International cooperation is a way of generating greater linkages, of positioning the work plans of local and state institutions and of accessing technical, financial and knowledge resources. Since 2002, ACI Medellín has consolidated itself as the cooperation and investment agency of Medellín, with these concepts as key drivers. All of them translate into opportunities for the social, environmental and economic development of the city, supported by different entities.
To a greater or lesser extent, international cooperation has always existed, previously, stronger between states. “Now it is taking place between cities. This is a very important paradigm shift, a new dimension in global cooperation. Because no matter where you are, there are shared concerns and limitations,” says Oscar Chamat, Policy and Research Manager for Red Metropolis and focal point for Latin America. Red Metropolis is an association of 141 metropolitan areas of the world, through which people’s networking and capacity building are sought, with diplomacy as a cross-cutting function.
Thus, there is bilateral cooperation, among governments, multilateral cooperation, with agencies such as the IDB, the World Bank, the UN; and decentralized cooperation, directed to NGOs, foundations, universities, municipalities, governorates and metropolitan areas. “In Medellín, ACI Medellín was the first institution to ask how to bring the world’s opportunities, in a decentralized way,” adds Pablo Maturana, director of cooperation for the Metropolitan Area of the Aburrá Valley.
Also, Paola Arjona, technical director of AL-LAS (Euro-Latin American Alliance of Cooperation), explains that when cities develop international action it is not per se, “but because policies are transversal and enhance the urban model of the government in office. Relationships are promoted as solutions to everyday problems are found.” What AL – LAS seeks, for example, is to foster an exchange of knowledge and provide practical tools for cities, in addition to strengthening the links between Europe and Latin America.
Undoubtedly, there are problems in common, such as the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, the saturation of health systems and food distribution concern different territories. Organizations such as C40 Cities work to generate learning experiences between cities, in this case, on issues related to the fight against climate change. There are 97 cities that make up C40, 12 are Latin American and Medellín is one of them.
Manuel Olivera, regional director for Latin America at C40 Cities, highlights strategies aimed at greenhouse gas mitigation, adaptation to climate change risks, technical and financial support. Moreover, the idea is also “to show the leadership of mayors, who are city representatives, not only for resource attainment, but for them to present their work and have more credibility regarding their plans and commitments to climate change,” he says.
On the other hand, there are also historical links, such as the one created by Colombia with Japan, for more than 100 years. During both world wars, Colombia received migrants from the Asian country, and was even among the first Latin American nations to establish relations. This is now reinforced by the Japanese Chancellery and JICA, Japan International Cooperation Agency.
Cooperation has always been important and has accomplished many things, which are sometimes not so visible, but are there.”Ricardo Chiku, JICA’s Technical and Financial Cooperation Coordinator.
But why does a country like Japan want to cooperate with Colombia? Ricardo Chiku, JICA’s Technical and Financial Cooperation Coordinator, describes that the main goal is to bring the experience that has led Japan to its own progress to serve other territories and thus foster development. This, led by the hand of training and experts.
Two key axes for JICA have been the prevention of natural disasters and the regions prioritized for post-conflict, since a major peace-building project was carried out between 2008 and 2017. The agency also extends its strategies to SMEs, to improve the quality of products and make them more competitive as business partners. “We try to see how we can complement each other,” underscores Chiku.
Medellín stands out
Back in 2017, the Metropolitan Area of the Valley of Aburrá created a cooperation deputy direction, precisely to promote the metropolitan world agenda in the areas of environment, planning, territorial planning, security and coexistence. Both ACI Medellín and the Metropolitan Area are part of the Antioquia Cooperation Network, currently led by the Government of Antioquia and composed of Comfama and Comfenalco, family compensation funds; the Antioquia Federation of NGOs, the Institute for the Development of Antioquia (IDEA) and the Makaia Corporation. Pablo Maturana, director of cooperation for the Metropolitan Area, says that this articulation exercise has enabled socializing opportunities and initiatives, promoting public policies and generating knowledge.
In its short journey, the Metropolitan Area Cooperation branch has established relations with the Embassy of France, for an energy efficiency plan in public buildings; with the World Bank, for sustainable housing projects and environmental protection service payments; and with the Climate Research Foundation, in creating a climate vulnerability plan. It is also part of Red Metropolis, ICLEI Colombia, the Ecomobility Network and the Climate Coalition.
Manuel Olivera, of C40 Cities, says that Medellín has played an important role in the organization, mainly with the issue of electric mobility, with projects that have transcended administrations over time. “Medellín was also selected as a Latin American representative at the Youth Forum,” says Olivera.
On the other hand, the technical director of AL-LAS, Paola Arjona, says that “ACI Medellín is an international reference for its capacity to manage the crisis, since they put all the required tools for cooperation at the service of the citizens. During the pandemic, they have shown the importance of bridging the gap between the local and the global, at a time when borders are clearly diluted and we have a universal problem.”
And not just in the Latin American context. Ricardo Chiku of JICA says that Medellín is recognized in Japan as a model city for innovation, especially for projects related to mobility and urban development. “The city and its institutions, despite the change in government terms, have always been interested in proposing new ideas and seeking us as a reference point to improve their processes,” says Chiku.
As for Red Metropolis, Oscar Chamat says that “Medellín, for us, is always a reference and is among the first cities for reinvention and reengineering. In many seminars, the city and the Metropolitan Area are present to share their experiences.” As Pablo Maturana, Director of Cooperation for the Metropolitan Area of the Aburrá Valley says, “Cooperation is a long-term thing, of alliances and friends. The most important thing is that it has been possible to build trust and good relationships with Medellín.”
Cooperation during the pandemic
This global public health situation of COVID-19 has put cities at the top of the line, as it is these who respond directly to the resulting difficulties. This is how cooperation, rather than being suspended or postponed, became a fundamental tool for dealing with the crisis. To devise a recovery strategy against COVID-19, C40 Cities, the Climate Leadership Group, formed a team with seven mayors to gather recommendations, experiences and possible solutions. “The Mayor of Medellín was part of that group. As a result of this exercise, the Agenda for the Recovery from Covid was created, which was shared with the rest of the world. Many cities have managed to learn from what others are doing,” says Manuel Olivera, regional director for Latin America at C40 Cities.
From the Euro-Latin American Alliance for Cooperation between Cities – AL-LAS, the question was how to make a city work when everyone is at home. “In partnership with Red Metropolis, we created Cities for Global Health, a self-managed platform for each city to share in real time the measures taken to combat the pandemic. We currently have more than 600 practices from 150 cities,” says Paola Arjona, Technical Director.
Cities must have international relations and a voice in a context where the large global problems are local: migration, climate change, food crisis, COVID-19, etc.”.Paola Arjona, Technical Director, AL – LAS.
One of the lessons learned is the need for timely and accessible information. Therefore, another tool executed by AL-LAS together with the Decentralized Cooperation Observatory was a series of webinars to learn first-hand what was happening in cities and how international action could support pandemic management. “We realized that not only do we need to manage knowledge, but mobilize. What is shared in forums and seminars results in local public policies. The pandemic showed us the importance of networking,” highlights Arjona.
Finally, Paola Arjona speaks of a double challenge: to respond to a crisis that still does not end and to think about the time-after. “We have to rethink what we want as a city. Think development in a comprehensive manner and define priorities with local actors. There is an important opportunity for cooperation, and it is to rethink that city model and support the changes needed to make it more inclusive, resilient, and sustainable,” she concludes.