ETF’s country liaison role
We speak to two of the ETF’s country liaisons about their work
“The ETF is a partner to the public institutions in the countries where we work” says Eva Jansova, ETF Expert responsible for relations with Kyrgyzstan. “We don’t come and go, like other development actors, it’s a partnership built over time.”
“We have a continuous dialogue with the country and the key stakeholders, particularly the ministries responsible for education, training, skills development and employment” says Timo Kuusela, ETF Expert responsible for relations with Belarus and Georgia, “so we know what is on the agenda in the country and what is going on”.
One of the key services of the European Training Foundation is to provide policy advice to its partner countries and the European Union’s external services on how to improve skills development and employment policies and systems in the countries where it works. The ETF’s country liaisons - experts like Eva and Timo, who are the key link between the ETF and its in-country stakeholders - are core to this effort.
“We continuously monitor developments in the country” says Timo, “so if we identify areas where we think they have some issues or problems, we discuss and raise them with our stakeholders, and then come to an idea of how the ETF can support them in practice.” This kind of hands-on support can take many forms, from informal discussions on a given topic, to sending reference materials, putting them in contact with experts who can advise them further, organising seminars or workshops, or longer-term support with policy, strategy or capacity development.
“As a member of the EU family, we bring examples from the European Union, and good practice from around the world, and we inform about tools and methodologies developed by the ETF” adds Eva. She cites a recent example where the ETF translated a handbook on using video in teaching into Russian, to help stakeholders in Central Asia in their efforts to adapt to distance learning during lockdown.
An important part of the ETF’s mission is supporting the EU’s external assistance actions in the human capital development field. The ETF’s country liaisons play a key role in cultivating relations with the EU Delegations and responding to their requests.
In Georgia for example, the ETF was asked by the EU Delegation to evaluate the country’s skills strategy, and to advise on the skills dimension of its rural and regional development programmes. “It's not purely VET or labour market programmes, but all programmes that have something to do with skills and human capital and how they could be better connected” says Timo. “Skills development overall needs to be better connected with economic development. And I think this is probably something that that we will be doing more of in the countries in the future.”
The EU is moving increasingly towards blended approaches to development assistance, combining grants and loans, and the ETF is increasingly cooperating at country level with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and other development banks. Eva cites the example of the ETF’s cooperation with the Asian Development Bank in developing a national qualifications framework in Kyrgyzstan.
Another important role for the ETF’s country liaisons is supporting donor coordination on human capital development. The ETF’s Torino Process assessments – periodic progress reports on policy reforms in this area – play an important role in this as a reference for all development partners. Timo refers to a recent request from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which has large programmes in Georgia, for advice on conducting a study on skills gaps in the agricultural sector.
“We aim to be a critical friend” say Eva, “supportive, but not afraid to challenge.” “We don't necessarily give a rosy picture” adds Timo. “We say what the situation is, not only to the government, but also to the EU services. And I think that's what people actually want to know, what are the real problems, so that they are not hidden somewhere.” This ensures that resources are allocated to actions that have real impact.
An important success factor is trust. “When you work for a long time in the country, people become your friends and colleagues” say Timo. “It's this sort of confidence that they can talk openly to you and and you can also tell them, frankly, what you think.” “With the ETF, there is no hidden agenda” adds Eva.
The relationship goes in both directions. “We learn so much working with our partner countries” says Eva. “Meeting people, especially those working in the field – teachers, NGOs – makes it real, and challenges our thinking.” “It’s a learning experience” adds Timo, “because all countries are different. They have different conditions, different resources different capacities, and that has a big influence on what might work and what might not.”
Timo stresses the importance of experience. “You can’t go to university and graduate as a country liaison” he says. “No, you learn by doing.”