Mr. Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke is consultant for international development cooperation and founding member of Mesopartner PartG. He has been living in Argentina for the past 17 years – since June 2020 he is back in Germany. His thematic focuses are sustainable economic development and quality infrastructure. Regularly, he publishes articles for the blog “Quality Infrastructure for Development”, #QI4D.
EQAsce: Which chances and risks did the corona pandemic show in your international working?
Dr. Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke: I could benefit from my experience of digital communication within our projects from before the corona crisis. The new thing for me was the huge limitation for traveling for a longer time. The biggest challenge to us was to transfer workshops held in presence to online sessions. This lead to a variety of platforms that I tried for visual online cooperation. The change of workshops has gone rapidly and I was surprised that interaction can be that productive and intense in online workshops. Arising from the immediate need, these formats are prototypes for workshops and consulting processes that we can offer to our customers even after the crisis.
EQAsce: From your point of view and with your international experience – is the change to online and the digitalization-push a chance to reach some SDGs (sustainable development goals by the UN) faster?
Dr. Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke: We are in the middle of a situation that hardly anybody could have expected a few months ago. That’s why I am careful with prognosis. But the fact is that the way of working has fundamentally changed worldwide because of COVID-19. In the beginning of 2020, it was no problem at all to travel to South Africa to look after projects. Today, everything is done via video-conferences or digital platforms. Noteworthy is that no matter we look to the global South or North, people are facing the same technical challenges. My colleagues in the developing countries seem to have less problems in adapting to the new reality. The have more experience in dealing with big crises.
The breaking of known structures gives way for discovering new things and to try things out. I realize that there is more interest and openness to digital solutions at all levels than before. That makes a funding easier.
Digital technologies can contribute to and help achieving all SDGs, for sure. For example, blockchain technology can fulfill a number of tasks for the agri and food sector such as information about the origin of goods, traceability of foods, reducing transaction costs, secure digital payment or persecution of land ownership. That might help reaching SDG 9 “innovation and infrastructure”, SDG 8 “sustainable economy” and SDG 2 “food safety”.
At the same time, it is important to watch over the development of digitalization because it is important that it reaches the weaker groups of value-added chains, such as small farmers, and does not lead to new dependencies. That’s why we need fostering of digital competences and the involvement of all involved at technology development.
EQAsce: Do concepts – such as the Dutch Safety Culture Ladder standard – need to be established and harmonized on an international level to be able to face crises?
Dr. Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke: Safety Culture Ladder is an innovative standard for certification of work safety and protection of health by the Dutch Institute for Norms (NEN). The new approach if this standard is the addressing of a change of mind and the corporate culture. This is more than fulfilling the legal requirements and more than fulfilling the requirements of ISO 45001 for work safety and operational health care.
The idea by EQAsce to establish the Safety Culture Ladder in the agri and food sector is logical. This kind of certification could help to support the needed change in this area. Taking such standards, enterprises could better unite safety and health at work as well as environment protection and animal welfare.
EQAsce: With its work, EQAsce has the four sustainable goals (by UN) 3 (good health and well-being), 4 (quality education), 8 (decent work and economic growth) and 17 (partnerships for the goals) in focus – where do you see challenges in reaching these goals?
Dr. Ulrich Harmes-Liedtke: For me, the attractivity of the Sustainable Development Goals by the UN is to find in its systemic approach. We can’t understand this approach when we see those goals as isolated aims. For example, SDG 4 – quality education – is not a task to the ministries of education alone, but a task of the whole society. I find important to focus on the interrelations between the lines.
For an example, let’s take the beef production in Argentina and its environmental impact. The traditional way of cattle production land intensive and produces 20% of all CO2-emissions of the whole country. Up to now, there is no awareness within the Argentinian livestock industry to include environmental criteria into the production and less measures to be taken. Sustainable cattle production could lead to a more efficient use of energy and resources and make the economy grow. But this needs efforts in the educational system to include innovation and new infrastructure into a change of the production systems. Finally, a sustainable production system could improve the working conditions and might have a positive impact on nutrition and welfare.
Thus, the challenge is to put single activities into broader contexts and to measure their contributions in this respect.