways. I know you so anyway.

But let's take another careful look and see how we can make a greater impact on the lives of people around the world.

I wish to thank you for the great work you are doing. Without you the world would be a sadder place. 

And I invite you to come forward with new ideas and new solutions. Because that is what the world needs right now.

Thank you very much.