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GGGI interview: “Africa’s Green Economy Summit is an important initiative at the continental level”

Exclusive interview with Dr Mallé Fofana, Director for Africa and Head of Programs, at the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI). The GGGI is a treaty-based international, inter-governmental organisation dedicated to supporting and promoting strong, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in developing countries and emerging economies. 

The GGGI’s Strategy 2030 sets the course for its efforts to effectively support its members’ needs in transforming their economies toward environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive green growth. In 2020, Dr Fofana, who is from Senegal, received the Rwanda Award for the Best African Promotor of Green Economy. 

Let’s start with some background on you. You have extensive, award-winning experience in development, can you talk us through some of the milestones so far. 

As the director Africa and head of the program for GGGI, in getting certain recognition and an award when it comes to the leadership in the regions but also supporting the green growth transformation in Africa, I would say it’s a collective approach, an effort coming from the different teams that I have in Africa. We strongly believe that there is potential. And of course, people start saying there are a lot of challenges in Africa when it comes to climate change. But for us, challenges also mean opportunities for us to make those changes. So, the fact of being the one who’s supporting the African continent through the Global Green Growth Institute is also quite appealing in the sense that I see change on the ground, but also believing that with our effort, we can get to the final result that we are expecting. So, getting an award is just the recognition of the collective efforts that have been made by my colleagues and friends and but also our members and our partners. But that but doesn’t mean that we will stop increasing our efforts, we’ll just make sure that we can do more in supporting our member states. 

Please tell us more about the history of GGGI and its links to Asia. 

The Global Green Growth Institute was created in 2012. The creation started with the unique mandate of having one institution that supports member states to move from a grey economy to a much greener one. The link with Asia is because we have our headquarters based in South Korea, and one of the founding members of the GGGI at the time was also Korea. But we are also working with the Asian continent. As an inter-governmental organization that is treaty-based, we have 45 member states from across the different continents, Asia, Africa and Latin America. So that’s why we have that link. And that is also telling of the kind of overall presence of the GGGI across the globe. In fact, we also have a regional office based in Africa, which shows the link that we have with Africa as well. 

What does your function at GGGI entail?   

As the director for Africa and head of the program for GGGI, I think my role is really supporting the member states, but also supporting the country directors and the team in Africa to align with our global operational strategy for 2030. And that global strategy is just really helping countries to have access to climate finance, helping them move forward to having a clear strategy when it comes to a long-term, low-emission development strategy. This is also linked to sustainable landscape and cities. In a nutshell, is just how we can help countries to move from a grey economy to a much greener one and just supporting them to engage with partners, having the right platform that we share our ideas, but also being more innovative in certain ways.  

So, the role is just really exciting, because I know that I have really talented people that are passionate about climate change and can come up with solutions. Being a lead also means to show the teams direction and also to work and talk with them, really helping them to get to the results that are expected, engaging with heads of states and partners to finding the right solutions, because we have a common shared agenda, which is just solving the climate change issues in the long run. 

Where in Africa are you active? 

We have engagement with 12 countries in Africa. Our presence is across the different geographic regions, in East, West and in Central and Southern Africa. 

That also shows the diversity that we have in the region from the different countries, such as Rwanda, Zambia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia. Those are the countries where we also have a foot on the ground, and we have team on the ground as well. That gives us the opportunity to learn from the different experiences and help other countries to reduce their learning curve.  

We have more and more countries that are in the process of joining the GGGI, and they have to ratify the instrument to become a member. We try to make sure that once a country has joined as a member, we give them our full support when it comes to technical assistance. I have no doubt that we will have many more partners in Africa and also members in Africa. But we will also dedicate time to just go deeper with our current member states to help them to get to the results. 

Any specific projects that you are working on that you are particularly excited about? How will this change people’s lives? 

Yes, we have a number of projects in Africa that are quite exciting but will also have a huge impact for the continent. For example, we are now supporting the African Union on setting up, what we call, a climate finance desk unit within the African Union. The idea of this programme is really helping the African Union to operationalize the Green Recovery Action Plan (GRAP) and by putting in place skills and experience but also bringing highly talent people within the African Union to translate that strategy to a much more operational plan, working with member states but also regional economic bodies. This would also really give us the importance of the African Union when it comes to giving orientation when it comes to climate change at the continental level. And for us, it’s just really a way to also play our role at the continent level by supporting the African Union on this agenda.  

We have also other key exciting projects that focus on climate smart agriculture. As you know, food security is quite important, and our idea is to have more programmes that linked to this particular sector, transforming the food system but also helping the farmers as well as the private sector, which also plays a critical role when it comes to that. We have such programmes in Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia and in Senegal. The idea really is to come up with the right business model so that they can scale up from the small projects to bigger ones.  

Other projects are in transport, emobility, green cities and the waste sector. All in all, just really helping countries to just look at the different priorities when it comes to these sectors, an integrated climate component and the rationale that can help to have a bankable project and increase the access to finance. I think those are quite exciting for us. And the fact that we have a range sectors that we are involved in and have in-house expressly to support gives us also a unique selling point from our member state as well. 

What are the main challenges in your view? 

I think the main challenges Africa is two-fold: one is linked to the access to finance, because, as you know, in Africa, the key elements are how they can push more and have more funding towards adaptation. Mitigation, I would say, is the easy part, but adaptation is the most difficult part, because that requires a new way of designing bankable projects, but also coming up with a climate rationale and selling it to the different investors. And that requires leading and supporting the capacity building, but also having a national financial vehicle that can serve as a de-risk mechanism, because for most of the investors when it comes to adaptation is a higher risk.  

