As countries tentatively lift lockdowns, fDi is reaching out to professionals on the FDI frontline as they return to work and plan for the future.

Abdelkader Betari heads the Anima Investment Network, which fosters economic cooperation between agencies across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He shares his views on the role investment promotion agencies can play in the post-lockdown recovery.

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Q: What’s your advice to IPAs over the next few months?

A: The focus should be on aftercare to secure their portfolio of clients. They should meet investors, identify their needs, and facilitate their access to support services offered by governments. 

[For some agencies] it may be preferable to offer limited support – with a clear application process and eligibility criteria and quick payment – rather than disappointing companies by announcing a massive support that’s intended for a limited target or is delivered too slowly. 

Over the long term, the monitoring of companies’ strategies will be key, as well as the capacity to be reactive when opportunities arise. 

In every crisis, there will be winners and losers and new domains and opportunities will emerge from this situation.

The support offered to most businesses is also an opportunity to strengthen the partnership between countries, territories and companies, and to discuss other issues like local spillovers, corporate social responsibility and sustainable impact.

Q: Will start-ups lead the recovery?

A: It’s still too early to tell which businesses will emerge as winners from the crisis and drive the recovery. But the agencies have a role to play in developing these winners. 

We saw many solutions emerge in start-ups during the crisis. For example, in Tunisia the ministry of health launched the Health Tech Challenge. 

Many Mediterranean start-ups – Anima is supporting 120 start-ups in its programmes – will have to pivot to survive the crisis and scale up.

Business clusters can play an important role in developing scale up projects by organising collaboration between members. This was the case in Morocco, for example, where the CE3M electronics and mechatronics cluster formed a consortium to develop the first artificial ventilator that was 100% made with components from the kingdom.

The launch of a marketplace in Catalonia, Spain by ACCIÓ to support collaborations and matchmaking between large and small companies as well as clusters, is another example of an agency supporting the emergence of new business opportunities related to the crisis.

Q: What’s your outlook for investment promotion in the future?

A: We are Mediterranean people and we’re frustrated because the pandemic has denied us the physical interaction that is vital to us. We are looking to put everything in place to ensure that the crisis strengthens our cooperation rather than isolates us.

The crisis will put budgets available to investment promotion agencies under pressure and the digitalisation of certain services might be an answer to cope with budget cuts. 

In addition, the mutualisation of services and tools at the IPA network level should also be encouraged.

Abdelkader Betari is president of the Anima Investment Network

You can find the full archive of the fDi’s Virus Diaries series at the following link. If you work in economic development or investment promotion and want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus, get in touch at fDi@ft.com.