Local and regional governments as leaders of local economic development processes

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a bold and transformative set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals that incorporates economic, social and environmental facets and calls for an integrated approach to be applied and implemented universally. Where to start if not from the territories with the involvement and leadership of local and regional governments? 

Territories are the key site of delivery. It is there that local and regional governments can play a catalytic role as initiators and drivers of effective local development processes, building ownership and consensus on the development potential of the territory, promoting wide partnerships and facilitating coordinated action and synergies. 

Over the last few decades, reforms have been implemented in many countries that have strengthened the processes of decentralization, redefining the role and functions of public administrations as development agents of provinces and regions, mainly in the areas of public investment, infrastructure, planning and land management. Progress in decentralization processes and in the transfer of skills and resources to subnational governments has also contributed to the recognition of the need and of the new responsibilities of the different levels of public management in strengthening the economic base of local communities, boosting their capacities and endogenous potential. To this, it has been added a recognition of the territorial approach to development as a framework that seeks and promotes the articulation of territorial assets and actors in order to expand their opportunities. Decentralization also represents the capacity of heterogeneous regions and territories to tailor specific development strategies in order to address their particular needs and influence their own destinies. 

This redefinition of the functions of the public sector, and particularly of the administrations closest to the citizens, reflects the transition from a model of vertical and sectoral bureaucratic functioning to a new model of horizontal and integral management. A new model of public management where regional governments have the crucial role of strengthening and optimizing the endogenous capacities of the territories by articulating the territorial actors in a logic of cooperation, and can therefore play a crucial role in the 2030 Agenda’s implementation.

Started in 2011, the open working process of the World Forum of Local Economic Development, promoted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) together with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and various associations of local and regional governments, has provided over the years the opportunity to subnational governments and many other stakeholders to contribute to the global dialogue on local economic development by sharing experiences, shaping policies and promoting joint actions among a large variety of engaged actors. A space of reflection, not limited to analyze how things have been done in the past, but rather to call for a creative thinking and practical analysis on how we can define new solutions and achieve a sustainable development starting from the territories. The forums reconfirmed the importance of a bottom-up approach to economic development emerging from the frequent ineffectiveness of top-down policies employed to spur regional development. 

In this context, the role of regional governments as leading players of regional economic development has been reaffirmed: regions can significantly boost productive and sustainable economies and promote inclusive societies. As we have learned from different experiences across the continents, including for instance the European model, regions matter for reducing territorial disparities, fostering urban and rural linkages and support job creation, business competitiveness and sustainable economic growth. Related policies are in fact increasingly designed and adopted at regional level, due to the acknowledgement that geography and the local context matter for development strategies to be effective and sustainable

As emphasized during the 3rd World Forum of Local Economic Development, celebrated in 2015 in Turin, Italy, nowadays, new territorial systems that reflect a transition from a vertical and sectoral bureaucratic model to a new model of horizontal and integral management are required to seek further efficiency, as well as social and business profitability, and offer a new model of public management. A model focused on people and close to the places where are the assets and talents that allow to enhance and optimize the endogenous capacities of the territories. 

In 2017, firstly, the 2nd Regional Forum of Local Economic Development for Latin America and the Caribbean (Tiquipaya, Bolivia, 27-30 june 2017), and secondly, the 4th World Forum of Local Economic Development (Praia, Cabo Verde, 17-20 October 2017) will provide an excellent opportunity to explore further how local and regional governance actors can intervene in key areas of territorial development to address raising inequalities. Policy debates, technical workshops and other interactive spaces will be organized to exchange and debate about local economic development as a foundation for integrated and cohesive territories as well as inclusive, resilient and peaceful societies. 

Building on the strong commitment and involvement of ORU Fogar, which has contributed to the forum’s process since its inception, we hope to continue counting on the strong engagement of ORU Fogar and all its members to advance the debate and make the voice of regional governments heard in global policy arenas. Building on the momentum of the major conferences celebrated in 2016, that recognized the role local and regional governments are poised to play in achieving sustainable development, the World Forum of Local Economic Development process is set to provide a unique opportunity to inspire, structure and showcase subnational government action in the field of local economic development and thus advancing in turning sustainable development in a reality for all territories and their citizens.   

Johannes Krassnitzer

UNDP’s ART Initiative – Hub for Territorial Partnerships Coordinator

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