Opening 'International Staff Conference' van VNG International (Engels)

Dear colleagues and friends from all around the world,

It is my pleasure to open the first digital international staff conference of VNG International, the international cooperation agency of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities. Nice to virtually see all of you, from Myanmar to Tunisia, from Colombia to Congo! Good  afternoon, good morning and a good very early morning, friends.

Of course, we had all wished for a different kind of set-up. An informal, in-person meeting in The Hague, where we touch base upon all the developments in the local government sector. I miss you all, digital meetings just aren’t the same. At the same, they are better than nothing. The past year has been challenging for all of us, personally but also at work, and we need to continue to engage with one another. International exchange and cooperation are more important than ever.

COVID-19 has shown us that our joint mission – which reads “Building better futures, by strengthening democratic local government.” – is more relevant than ever. The COVID-19 virus has affected all people around the world and challenged all parts of society to adapt, including local and regional governments. Local governments have had to act swiftly on the frontline in combatting the virus and its effects to ensure the safety of all citizens through these unprecedented times. Over the past 10 months, it has become clear that the crisis caused by COVID-19 will have lasting effects. Recovery will need to take place at local level primarily. All our efforts need to be geared at building resilience, ensuring democratic principles and promoting decentralization, to ensure the viability and sustainability of local governments in the future.

All of you are engaged in improving local government, many of you have been for a long time. The VNG and VNG International recognise its responsibility to adapt and innovate ongoing international capacity building programmes to the new reality that local governments ánd their citizens are experiencing. We continue to believe that our programmes can contribute to improved (access to) public services, boosting local economic development, building resilience, strengthened local, inclusive and participatory democracy and less inequality, among other objectives.

I call on you to help us in this process of innovation. Listen to the changing needs and demands of beneficiaries. Local actors know best what is needed in their community; it is our joint responsibility to listen and adapt accordingly and base our project interventions on research, facts and evidence about the current local situation. I invite you to actively share your lessons learned, difficulties and successes, on our way towards recovery. A silver lining of this health, social and economic crisis is that we have already become much better at creating online connections and exchange. This should make it easier to move forward together, and build back better, together.

My offer to you is that I will help bring your experiences, good practices and challenges to the international table, through my position in the Presidency of the world organisation United Cities and Local Governments. Sustainable economic recovery, strengthened local democracy and strengthened intergovernmental relations are all top priorities within my co-Presidency.

I plan to continue to bring VNG’s and VNG International’s perspective to UCLG and international organisations, most notably to the UN. But also to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in view of our future multi-annual partnership. I would like to conclude by sending my best wishes to all of you. Keep up the good work – I hope to see you soon again.