So, how we can put those spectrum of tools in an instrument both on the policy side, but also on the financial side, to help attract blending finance from public and private sectors? That’s the biggest challenge in Africa. But I have no doubt with the engagement of different key champions in the regions but also partners, discussing to find innovative solutions ways can be really helpful for the African continent.  

We see more and more engagement from the private sector and from commercial banks in the climate change sphere. So I think that tells us how important this topic is. And we’re seeing that shift as well, from the policy side to develop the green environment. It’s a challenge, of course, but I would say it is also an opportunity for Africa to showcase that it’s feasible come up with the right approach for adaptation and the way they can attract funding. I think, for us, the timing is also good to push that agenda. 

Which African countries are doing the right things in your opinion? 

I think there is no doubt that the African continent is doing the right thing, because we are trying to make sure that we are really close to our issues and how we can integrate that. We have to understand that Africa also is combining a lot of priorities as well when it comes to security, to climate change and activities that are linked to development as well as social inclusion; combining those required having a well-integrated approach. And I think our member states are really trying to push that agenda, trying to integrate how climate finance can help provide those solutions and that the green growth model is more readily accepted by our member states. We’re also seeing a lot of member states really championing the food security, climate resilience and climate developed diplomacy, and we have all the LDC [least developed countries] chairs when it comes to negotiations, such as at the Paris Agreement, but also at Cop 28.  

So, I think Africa is doing well. We know exactly what is needed to move forward. We also know that our partners can support us. Now, it’s just about operationalizing this, making sure that what we’re saying will be designed in the policy and climate finance strategy as well. We can now operationalize it and act with a lot of action around it. So, I think from our side, we’re doing the right things. We also trying to learn from the errors from different countries, how it can help us to reduce the learning curve from a the continent perspective. 

In November, Africa Youth Month is officially celebrated in Africa. How can the youth be made to feel part of the movement to be greener in everything we do? 

I think there’s no doubt that the youth should be integrated in the climate space solutions, for a couple of reasons. Africa will be the youngest continent worldwide-speaking. I think youth are also part of the solution in the sense that we have to push more for greenpreneurs, which is green entrepreneurship, coming up with the new ideas, for example, digitalization, that can lead to solving issues linked to climate change. I think they can play a critical role, and they also have to raise their voice because I hope that they will be the first and the last generation facing these climate change issues, but the next generation of youth should also be pushing the same green agenda. I think bringing them along makes them part of the solution but also thinking about the process and solving those problems is quite important, from the design to the ideation of projects but also having SMEs or greenpreneurs. I think it’s quite important to integrate that. For Africa, it’s a must, because it has a high potential, I will not say it is a challenge, but it has a high potential for us using that the large youth component in the sector and to integrate that will be quite important for us as well. 

What keeps you excited about this sector? 

I think what keeps me excited about this sector is knowing that every piece of advice, every support, every orientation, I will give to a member state partner, but also to our colleagues will help to change lives, especially when it comes to climate change. So, I think that’s really what wakes me up every morning. I also believe strongly that I will be the last part of the last generation that will be facing the climate change issues, and our day-to-day work will be significant. So, we have to also play a critical role from our side, but also try to make sure that our messages are clear, we come up with innovative solutions that are realistic and also feasible, and make sure that we get to the result. I think that those things can really push us to wake up every morning. I strongly believe that we will get there. It’s just a matter of timing, but also making sure that we don’t just move but progress towards the final goals which are important to us. 

GGGI was a member of the advisory board for the inaugural Africa’s Green Economy Summit in February 2023. What were your impressions and how important is such an event for the continent? 

I think this year’s summit was quite helpful and also innovative in the sense that we had a large variety of different stakeholders, from the public sector, private sector and international development organizations, discussing and sharing knowledge about solving issues linked to climate change. This kind of platform is really appealing, but also helping countries to fight against climate change. For us, the GGGI, we really welcome this kind of platform.  

And that’s why we are also supporting the upcoming one next year, supporting the advisory board, by sharing our knowledge and interacting with different partners to make the next summit in February a successful one. I think from our side, what we’re seeing and what we’re also expecting in February is to see more stakeholders from the private sector, public sector, SMEs as well, and also intergovernmental organizations, joining in and also sharing solutions. That’s the only way that we can solve the climate change issues. I think having those minds and solutions around the table will help the African continent to be much more resilient, but also to come up with robust solutions that can be sustainable in the long, long run. So GGGI, joining these kinds of platform and efforts is valuable, especially for the continent, and by playing our role by providing support, information and knowledge in bringing in member states where necessary, so they can learn from them as well.  

What will be your message at the upcoming event? 

My message for the upcoming event is innovations, access to finance, but also thinking ahead about being more transformative, innovative, in a sense; that’s the only way for Africa to just reduce the learning curve and how we can come up with solutions that can be scaled up and can help us have much more or less impact on the ground and to find out which is key, how we can grow and come up with really innovative financial instruments, both at the national level, regional level or continental level, and also bringing more champions in the field who can help us really convey the message about what is feasible to make this transformation. And I think the upcoming event can help us to put all of these actors and people around all of the stakeholders, having the same message and the same thinking.  

In addition, the platform will be used to make connections. I believe that partnerships through a collaborative approach are the only way that we can solve the issues together. I will see you at the next event in February 2024. It will be a really interesting moment for us to just share but also learn from you and learn from the different actors, solutions and innovative approaches that help countries to move forward. 

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